The Nudge

This might be a little different to my usual posts, as I want to talk about the Nudge. If you’ve ever experienced the Nudge you’ll know exactly what I mean, but if you’ve not, please allow me to explain.

A university friend of mine almost got himself into a lot of trouble. The kind of trouble where the local police force ask many awkward questions of you, and if they don’t like your answers, you might end up spending some time behind bars.

My friend managed to avoid getting into such trouble thanks to his, as he put it, “Guardian Angel with a baseball bat.” He had been drinking that night and was more than a little drunk, and when his friends suggested he join them on a BB-gun toting, joy-ride around his home town, he stupidly agreed, but said he needed to use the bathroom first.

Once there, he apparently saw what he thought was a shadowy figure in the corner of the room which swung it’s arms in his direction, and the next thing he knew he was waking up on the bathroom floor. While he was unconscious, his friends had embarked on their ill-advised mission, cumulating in the Armed Response Unit being called. Needless to say, the evening did not end very well for them, but my friend had a lucky escape.

It’s an extreme example, for sure, and most of the time the Nudge isn’t quite so violent. It can be as simple and as calm as meeting a stranger in a cafe, maybe even somewhere you would never normally be, and bonding over your similar tattoos. The moment feels good and positive, but much later you realise that said stranger has given you the inspiration to try something new, or to venture out into fresh pastures. Your life becomes better in a small, yet incredibly significant way. Would you have done it if not for the meeting? Who knows, but regardless, that’s a Nudge.

In its simplest terms, a Nudge is the universe telling you to listen. Or at least, that’s how I interpret it. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, or life changing, it just needs to make you stop for a moment and consider the path you’re following. To be aware of the world and its immensity.

When I moved to New Zealand in 2017, I felt very strongly that not only did I want to be here, but that something else wanted me to be here too. Our process in getting here involved so many things clicking into place at once, it almost seemed too impossible to put it down to sheer coincidence. We almost missed the shuttle from the hotel to the airport, but we caught it just in time and the driver refused to take a fee. The cash we had from selling our car three days before we left the country was the only UK money we had on us. It paid for the taxi from Leicester to Heathrow and for breakfast in the hotel. We spent the very last penny in Heathrow airport, just before we left for good. Coincidence? Of course it was. What else could it be?

Was that a Nudge? Not entirely, but it certainly helped to cement the feeling that we had made the right choice. Did something else want me here? I think that’s too tricky a question to answer, and I wouldn’t even know where to start. But I do believe that the path I carved out for myself had a very clear ending. It took hard work and determination, but I’d be lying if I said that every so often I didn’t feel like there was a gentle hand pushing on my back making sure I kept going forwards, despite any fear and uncertainty I might have felt.

People talk about ‘gut feelings’ and ‘intuition’ and ‘higher forces guiding their hands’. I think all of those things could be attributed to a Nudge. But a Nudge gets you somewhere. It quite literally points you in a different direction. Perhaps one you hadn’t thought about trying before. Sometimes it keeps you grounded too — stops you from running off headfirst into a misadventure. A Nudge can have a voice or be a guiding hand. It could be a person, an animal or a thing. It can be a dream. A realisation. A greater understanding. A bang to the head that forces you to slow down. A near-death experience that makes you appreciate being alive.

Some might attribute it to religion or faith. Others to common sense, or to looking for patterns which aren’t really there. That’s okay. That’s a very personal thing. For me, I like to think of my Nudge as a little voice that inspires me to do things but with a side helping of sensible urgency. It probably just means that I when I look at what drives a situation, I am able to read the negative space a little better than some. As a constant worrier I’m always able to jump to the worst-case scenario. As a realist, I can dial it back a little bit and find a happy medium.

It’s the part of me that realises that my earthquake preparedness kit needs updating, and the day after I update it there comes an earthquake. A more superstitious person might read more into that, but to be honest, I think it’s nothing more than listening to the messages that the universe offers. Reading between the lines. And being just a little bit lucky.

I don’t think the Nudge is a higher force or Guardian Angel — not even one with a baseball bat — the Nudge is you listening to yourself and being open about the possibilities for change. And if you welcome it, who knows where it might guide you and what gifts it could bring.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Online Connections: On Going Viral

I’ve been on Twitter on one way or another since November 2010. Like a lot of people, social media is a conflicting place for me. Sometimes it’s a fun and exciting playground where I can make connections and find new friends. Other times it can feel like a toxic sandbox overrun by spiteful trolls. I tend to stay in my little online bubble and don’t bother engaging with those who bring their negative energy to the platform.

I don’t do follow-trains or like-for-likes, and I rarely add anyone who I don’t have similar interests, ideas or a real-life relationship with. I’m not “here to debate” and I block unsavoury users without pause. My DMs are definitely not open. I don’t even have a user icon which shows my real face. Living in New Zealand I’m a reasonably active participant in NZ Twitter — which really emphasises how almost everyone on the islands are only two degrees removed from each other — but I’m definitely not an “influencer.”

On the morning of the 17th January I was actively considering deleting my account for a while. Not for any particularly bad reason, but I was aware that it was significantly reducing my productivity. I felt like I wasn’t quite getting the quality engagement that I wanted — the signal to noise ratio was way off. As an introvert who pays lot of attention to mental health issues, I was also aware that I had fallen back into old, bad habits that were contributing to my rising anxiety levels.

But I also knew, like the Hobbit Samwise Gamgee, “There’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” I felt that I just needed to keep searching for it.

Out of curiosity I composed and sent a tweet.

“Please give me recommendations of amazing kick-ass women on Twitter to follow. Women who are strong & confident, who take absolutely zero shit and have powerful, thoughtful voices. I need more connections to Wild Women. Earth Mothers. Warriors.”

Within half an hour the ball had begun rolling, with people tagging many influential women in the maker and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) communities. Then New Zealand Twitter joined in, adding suggestions of mana wahine — strong Māori female figures. (Mana wahine is often understood to be a type of Māori feminism, although it is not as simple as that.) Writer Twitter was the next to add suggestions — mostly horror writers and poets, being the two “scenes” I am an active part of — with both well-established and beginner female writers being tagged. And so it went on.

“Cool,” I thought, as I muted the replies to stop my mentions blowing up. “That got a lot more attention than I was expecting.”

It was a gorgeous, sunny day. A friend of mine and their daughter were walking 59km in the name of kindness, and promoting their walk on Twitter with the hashtag #kindnessmatters. Pretty damn inspiring. I didn’t think I was up for walking 59km, but I could definitely manage 10km into the city. I guess acts of kindness and giving back were mingling together in my head that day. Somehow it felt important to add my own steps to their journey.

I went out and forgot all about Twitter.

Six hours later I checked my feed and almost spat out my coffee. My curious tweet, to which I had expected maybe a dozen or so replies, had gone viral. With over 600,000 impressions and 13,000 total engagements, the comments and likes had escalated monumentally. It would have been impossible to read through them all, but a skim read told me something incredibly important: there was zero negativity here.

Every single comment was from someone using their words to lift up and celebrate the women that they considered strong and kick-ass. Women they admired or found inspiring in some way, who meant a lot to them or who had a positive impact on their lives. Some used the thread to celebrate their friends, or women that were close to them. Others added strangers and celebrities; politicians and party leaders. There were movie-stars, singers, writers and artists. Women who did important work for charity or gave back to their community in some way. There was a fabulous wide range of diversity and inclusion, with women of colour and from the LGBTQIA+ communities equally tagged and praised.

It’s good, healthy & empowering to reject labels, especially those that others may try to put on you, as much as it is to find ones that feel right.

Some women said that while they chose to reject the labels I’d used as they did not feel like they were appropriate, they appreciated the mention and acknowledgement. This in itself was a powerful affirmation and a reminder that it’s good, healthy & empowering to reject labels, especially those that others may try to put on you, as much as it is to find ones that feel right. Others embraced and claimed those labels and were delighted that other women thought of them in such a way. The level of positivity and mutual support was absolutely astounding. Apparently my tweet had tapped a nerve, or exposed a need which hadn’t otherwise been addressed. It spoke to women (and a few men too) and fostered a sense of online community and mutual recognition. Women were being seen for who they were and what they do, and showing other women the importance of that.

Eventually, I killed the thread by protecting my tweets for 24 hours. By the next morning it had amassed over 700,000 impressions and 14,500 engagements. Sadly, but predictably, by this time a few trolls and bots had sneaked in. Not enough to even make a dent on the overall vibe of positivity, and their comments were more weird than abusive or unkind, but it was enough to make my uncomfortable introvert side say, “Time to stop now.”

For me, saying “no” is essential self-care, and knowing when to walk away from something is as important as speaking out. It might seem strange but while I value being seen, I don’t necessarily want to be looked at.

I am highly unlikely to ever be famous for anything I do, and I have to be completely honest, I’m totally happy with that. I found the intensity of attention rather unpleasant, despite it only being online attention and overwhelmingly positive at that. I always feel wary about sticking my head above the parapet, knowing that the mood online can turn sour quickly, and there are as many dark corners of the web as there are light. For me, saying “no” is essential self-care, and knowing when to walk away from something is as important as speaking out. It might seem strange but while I value being seen, I don’t necessarily want to be looked at.

However, for this specific tweet to go viral seems amusingly “on brand” for me. The work I did last year facilitating Wild Women workshops with my Well Written group was aimed primarily at providing safe spaces for women to speak and write honestly and openly about themselves, and to foster connections with other women in areas that they felt they were missing. Finding your community, and deriving strength and encouragement from that, is something I feel incredibly passionate about, as well as sharing that sense of connection and providing spaces for those who need them.

I’m incredibly happy to have found so many kind, supportive and kick-ass women via my tweet, and it’s great to know that others have found the same. Seeing so many strong women lift each other up was truly heartwarming, and I’ve decided I won’t be quitting Twitter any time soon. In fact my tweet has shown me that it could be extremely beneficial to expand my Wild Women work into more online places and, if possible, increase accessibility to supportive sessions for women.

Until then, I will keep on searching for, and promoting, strong and confident women. All those doing good work and supporting each other. The Wild Women, the Earth Mothers and Warriors who have powerful, thoughtful voices and take absolutely zero shit.

Header image credit:

RISE: a collection of poems

My collection of poems about motherhood, family, old friends, spiritual journeys and the sea entitled, ‘RISE’, is available to download for free on Smashwords.

I’ve had all my poems sitting together in a folder for a while now. I’d published them in drips and drabs on my blog, but I’d been planning to do something with them for a while, maybe a chapbook or a simple ebook. But I was lazy.

Yesterday I was invited to read my science fiction poem ‘Future Imperfect’ as part of a gathering, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend. Instead, I sent a recording of the poem (which you can hear here) and it was very well received by the group. It will now be included in a chapbook of poems, dedicated to the late New Zealand author Brian E Turner.

Also yesterday I had an unexpected visit from the Head Weasels, more commonly known as anxiety and depression. Their timing was irritating and rather ironic. An article by writer Lee Murray focusing on writers and mental health, and which I had been quoted in, had just gone live that morning.

I was in a funk. I didn’t want to write. Instead, I did some digital doodling and ended up creating two new “Goddess” pieces – Ocean and Stars.

Inevitably, as these things often prove to be, the latter piece spoke to me as potential book cover art. She had come to me at just the right moment and reminded me that I don’t always have to focus on one creative area, even if that’s the one that is shouting at me the loudest and demanding my attention. A sense of achievement can come from enjoying the journey just as much as the destination.

To use old words to explain new feelings: (from Becoming Open, Nov 2018)

“Mental health forms a large part of my inspiration. I write about it, draw and paint about it, and talk openly about it. On days when I am emotionally exhausted and demotivated, I might only manage a few lines of writing, short shower-thoughts or in-the-car ideas. On heavy, black days I write of the darkness; spitting out harsh, sharp, bitter thoughts, born from a place of emotional hurt. Sometimes, when I can feel things changing, I focus on the good and the positive and being grateful. I can manipulate my emotions in this way, turn the metaphorical wheel and steer away from any negativity for a while.

“Writing for mental health is not the same as writing about mental health. Granted, it can be, and sometimes exploring the darker or more complex side of your emotions is an important and useful strategy in establishing a positive mental space, but I think it is simpler than that. Writing for the pure enjoyment of writing, brings focus. Pouring a part of yourself into something you create is both liberating and invigorating. It allows you to take time to explore your thoughts and emotions in the way you need to. It gives you connections and opens new doors.”

I feel like I have shoo-ed away some of the Head Weasels now, or at least whipped them into shape a little bit. Honestly, though, as much as I detest their visits, I do accept that they are a part of me and my life, and they shape me just as much as happiness and positivity do.

“I write to make myself feel better. I always have. That doesn’t mean that I write because something is wrong, rather that things are more likely to become wrong if I don’t write. 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. 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 write because often the stories I really want to read have not yet been written, and the characters in my head are so real to me that writing them into existence can feel like a powerful exorcism. I write because sometimes it is the only talent I have which I feel quietly confident in, and yet despite that confidence the demon of Imposter Syndrome quite frequently raises it’s critical, disparaging head. I write to vanquish that demon. I write because I believe my words can influence people. Not in a “save the world” kind of way, but in a way that means the reader can take an idea away with them, that they may find a spark of inspiration or reflection, perhaps even go on to write something new themselves.

“I write mostly because it brings me joy. Joy in the crafting of a narrative, of weaving the words into complex threads that entwine themselves around their readers, bringing joy to them in turn.”

Knock, Knock! Imposter Syndrome Calling…

I woke up this morning to find I had been tagged in an awesome yet terrifying tweet — a friend of mine had included me and my anthology, “Dark Winds Over Wellington,” in a list of must-read female dark fiction writers. I’ve read all of the other books she listed and they are absolutely tremendous. Of course my very first thought was: “I don’t belong on this list!”

Why do I do this to myself? Obviously imposter syndrome has a massive influence, but why? I was first published by Continuum Press (now Bloomsbury Academic) fifteen years ago. I wrote three academic texts for teachers; did technical edits and proof reads for Sue Cowley; and contributed to a number of “… for Dummies” titles released by Wiley Press. It wasn’t a huge earner, but it paid enough that I could buy myself a new laptop and it helped to impress any potential employers. If feeling less like a fraud was simply about proving that you can do something, I’ve already succeeded.

But I’ve never felt particularly proud of those achievements. It was simply something I could do, so I did.

I’ve been writing and sharing my fiction since exactly this time last year. September 2018 saw me enter my very first short story contest with the New Zealand Writer’s College, which then encouraged me to start writing and publishing more of my stories. I did it awkwardly, however, and lacking in confidence. I admitted on Twitter the other day that I didn’t have a launch party for my “Dark Winds…” collection, or send out ARCs for reviewers. I didn’t have a sales plan or try to promote it very much at all, and a big reason for that was due to crippling imposter syndrome and self-doubt. Not believing in myself or my work enough to send it out into the world with a flourish and a fanfare, or at the very least a small flag. I thoroughly regret that.

Yet even now when people say they’ve read it and enjoyed it, I find it hard to believe them. “Sorry for any mistakes,” I want to say. “I probably should have paid for a proper editing service.” Or, “I know some of the stories are not as strong as they could be.” I feel awkward and unsure. I convince myself that most people read it and laugh at the preposterousness. “Why on earth did she think that was worth publishing?”

Yeah, that’s the imposter syndrome gremlin whispering in my ear again. Little sod.

This year so far I’ve released my own anthology and had stories accepted into a horror-themed collection which raises money for charity, and in two horror/dark fiction magazines. I feel excited and also validated by my peers — I feel “seen” for the first time — but there’s also a part of me which still feels like a fraud. I look at the other authors I share page space with and I question if I really belong. It’s so infuriating!

The idea that you can have a laundry list of accomplishments and be highly regarded by your peers and still feel uncertain about the standard of your work completely fascinates me. When does it end? Does it ever?

I don’t know how much of these feelings come from bad experiences in my past — times when I felt like my achievements had not been recognised by those whose opinions were important to me. I realise now that those people will never give me their validation, and more importantly, I don’t need it, but I understand why those those feelings still affect me. I wish they didn’t. Perhaps in time I’ll learn to squash them down completely.

I interviewed a pretty famous writer recently who cited shyness as one reason for choosing to self-publish — a writer who has enjoyed a career that spans almost four decades and has written numerous stories, felt too shy to approach a publisher with their work! I was really surprised. I know it’s not unusual, and being that writing itself tends to attract a more introverted type of person, it’s little wonder. Still, the idea that you can have a laundry list of accomplishments and be highly regarded by your peers and still feel uncertain about the standard of your work completely fascinates me. When does it end? Does it ever?

In contrast, I don’t ever want to get cocky or act like I’m entitled. I don’t think very highly of those authors who behave arrogantly or dismissive to their fellow writers. Why would you alienate yourself from the community like that? I believe you can have confidence in your abilities without needing to be an ass about it. I think I’d rather be seen as a good and likeable writer than an outstanding one and a dick. Just my personal opinion.

When someone tells you they liked what you’ve done, or they appreciate your work — listen to them. Believe them.

So, do I belong on that list? Should I really be rubbing metaphorical shoulders with other, much more amazing writers who I believe are way better than me? My imposter syndrome gremlin will growl at me for saying so, but — Yes! Why the hell not? Sometimes people see things in you which you will never see in yourself. Why doubt them? When someone tells you they liked what you’ve done, or they appreciate your work — listen to them. Believe them. Don’t put yourself down, and definitely don’t let others do that to you either.

Every time I forget to “toot my own horn” and to celebrate how far I’ve come, I’m doing myself a disservice. It’s not dumb luck or nepotism or money which has got me where I am, it’s bloody hard work. It’s been constantly chipping away at the marble block knowing something wonderful is hidden inside. It’s reading and writing and learning and listening, and figuring out how to be the best I can be right now, while also understanding that the world keeps turning, the horizon keeps moving, and I can keep on getting better.

It’s not your job to prove to anyone that you deserve a place on that list, not even to yourself.

We all belong on a best-of list somewhere, and it might be a list we feel uncertain or awkward about being included on, but we have to allow ourselves to let those feelings go. It’s not your job to prove to anyone that you deserve a place on that list, not even to yourself. Trust me; if you’re on it, you deserve it. Well done to you.

By a twist of wonderful serendipity I was also reminded of a great anecdote by Neil Gaiman which discusses imposter syndrome. You can read it on his blog here:

“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”

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.”

Why Write Horror?

“Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.”

My nana, a small and quiet yet resilient Scottish woman, used to regularly say this phrase to me. My mother often echoed the sentiment as she got older. I’ve been told it’s a Scottish proverb of sorts. Regardless of where it comes from, it fits my philosophy on life, and writing horror, perfectly.

I didn’t start out writing horror, in fact, if I’m honest, I’m not really sure if what I write is typically considered horror at all. If pushed I might say I write “gothic horror,” “weird fiction” or “dark fantasy.” I’ve never really been very good with pigeonholes, boxes or labels. It also bears saying that I very rarely set out to write something supernatural or strange, that part always seems to nudge its way in afterwards.

Life can be complicated, difficult and messy. Nothing is ever guaranteed to us, except our eventual deaths. We muddle along without a guidebook, making the best of what we’ve got. Some of us are better supported than others, by others. Some of us will suffer almost every day. We find our friends and family and, where possible, carpe diem — we seize the fucking day! Because if we don’t, then where’s the point? You’re a long time dead. Live life while you can.

I’ve been deaf since childhood and it’s a huge part of my identity. I’m a people-watcher from necessity — watching the words that spill from the lips, noticing instantly those occasions when their eyes don’t match their smiles. I’m the loner in the coffee shop that eavesdrops on your conversations and writes you into a story. “Write what you know,” it’s often said. I simply write what I see. What I see is a whirlwind of raw emotion — of people searching for themselves and others just like them.

They whisper in the wind, “Am I a weirdo? Are there any others out there just like me?”

I write to reassure them that there are. I’m here, for one, at least.

Break down any of my stories and you’ll find at the centre there stands a character who has been either broken, or faced loss or uncertainty. It’s a common motif which I’m not ashamed to wring for all it’s worth.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” I’ll warn you. “Don’t get so attached. Nothing here is certain or predictable. Just like real life.”

Horror doesn’t have to be the usual and expected Other — a monster lurking underneath the bed, or a slavering hound at your door. Horror can be loneliness, doubt, depression and loss. Horror can be being the new girl at the office, knowing no-one and missing her old life, trusting the wrong person and making bad friends. It can be a devastating cancer diagnosis, or the death of a parent or child. These things affect us, they are in our lives and our thoughts every day.

I don’t like overly happy endings, they don’t feel real to me. Some people say it is the big moments that inspire us, but I’m not so sure. It’s often the little things that make us who and what we are, those split-second decisions that drive us down one pathway or another, they say much more about who we are than some grand gesture or great plan. Every time we say goodbye we kid ourselves that it’s not our last, but we don’t know for sure. Perhaps we should be more afraid of life than we so often are.

I’m intrigued by the things that make people tick. Of the secrets they hide within them. Not every hidden desire is dark; most are wholesome and beautiful, and yet, for whatever reasons, they are never talked about. I write horror to acknowledge those secrets. To give a voice to those deep dreams that are too often left unspoken by us all.

“What would you do if..?” I might ask you. “How would you behave if there were no consequences? Are you still a good person when no one is watching? Would you kill someone if you could, or if you had to?”

I write horror to ask these questions, of myself just as much as my audience.

Horror has a special relationship with its readers, using emotion to illicit reaction. It awakens hidden fears and desires and is often the most unsettling when it imagines danger in “safe” places. The five basic tools or tropes in horror, (both movies and literature,) are utilised to invoke apprehension and often fear. These are: unease, dread, terror, horror and disgust. The writer might pick one or two, or even explore the entire toolbox. I prefer to focus on unease and dread, to pick at the scabs of emotional hurt and use those tools to expose something raw and real.

I don’t write about blood and gore because I personally don’t like it much. I most certainly could if I wanted — some of the things my brain often conjures up, I don’t want to commit them to paper, because I am repulsed by where those thoughts have come from. I don’t feel comfortable sharing them … yet. Of course, I blame my literary horror diet in my formative years. Hutson, Barker, Campbell, Koontz and Masterton — all frequently bloody and violent at their core. Yet I never sought to emulate them. That simply isn’t my strength.

My style of horror is the creep of paranoia, where everything is almost normal, but not quite. It could be real, but not completely. I don’t want to write something that repulses people, I want to create something that lingers. Good horror will leave you with a feeling of unease. An itch in the brain that you can’t quite scratch, but equally you can’t ignore. It should squirm around in your head for a while, and leave you still thinking about it for days afterwards. I want to give you characters that you love so much, it hurts to have them wrenched away. A reminder of your own mortality, and of all those around you.

All this will end one day. You and I, and all around us now, will end. I write horror to acknowledge that and to appreciate all I have while I’m still here. To embrace my own fragility while also asking, “What’s next..? What’s real..? What if..?”

Life can be complicated, difficult and messy — but it is still ours to live.

Until the end.

Ripley: Celebrating The Strong Woman

I remember the first time I watched the movie “Aliens”. I was 15 and I watched it in secret from my parents with two friends in their “den”. We watched “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” on the same day. I guess we must have been on a James Cameron kick. I remember being absolutely and totally blown away, and not just because of the action sequences.

Ripley and Vasquez became my first girl crushes. I would move on to Buffy, Xena and Aeryan Sun in later years, with a dash of Leeloo, Tank Girl and Sarah Connor thrown in for good measure. But it was Ripley who sparked that love for kick-ass females, and who I will always look to as a timeless and indisputable feminist icon. I remember watching her and thinking how bloody brilliant it was that she gave no apologies to anyone for any part of her. She would not back down, she would not give up and even though she was terrified and didn’t even want to be a part of that mission – she was battling some serious PTSD – she went anyway.

On a superficial level, I was immediately struck by her physical appearance. Sigourney Weaver is a striking woman, but not typically “pretty”. Her beauty comes from her energy and her attitude, and the way she carries herself. She is make-up free, wearing typically masculine attire and sporting that, let’s be honest, terrible haircut, and yet rough, tough, macho marine Hicks falls for her pretty much instantly. As an impressionable teen who also wasn’t stereotypically pretty, that affected me in a million positive ways. It’s not about how you look, it’s about who you are. Ripley really emphasises that. Stuck in space with a bunch of hard-ass marines, she doesn’t try to lean into any particular angle other than her own. She doesn’t butch herself up to fit in, but she equally doesn’t try to emphasise her femininity so that those big, strong boys will do everything for her. She exudes complete and utter confidence in herself and her abilities.

The theme of “Mother” passes through the whole of the film; from Ripley losing her only daughter and finding Newt as a “replacement”, to the actions of the Alien Queen attempting to colonise the planet with her offspring, culminating in the ultimate face-off between two strong and determined females, fighting for themselves and their “children”. Ripley is a mother to everyone, not just Newt and the marines. She sees and anticipates what needs to be done. She is the epitome of a strong matriarch leading and protecting her community. She respects those who deserve her respect, but has no time for those who give her, or others, any shit. She accepts everyone based on their merits and their behaviours, but she also understands that people can change when given the right guidance and support.

Ripley could be any of us. She is not trained in combat, she does not have any real special skills or abilities, and she accepts leadership begrudgingly. She survives due to her determination, her willingness to meet the problem head on, and to take control of her own narrative. She will not allow anyone to control her – not an Alien, not a greedy, manipulative male, nor a corporate company. She walks her own damn path yet she doesn’t need to walk all over others to do so. She’s learned that if she wants to survive, she needs to help herself, but that doesn’t make her selfish or immune to others’ needs, in fact it makes her more empathetic. It equally doesn’t mean she’s not scared. Of course she is scared, but she’s also brave. As Carrie Fisher once said, “stay afraid, but do it anyway.” That’s Ripley. That can be you too.


I am going to be doing something very new this year which challenges me and frightens me, but also invigorates me and excites me. I will be offering workshops for women to help them find their Wild Voice.

I wrote this last year when I was just beginning to find my own Wild Voice and it feels very much like serendipity to find it again on the day I had made the decision to share my intentions with others.

*image credit Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

“Onwards” T.L.Wood 2018

She had faced her fears so many times that they no longer troubled her. The same demons hounded her days just as they had for many years previous. The same ugly faces and angry voices swam through both her dreams and waking life alike. They were nothing more now than a mere hindrance to her. Insects of Doubt and Insecurity who tried in vain to land on her, and which she swatted away with ease. No label could describe her now, no box would contain her. She had seen the reflection of her true self, and in an act of great defiance and rebellion, she had celebrated all that she had seen.

She knew that most others believed she was tired of fighting, but the truth was she felt no emotion either way. She had long since accepted that the fight was a necessary part of her, understood that her resilience was ongoing and infinite. She grew ever stronger from each encounter, learned about herself and those around her, and used that knowledge to better herself so that she might also be better equipped to help others. She accepted defeat as much as victory, knowing that the lesson did not come from within the conflict, but from what she could salvage from the wreckage, piecing together new parts of her understanding, and adding to her ever-changing self.

Through each hardship she persisted, in every challenge she prevailed. She stood up and spoke up and lifted up all those who needed her help. She would never turn away nor offer her surrender. She walked amongst the bitter ones and hurtful ones who sought nothing but to vanquish her, and gave no heed to their distain or vulgarity. She took the hands of her comrades and sisters, her friends and her lovers, and led them to seek their own freedoms. She gave them the guidance they requested of her, so that they could forge the pathways of resistance in their own ways.

She walked not as a goddess nor as a warrior, but merely as a woman who knew her own mind and had found complete confidence in herself. She had found Love, and it had grown from within her as much as she had received it from others. They called her a Wild Woman, as she would not be tamed, but instead she strode out of the howling darkness and carried her own light.

The Waiting Room

Fact or fiction? … You decide.

It’s exactly two years to the day that I reacted to some medicine my doctor gave me, passed out, cracked my head open and gave myself a serious concussion. Two years since I almost choked on my own vomit and died. Two years since I visited the Waiting Room and knew I was being asked to make a choice.

I can write about it now and it seems more like a plot from one of my short stories. In fact, I have used it as inspiration for one. They always say it is better to write what you know.

What I know now for certain is that is has been two years since I realised I needed to make some big changes to my life. I was at a point where I felt I could not really visualise a good future for myself. A year prior, I had questioned the very point of me at all. The darkest time in my life by far, muddling through an illness that I had battled with for nearly seven years, one that doctors didn’t fully understand, let alone knew how to treat. I am so grateful for the support of my family and friends, those who helped me to find a way forwards, back into the light.

I had beaten that emotional demon then, only for my physical health to decline quite rapidly. I was sick of being ignored by the medical profession, every ailment implied to be all in my head. The fact was, it was in my head, but it was also very much in my body. I needed both to work. I thought I’d won before, but the bastard kept coming back, new and improved with a whole load of exciting symptoms. My GP wasn’t listening. She prescribed various drugs to appease me, to get me out of her way as quickly as she could. None of them helped.

I’m sure the doctors would like to say I brought it on myself that night, mixing alcohol with medication, but the truth was I hardly had a third of a glass, and as ill-advised as it may be, I’d had drinks while taking those drugs many times before. I still don’t know what was different that time. Maybe all things really do happen for a reason, maybe I just got unlucky. My body was delicate already, I should have taken better care of myself.

Regardless, I needed that bang to the head to finally wake up. To realise that if I didn’t do something drastic, I was at risk of having a mere existence, but never a rich or jubilant life. I changed my diet, I changed my outlook, I created goals for myself that challenged me, but were still attainable. Being in the Waiting Room had told me that I had nothing to fear. There was literally nothing in life that could scare me now. All bets were off. I was the master of my own making. Maybe I brought something back with me. Maybe it was simply someone or something sending me a message, delivering it in the most pointed way they could, so I could take it with me always in my heart.

When people meet me now they often comment on my resilience and my drive. The determination to achieve whatever goals I set. They wonder where it comes from. They congratulate me on never, ever giving up and for overcoming such terrible things in my life. I understand their praise and why they want to give it, but I never felt like I had any kind of choice. If ever I sat back and let it win – whatever “it” may be – I would be doing myself a disservice, especially when I knew I had the ability to beat it. Regret, if ever you experience it, should be for the things you have done, not those you didn’t do.

Two years since that night, and now I’m on the other side of the world. The demons may have followed me, but I’ll always push them back. The Waiting Room is everywhere, of course, it has to be. I bear a scar on my forehead to remind me of it always. I don’t intend on re-visiting it any time soon, although there have been moments when I may have been invited. I swam out too far in the ocean on New Year’s Day, almost got myself into trouble. It was a reminder; you can push out and you can push back but you always have to make sure you can get home. And I am very much Home.

I’ll decide when it’s time to leave, and when it’s time to stay. Right now I have a life to live, and I’m bloody loving it. The Waiting Room will simply have to do just that.


I am a writer.

I am entirely confident in making this declaration because not only do I write absolutely every single day, but also I do not feel like I have any choice in this. I carry my phone, and a notebook and pen with me everywhere, because when inspiration strikes, it quite literally sinks it’s fangs into me, like a thought snake.

I have many, many strands of lines, rhymes, questions and contemplations in my phone, some of them audio recordings as I’ve not even had time to type them before I almost lost them. For I am not only a writer, I am also a home-educating mother, and almost every single time the mother part of me must take precedence, my children’s needs more in demand than my creativity. I do not begrudge this, however, as I also find that my children are frequently the source of my creativity, they inspire me with their own thoughts and ideas and we take time to work together on our own projects.

Almost every time an idea will start with a line that just appears out of nowhere. It grows and swells, and entwines itself all around inside me until I am able to give it my full attention. I often imagine ideas like little butterfly or fairy-like creatures, lifting, soaring and landing upon me, leaving little pieces of inspiration in their wake.

If I were to deny myself the time and energy I put into my writing, I know I would be unhappy, I would not feel fulfilled. I know this because for many years I did not make the time to write, or find the motivation to explore my creative side. I cannot even say I didn’t have the time, of course I did, I simply chose to use it for other, less satisfying activities. I used my mental health as an excuse to avoid writing, I used poor physical health to avoid writing. In fact, I used almost anything I could to avoid writing because I was afraid. Afraid that I would not be any good, or I would be wasting my time.

I realise now that nothing that you enjoy or find fulfilling is ever a waste of your time. Your level of skill or talent is irrelevant. Creating for the sake of creating, for the pure enjoyment of making art and pouring a part of yourself into something you create is liberating and invigorating. It allows you to take time to explore your thoughts and experiences in the way you need to.

As a young child, drawing pictures, you did not worry about if what you created was good, in fact good had no marker. You didn’t care about the opinions of your peers, if you had used colour or shape correctly, if the subject was realistic or accurate. You drew purely for enjoyment.

This feeling, this connection, is what I strive to recover when I write now. I will write even if I am the only person ever to read my words. I will write even if I am told I am “no good” or “average” or even receive no feedback at all. I will write with passion, with enthusiasm and with enjoyment. I will connect my inner child with my adult self and explore what makes me happy, however and wherever that takes me.

I am a writer, and what I do is write.