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 Latest Appearances on BBC Radio Gloucestershire

New post about my two most recent appearances on our local BBC radio station, BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Showing off, moi? Yes, that’s not one but two radio appearances that I’ve notched up since coming back from holiday, both on our fab local BBC Radio station, based in the county town of Gloucester, 20 miles north of my home.

Photo of Debbie Young and Chris Baxter in the studio
With Chris Baxter in the BBC Radio Gloucestershire studio (with thanks to David James for snapping us on my phone)

The Chris Baxter Show (27th August)

The first was on Wednesday 27th August on the Chris Baxter Show. I’d been on his Mid-week Mix before, which involves bringing in three local people to discuss the issues of the day. Having booked you in for a specific day, the producer, Dominic Cotter, emails you the night before the show with a list of the topics likely to be on the agenda, in case you want to read up on them beforehand. He reserves the right to throw in last-minute topics on the morning of the show, and if that happens he provides a quick brief while you’re in the waiting room before going on air.

This time I was in the company of two lovely chaps – David James, a former BBC and ITN cameraman now running www.cotswoldproductions.com, his own film-making business in Tetbury, and the Reverend Canon Paul Williams, Vicar of Tewkesbury. The advance topic list for our trio was very mixed:

  • the age that sex education should begin in schools
  • the same-sex kiss on the latest episode of Dr Who
  • the ice-bucket challenge and no-make-up selfie social media campaigns
  • our tributes to Richard Attenborough
  • the right age to start preparing for old age
  • regulations re e-cigarette smoking in public
  • nominations for pop stars to come out of retirement to do concerts

Mentally prepared for all of these (though with more enthusiasm for some than for others), I had to think fast to respond to a new topic on the morning: a retiring female judge’s pronouncement that if women drank less alcohol, there’d be a higher rate of rape convictions.  As the only woman on the panel, I was the first to be invited to speak – yikes! I think all of us were much relieved when this was followed by discussion of ice-buckets, Attenborough and pop-stars. (We all had more ideas of which singers should go into retirement, rather than the other way around.)

Skilfully hosted by the always pleasant and fast-thinking Chris Baxter, the hour whizzed by, and before long I was outside on the pavement chatting to David James about common interests, including our enthusiasm for writing – he’s planning to write a book inspired by his experience filming in Afghanistan.

Photo of studio exterior against bright blue sky
Unlikely Mediterranean sky over BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Gloucester studio this morning

The Anna King Show (8th September)

The second invitation came via Twitter, where I’d recently followed Anna King, when she was doing an afternoon slot. She was intrigued by my current 160-character Twitter profile, which begins “Cheerful indie author with butterfly mind”.

Being of that persuasion herself, she asked me to come in for an interview about what it’s like to have a butterfly mind, and so we enjoyed a ten-minute chat in the studio this morning, in the first of her new morning shows. (They’ve just juggled the schedule: Chris Baxter’s moved to the 3-5pm slot.)

We agreed on the optimist’s definition of a butterfly mind: a healthy, wide-ranging interest in the world about us, and a tendency to flit from one exciting opportunity to another, gathering nourishment along the way. She did rumble me, however, on my bad habit of ending up with too many plates spinning in the air at one time, over-promising and under-delivering.

The show’s researcher Gemma kindly agreed to email me an .mp3 file of the interview, which I’ll post up here as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, if you’re in the UK, you can listen to the interview any time during the next seven days via this BBC iplayer link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p025gxxd.

Photo of Debbie Young leaving the studio
Flitting away from the studio after Anna King’s interview about butterfly minds
Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Emerged from its cocoon on National Flash Fiction Day 2014

FURTHER READING

 

Posted in Writing

An Autumnal Story for a Misty Morning, via Wattpad

A seasonal short story from my new flash fiction collection Quick Change, and an introduction to Wattpad, the free reading site. 

Received wisdom in my village is that autumn starts the day after the Village Show is over. The morning mists this week bear witness to that myth’s veracity. So, feeling all autumnal, I thought I’d post up a link to a short story on an autumn theme (or fall, to my friends the other side of the pond). It’s taken from my new flash fiction collection, Quick Change, which is currently available as an ebook and due for launch as a paperback in November this autumn.

Autumn LeavesAutumn Leaves 

Click on the story title to read the story on a site called Wattpad. You can also find other free samples of my work there, not just from this book but from others too, both published (my diabetes book) and as yet unpublished (my memoir of moving from the city to the country).

All about Wattpad

If you haven’t already encountered Wattpad, it’s a social media site which helps authors share free samples of their work with readers by posting up their books in short bursts, either all at once or eking them out over a longer period. (The old adage “always leave them wanting more” doesn’t only apply to the performing arts, you know.) Some authors also use it to test out new stories and gain feedback, effectively acquiring beta readers (the book world’s equivalent to test drivers) prior to publication. And of course, they all hope that lots of readers will enjoy the free samples sufficiently to pay real money to buy their actual books, whether as ebooks or in print.

I joined Wattpad only recently, but I’m hoping it’ll help me reach new readers that otherwise wouldn’t know about me. The site is particularly popular with teenagers and new adults reading scifi and fantasy (not my core audience), but it’s becoming increasingly popular across other genres and with other audiences too.

More about Quick Change

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Emerged from its cocoon on National Flash Fiction Day 2014

The ebook edition of Quick Change is now available to buy exclusively on Amazon for £1.99 or the equivalent in your local currency. That’s just 10p a story, folks! Click the book cover image on the right to go straight to its page on Amazon. I’ll be adding the ebook to other distribution platforms such as Kobo and Smashwords shortly, but if you’d like to read it now and don’t have an ereader, simply download the free Kindle app to the electronic device of your choice (phone, tablet, PC, etc).

In the run-up to the launch of the paperback, if you’d like a free review copy of the ebook of Quick Change, in return for an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads, please let me know. 

Like to join my mailing list? There’s a free, new, previously unpublished short story with every issue of my enewsletter, despatched once a month. Click here to sign up now for free. You can unsubscribe at any time. 

Posted in Family, Travel, Writing

School’s Nearly Out for Summer

My column in this month’s Tetbury Advertiser marks the end of an era as my daughter prepares to leave primary (elementary) school – and I reflect on the day I left school myself.

No turning back
No turning back

It’s nearly time for school to be out for the summer, so why am I downhearted? Because the last day of term will mark the end of an era for me: my little girl will be leaving primary school for ever.

Really I should be celebrating. Laura has had the good fortune to attend an outstanding primary school, and I mean that in the OFSTED* sense. She’s gained a place at an excellent secondary school. I’ve enjoyed playing an active part in the life of her primary school, serving on the PTA for six years. I got time off for good behaviour this last year. But every parent I know who has children at senior school assures me that life will never be quite the same again.

On Your Marks…

With an aversion to change that is typical of her age, Laura is nervous of moving up, though less so with every step she takes towards it – completing SATS, visiting Open Days, planning her new school uniform. I’m sure that, by September, she’ll be eager to embrace the new opportunities that will come her way.

I know I was when I was her age. Gaining all the trappings of secondary school status was an exciting process, even if it was accompanied by my parents tutting at the expense. The smart new uniform and blazer, shiny leather satchel, a mysterious-looking geometry set in a tin, my own little hardback Oxford dictionary – all these heralded the start of a new adventure.

Get Set…

The author graduating from her American-style high school in 1978
As valedictorian at the FIS graduation ceremony: “And in 30 years time, I’ll come back and tell you how I became a writer”

Although I don’t remember my final day at primary school, I do recall sobbing as I got on the last school bus from my secondary school. I was living abroad, attending Frankfurt International School in Germany. The school was run on American lines, making much drama of our departure with a university-style graduation ceremony, complete with gowns and mortarboards.

I was voted “valedictorian” or class speaker, responsible for making a final address to the assembled parents and staff, on behalf of the graduating students. I still have the typescript of my speech, which I’d bashed out on my red portable typewriter (no home computers in those days) and sellotaped onto orange sugar paper. I spoke about how attending an international school fit us better to play our part in the wider world. The speech went down well. I remembered to speak slowly and clearly, as per the instructions I’d written to myself in big red letters around the edge; everyone laughed in the right places; and afterwards other people’s parents asked for signed copies, assuring me that I’d be a famous writer before long. Well, we were all saying what each other wanted to hear that day.

And Finally, Go!

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
A late developer

Now, more years later than I care to confess, I’ve just published my very first fiction collection as an Amazon ebook called Quick Change. It contains twenty terse flash fiction pieces, arranged in chronological order by the age of each story’s key characters, from cradle to grave. Pre-publication feedback is encouraging: “very subtle, very English, very clever”; “sly, witty, surprising, with genuine twists”; “they make domesticity look edgy, sometimes dangerous, but they are also life-affirming”. So rather like the Tetbury Advertiser, don’t you think?

I just hope Laura fulfils her ambitions a little faster than I did upon leaving school.

This post was originally written for the July/August 2014 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser. Here are some other recent columns I’ve written for this popular local magazine:

*For the benefit of my non-British readers, OFSTED is the government’s official school inspection board which visits all state schools every few years and reports on their standards. The highest level of praise they give is “Outstanding”, which is what they designated my daughter’s school earlier this year.

Posted in Writing

Writing for Writers and Artists

Cover of 2014 Writers' & Artists' YearbookA post about my excitement at being asked to write for the website of the bestselling guide for authors, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook

When I first encountered the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook in my teens, I regarded it as some kind of Holy Grail for aspiring authors. Within this vast tome lay an introduction to everyone who was anyone in the world of publishing, including agents and publishers who might in time be my stepping-stone to becoming a published author.

Like so many other aspiring authors, I religiously bought the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook year after year, reading it avidly and highlighting the most likely suspects in dayglo pens.

Ambitions Achieved

Despite a regular W&A habit, my first book was published not by someone listed in its pages, but by SilverWood Books, a publishing services company that had evolved to help writers take advantage of the new trend for self-publishing. Their service was made possible by technology that hadn’t even been dreamed of the day I first picked up the esteemed Yearbook. I’ve since gone on to co-author a book for the Alliance of Independent Authors and to self-publish books of my own.

Exciting Invitation

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Now emerged from its cocoon

Even so, it was with delight that I accepted an invitation to start writing guest posts for the modern face of the traditional Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, its website www.writersandartists.co.uk.

The first article I’ve written for them was an introduction to flash fiction, and it was published to coincide with National Flash Fiction Day on 21st June, when I also officially launched my new ebook collection of flash, Quick Change. Here’s the link if you’d like to read it – or just to share my joy at seeing my name as a byline for this esteemed publication:

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice/673/dedicated-genre-advice/writing-short-stories/

But now, it’s on to the next article: a piece I’m writing for them about the value of writers’ retreats. Watch this space…

Other posts about articles I’ve written recently for various publications: