“So, any luck in the job department?” or how failure is making me see what matters most.

Under the Golden Gate, March 2013

This month isn’t turning out quite how I hoped. When does it ever?

I planned on a 3-week online course on women’s fiction, but unfortunately this was cancelled the day it was meant to begin (the day after I booked it), so I had to re-think my use of this month’s writing time.

This weekend I’m attending the Psychologies Writing Weekend put on by Writers & Artists at Bloomsbury in London. I’m really excited as it’s my first foray into writers’ conferences (though I do wish I had a buddy going with me!). I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and getting a chance to do some workshops. I’m also attending a live webinar with literary agent Kate McKean entitled “How to Submit Your Book To Agents.” It’s on May 2nd if you want to join me! 

All that to say, most of my time has been devoted to writing. I can’t lie. I graduated in June 2010, and I’ve been endlessly applying for jobs, interviewing, and trying to network since then. A few contracts here, an internship there, but it is has been, without a doubt, the biggest anticlimax of my life.

Why? Well, when you return to university as a mature student — in a foreign country, to boot — you’ve by that time built pretty high expectations and demands of yourself. You’ve missed chances and been unable to focus on one thing in the past, so when this amazing opportunity comes around to make something of yourself, you want perfection. I’ve said it before on here. I worked my butt off to do the best I could on that degree, and some might’ve suggested I put too much pressure on myself, for things that, in the grand scheme of things, haven’t mattered so much. But I did it to prove to myself I could, and whether you scoff at a Film BA or not, getting that 1st is the thing I’m most proud of.

I didn’t expect to meet my future husband before my course even began, let alone that he would be someone who already had his act together (certainly not been my previous experience!). My plan of moving to London and living in a cardboard box until I got a proper job in film died an early death, for a variety of reasons, mostly practical.

If only my path were this clear.
If only my path were this clear.

I’ve had interviews at some fantastic companies and organisations, and been told countless times, “You were this close!” and “It was between you and one other person.” The number of times the door has been shut, slammed, or locked right in my face is just unbelievable, especially for someone who never interviewed for a job she wasn’t offered in the past. All this time I thought a degree would be the key, along with the work I put into it and work experience, etc.

Nope. God has had other plans. I can’t say I understand them, but life throws you surprises and you have to accept them, no matter how unbelievable. And when I say I’ve been applying everywhere, I mean everywhere. Jobs I’m totally overqualified for that I’ve dumbed down my CV for, jobs that I’m underqualified for that I’ve aimed for anyhow, jobs I’m perfect for either in an industry I care about or not, and still, every door has been closed.

Do I know why? Nope. My name? My nationality? My age? The economy? All these things? Or just that God has another plan?

I read a devotional email today that said in all our struggles and fears, it’s vital we yield to God. When I’m weak, He is strong. I’ve prayed many times, Your will be done. Whatever it is You want me to do, and to want, I want it. Show me how.

But I’ll pray it again today, and every day. I want to do what God wants me to do, just so I’m finally at that place in my life where I’m confident in my path. I felt confident at uni, but that had a countdown that expired on the day I graduated. It was a shadow of the real thing.

Writing has been the one thing that’s been consistent in my life since I was young. I’ve always had stories flowing out of my head onto the screen, and the more I learn about writing and publishing, the more I write and read and talk with others about it, the more I feel confident that if nothing else in all this struggle, God’s given me this passion, bigger than any other one. I can’t ignore that, and if people look at me and say, “Why doesn’t she have a job yet? What’s wrong with her? Is she just irresponsible and lazy? She must not really want it, I have to remind myself that their opinions and judgements aren’t relevant. I have to stop worrying about that.

My closest friends know how hard and frustrating this time has been, but they also encourage me to use the time not spent applying for jobs on writing. To those friends, thank you for believing in me, and not making me worry you think I’m lazy, or ridiculous, or irresponsible.

Words cannot express how exasperating, how humiliating, and how confidence-destroying these last few years have been. But if they’ve taught me anything — once I look past the self-doubt — it’s that the thing we have passion for, the thing we don’t feel we’re wasting time doing, whether it pays into a pension or not, it nurtures the spirit to do it. So I will keep writing, learning, networking and reading because it’s the one arena in which I feel I truly belong.

This is a mighty long post, and if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for hanging in. It felt like time for reflection again on what’s been going on. I leave you with some snippets from JK Rowling’s Harvard Speech, which is one of the best things I’ve ever read:

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Lacock Abbey, filming location for Harry Potter, June 2006

Why yes, I am wearing an I Love Sirius Black t-shirt.

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California = snowboarding + sun

 ** Sorry to those who received a jumbled-up run-on email version of this post moments ago. It should be much easier to read this time around!**

I made it back! Sans broken bones!!

I'm no snow fan, but I had to admit, the views were stunning.
I’m no snow fan, but I had to admit, the views were stunning.

My husband and I (who I should take to calling the Scotsman as a fellow writer I admire calls hers “the Frenchman”, and it’s much simpler than saying, “My husband” all the time. And I’m not fond of “The Hubs,” at least, not with a straight face…).

Okay, start over.

The Scotsman and I returned from a very unexpected holiday to Northern California.  I lived in Sacramento (or “Sac”, as it’s disgustingly referred to by locals, but I myself have been known to call it that ;)) for about 4 years just prior to moving to the UK, so it’s been a little over 6 years since I was last there. In fact, I celebrated my 6th anniversary of living in the UK while we were over there.

SIX YEARS. Wow. So much has happened in that time, so much I never expected to experience. But that’s another post. Our holiday was awesome. When I moved away from California, I was so ready to go, ready to start my new life in Britain, and ready to leave a lot of toxic stuff behind.

A week at Tahoe was enough to make me really sore... but love snowboarding.
A week at Tahoe was enough to make me really sore… but love snowboarding.

I did, but I also left some really good friends behind, friends I now only see on Skype, or if they do the unthinkable and make it over to visit. I left some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen: Stinson Beach, Muir Woods, Mt. Tamalpais, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco. I left a few of the most mouth-watering restaurants behind: Wasabi sushi bar, and Sizzling Fresh (yes, I do love a good Mongolian BBQ and that’s the best IMHO). I left behind glorious weather and that big orange thing in the sky.

The wonderful news is I got to experience all these things again, and this time, with the Scotsman. I’m so grateful to my awesome friends for taking time out of their non-holiday days to spend catching up, eating, chilling, and generally being their generous and fun selves that I miss so much. It was all a huge breath of fresh air, and we soaked up every second of it.

Visited my favourite wine's vineyard. Yay! We both had colds. BOO.
Visited my favourite wine’s vineyard. Yay! We both had colds. BOO.

On a writerly note, my first MS is set in another part of the Bay area but is based on a lot of the places and experiences I had in Sac and the north Bay, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I revisited these places. I’m happy to report we had an awesome time, despite us both catching colds after Tahoe, and I lived 100% in the present while appreciating what was good about my past experiences there. I’m so grateful we had the chance to take this trip.

I could get used to this view (from Coppola's vineyard).
I could get used to this view (from Coppola’s vineyard).

Apart from the memory lane-trips and seeing friends, we spent a week in South Lake Tahoe, mostly at Heavenly (one day at Northstar). The Scotsman is an experienced snowboarder and we had two friends from the UK over there on their own holiday, so the 3 of them went off on the slopes in the morning while I had 3 mornings of lessons.

In retrospect, I’d like to have had maybe 5 days of lessons, but Tahoe is ridiculously expensive. I had ONE good instructor, and he was from Scunthorpe, England.

The first day I had a stoner dude, the sort of which I am told there are a lot in Tahoe. He was all, “Use your MIIIIND, be a wise learner, watch others!” to which I wanted to reply, “Why the heck am I paying YOU, then?” The third day, I had a 19-year-old LA girl who said, “Snowboarding is all about the cute outfits!” and when I asked for help on starting to turn on my board, she said, “I don’t know how else to explain it to you,” I again wanted to ask, why the *&*£$£ am I paying you?

I finally walked across the Golden Gate for the first time, & wore flip-flops. Mistake.

My husband and friends gave me lots of tips, though, along with the GOOD instructor, and while I think I mastered falling leaf and braking, and got in lots of J- and C-turns, I didn’t start to connect them to S-turns, and managed to exit the ski lifts about 4 times without wiping out (and taking others with me). Getting off ski lifts is the most frightening part for me. But it turned out fantastic all the same. For 5 days and having never skied before, I’m actually really happy with that 😀 There’ll be a next time 🙂

So now we’ve been back nearly a week and jet lag still has me in its clutches, but I managed to get back on track and start working on my WIP again yesterday, as well as some more (very slow) job hunting.

On to my #WriteMotivation update:

1. Revise NG chapter. Not yet, but I made some notes today and I do think there needs to be even less backstory than there is here. None would be nice, since I know backstory in the first chapter is meant to be a big no-no…. it’s a bit confusing though when most books I’ve read lately are CHOCK FULL of it in the first chapter. But I will persevere.

2. NG x10. Not going to happen unless #1 happens and I’m 100% happy with the result.

3. Revise 1st draft of A BREATH OF SILVER. HAHAHA, uh, what now? That would mean having a finished 1st draft.

4. Finish reading all outstanding CPs/betas’ stories. I’ve finished two this month, so I’ve actually done okay with this one. 3 more to go!!

So, as you can see, sadly it’s day 23 out of 31 and I’ve not accomplished much, but for being out of the country for 17 days and fighting jet lag and a cold that clings for the last 4 days, it’s not surprising, really. Every #Writemotivation month I’ve been involved in so far, I’ve failed to reach all my goals, but I’ve also done a lot more than I would have, had I not been involved. That I know is a fact. So thank you, as always, to KT and the crew for giving us all this extra push to get our words down 🙂

If I have a completed 1st draft of A BREATH OF SILVER done by the end of April, I’ll be pleased. If I rewrite NG chapter 1, and maybe another 10k on BREATH by the end of this March #Writemotivation Month, and finish one more beta’s MS, then I’ll settle for that!

Revised Goals, then:

  1. 10k written on WIP.
  2. 1st chapter of NG rewritten.
  3. If #2, then NG x3.
  4. Finish at least 1 more beta’s MS.

Hope you’re all doing well and getting those ideas down! I know this weather is appalling but happy almost spring anyhow 🙂

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Westonbirt Arboretum, November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a warm, cosy, family- and food-filled Thanksgiving Day! I wish I was back home with my family in WNY helping and celebrating, but instead I’ll be cookin’ a bird next week for my husband and friend coming to visit from Plymouth. As in, Plymouth, England. Which I just realised is sort of fitting given the first Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Massachusetts, if I remember correctly from elementary school lessons. So, thanks to Lauri for bringing a bit of tradition to our Thanksgiving 😉

In honour of the day and the simple message of counting your blessings and giving thanks for what you have, here is one of my favourite quotes:

Being happy doesn’t mean everything’s perfect. It means you’ve decided to see beyond the imperfections.
– Helen Keller

I think that speaks for itself.

I have so much to be thankful for – my husband, our memorable wedding day this past May, my family back in the U.S., my friends both there and here, good health, a roof over our heads, and so much more. It’s easy to focus on what I don’t have, but that’s the story of mankind, really; we’re always focused on what’s missing rather than what’s present.

I have been job-hunting, trying to get my foot into a career since graduation 2.5 years ago. At my age, as I’m often reminded, this is not a great situation. It’s frustrating mentally, and also frustrating our plans and goals of settling down. As wearying as these things are though, I’m trying to learn to choose to be thankful. Every morning (well, okay, most mornings) I jot down at least 3 things in a journal that I’m thankful for; 3 positives. Some days the best I can come up with (and most days if this is true, it’s on the list) is that the sun is shining. In the UK, that’s cause for breaking out the champers.

I’ve also been learning this year to just focus on today. I believe God meets our needs daily. The example for prayer includes the phrase Give us this day our daily bread. It doesn’t say Give us what we’ll need for the next year in advance so we can feel safe and secure. The reason? I think it’s so we learn to trust Something bigger than ourselves. We have to trust that tomorrow will take care of itself, but for today, we will have our current needs met. Even if this means what we think we need, we really don’t. Not yet.

I find this hard because I’m a planner, and a bit OCD. I make 10 lists before going on a trip, check the kitchen about 5 times before leaving to make sure everything’s off, check that the door is locked multiple times. I struggle with it a bit. I’m the same way with future plans. It’s wise to make arrangements for what’s to come so when it comes you’re not left scrambling, but I think in many cases, there’s only so much planning you can really do until the need arrives. So I have to let go of needing to know how things will be on the 8th of February four years from now, and just focus on today.

I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving, and have a lot to be thankful for!

– – –

On another brief note, my #Writemotivation updates have been scattered this month but I think that’s expected, given NaNo. My update is a positive one, though:

1) 50k on WIP (which will bring the word count to ~70k): I’ve written 34,306 NaNo words bringing my WIP first draft to a grand total of 76,476. Yay!

2) MS#1 x3. Done.

– – –

Best of luck, you NaNoWriMo and WriteMotivation writers! And enjoy your holiday, Americans! 🙂

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Today, I got my passport. And there was much rejoicing!

It came while we were away so I hit the Royal Mail delivery office at 7 AM this morning and picked it up, along with all my supporting documents. My BRP (biometric residence permit)–the actual visa–is on its way today. All because I read from a fellow applicant online about how to request your own applicant passport back “for ID purposes only”. They returned it but also processed the visa before returning it, so thank goodness that’s over with. Another 2 years until the fun starts again!

Thank you, God! I cannot tell you how relieved I am. And it “only” took 3 months, but I know that if I hadn’t taken that guy’s advice I’d be among the masses who are waiting 6-12 months in limbo, with neither ability to travel nor certainty of their legal status as migrants.



I’ve done lousy this month. So lousy, in fact, that I can’t even bring myself to re-list my stated goals.

On the flip side, I’m nearly done with one MAJOR goal that I didn’t even know I had until this month began: revising my first story from top to bottom. Again. For real.

I’ve opened a new doc for each chapter in Scrivener, and re-written every single word. Even the sentences I’m merely copying across because I’m still happy with them. Everything’s being retyped so that my fingers and my brain are engaged, and a decision is made with each keystroke how to better this story. I’m nearly done, and will be finishing one of my goals within 1-2 weeks.

I may not have written another 20k on my WIP, or finished all my beta reading yet (which, to be fair, more than doubled since I set those goals!), but I am about a thousand times happier with my first story. So I’m in no way regretting how this month went. Unexpected can be a good thing 🙂

We were here. Tintagel, Cornwall, supposed birthplace of King Arthur.

Sorry for being late this time around but my husband’s birthday coincided with a trip with some friends down to North Devon and we were away for 5.5 days. I didn’t bring my laptop because I didn’t think there’d be wifi. There was wifi. Whoops. I will be doing a last check around some blogs and hope to see them ALL before Monday! Hope you did well if you were participating this month!



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A Love Letter to Allegany

“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”

-Frodo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

Dear Allegany,

I’m so sorry I didn’t get to see you this year. I got married and some of my family and dear friends flew all the way to Scotland to see us tie the knot. I wanted to share it with you, but we just didn’t have the means. But we had perfect weather and a day I’ll never forget, followed by a week in Corfu. It was the best time of my life.

But I’ve had lots of “best times”. Last year, the best time I’d ever had was the week I spent with you. My husband-to-be and I rented one of the same cabins that my family and I always rented when visiting you on the Ryan Trail. Every summer from when I was a baby, we rented a cabin on that trail or sometimes others, and stayed a week or more. Playing in the creek, at the beach, on the playgrounds, visiting the A-building museum and gift shop, hiking the trails, fishing at Red House or Science Lake, exploring woods, spotting animals, roasting marshmallows, playing board games on the screened porch with the glorious scent of the falling rains, smelling of campfire, looking for salamanders post-rain, climbing Thunder Rocks. The list is endless and some of the best memories of my thirty-four years are with you.

As I got older, my sisters and I would bring a tent and camp. Then it got to be short visits, a day here or there, when I lived away from home, but I’ve only missed a very small handful of summers with you. In recent years I’ve made sure I came back. Last year topped them all: the first time I’d stayed in one of your ash-scented green cabins since childhood. Opening that creaking, battered screen door, the smell I hadn’t thought of since I was ten hit me like a nostalgic tidal wave, washing memory after memory over me.

My parents came down with us to help us set up. I’d never stayed in a cabin there as an adult, so Mom had a long list of everything she remembered she always packed. An axe, matches, antibacterial gel, buckets, dish soap and pan, tons and tons of newspaper, citronella candles, Trivial Pursuit, a mirror, a nightlight, a lantern, a kitchen full of food . . . a car’s worth of supplies.

It was a beautiful week. Every evening, we walked around Red House Lake with the setting sun, looking for the animals that came out at dusk. I showed my future husband the place most important to me that feels like part of why I am who I am. One of my sisters and her family came to visit for a day. I loved seeing the kids’ faces enjoying everything the way I enjoyed it, hopefully making memories like the ones I’ll always cherish.

You’ve always been my favorite place on Earth. You remind me of all that was good and fun and exciting in my childhood, and when I go back, it’s like I’m 6 years old again, without a care in the world.

This year, I missed you. After our amazing week last year, I swore I’d never miss you again, even if we were reunited for only one day in a summer’s visit home. Life has other plans sometimes. My passport has been in the hands of the UK Border Agency for several months now, stuck in their backlog of visa applications, and I missed seeing you this summer. And as the summers disappear quicker than a blink, I realize how precious my time is, and what I do with it counts more than ever.

Next year, we’ll be back. We’ll rent a cabin and I won’t spend a second of my time with you thinking about anything else. But knowing that you’re there, even when I can’t be, that other people are enjoying you— that makes my heart happy. 

Thank you for a lifetime of memories, and the rest of my lifetime for even more. I can’t put a value on the amount you ignited my imagination as a child, and how much joy you always bring me. Maybe someday I’ll introduce my own kids to you. Please don’t let anyone change you, and I’ll see you next summer.


P.S. I could do without the hanging caterpillars, though.

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