A message to my future (present) self regarding the removal of all my adult teeth.

<Note: on the 9th November 2023 I had surgery to remove all my remaining adult teeth and replace them with dentures. This was due to the pain and trauma I had experienced over a period of 18 months at the hands of a dentist who removed a tooth in such a way that I experienced nerve damage, and carried out treatment on others that left me in so much pain they also had to be removed. The dentist then moved away from New Zealand, leaving me with some hefty dental bills, many other dental issues to resolve, and PTSD. I was subsequently let down by four other dentists before I eventually managed to find an amazing one who did his absolute best to fix all my issues. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the decision was made for a full plate clearance. I could write volumes about everything that has happened in 2022/2023, but I think it best not to dwell on that, and to round off the experience with this short, cathartic letter to myself.>

Dearest T,

You’re going to worry about this. A lot. Even when you don’t realise that you are, the thoughts will be buzzing around your brain almost constantly in the weeks running up to the surgery. You find out the date around six weeks before it is due to happen, which feels both far too long to wait and hardly any time at all. You’re in a lot of pain, especially in teeth that have had some recent (traumatic… failed…) work done. The only way to fix them is to take them out. The dentist asks you if you want to do it before the others, but you can’t face it then. Somehow it feels easier to just keep taking the painkillers like you have been for months, and know that the end is coming. 

You have a lot of email conversations with ACC who tell you they can’t pay for all of the surgery, the sedation and the dentures. You start a Givealittle page. You are completely blown away by the kindness of friends and strangers who raise over $2000 dollars so you can pay for your new teeth.

You cry a lot. But that’s not new. You’ve been crying a lot for a long time now. Just a few more weeks to go.

On the day of the surgery you feel worn out, mostly from lack of sleep and stress. The dentist, his assistant, and the anaesthetist are all truly lovely. They do everything they can to put you at ease. You explain you are more worried about the sedation than the procedure. They tell you that’s normal and to relax as much as possible. The anaesthetist puts the cannula in your arm and a pulse monitor on your finger. She adds the sedation medication and you can feel it flowing in your arm; cold and slightly painful, but it doesn’t last. She says, “you might be feeling some effects now,” and you can’t remember if you reply or not as suddenly the time has jumped and you’re aware of the dentist doing his job, but you don’t care in the slightest. You feel calm and relaxed and in no pain, and almost as soon as you realise you are in no pain it is time to get up as the procedure is over. 

The anaesthetist hands you two paracetamol and you dribble water all down yourself trying to take them, as you have no control over your jaw. You can feel the new dentures pressing on your gums. They feel huge and you’re not sure you can close your mouth properly. It doesn’t hurt much, but it does throb. You can feel your pulse in your non-existent teeth. Dave, your husband, drives you home. You lie on the sofa, too wired to rest, still in some sort of dazed state. You see yourself for the first time in the bathroom mirror, and you’re shocked at how swollen your face is. You don’t look like you. The teeth seem too big. You worry that you’ve made a mistake.

Week 1 you take so many painkillers you don’t remember most of what happens. You also take so many selfies, trying to get used to how you now look. You lie in the bath and smile at the camera and wonder who this person is on the screen. Your family say they can hardly see any difference, but to you, your reflection is alien. 

You see the dentist the day after the surgery so he can see how things are going. He asks you if you’re happy with how things look, and you tell him, to be honest, no. But everything is healing nicely and the dentures fit really well, so you have to trust that things will settle and improve. That you won’t feel this way forever. You feel cautiously optimistic, and relieved that the worst is over, but you’re also high a lot of the time, and thinking about anything is too hard. 

Week 2, the pain is different. It’s not like what you’ve been through in the last 18 months. It’s pain from a wound that is healing. It feels like it has an end. The dentures rub sore spots and ulcers, which drive you to distraction. It is normal, and you knew to expect it, but it’s difficult to endure. The dentist takes some of the plastic away, grinding it with a tool. It helps, but it’s still tiring. You feel sad, mostly. Exhausted. You question your choices and decisions. It’s hard to know what to eat, how to sleep. You can’t bear to look at your healing mouth, but you can feel hard lumps with your tongue. The dentist says it’s bone coming through. You choose to leave it as the gums might grow over it, the other option being to have it removed, and you can’t face that right now.

You have a call with your boss as you’ve decided to leave your job. She makes a comment on how you look and speak differently and you just laugh it off, but the words hit deep and it bothers you. Codeine is your friend still; it helps you sleep, helps you cope, helps you not lose your mind. The crying starts again.

Week 3 the bone is still coming through the gum. The dentist says it will be more comfortable to remove it, you agree, but you’re not quite prepared for the process. He uses bone cutters to remove the spurs. You get through the appointment and then fall apart. You can’t seem to control your moods. As always, the dentist is lovely and completely understands. But you’re tired of crying and feeling so weak. You wish you were stronger, more capable. 

A good friend reminds you of how much you’ve been through and the kindness you need to show yourself. Crying is not a weakness, they tell you, it is an honest expression of how you’re feeling. How you’re processing everything that has happened. You remind yourself of how you got through the worst of this last year, by reframing the situation. The events that led up to this decision are the result of someone else’s actions and mistakes. You have to think of it like a car accident, and the injuries are not your fault. You cannot control what has happened, but you can control how you go forwards now. 

You cut your hair and put on some makeup. You mess about with the clothes in your wardrobe. You take more selfies, and they seem better this time. The swelling has almost gone down. You look more like how you remember yourself, just with better teeth than you’ve ever had in your life. 

Week 4 and things are easing. You take less painkillers, and your gums are almost healed. You have a routine of washing and wearing the dentures, and you use denture paste to relieve the sore spots. You make a big bowl of pasta with grated cheese and you eat it while watching a comedy program. It is only after you’ve finished you realise you have eaten for the first time in the past few weeks without your whole focus being on eating. It still feels wrong sometimes, the dentures make some movements of your mouth unnatural and they often feel cumbersome and strange, but you’re getting more used to how they fit, and how you need to use the muscles of your jaw. 

You smile more and laugh easier. You make a joke in the pharmacy when she can’t understand you, and it feels okay, a little daft but not sad. You sneeze one morning and the top ones almost fly across the kitchen. Two weeks ago this would have made you miserable, now you just have to laugh. Bone spurs work their way out the gums and you don’t feel as shocked as you used to. It feels like someone has turned the difficulty down. You’re not playing on ‘hard mode’ anymore.  

One month exactly from the surgery date. It’s hard. Really hard. You still have off-days where you’re frustrated and unsure, and the dentures cause pain and you’re tired. But you’re coping. You’re adjusting. You’re winning. You don’t regret the decision you made, even if you wish you hadn’t had to make it. 

An online friend posts a quote from The Lord of the Rings, and it hits you right in the heart.

Frodo says, “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

You know very deeply how Frodo feels, but also understand Gandalf‘s response. You’ve been given more time than you thought you had. Time that is pain and trauma free. You thought at one point this would have no end, that you would have to endure the aftermath forever. You thought you would hate the dentist who did this to you always… and you will! But you will also learn to let that hatred go and live a good life. He’s not important to your story anymore. 

There is still a lot to overcome and get used to. Gum heals quickly, in a matter of weeks, bone takes many months. Your mind may take much longer still. But that’s okay. Just keep going. You’re doing so, so well, and I’m really proud of you.  

Life After Lockdown — A Year On

I turned forty-one last year in the middle of lockdown, alert level 4, and it was one of the best birthdays I’d ever had. As a self-confessed introvert who hates parties and fuss, being forced to stay at home with close family, eating cake and watching my favourite movies, was pretty much a perfect day for me. My presents were mostly handmade or garden-grown, and I’m not big on “stuff” anyway. Sure, the pandemic brought a lot of anxiety, and there was no way of knowing how things might go, but strangely, my mental health felt pretty steady. I’d adapted, adjusted and remained optimistic. Twenty-three days later we’d dropped down to level 3. By mid-May we were in level 2. 

This year, Aotearoa was in alert level 1 when I celebrated the day of my birth. And yes, despite being able to go into the city for ice-cream, unmasked and without social distancing, I felt so much more unsettled. Less cheerful and relaxed. And it’s taken me almost a week to process that and figure out the reasons why.

Anyone reading this from anywhere else in the world will no doubt have some opinions about the following, and I want to acknowledge that I understand that I am deeply privileged to live in a country that has managed the risks so well. I am forever grateful to those in charge who made decisions that have allowed us such freedoms. Our strategy went hard and went early, and is now focused on elimination and exclusion. It is designed to prevent Covid 19 entering the wider community, and containing cases in managed isolation. It relies on the population of Aotearoa, the “team of five million” as it’s called, to maintain diligent track and trace records, to ensure good hygiene practices and to stay at home if they’re sick. Everyone plays a role in protecting the community. And it’s a system that, barring a few minor blips, works exceedingly well.

So why am I still anxious? 

An exclusion strategy is still mentally exhausting. Knowing that outside our borders is basically “Here Be Dragons!” is not a comfortable thought. I have residency here, which offers me some security, but I’ve not seen my family and friends in the U.K. since I moved here in July 2017. I honestly don’t know when that might change. If that will change. There are likely to be people living overseas I will never see again. I know how it feels when people in countries with an obscene number of cases and deaths, talk about their lost connections, being unable to be with family or say goodbye to loved ones who have passed.

You can argue that I can hug and connect with the friends I’ve made over here, but it’s not the same, and if I have to explain how it’s not, you won’t understand anyway. I’ve written before about the (predominantly white) immigrant experience of becoming a triangle, and the deep displacement felt when removed from your birth lands, even if that was by choice. And it was my choice, of course, to come here. I always knew the risks. I suppose I just never considered how easily they could happen for real. 

I’ve seen so much hatred directed at those living in Aotearoa, especially online via social media. Strangers literally waiting for us to fail, to celebrate when things finally go wrong. I’ve seen people here exhibit what I can only liken to some sort of survivors guilt, except most survivors don’t get to still talk to those who weren’t so lucky. I know how it feels, that strange need to apologise. For not failing. For not dying. For being able to enjoy a normal life. To that I can only say misery is not a competition; just because someone is suffering worse, does not make your suffering invalid. 

When the first case was detected here on the 28th February, it still didn’t seem quite real. Our government put us into alert level 2 nine days before the first death. When lockdown began on the 21st March, it was met with much scepticism and disbelief. But when alert level 4 became the reality, when the streets and motorways fell almost silent and the city was a mere ghost of itself, the reality of what this unseen danger meant, hit many people hard. 

In the beginning it felt akin to war. We were many of us genuinely scared of what the future might bring. Parents worried about keeping their children safe, if they would even have the kind of childhood they’d had. We cried often and at almost every piece of news. The words “emergency briefing” would strike us down in absolute terror, and indeed often still does! We formed bubbles, no more than our immediate families, and distanced ourselves while outside. We were forced into treating every stranger we met as a potential threat. That distrust stayed with many of us well after lockdown lifted, it felt wrong to be allowed to be so close to others again. 

The world has gone through collective trauma, and yet humans, the resilient buggers that they are, have managed to somehow muddle their way through it. At the time of writing Google tells me that 2.9 million people have died worldwide, and that number is almost definitely lower than the truth. If I try to imagine that many faces, I fail almost straight away. I don’t believe anyone can. There are times when I don’t want to believe it myself. To accept the loss of so many.  

As vaccination numbers continue to rise, there is good hope that case levels will fall. But with new strains developing in numerous countries, and ongoing resentment over restrictions and poor leadership, I cannot help but look at the rest of the world from behind closed fingers, wondering if it will ever be “safe”. 

Every level change, every new development, every update from the Ministry of Health app Āwhina — which is truly marvellous, I must say — I feel an unwelcome, familiar jolt. A rumbling yawn in the pit of my stomach that makes my pulse run just a little bit quicker, and my brain start to question, “What now?”

I know damn well why my birthday felt strange, why I couldn’t completely relax. That deep trauma, still lurking, unresolved, making me feel guilty about eating ice-cream under a gorgeous blue sky. Knowing that family and friends worldwide are still stuck in  limbo or can’t risk going out. That their lives are so much different to mine. And if I could, I would whisk them over here in a heartbeat. Ice-cream adventures for all! 

With full credit to those who deserve it — Ashley Bloomfield and Siouxsie Wiles to name but two — we have been bloody lucky in Aotearoa; sometimes I wonder if some of the team of five million appreciate just how lucky. But good luck can’t hold forever, which is perhaps my biggest fear. 

I remember quite clearly sitting on the beach at Castlepoint on the 27th of February 2020, looking out across the Pacific Ocean, and feeling quite suddenly, quite surely, that this was the Last Normal Day. I found a hagstone that day, by the cliffs, it’s been in my car ever since. I keep it as a good luck charm of sorts, a reminder of a Time Before. 

And despite my anxieties and my tendency to overthink, I do honestly believe that those times will return for us all. That we will one day be able to see again those friends and family who we so dearly miss.  

Black Dogs, Black Thoughts

I’ve been working for a while now on a project, selecting stories for an anthology to raise money and awareness for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. I’ve been supported by a fantastic, international team of writers and editors to pull this together, and the end is finally in sight.

But it feels strange to be promoting a new book in these odd and uncertain times. Stranger still to ask authors to donate their time and talents for free, and to ask readers to purchase a book for charity, when many of them — some who are writers themselves — have lost or seen a massive reduction in their income.

The very strangest part is feeling like all this is redundant in some way, or lacking in importance. An uncomfortable niggle that I should be focusing on what’s happening in the world right now, not spending time in front of my laptop, ignoring the outside. I will admit, these past few weeks have been very hard for me as my own black dog arrived at my door again, and I was completely unable to write or edit anything new at all.

“Black Dogs, Black Tales” began back in September 2019, when the future looked like it might be hopeful and exciting. I wanted to do good things and be productive, to support a charity that meant a great deal to me, and many of my friends. I wanted to take copies of the collection to the WorldCon, ConZealand. To talk on panels about why the project was so important. To ask authors to read their stories aloud to a captive audience. None of that will happen in quite the same way now. And I’m so bitterly disappointed about that.

It would be very easy for me to be despondent, but the truth is, while we struggle to come to terms with the new normal; while we adjust our routines and ways of working; while we do our very best to manage our fears and anxieties and stay connected with our friends and family, even though we have been forced apart, we see the benefits of services that provide support in areas of mental health more than ever.

We need the tools and the strategies, the comfort and the care. We need to know that there is somewhere we can turn to for advice, or that someone can offer a compassionate ear. Instances of common mental health disorders are very likely to increase in the future in response to how the world, and our lives, have changed. Depression, anxiety, grief and trauma — those things did not go away when COVID-19 arrived. Quite the opposite.

The word “unprecedented” has been used over and over in the media to describe the situations we are experiencing, and while many times it seems to be used to highlight the negative, I also feel like there has to be some positive too.

Now, more than ever, we need to be kind and supportive to those who need it. We need to check in with our friends and neighbours and do all that we can for those who are struggling. We also need to rest, and heal and understand that while this is a time of great uncertainly, hope and kindness will help us get through it together, just as much as physical distancing and good hygiene practices will.

All the authors, poets, editors and artists who have worked on this project have put a massive amount of time, energy and passion into doing so. They have worked together to create a collection that is often dark yet also hopeful, with many contributors creating in defiance of their own black dogs. Every cent raised will go towards the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and to supporting those who need their services the most.

I want to extend my thanks to everyone, for being a part of this, and for supporting me and the rest of the hard-working team. Right now, so many of us are hurting, in so many different ways. If “Black Dogs, Black Tales” can do anything, I hope it can shine a light of hope in the uncertain darkness, that it can spread joy via the stories it contains. That it reminds us that even when our black dogs are haunting our steps, and pacing all around us, we can tame them. We can overcome. Together, but apart. Connected, although physically distant. We’ve got this.

Things I Didn’t Do…

This weekend ended up being the One Where I Didn’t Do Things.

I didn’t go to a social meet-up I had been planning to go to due to feeling unwell. I didn’t send off a story before a submission deadline because I realised it needed a lot more work to properly shine. I didn’t work on any other stories like I’d planned because I just wasn’t feeling motivated.

What I did do was unplug, spend time with my family and read a lot.

I strongly believe that absolutely everything will work a little better if you unplug it for a while… including you. So on Sunday I decided that I would have a No-Screens day, specifically social media and other chat groups, just to give myself a break. It’s amazing how often I reach for my phone to check Twitter or respond to an email or message as soon as it arrives “so I don’t forget,” yet what I also fail to remember is that this takes me out of being present in the moment. I am listening to other people’s voices over my own and prioritising other’s demands over mine. It makes me grumpy, anxious and unproductive. Yet every single time I think I’ve liberated myself from it, it sucks me back in again.

On Sunday, I effectively cut the umbilical. I used my phone only as a handy camera instead of an “internet communications device” (thanks, Steve Jobs).

I didn’t miss it at all.

I went for a walk with my family to the Botanic Gardens in Wellington, which is always one of my most favourite places to go, and had a good explore of the pathways and planted areas. The tulip garden was especially wonderful, and I was particularly taken with the lone red tulip lost in a sea of white. It felt strangely symbolic.

I love seeing the patterns and colours that nature provides; shapes and form that humans might try to emulate but never really manage quite as effortlessly. Changes in light, soil quality, the amount of rain that has fallen – all are unique and essential factors to growth. Sometimes we walk so fast we miss the little intricacies and complexities, we stop feeling awed by what surrounds us and simply take it for granted. I wanted to make time to look – really look – at what was around me and re-ground myself. Immerse myself in the real world rather than a pixellated one.

I took a lot of green pictures: textures and shapes, close-up details of leaves and trees being throttled by vines. As much as I would love the moss “skull” to be real, I rather suspect that it was made by a mischievous human. The knot in the tree which looks like a watchful eye, however, was definitely created by nature’s hand.

This weekend I started reading a new book by award-winning and bestselling author Tom Cox called “Ring the Hill”. I love Tom’s writing style, it always feels less like reading a story and more like going for a long walk with an old friend who I haven’t seen for a while, but with who I can instantly reconnect. The Guardian describes his writing as “loose-limbed” and while I know what they mean, I would argue that rather than loose, it would be better to say it was “leisurely”. He pulls the reader with him on a gentle meander, exploring life and people and geography, and there is something truly wonderful about his poetic descriptions.

I walked back to my car along lanes where large flocks of unseen sheep could be heard shouting together at the tops of their voices, a noise that from an individual sheep can seem to smack of the most terrible depression but in chorus sounded totally joyous, as if rows and rows of hearty pensioners were behind the hedges saying ‘Yeah!’ over and over again.  (Cox, Tom Ring the Hill p. 20,21)

How lovely is that?

It’s made me consider own writing style and how I might evolve and improve. I was thinking recently about my writing goals for 2020 and beyond “keep writing daily” I didn’t feel like I really had any. Or not anything I might add to a structured list and keep a timesheet for. Some might argue that I’m not taking my “career” seriously, but I know myself well enough to say that holding myself accountable to specific targets will only make me rebel. Just like if someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me even more determined to try. Not to prove them wrong, but to prove to myself that I can.

When I write, I meander too. I’m a wanderer, I write whatever comes into my head and sometimes I just have to stand back and see what falls out when it decides it wants to. I tend to see the best stories as strangely organic creations and writers as mere vessels which allow the words to take form.

But I do have goals. I am looking forwards to a short holiday at the end of the month and finding some more inspiration in being outdoors. I am very much enjoying being an integral part of a team who are pulling together an anthology to support a Kiwi mental health charity. I am happy to be bringing people together through ‘Well-Written’, both online through Slack and social media, and via associated workshops. I have joined NaNoWriMo and I am writing an elvish fantasy YA novel for my children. I have an idea for another anthology and a series of novellas which I hope will be published next year, or even the year after (assuming I actually get on with writing them!). I sold two stories this year and have another two in published anthologies, so I’d like to do a bit more of that. And I have made myself a village of people, both emerging and established writers, who have embraced my wildness and become firm friends. So, I think I’m doing okay.

It was nice to unplug over the weekend, and even nicer to discover that I appreciate the value of online communication when I do go back to it. (Although 124 unread Slack messages was… a lot!) I can see that No-Screens Sunday is likely to be a regular occurrence for me, not least to provide a necessary work/life balance in my writing too.

“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.

Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.”
― David McCullough Jr.

Open call for submissions — Black Dogs, Black Tales

I am extremely pleased to announce that after a good deal of plotting and scheming, I will be working with a fantastic team of people to put together a brand new horror and dark speculative fiction charity anthology entitled, “Black Dogs, Black Tales.”

This collection of short fiction will be raising money for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, a charity very close to my heart. One in five New Zealand adults have been diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some time in their lives. This includes depression, bipolar disorders and anxiety disorders.

I have been working with my own group Well-Written: Writing for Wellness, both online and through workshops, since 2017 and I strongly believe that writing and creativity has helped me manage my own mental health. It seems appropriate that I use the written word to do whatever I can to support all those who are in need of help.

I’ve approached Steve Dillon from Things in the Well to be the publisher, and he’s gladly signed up for it. It will be formatted to align with their distinctive look and feel, and will fit in well with the other books in their series of themed anthologies.

If you want to know more, including how you can get involved, check our call out page here. And if you can’t submit but still want to help, you can donate to our Ko-fi page here.

Our official Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/blackdogsblacktales/ where you can find out about the reasons why I’ve set up this anthology, read introductions from the international team and get up-to-date news and announcements regarding the ToC and cover art.

Don’t Self-Reject!

Have you ever felt super excited about doing a Thing, only to suddenly find yourself crippled by unexpected anxiety, uncertainty and a strong urge to run away and hide? I don’t just mean a physical Thing, but also a creative or artistic one.

Self-rejection is the nasty little brother of the Imposter Syndrome Gremlin, and he will take every damn chance he can to put a kibosh on your plans. As a writer, that usually takes the form of self-rejecting when sending out stories for submissions or when querying publishers. I don’t believe anyone wants to self-reject and succumb to the Gremlins, it’s more that sometimes the Gremlins become a little too hard to beat.

The other month I saw an amazing place to submit a short story — an anthology already supported by some outstanding authors and with a top-notch publishing team. My dark little writer’s heart skipped a beat, and on an impulse, I sat down and started to write. 

What came out was a good story, I knew it was, and I even managed to freak myself out with the monster I made up. Sure, it wasn’t Paul Tremblay or Josh Malerman standard (two very, very good writers who I admire) but it was fun and creepy and twisted. I liked it. 

Three days later I had convinced myself my story was absolute garbage, I would be an idiot for sending it, and every editor who read it would slap their thighs and point and laugh, and ask themselves, “Why on Earth did she think we would accept that piece of shit?!” The Imposter Syndrome Gremlin was clearly working his horrible magic… again. A friend of mine asked me if I’d sent the story, and I told her, “No, there’s zero chance of it being accepted.” She replied, “There’s only ever zero chance if you don’t send it.”

I wanted to argue, I really did, but I knew straight away that she was right. What exactly was stopping me? Fear of failure? Fear of making a fool of myself? Maybe even some peculiar fear of actually being accepted and not knowing how to handle that?! I bashed out a cover letter, formatted it how they needed and hit SEND on the email.

And I felt so sick! I always feel anxious after I submit anything, but this was a whole new level, and I got to thinking, wow, what was it about this particular sub that had got me into such a state?

Any writer knows that rejections are an unfortunate but common part of writing, especially if we are sending our words out into the wild. Most of us either end up developing walrus-thick skins in response, or we give up. As my dear Nana would have said, “It’s not how many times you fall that matters, it’s how many times you get back up and try again.” Giving up is never an option for me, I really am just that damn stubborn. Self-rejection, however, is a tricky one. To get over it I often have to properly dissect the reasons why I’m wavering, and turn that narrative completely around. 

Here’s some of my Problem/Solution examples.

Problem: I don’t feel like this piece of work is very good.
Solution: Why not? Is there an obvious problem or something you can fix or change in some way? Could you polish it a little more or get feedback from someone you trust? Do what you can to make it shine then let it go. Remember: striving for perfection is like chasing the horizon. 

Problem: There are lots of people submitting, My work won’t even get looked at anyway.
Solution: It definitely won’t get looked at it if you don’t send it. You have nothing to lose. Write a good covering letter and do what you can to make it stand out, take a deep breath and hit send. 

Problem: Everyone else is a much higher calibre of writer than I am.
Solution: See solution to Problem 1. Also, how do you know that? Don’t assume anything about your talent — you will always discover greater and lesser persons than yourself in every aspect of your life. Comparisons are not always useful unless you’re using them as a springboard to improve. 

Problem: This is a lot of effort and I’m not sure if it’s worth my time.
Solution: Only you can answer that. If you genuinely think it’s going to take up too much time and energy for little return, that’s a reasonable concern. But be honest, if you’re using time and effort as an excuse to not do something, don’t do that. Almost everything good takes time and effort, writing is no exception. 

Problem: I’m submitting all the time and getting lots of rejections. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong and I feel like giving up!
Solution: Find a writer you really like or enjoy and study how they write. Ask yourself why you like what they do; what do they do differently to you; and how can you emulate that in your own style? Avid readers are great writers — I’m not here to argue, it’s a fact. Also, the more you write, the better you’ll get. Unfortunately, very few of us are born with that Brilliant Debut Novel gene. we have to work at it. Only you know how much work you are prepared to put in. 

Whatever you write and however often you do it, first and foremost if you write, you are a writer. Start calling yourself that. See how the word feels. Introduce yourself to people as a writer. Own that shit. 

Above all, don’t let the Self-Rejection Gremlin join forces with his Imposter Syndrome brother. If you want to imagine anyone pointing and laughing at you, telling you that you are no good or don’t belong, imagine them… and think about how good it feels to blow those little bastards to smithereens. 

Finally, here’s a little reminder of a piece I wrote way back in January.

Write the damn story.
What are you waiting for?
No, you don’t need permission from anyone.
If you’re doubting yourself because you don’t think you have the talent, that’s okay. Maybe you don’t… yet.
But you have passion, and often that’s better.
You can learn the craft, but first you have to put the effort in.
You won’t ever improve if you don’t try.
The first draft is going to suck.
Yes, really, really suck.
It’s going to be the worst story you will ever write.
But the first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
Everyone you idolise had to start somewhere.
Some of the best writers now are only so because they’ve put a lot of work in.
There will always be better and worse writers than yourself.
Criticism can be painful, but also useful.
Learn to listen to, accept, and learn from every piece of feedback you get.
Realise that your friends and family will probably not be honest with you.
Seek others’ opinions, especially those of your peers.
Write the story you want to read.
Set goals, stick to them, hold yourself accountable.
Don’t wait for inspiration, just start.
Show up. Show up. Show up. Eventually the muse will show up too.
Do what your heart tells you.
Writing is an art. You’re an artist. Paint pictures with your words.
Write the damn story.



Header image: “Tall Poppy” digital art, T. Wood 2019

My Contributory Verse

My brain is being an asshole. I don’t mind admitting that at all. Sometimes it does this, and I know it will pass, but while I’m floundering in that deep, dark hole, everything pretty much sucks.

On the positive side, I’ve used it as a catalyst for some extremely dark new stories, which I absolutely love. They’re much more bleak than my usual style, and I was initially worried if perhaps I was dragging myself down; immersing myself unnecessarily in misery and despair.

A friend said to me, and I sincerely hope he won’t mind me quoting him here: “My superstition has long been that confronting the black dog in fiction keeps it from sniffing too close at your heels.” and I know exactly what he means. The reaction of creating in response to hardship, helps to not only distract us from the pain, but to focus on our talents and abilities. It gives us something to cling to, a life raft of hope. More than that, it helps us make sense of ourselves, even if our art is not directly related to those dark thoughts.

One of my absolute favourite movies is “Dead Poets Society”, and I will never not sob at the ending. There are many quotes I could use here, but I feel perhaps this one is the most appropriate. It refers explicitly to poetry, but it applies itself just as equally to any body of creative work:

John Keating: We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

I suspect a lot of my general unease lately has been influenced by the feeling, perhaps some peculiar peer pressure, that I somehow have to explain why and what I do. That my art has to have a meaning. 

I don’t.

My first collection of short stories was a passion project, I did it for so many reasons, but first and foremost was for love. It is a snapshot of where I was in my life. I never expected it to be revolutionary or groundbreaking. It’s not. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or has no worth, it means it has a fixed place in my creative journey. It’s my contributory verse.

On Twitter this morning, another friend shared a short video of David Bowie responding to the question of why you should never play to the gallery.


“Always remember that the reason that you initially started working, was that there was something inside yourself that you felt if you could manifest in someway, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfil other people’s expectations, I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that. The only thing I would say is, if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

Whenever I need to quieten my mind, or just get a sense of myself again, I go to the sea. The sea doesn’t care who you are or what you do — it can be beautiful and calm, or mighty and terrifying. It just does as it wants, it needs no validation. I admire that.

Last year, I wrote and published a piece focusing on belonging, and finding where you are in the world. I’ve since edited and amended it, returning to it when I need to. A large part of it needed no changes. I believe it still rings true.

Here, in Wellington, the two loudest sounds are quite frequently the wind and the sea. While the sea is only truly loud when you are standing close to it, the wind comes bustling around your house, knocking on windows and rattling doors, demanding to be acknowledged. Wind is obnoxious; even on a calm day it has many forms, but it always feels like the most intrusive of the elements. With other forms of weather there are ways to avoid it or hide from it, but wind seems absolutely determined to find you.

“Hi! Hello! I’m here again!” It seems to say, as it grabs you by the ears with both hands and leans into your face. It can be like a demanding toddler, or a sedate old man. It can run and whoop and swirl, or it can meander and caress. Either way it seems impossible to hide from it completely. In that way it is the partner of the sea. Both are unstoppable and will do exactly as they wish. Both have great power and strength, the ability to ravage and destroy, but can be equally calm and restful. They do exactly as they like and nothing gets in their way. You must learn to accept them and work with them, or accept that you will always be fighting against them. A fight you will never win.

“Why fight us when we are so much greater than you? That’s simply how we are.”

I feel like too many people fight the wind and the sea in their lives, perhaps without realising it. I know I did. They still believe that they can tame the elements without appreciating or understanding their immensity. They see the wind as a nuisance to be overcome, the sea a force to be tamed. That’s not true. To wilfully ignore or challenge the guiding forces of your life ultimately never ends well.

I am not afraid these elements, even though I am fully aware of the destruction they can cause. I prefer, instead, to celebrate how impressive they both are. You can keep your calm days, give me instead the power of the ocean, the roar of a storm in my ears. A calm day may be beautiful; the sea, gentle, the wind, a mere kiss on the cheeks, but at any point the weather may change, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Embrace the power and the wildness, or spend your days always railing against a force that does not care about your emotions and can flatten you without a thought.

I write because I must. When I don’t, I feel incomplete. Sometimes I slip into the desperate trap of seeking validation, and then I tip the rancid sawdust from my ears, and go about my day.

My brain, right now, is being an asshole, but it will pass. And in the meantime, I’m quite curious to see what stories might emerge.

I’ll let the Dead Poets boys – using the words of poet and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau – conclude this post:

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Finding My Way Back

My regular readers and followers will know that I frequently write for mental health. I’m also aware that this often turns people off too.

“Oh great, she’s going on about depression again.”

“Why does she always focus on the serious stuff?”

“She must be pretty unstable if she has to keep focusing on all that.”


I “go on about it” because it’s incredibly important to me, and because I believe that one of the best ways to change things that aren’t working, is to address our challenges and to talk about them.

I’ve not been my best self recently. I’ve been demotivated and anxious, and I had failed to kept up with my daily writing routine. I felt like it wasn’t bringing me the level of joy I had become accustomed to. I wasn’t sure why at first, but I also recognised that I had been giving out a lot of energy, without feeling like I was getting any in return. I wasn’t feeling seen for what I was doing. As a result, I’d lost sight of my real purpose and goals.

Amanda Palmer talks in her book “The Art of Asking” about the basic human need to be seen by others.

“There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen. When you are looked at, your eyes can be closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight. When you are seen, your eyes must be open, and you are seeing and recognising your witness. You accept energy and you generate energy. You create light. One is exhibitionism, the other is connection. Not everybody wants to be looked at. Everybody wants to be seen.”

I had fallen into the trap of believing others were “stealing” my energy. Merely taking what I was offering them and giving nothing in return. This wasn’t true, my self-doubt demons were whispering in my mind and making me think the worst.

I am a Wild Woman. I am connected with myself and I recognise and understand the many paths my life journey has led me along. I am done with asking for permission to take up space. I don’t believe you measure your own self worth by the opinions of others. I believe in living your life with authenticity and integrity, and that you become a better person by lifting others up not by putting them down. I don’t listen to people who tell me what I cannot do, and how people treat me or respond to me says nothing about me and absolutely everything about them. I also know most people — myself included — are works in progress. I try to always be kind, or at least strive to understand others’ motivations.

I am a Wild Woman, I know this without a doubt, but I’m no Wonder Woman. I’m still human, and I still fail sometimes.

I realised that not only was my writing not enriching me in the way it used to, I had stopped exercising and moving physically as much as I did. My daily routine always involved me reading or catching up with a good TV show while hula hooping in the morning. I’d been under the weather, I had a cold, it was as good an excuse as any to “take it easy”. Except, when I got better, I didn’t return to my routine. I got a lot of headaches, especially in the morning, one almost every day. I was starting to worry that something might be wrong with me. I felt constantly tired and I wasn’t getting outside enough. I wasn’t walking around and getting fresh air. I was squirrelling myself away at home, hiding behind a computer screen, being “busy”. Except my being busy also seemed to end up becoming some strange form of self-flagellation while worrying about what people thought of me. Tweeting excessively but getting no likes. Refreshing the browser just in case I’d missed something. All the many toxic things I turned my back on when I gave up Facebook.

Social media can be amazing. It can inspire, connect, heal and educate. It can also be a heaving cesspit of narcissism, trolls and and irrational behaviour. I don’t want to get into a larger discussion about social media, but for me, and knowing my own personality and behavioural traits, it is not always a very pleasant place for me to play. For me, right now, “The only winning move is not to play.” (WarGames, 1983) I am still working on strategies where I can use the positive parts of social media without getting sucked in completely.

And so, I had realised I needed to clear my head, and get rid of the ball of anxiety which seemed to be turning my stomach to stone every day. I took a walk on the beach.

Whenever I need to quieten my mind, or just get a sense of myself again, I go to the sea. The sea doesn’t care who you are or what you do — it can be beautiful and calm, or mighty and terrifying. It just does as it wants, and it needs no validation. I can identify with that. It’s the same feeling I get when I get up somewhere really high. It puts everything in perspective and gives me space to focus. If you want to get a sense of that feeling, watch Carl Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot” on YouTube https://youtu.be/GO5FwsblpT8

The sun was bright but the wind was bitter, I had to keep walking to stay warm. It was late in the day and the sun dipped towards the ocean, bathing everything in a strange yet peaceful light. I walked to the rocks at the far side of the beach and watched the waves flick up and over their jagged edges. I found pieces of smooth beach glass, which always makes me smile, and I held it in my palm as I walked. I stopped, and breathed deep. I let go of all my negative thoughts. I felt fully seen by the elements and the land.

This morning I returned to my usual exercise routine. I felt so much better for doing it. I chose turmeric tea over coffee and I didn’t get a morning headache for once. I turned off Twitter and logged out of everything else, and sat down and wrote for a while. All those old feelings of joy returned. Satisfaction through artistic development and my personal creative journey. I felt more like myself again. Not so stretched. Balanced and more calm.

Recognising your unhealthy behaviours can be a necessary and important process, just as any self-care is essential to you. I’d fallen into a very common trap of expecting to gain validation through the opinions of others. Letting comments and likes dictate how I felt. It made me miserable, and unfulfilled. Because, ultimately, I know that while support and praise are wonderful, you cannot be emotionally satisfied if you pin all your happiness on that which others give you. You have to give it to yourself too. Recognise your achievements and celebrate how far you’ve come. Because if that attention is not forthcoming, or is lacking in some way, it can be far too easy for you to convince yourself you’ve failed. And that’s simply not true.

I write about writing for wellness, because without it, when I stop writing, I stop being well. I don’t have to write *about* mental health, to be writing *for* it. I write to bring focus to myself and my experiences, to put things into proper perspective so that I can acknowledge and assess the impact those experiences have had on me. I write because sometimes it is easier to put my thoughts on paper than to verbalise them, especially if those words are difficult to say. I recognise that writing every day helps me challenge my anxieties, release tension and frustration in my mind and body, and brings order to my daily routine.

I am “well written”. I write to feel well, and it works.

Well-Written – Writing for Wellness

I run an online blog and support group called Well-Written; a writing group which encourages women to write for positive mental health. We share our ideas and creativity, and we listen to what we all have to say. It is aimed at being an empowering and nurturing space not just to write about mental health issues, but also to celebrate writing as having a positive impact on our sense of self. Here I explain why I feel this is important, and why I keep doing it.

Why am I doing this? Why am I putting so much of my energy into this? I could give up; maybe I should give up. It would be the easiest thing in the world to lie down and just stop. No-one is listening to me anyway.

I hear these thoughts in my head very regularly. In fact, they never really go away. Sometimes they are LOUD and they FILL MY WHOLE BODY. Sometime they are so quiet as to hardly exist. But they are always there.

I’ve always written for my mental health, from the very first time I began keeping a diary at the age of eleven. At that age I knew I was writing words that I wouldn’t be sharing with others. As I’ve grown older I realise that sharing those words not only helps me, but can help others as well. It can spark an understanding; a realisation that we are not alone in our feelings. If what I’ve written can help and inspire just one person – even if that person is myself – then I have achieved something powerful.

I started Well-Written because I needed a distraction after losing a friend to suicide. I make no secret of the fact that my initial intentions for Well-Written were first and foremost to make myself feel better. To reach out to other people. To stop myself thinking dark and frightening thoughts. I did the only thing I knew I could do which wasn’t self-destructive – I wrote about my feelings. I never intended to share them, that wasn’t the purpose at the time, but those words opened something up inside me. They made me realise that while I felt unable to talk about how I felt, I could write about it, and I could share those feelings. Anonymously if necessary.

Sharing your words is scary, especially if those words are about things which are deeply personal to you. You may doubt your voice, or feel nervous about speaking out. You may not want others to know that you are capable of such thoughts. This applies to all of your writing, not merely that which focuses on your emotions or mental health. The knowledge that once you send those words out into the world, there can be no taking them back.

I often remind myself that while I cannot control how my writing is received, I can control what I offer to the world. I can control everything I put on the page. I can speak my truth; honestly and with integrity, and I can be mindful of how I use my language. I can be honest without being hurtful. I can speak about what processes work for me without judging others.

I used to feel a deep unease at the idea of my family and close friends reading what I wrote. Now I understand that my writing often answers questions which those close to me had felt unable to ask. I was worried that I might damage my relationship with them in some way, not seeing that my keeping such thoughts from them only widened the boundaries between us.

Eventually, I realised that I don’t have to write to appease anybody. I write only for myself. I will be judged, both positively and unfairly, on absolutely everything I write. Once I understood that, I was able to let go of my inhibitions. I could write freely and openly about everything I wanted and needed to write about. I have sparked conversations, I have shared myself with others, and I have let go of the doubts that made me question: should I share this?

It’s not easy. I don’t think bravery or courage are quite the right words to describe it – although they are an important part of it. Instead, I believe it is more akin to peeling back another layer of yourself and finding a piece of your authentic self. Finding your voice and knowing it deserves to be heard. Having something to say, and not waiting for permission to say it. Writing your story as it needs to be written.

It’s easy to give up; it’s perhaps one of the hardest things in the world to keep fighting, especially when you are tired or demotivated. I want to tell you that we all often feel like that; but you do not have to fight alone. Well-Written is a village, a community, your own personal cheerleading squad. It is a safe space where you can be supported and nurtured. Where you can speak openly without judgement about the things that matter to you.

Why am I doing this? Because it’s important to me and, I believe, to others. Because too many people are too scared, or too uncertain, or simply haven’t found the right words yet to speak. I completely understand; I used to feel the same. I want to let you know that your voice might be quiet right now, but I am listening and I still hear you.

I hear you.

Slowing Down and Changing Gears.

I’m tired. I don’t want to admit it, but I am.

I promised myself last year to pay more attention to my ‘give-a-fuck’-budget, and by that I meant that I needed to consider whether something was really worth my time, my energy or my money. I also said that if an event I was invited to involved fake smiling, I wasn’t going to go.

The most likely reason I am tired is because I have broken these two promises to myself.

I throw a lot of myself into everything I do. I get excited and passionate and, foolishly, I expect other people to share that energy. I forget that most people don’t have the same amount of drive or they are simply too busy and can’t, (or won’t,) make the time.

I tell myself that’s okay, but it doesn’t stop me feeling disappointed. I’ve found social media particularly bad for this, I can’t tell if it’s due to algorithms messing up my reach, or people simply being apathetic, but I’ve felt, on more than one occasion, like I’m shouting from a high mountain into a void. My voice is nothing more than a squeak. Social media exhausts me and I know it’s toxic for me. Yet it is also one of the easiest ways of connecting with people, of bringing like-minded souls together. So I persevere.

I also know my mood fluctuates frequently, thanks to depression, chronic illnesses and PMDD. I tend to throw myself into what I do to counter these afflictions. Sometimes at the expense of self-care. Lack of feedback or validation can make these feelings worse. Thus the downward spiral continues. As much as I don’t want to, I have to accept that I cannot do everything on my own and by myself.

All that said, I am setting myself limits on the things I do now, and prioritising the ventures I get involved in. The Well-Written blog has not worked how I hoped it would, I suspect it may be time to retire it, or to reconsider its purpose. The Facebook group has plenty of members, but very few contributors. Again, I need to reconsider in which direction it needs to go.

In comparison, the Wild Women, Wild Voices workshop has received a phenomenal amount of interest, which tells me that is a much stronger area to focus on. I am still absolutely committed to writing for well-being and promoting initiatives to support positive mental health.

I have almost finished my first book – a collection of short speculative fiction stories. I aim to publish the ebook on various platforms in late March. I will be writing about the process and sharing that later in the year, possibly also offering a workshop – a guide to self-publishing.

My frequent readers know that my mantra is to never ask for, nor wait for permission to share your art. Writing a book has been a journey of self-discovery and expression, and I have found many wonderful people in the writing community who have both helped and inspired me. I have listened and learned and finally completed something I am proud of. I would not have been able to do that if I had not stopped seeking permission to take up space.

I will also be volunteering to help with and promote ConZealand, the world science fiction convention, due to be held in Wellington in 2020.

Introspection and re-evaluation are all very necessary parts of a creative journey, and the returns must at least validate, if not celebrate, the process. You will not win every time, but you must learn from your losses; adapt and improve. Self-care is essential, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Likewise, you cannot lead and inspire others if you are not inspired yourself.

This isn’t meant to be a ‘poor me’ post. This is simply me, being honest with myself, accepting my limits, and focusing on what is important and fulfilling right now. If I don’t slow down, I will break. I’m not stopping, I’m just easing off the gas a little. I’m taking some time to enjoy the ride.