On Self Worth

About two years ago, I was running a local 10k race. I do it every year, and there’s this particular point on the course at around 8km where it goes quite steeply uphill. It’s a section of road called Phoenix Bank – I’m sure because when you run up it, you feel like you’ve died and been reborn in the flames once you get to the top.

At the bottom of Phoenix Bank, a woman I didn’t recognise said to me in snatches of breath that her kids were in my class and that they both really liked me and my lessons. She said it to me at that moment to give me a boost to get up the hill. What she couldn’t have known was that she’d caught me at almost my lowest ebb, that if I’d had any liquid left in my poor, sweaty body, I’d have probably burst in to tears.

As it was, I had Phoenix Bank to conquer, and I couldn’t spare any energy on anything else. Which saved me a humiliating public sobbing session, and allowed the words to be the boost they were intended to be. I went on to beat my best time by about four minutes.

Why did those words have the ability to drive me to breakdown? Because I knew they were lies. Four years of teaching had driven me into the ground, and even though I can look back now and know that she wouldn’t have said it to me if it wasn’t true – why make the effort to lie when you’re gasping for breath and about to run up a massive great hill? – at the time I knew. I had no capacity to believe in myself and my ability anymore.

Less than a fortnight later, I was signed off work by the doctor and my notice was handed in. At that point I was having mild panic attacks every day. It took being signed off to give me the wake up call that I needed to quit.

I was diligent about applying for work, and within a month or so I had something else lined up. I thought that in a couple of months I would be feeling close to 100% myself again.

I was wrong. I started my new job in mid-August. By October, I was, in a lot of ways, feeling worse than I’d ever felt. Objectively, I knew that it was just my body and mind processing all the pent up stress, anxiety and pressure that I’d been holding back all those months while I was teaching because I’d had to. I had the space to fall apart, and my brain made the absolute most of the opportunity. But that didn’t make it any easier.

The thing was, I’d removed myself for the situation that had robbed me of any sense of self worth, but that sort of thing doesn’t come back overnight. I’d grown so used to believing I was terrible at everything, it was very hard to believe that I wasn’t going to continue to be terrible. The job I was doing at the time was an easy ‘have you switched it on and off again’ IT support role, and, again objectively, I knew I could do it. But every time my line manager looked at me, I was convinced that she was judging me and finding me wanting. I spent a couple of weeks doing breathing exercises at my desk to stop my hands shaking.

During this time I was applying for the job I have now. I should probably have gone easy on myself and not stressed about getting better work until I’d recovered, but I’ve never been that way. That ability to look at things objectively from time to time was coming back to bite me, because I knew I was worth more than the job I was doing. I didn’t want to be a financial burden in my relationship, didn’t want to be placing any additional stress on my partner who was also looking to leave a job and take a pay cut. So I applied, and I got the job I’m doing now.

Around January, when I first started, I hit my second lowest ebb. I wasn’t having panic attacks during the day anymore, but at night my heart would beat so fast I couldn’t sleep. My partner was away training for his new job. To cope with the isolation and the anxiety, I timetabled every second of my day, keeping myself busy. I spent almost a month completely exhausted.

I was probably ill enough to get signed off by the doctor again, but I’d just started a new job and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be at home all day on my own either. So I battled through, all the time waiting to be told that I was failing, that I wasn’t good enough. Even as I started to pick things up at my new job, started to get a feel for the work and a sense that I could enjoy it.

I remember having a conversation with my line manager about a month or so in to the new job. She was checking up on how I was getting on, how I was settling in. I remember the jolt of fear that accompanied her request to talk to me in a private space, the sick feeling as I sat down in the chair opposite her.

“I find it difficult to tell if I’m doing well,” I remember saying. “I hope that I am.”

I used to be the annoying person who could tell you within a couple of percent what their score on an exam was. I was the pupil who knew what her strengths and weaknesses were – to the point of arrogance at times. And yet, six months after leaving the job that had worn me down so much, I still didn’t quite believe I could be good at something.

Things don’t magically improve overnight. Recovery from depression and anxiety takes time and diligence and lots of self-love and forgiveness. For some people it takes therapy and medication. Writing was my therapy, running was my medication.

Nearly two years after handing in my notice and finally leaving teaching, I know that I’m recovered. How? Two weeks ago, I published a book.

I wrote the book in 2012, and though it’s been through a couple of edits, there’s not a massive amount that’s changed about the story. I’ve changed a couple of things that bring it more in line with the rest of the series, but the major story arc, the writing style and quality are all the same. I could have hit publish in 2012. But I didn’t.

At the time, too much depended on it. Writing was an escape from a job that, in 2012, I knew wasn’t right. I wouldn’t hit low enough to leave for another two years, but that downwards spiral had begun. I wrote for the dream of being the next JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, EL James, the next author who hit it big. I looked to writing to solve all my problems, but I knew it wouldn’t. I knew I couldn’t handle that dream of escape being dashed, so I never pursued it. I wrote the books and left them to gather dust.

Now, I have a job I love. And after eighteen months in the role, I’m finally starting to feel confident that I’m good at it, that I’m valued by colleagues and clients. People have requested to work with me. I’ve had a very positive appraisal. I’ve achieved good results. I have my self worth back.

The writing matters, it will always matter, but it’s not my ‘escape’ any more. Not the golden ticket that I’m depending on to lift me out of my horrible situation. It’s just something I take a great deal of joy in, and want to share with the world. If it makes me enough money to buy my wedding shoes, then that’s a bonus.

The last two years have been a little like the last two kilometres of that 10k race. The first nine months or so were the steep upward climb of Phoenix Bank, the death and rebirth in the flames. But after turning a corner, a gentle downhill followed, allowing momentum to increase even while still catching my breath. Other inclines were nothing after Phoenix Bank, and before long, the finish line was in sight. I crossed it on 6th May when I released my book in to the world. It’s Amazon page is my medal.

Review: The Lonely Ones by Kelsey Sutton

the lonely ones kelsey sutton

The Lonely OnesTitle: The Lonely Ones

Author: Kelsey Sutton

Series: N/A

Genre: Paranormal YA in Verse

Received for review as part of the Blog Tour

Summary (from Goodreads)

With parents too busy to pay her attention, an older brother and sister who would rather spend their time with friends, and peers who oscillate between picking on her and simply ignoring her, it’s no wonder that Fain spends most of her time in a world of her own making. During the day, Fain takes solace in crafting her own fantastical adventures in writing, but in the darkness of night, these adventures come to life as Fain lives and breathes alongside a legion of imaginary creatures. Whether floating through space or under the sea, climbing mountains or traipsing through forests, Fain becomes queen beyond – and in spite of – the walls of her bedroom.

In time, Fain begins to see possibilities and friendships emerge in her day-to-day reality. . . yet when she is let down by the one relationship she thought she could trust, Fain must decide: remain queen of the imaginary creatures, or risk the pain that comes with opening herself up to the fragile connections that exist only in the real world?

Review

Novels in verse aren’t something I actively seek out to read, but I remembered really enjoying Kelsey Sutton’s last book, so I took a chance on this one.

I’m glad I did. It’s a short read, but the sort of story that suits the disjointed nature of verse – the short little snapshots into emotions and situations where as much is left unsaid as is said.

Fain’s fractured family life, the troubles she has at school and her strange nightly ‘are they real, are they dream’ adventures with her ‘monsters’ all lend themselves to the verse style of telling. The snippets we get are constructed as such that we gain a much broader understanding of what’s going on – we can read between the lines to see into Fain’s life. Because her troubles are ones that almost everyone can relate too – arguing parents, disinterested siblings, social awkwardness, unrequited crushes. We bring a lot of our own experience into the gaps between the verses.

I really like how the question of the ‘monsters’ is kept open as well. Again, Sutton is trusting her readers to interpret whether they are a force for good or evil, real or imagined. As a counterpoint to the very human, very real problems in Fain’s day to day life, they bring a touch of the bizarre to the story, but it fits because they are an extension of Fain’s own passions for creativity and creation.

Overall, a thoughtful, interesting book that’s well worth the hour or so it will take to read and ponder over.

Rating: 4/5

Purchase Links

Penguin Random House | Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

About the Author

Kelsey Sutton is the author of teen novels SOME QUIET PLACE and GARDENIA. She is also the author of two novels for middle grade readers, THE LONELY ONES and BENJAMIN. She lives in Minnesota, where she received a dual bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from Bemidji State University. She is currently working on a master’s degree from Hamline University. Her work has received an Independent Publisher Book Award, an IndieFab Award, and was selected as a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2013. When not writing, Kelsey can be found watching too much Netflix, ordering a mocha at the nearest coffee shop, or browsing a bookstore. You can like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @KelseyJSutton.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6425045.Kelsey_Sutton

Twitter: @KelseyJSutton

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kelsey-Sutton-139415419471775/

Website: http://www.kelseysuttonbooks.com/

Book Release

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen a lot of this already, but after an exciting couple of days of book launching, I realised that I hadn’t actually posted anything to the blog.

I’ve been talking for years about publishing my books. They’re novellas, so it was always going to be a ‘self-pub’ venture, and though I had the ability to get the things together to get my stuff out there, something has always held me back.

Well, now I have a wedding to save for, and it’s given me some impetus, but also, I’m in a better place now than I have been for a long time with work. I’m less stressed, less unhappy, and that has allowed me to dedicate the time and energy necessary.

So, without further ado – here it is. My first book, released last Friday.

New Dusk Cover

Alf is roaring. Most people would mistake this for anger, but they don’t spend as much time around Demons as I do… 

Cadence Hart has just six months on the job left. But six months might as well be a lifetime in the dangerous field of Deportations. Armed with a flaming sword and backed by Alf, her Demon partner, she’s the thin blue line between the Souls escaped from Hell and the living residents of the city.

Missing persons cases aren’t her usual line of work, but a young woman has disappeared in strange circumstances and Cadence is pulled off her regular duties to investigate. The girl’s parents think she’s possessed. Which is impossible. Only, from what evidence there is – it looks an awful lot like she’s possessed.

To solve the case, she’ll need the help of Matthew, a Soul expert. Matthew gained his expertise first hand – he’s been dead since before Cadence was born. But when their investigation unearths links to the devil-worshipping cult, New Dusk, they begin to realise that the case might be more than even they can handle.

Add to Goodreads
Amazon US Link
Amazon UK Link

As part of the build up to the release, I made some promotional images, which you can see below. There’s also an extract posted on my publishing website here.

Cadence Matthew promo image 2 Promotional Image 1

It’s the first book in a 9 book series, each around 30,000 words. I’m releasing them on a monthly schedule (all are written, but need editing, covers, proofreading etc).

P.S. If you’re a book blogger and interested in a free copy in exchange for an honest review, let me know!

A Change Of Schedule

So, I’ve made the decision that for the next month or so, I’m going to be focusing my efforts on my writing, rather than blogging.

This is largely because getting the website off the ground has really eaten up my time over the past couple of weeks. I’ve not been reading or paying attention to my blog, so I haven’t got any posts lined up, or a backlog of reviews to get posted.

It’s also because I’m going to have to work very hard as I start releasing books (book 1 is almost ready to go, book 2 is pretty much a hot mess) as I want to release them one a month. They’re only short – novella length, so it shouldn’t be too tight a frame, but until I get into the rhythm of it, I doubt I’m going to have much mental capacity for anything else.

Which is not to say there won’t be posts here, or on the new website (www.prospectandraven.com – check it out if you’re a fan of horror, science fiction and fantasy stories!) I do have books I can’t wait to tell you about, after all.

But things will not be as regular, and the ‘featured author’ posts won’t return until at least June. I have an idea who I’m going to invite, but I actually have to read their book first. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and your interest in my publishing ventures.

Exciting times ahead!

Prospect and Raven Launch

A departure from the regular schedule today to announce the launch of this:

Prospect and Raven Header

I’ve been talking on and off for FOREVER about actually publishing some of my work. Some of you have even beta read for me. But now I am actually going to do it. No concrete date for a first release – I have to fathom how to format the file and upload it to Amazon yet – but I’m anticipating it being some time in the first week or two of May.

I’ll be sharing a bit more information about the book and the series I’m launching with in the next few days, but in the mean time, I’d really appreciate if anyone who might be interested in fast genre reads would take a look, like the Facebook page and join the mailing list – and share with anyone else you know who might be interested!

Thanks:)

Review: Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

seven ways we lieTitle: Seven Ways We Lie

Author: Riley Redgate

Series: N/A

Genre: YA Contemporary

Received for review from Audible

Summary (from Goodreads)

Paloma High School is ordinary by anyone’s standards. It’s got the same cliques, the same prejudices, the same suspect cafeteria food. And like every high school, every student has something to hide—whether it’s Kat, the thespian who conceals her trust issues onstage; or Valentine, the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal.

When that scandal bubbles over, and rumors of a teacher-student affair surface, everyone starts hunting for someone to blame. For the unlikely allies at the heart of it all, the collision of their seven ordinary-seeming lives results in extraordinary change.

Review

When I saw that this had seven point of view characters, I was a little dubious. Seven? And it’s an average length YA book, not a massive epic fantasy. Any concerns were quickly assuaged, though, as within the first couple of hours of the audiobook, it was clear that each of the characters was well defined, with a unique voice, and even without the multiple narrators there wouldn’t have been any chance of confusing them.

What Seven Ways We Lie is, is being sixteen/seventeen in a nutshell. I’m British, so I didn’t go to an American high school, but clearly the experiences are very similar, because I recognised so many things from my own life in the trials and tribulations of the characters. The story explores that difficult, transitory period where you are sort of an adult, but also sort of still a kid (as much as any sixteen/seventeen year old would not like to be labeled as such). The ‘romance with a teacher’ plot line epitomises this struggle, and while the story line sounds like it’s going to be sensationalised and preachy – by the emotive nature of the issue – it’s actually handled in a sensitive, morally grey way that further demonstrates what a minefield growing up can be, without lambasting any character in particular.

The character Olivia also provides the opportunity to explore some feminist ideas about female sex and sexuality. At times, I think Olivia came across as a little too mature for a girl her age, but on the other hand, she’d been a mother figure within her family for several years, so it’s not unbelievable that she has a very adult outlook. And as a voice of reason against slut-shaming and misogynistic ideals held by a lot of teenage boys, and perpetuated by society, she’s an important character for young girls. Again, the issues aren’t presented in a way that’s strongly leaning towards one view or another – it’s not a call for promiscuity or abstinence, rather a presentation that either is a valid choice as long as you are making that choice and are happy with it.

In fact, I think that’s my favourite thing about this book – the non-judgemental exploration of teenage lives. Being teenaged is difficult enough, without being told you’re doing it wrong all the time. Even with a character who smokes a lot of weed – something I personally disagree with, though each to their own – I found myself sympathising with his choices, even as I was thinking that, by my moral compass, they weren’t the right choice.

Seven Ways We Lie perfectly encapsulates what it is to be almost grown up. From sexuality, to self esteem and body image, it presents teenage issues in a non-judgemental way, instead exploring what impact they have on characters that are so realistic, you’ll feel like you’ve met them before. Excellent narration from all cast members just made this an even more enjoyable experience. Perfect.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls

Close Your Pretty EyesTitle: Close Your Pretty Eyes

Author: Sally Nicholls

Series: N/A

Genre: Middle Grade Horror

Summary (from Goodreads)

Eleven-year-old Olivia has been in care since she was five, and is just beginning her nineteenth placement. Her new home is a secluded farmhouse, centuries old, where she slowly bonds with her foster family. But the house holds dark secrets. Olivia discovers that it was once a notorious baby farm, where unwanted children were left to die. She becomes convinced that the place is haunted. She is desperate to save her new family from the ghosts. The danger is real – but does it come from the twisted mind of a very disturbed child?

Review

I didn’t set out to read this one in order to review it. It’s a book I was given as a gift over a year ago now which, somewhat shamefully, I hadn’t got round to reading yet. So I bumped it up the TBR pile, thinking it would be a quick, fun read. Something I could read for pleasure without knowing I would be sitting down at the end of it, trying to put my thoughts about it into words.

I knew from about the third chapter that I would have to review it. Because if even one person considers picking this one up because of my review, it would be completely worth it.

What looks like a typical Middle Grade horror story, is actually a horror story because of more than just its ghost. It’s about the horror of people, and the things they do to each other, particularly what adults do to their children.

Olivia is a damaged, frightened girl who lives in a state of constant hyper vigilance. While she calls this her ‘superpower’ you start to realise that it’s not super heroics that have made her senses so sharp – it’s that she lives in anticipation of the next person hurting her, physically or emotionally. Her bids to control the other people around her make her a downright unlikable character at times. But at the same time, you completely understand the roots of her actions, the reasons she behaves the way she does. And though you wish for her to just change, just a little bit, to make things easier for herself, you can’t help but think you’d probably behave the same way in her situation.

I like that the ‘truth’ of the ghost is kept ambiguous. Yes, there’s some resolution to the person behind the ghost, but it’s never explicitly stated if the ‘ghost’ that Olivia experiences is an actual phantom, or just the imaginings of her fractured mind – her fears personified as a grisly Victorian woman who murdered children. I like it most of all because in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s a ghost influencing Olivia, or maybe it’s just who she is. Either way, the outcomes of her behaviours don’t change. She’s no less culpable for her actions.

Nicholls mentions in her Afterword that she spent a lot of time researching how children in Olivia’s situation – abused by their families, then shunted from home to home, no one able to take care of such a damaged child – behave. It’s very clear from the writing, and from Olivia’s characterisation, that the research paid off. There’s not a false note in the entire story, and despite the fact that Olivia is unlikable, you can’t help but root for her, feel for her, and love her a little bit. Stunning writing, excellent story, and a challenging, but eye opening exploration of the terrible effects of childhood trauma. Highly recommended to everyone.

Rating: 5/5

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