One Year Of Dear Octopus Writing

The year is 2015. The idea of “the blog” was suggested to me by a boyfriend I had at the time. He was an accordionist without an accordion, a film-maker without a camera. To him, my life was a piece of piss pretty much.

Life wasn’t that easy. It never is. At the time I had two Advanced Highers (which are just below university level work), one Higher Art, an estranged father, a non-existent writing portfolio, and a bad bout of writer’s block. What was the point of starting a blog when I didn’t have the fiction to put up? Or the time to create new content?

I attempted a blog post; a silly little ‘Facts About Me’ entry which I knew deep in my heart would never lead to anything. I felt self-centred for wanting to talk about myself. The internet is enough of a cesspit of teen angst without me putting in my two cents.

The boyfriend came and went, the exams were passed and a small portfolio was coming together. I applied to universities in England and was accepted (it was applying for Manchester Metropolitan that taught me how to write flash fictions), but I needed time to grow and in some vain attempt to find a career path. I slogged through a college course in social care, filled out form after form, somewhat mastered the interview for the times I had one and came to a lot of dead ends. Although I find time for writing short stories and poems, I could never have found time to write regular content required for a blog.

Then, on a family holiday in Naples, everything changed.

The year is 2016. I opted out of trekking through Pompeii with my family in high noon in favour of slobbing around and eating brioches.

The day before, I went to Herculaneum with them. Although I appreciated the ancient Roman history, I was overwhelmed by the deathly atmosphere- after all; visitors are greeted by the sight of actual human remains- and exhausted by the heat.

It is my holiday, after all, and I didn’t feel it was the right time for me to really enjoy Pompeii. My time at college bore the fruits of a HNC. Now it was time to show my modest portfolio. I couldn’t call myself a writer until I’ve at least tried that, right? So I set myself up a WordPress as well as an accompanying Facebook page. I wrote a very, very short introduction and uploaded three samples:

I had other pieces in the woodwork including a few flash fictions. I joined every writer’s group on Facebook just about. Over time, I polished them and submitted them to every online journal I could see. I received a few rejections, but they were vastly overshadowed by the kind places that published my work. I started contributing to Seakay’s Guide To Storytelling, where I would be tested to my limits in ways I will expand on another time.

After the stress I had with that, I decided to take a month out to write the first draft of a novel The Dormant Queen. This is the first novel I have actually completed, but it is only first draft and is in the process of being edited. By this time, I had decided that collaboration wasn’t what I needed to do at that time and focused more on my little page.

I participated in the 52 Week Flash Fiction Challenge between September 2016 and January 2017. If it wasn’t for that Facebook group, I wouldn’t have been able to post a flash fiction weekly or even bi-monthly! It was something that helped me an awful lot, and really does deserve a small post of its own.

I read out my poetry and flash fictions at various open mike nights, including at a family fun day in Largs and a slot at Fresh Ayr’s first three-day festival at Ayr Town Hall. I went to these things whenever I could, but I found it difficult to sustain as my work schedule turned from a 2 or 3 day week into a 6 or 7 day week. I was so tired every day that I found it difficult to write anything.

Between January and February was near enough hellish. My work-life balance was virtually non-existant. I naively assumed that on top of working 6 (sometimes 7) days a week, I could maintain every other aspect of my writing. That obviously failed spectacularly. This was the main reason the website was basically dead between February and April. I had stopped doing the 52 week flash fiction challenge because I couldn’t find time to even write flash fictions, which had previously provided all of the weekly posts. I felt terrible, but trying to schedule quality material every week was near impossible on top of my working life. It was like falling down a really high sand dune- I couldn’t find my feet to get back to the top again.

So now, I’m somewhat getting on the bandwagon. It’ll be more realistic to aim for a monthly scheduele rather than a weekly. I’m doing little blog posts, which at the start I wouldn’t make much of an attempt doing. I’m slowly but surely putting illustrations into my previous stories and poems, as well as little blog posts and flash fictions here and there.

In 2015, I was in my sixth year and hated it. I slogged through my Advanced Higher English to improve my writing without much idea of where I would be heading as a writer. Now, in 2017, I’m a bit less stressed in a sense. Though my work schedule was packed between January and April, it’s not quite as bad now. I do have a bad habit of taking on too much for my own good. Oh and I have a better boyfriend too, who supports me in so many ways, including proofreading my content for the site.

Dear Octopus Writing has given me more of a direction. I feel like a little bit more legitimate because I’m putting my work out there. I’m trying new styles of writing and learning a lot about promoting myself online. It has its ups and downs, but it’s an extension of me so it is my pride and joy. I put a lot of work into what I do, and I hope that it shows. Setting it up was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I hope you find time to check out some of my stories and poems.

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A shameless duckface I pulled in 2015

Featured Image: A family photo in Naples, touring a local Colosseum.

With thanks to all the places who liked my work enough to publish it! The McStorytellers, Paragraph Planet, MinusPaper, Oletangy Review, Jotters United, Pulp Metal Magazine, Inventives Magazine, Polaris, Seakay’s Guide To Storytelling and Gaelstrom Magazine.

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11 Life Lessons From My Thirteen Year Old Self

“Fuck up at school, and you fuck up at life- it’s fucked”- Jonas Takalua

I was a big fan of comedies as a thirteen year old. I wrote bizarre and eclectic sketches and feature film scripts, aspiring to see them on TV or on the cinema screen. Of course, now looking back, they are so stupid and need so much work I don’t know where to start.

Despite this and how lame I was back then, I did have some form of wisdom worth sharing. It came to me today while I was de-cluttering- clearing out crap in preparation for moving to Glasgow. (I’m going to Glasgow University and turning 20 in September, which I still can’t quite get over!) I ploughed through scraps of writing, old greetings cards, cuddly toys and more useless tat to find a list titled “Life Lessons Learned Either From Myself Or Others”. It had the little quote at the top (from Australian comedy ‘Summer Heights High’), and 31 points. I’m obviously not going to include absolutely all of them for brevity, but here are some of the best ones. (In no particular order)

  1.  “Start winding down and getting ready for bed earlier”

This is a lesson I’m still trying to apply to my everyday life. It’s true though- especially when I could barely get up in the morning for school the next day.

2. “The Spice Girls lied- friendship does end.”

As a young girl and teenager, you’re bombarded of images of everlasting girly friendship from films, TV shows, magazines, adverts you name it. So it only took me the whole of primary school and some of secondary school to learn that friendship does end. People fall out. People grow out of each other. People grow apart. People abandon. It’s never usually personal, except for when it is. It’s a rare time you keep friends you made in school, or anywhere as a young teenager, for the long term.

3. “Don’t try and be a smart alec and make a joke in another language. Especially in a languages class.”

The class will never get the joke, no matter how witty you think you are.

4. “Just because everyone else is doing something, doesn’t make it right.”

I saw most of that lesson from my peers drinking at bus stops and things. I hated not being included in things. Part of me wished that I could be included. But really, deep down I knew I wasn’t missing out on much. Especially when they were talking about when they were sick, as if it was all part of the fun. (Yes I have been drunk before and I know from experience that when you feel queasy that is the time to stop!)
5. “Not all adults have grown up completely yet.”

As a nineteen year old, who has been a school assistant and a support worker, I amend this slightly- no adults have grown up even slightly. It’s a conspiracy and a lie to keep children in line. Nobody knows what they’re doing. Literally nobody. Everyone is making it all up as they go along.

6. “Don’t chase. Boys smell desperation.”

This was a hard lesson to learn. I’d spent the first two years of secondary school jumping from crush to crush, without a clue about how to deal with the feelings I had. I made a real fool of myself for it, and became an easy target.

7. “In the long run, your social status matters much less than your grades. Your grades decide your future but how popular you are in high school doesn’t.”

I’ve only kept a handful of the friends I made in school, and even then I made those when I was fifteen. Although your grades do affect your future, you’re not damned forever for not having perfect grades.

8. “Men and women in magazines aren’t really your role models”

Whereas most people have somewhat distinction between fantasy and reality, not everyone does. It’s so easy to be captivated by these models and writers and hold the unrealistic pictures they paint as the reality you want. It honestly can’t be achieved.

In reality, you couldn’t really sustain a kale and juice diet or screw a porn star. You can fantasise, but you know it won’t happen. Yet the eating disorders, self-esteem issues, addictions and outright bizarre behaviour these things can cause is insane.

9.“Don’t quit a show because none of your friends are performing with you, or you haven’t got a good part.”

This applies to anything else as well as drama, from sports clubs to science groups. When I was younger, I used to spend my summer doing shows with a drama group in Paisley.

In the show before this one, I made lots of friends and had a really great time. In the next one, it didn’t have the exact same people, but there was one boy who went to the same one as me. He was one of the people I was pretty good friends with. Or so I thought.

When we were on our break together with his friends, he snapped at me “Why are you following me around like a puppy?” I was so ashamed, hurt and taken aback that I couldn’t bear to go back. I do regret that, because the guy was quite clearly behaving like an arse and it could have been a really good show. I could have had a lot of fun as part of the chorus.

10. “Don’t take on other people’s problems more than they are.”

I did this quite a lot, especially during S4 and S5. People used to befriend me because I would sit for hours and counsel them through their problems. But quite a few of these people were just looking for a safe space to have a bitch or didn’t have the stones to sort themselves out. It left me exhausted, and I got really emotionally invested when I probably shouldn’t have. By all means, help people. Help your friends because most people will appreciate you being there. But when people relinquish responsibility for their own wellbeing and expect you to provide their happiness is when you detach. They need to help themselves, you know.

11.“Enjoy your teenage years but keep in mind that what you do now can affect you for the rest of your life.”

When I was that age, I fell for the “if you fail your exams, you fail at life” dogma. So to me it was as grave as it might sound to you. But I know as an adult, if you don’t do well at school, it’s not the end of your life. Far from it!

How you are as a teenager will affect how you’ll be for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t mean you’re done for. You’ll make mistakes, but you’ll grow from them.

So have fun with your friends, go to all the after-school clubs, kiss every frog, pop all your zits- make the most of every minute, because you won’t get it again!

 

my halloween costumeDSCF9725me in the pace foyer

Don’t You Know Who I Am? (Superman FanFiction)

“I’m on the decline, my dear. I was such a strong man in my younger days, I never thought ‘d be so… weak or chubby. But then, even men like I was get old and fat at some point. The Christmas dinners, teas and cakes out and now in this nursing home they feed me all the time. It could be worse. The company’s good, though we keep having the same conversations.  The food is good. You treat me well here.”

“I’ve had a good life. I worked as a journalist for the Daily Bugle before it shut down. I wrote articles for them for forty years before I retired. There was a lot of in-fighting, and they couldn’t keep up with the technological age in the end. Lois and I had five children! If I wasn’t here, I’d be babysitting all the grandchildren. But then, that was always Lois’s strong point. When her health went down, I couldn’t do it on my own. There are so many of them! At least they come to the home sometimes. Of course, I’m just circling the drain, just waiting to join her. I keep all the articles I write her in a scrapbook by my bed. You’ve probably seen it, but not taken a look. Feel free! Take me up and I’ll talk you through it!”

Mr Kent’s carer, Jacqui, was always a good listener. She helped the old man out of his chair, into the hall and into the lift where his bedroom was. He helped him onto sitting on the bed before pulling a small chair up beside him. He opened the scrapbook and smiled. An old issue of the Daily Planet, about Superman right enough.

He indicated one of the articles. “It was a full time job, writing about Superman. Me and Lois both had it, on top of writing our own stories. I’m surprised nobody put two and two together.”

Jacqui was curious, “Two and two together about what, Mr Kent?”

“That it was just me without glasses and a costume! I thought some clever cookie might have piped up and put me and Lois out of our misery!”

The carer raised her eyebrows, “You were Superman?”

“Still would be if my health allowed me. I’m a bit stronger than the rest of these old guys, but not much.” Mr Kent chuckled.

Jacqui found this very hard to believe. Everybody who read a paper or social media knew that Superman was dead. He died of some kind of heart attack and pronounced dead on the spot. The funeral was televised and everything. But then, she thought, he’s on the decline. He said so himself. He might just be having delusions. The worst thing to say was that it wasn’t true.

So Jacqui smiled, and said, “That’s remarkable Mr Kent! Would you like to take that to the lounge and have a cup of tea?”

The man’s face radiated with warmth, “Why, my dear, I’d love to.”

Love’s Dead

My wife always that I work too late. She wants me in bed with her every night, but you know duty calls. I am at the morgue for hours every day, slaving away. It’s a small place, they don’t need many staff. A text from her now- when will you be home? To be honest I don’t know.

I can work very late into the night. I don’t want to go to sleep, or roll around the bed with her in my arms. She says I’m frigid, like the corpses I work with five days a week. She wants to reignite the passion in our marriage. I don’t feel it anymore. These cadavers here are better lovers than she is. Love is dead, dear.

 

Originally published on Seakay’s Guide to Storytelling before the magazine passed away. (RIP)

 

Agony

Bang. Throbbing surges through my body. In agony, I let out the most bloodcurdling scream until I run out of air. People crowd around me as I lie on the floor. Maybe one of them will put me out of my misery! I am not usually one to ask for help, but now I know I need it. I am ready to die. I’ve banged my bloody toe against the door!

Down With The Sickness

The sun shone through an open window. I could hear birds singing, people laughing and talking, ELO’s Mr Blue Sky playing. I was sitting on the toilet, holding a basin, wishing I would just throw up already. Today, I was sick. And not in the cool, hip-hop way either.

In fact, by this point, I’ve been ill for two weeks. This was the second round of antibiotics, as the first one Amoxicillin was just too mild-mannered to fight off this chest infection. The flem clung to my throat and ribcage like stubborn cobwebs, or like a weepy, creepy ex. My sinuses were clogged, making my head heavy in aching pain.

I had to watch from afar- or in other words my Facebook newsfeed- all the nights out, dinners out, days out and other people having an all-out great time. I had to cancel shifts with my Easter holiday work- all of them over two weeks; Burnsfest, Easter Sunday with my family, Easter Sunday with my boyfriend’s family and god knows what else.

Why? I was housebound with it. As in the Disturbed song, I was well and truly down with the sickness. It was like the poltergeist that just wouldn’t go away. It was named The Cough.

I could barely move without coughing violently. I could barely think without coughing violently. All I did for the next five or so weeks was cough. Sometimes, I coughed for so hard and so long I made myself throw up.

I tried everything to exorcise this demon that haunted my body.

At first I thought: it’ll only last three days at most. I’ll stay positive, guzzle as many vitamins as possible, rest up and maybe if I ignore it for long enough, it’ll go away. Right? And for three days, I was led to believe this.

But on the fourth day? Nope! The Cough decided to stay, and it decided to exhaust me. For the next three days after that, I was bedridden. Then for the next two weeks, I would be couch-ridden. The Cough took up all my energy. I could barely play video games, let alone write meaningful content.

My Easter holidays evaporated and any shred of positivity had gone along with it. The Cough’s hold upon me had weakened, but I couldn’t bring myself to do everything I could do before. Still zero energy.

Another four days and I dragged myself back to work. If I didn’t go back now, The Cough would win. So I went back. I’ve been back at work for a week or so now and I’m still fighting it. Just about.

It’s not just a bad excuse for not producing new content. I really have been so ill I’ve not been able to write. I’ve been so used to going at a hundred miles an hour every day, but this past month I’ve been barely moving at a snail’s pace. Maybe if I hadn’t been going so fast, The Cough wouldn’t have had such an ample target.

I’ve decided to pace myself as best I can. I have an unbearable urge to say yes to every new project that appears but I doubt that’s a sustainable practice. This little blog post is one small baby step into creating new, fresh content for the website. Be patient though: I’m still locked in mortal combat with The Cough and it’s still breathing.

Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend for helping with the editing process. I’m still pretty new to blogging and wanted to make this one worth your while! x

Do you have any illness horror stories? Have you also been a victim of The Cough? Send me your stories in the comments! It’ll give me some goddamn perspective! 😀

This Gives Me Closure (prose poem)

To you,

I opened my soul in the dark. To you, it was a roll around the park. To you, what was I? A laugh? A whore? An easy ride? All your courtesy and respect died. You left me out to dry.

You saw everything you had to see, and cut contact with me. I cried as if I was bereft but my eyes are clear now. You’re the one who has lost out. You’ll chase after some glossy glam girl, and then another. You’ll smirk but you’ll never be truly happy. And now I’m happier that we’re apart.

Ink Prelude

My mind is a dark room with red lighting and a desk where I create and destroy at my will. It is a continent, surrounded by paper and ink. Like my study, it is cluttered, but unlike my study it has no walls.

There is nowhere the ideas can float but everywhere. That is until I drop them. It is funny to watch them squirm, drown and be forgotten.

Did that scare you a little?

Don’t worry, I’ve not killed anyone.

Well… at least not a real person.

 

NOTE: “Ink” was the first short film that I had been involved in. It was made as part of a GMAC Summer School, and shown at the Glasgow Film Theatre. I added the flier as my image because it is inspired by the film. 

“Ink” is the intellectual property of GMAC film.

February Update!

According to the ‘laws’ of NaNoWriMo, I should have started editing my first novel, The Dormant Queen, by now. But as I’ve hinted at before, life has gotten in the way.

I’ll start from the beginning. When I left school, I was desperate to work. I attended college, applied for basically everything going including care homes, community care companies, school assistant bank lists. I was doing at least one a day, and was hitting a lot of dead ends, despite getting a lot of interviews. I worked placements in schools and sheltered accommodation. And panicked about my SVQ units, but that’s another story.

 

I managed to finally get a job working with children with disabilities during school holidays, but nothing for during term time. After college, I managed to get on council’s school assistant bank lists. But then when I got on these, it took them months to actually get me any work due to HR processing my references and other things.

 

Then one council offered me a 10 hour a week contract at a primary school. Paid work, that was a good start. But there was still three days vacant, which for the most part, I was being roped into an endless loop of housework or errands. I was sick of it. Then, my relief hours contract offered me shifts every Saturday on outreach. This was great! I was an outreach worker!

And not long after that, one of the council bank lists I signed up for offered me a five-day contract. I was to start in January, when the Christmas holidays finished. Then I was really excited. Five days a week, supporting a pupil one-to-one every day. Something to really get my teeth into!

But then, I realised. I am now working a six day week.

Despite having everyone around me telling me how difficult it would be, I was excited. I would be gaining a LOT of valuable experience. I was going to be truly busy. I could do it- finally get everything I’d worked for. I would finally prove to myself that I could function like an actual adult.

The first week, I was on fire. I was writing and managing everything I was doing during the Christmas holidays, and all the hours of my day were driven. It felt amazing. I said yes to any opportunity or project. Because I could totally do it. I kept burning the until half way through the third week.

One night, I took a bath to try and relax. I knew I was getting tired, so I tried to wind down.

I had a conversation on the phone with my boyfriend, and I forgot to get a date for when their February break was. We hoped to arrange a long weekend somewhere. That one omission broke the camels back. I panicked. And I panicked some more. And then I talked myself down. I realised for myself that I had taken on too much.

 

So I’ve had to prioritize a bit. My job obviously must come first, but there are a lot of writing projects that I’ve had to shelve in the mean time like my serial, editing my novel and redrafting my short stories.

I’ve also muted notifications, and effectively left, the 52 Week Flash Fiction Challenge. This has served to build my portfolio of flash fictions to no end, even if I was unable to complete all of them. I have a gig reading some poetry for the FreshAyr festival at Ayr Town Hall, which will take up most of my time and energy until the beginning of March.

As for content on the website, I doubt I’ll have much to show for myself for the next month. But hopefully I may prove myself wrong! I may be just talking crap and blogging for the next wee while, but should be posting some juicy drabbles or poems in March.

In the meantime, happy reading!

 

 

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PS I feel this meme is appropriate but it’s not my creation so take no credit for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rapunzel

My wicked stepmother keeps me in this tower, day after day. It gets lonely. The only company I keep is her, whenever she brings me food or the odd critter. But they never stick around long. I’m so bored here, I’m almost brain dead! All I do is sing to myself and brush my ridiculously long hair.

Then I hear a voice from the bottom of the tower, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair!”

It’s a young man! I humph my ridiculously long hair out the window, and he uses it to climb up. I could do with a nice chat. Stepmother hasn’t seen me since breakfast and that seems like hours ago.

After a lot of tugging, and some strands of hair inconveniently pulled out, he finally reaches the top. His face has fallen, become pale for some reason. “Dear God! W-What are you?” he asks, shakily.

What does he mean, what am I? “I’m a princess, silly!” I laugh, but it just comes out as grunts. I walk towards him. He looks so good. He screams no. He’s rooted to the spot. All of this screaming is making me hungry. I bite a chunk out of his arm. He really is tasty! He has blacked out, and just as I’m almost finished his arm, I hear a blood curdling scream. I’m startled! It’s my stepmother!

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? YOU HAVE EATEN THE PRINCE REGENT!” she screams.

I look down at my meal. Oh. So that’s why he’s dressed like that. I look back up at my stepmother, who’s looking down at me with horror and disgust. Oops!

Sermon

You’d think that sound usually radiates in a church, booming and echoing along the walls and rising to the roof like hot air. But this morning, the orchestra mumbled hymns and the brass band choked a low rendition of Jingle Bells and Feliz Navidad.

I’m not an atheist, but I swear if that priest keeps boring on about the baby effing Jesus, I’ll sock him! He’s got the right amount of general fluff talk for radio. He could go on TalkSport for how much he bores on about the most mundane things. I really thought I could handle it. I sit at the end of my row applying yet another coat of grape lip-balm. I could run out if I wanted to.

But I can’t. I couldn’t do that to the kids at their Christmas concert!

Mugged

The Christmas Works Night Out. Obviously the only reason anyone would still working for Coffee Society. One night to take our minds off our dire economic circumstances and get wasted. But first, the dreaded Secret Santa. Nobody really wants to buy colleagues a present for just short of an hour’s wage, but our manager insists that it will boost morale.

We pass around a red basket and I pull out mine. It is in a little faux-designer gift bag.  Inside, a mug says, “I Am Batman.”

A voice asks, “Do you like your present? I knew you liked superheroes.”

Oh God, it was her. All Burberry, Prada, yada yada. We all know it’s from the Barras. Isn’t this a secret Santa, anyway?

I muster the most grateful voice and smile I can, “Oh my gosh, I LOVE it! Thank you SO MUCH!” I reach across the table to hug her.

I hate Batman. He shouldn’t count as a superhero. He’s a wooden bastard who’s only really considered a superhero because he’s rich.

During the meal, I quietly try and think of a way to dispose of it without being overly rude. Maybe my cousin will like it. But does he like Batman? Who cares.

After getting royally pie-eyed, I take the short cut home. I’ve spent the taxi money on a fishbowl, and it’s not far. It should have been perfectly safe.

But then a mad-looking man in a black hoodie materialises.

“Geez the bag!” he coughs.

He glares at me, his eyes manically wide. He’s right up in my face. I thrust my handbag in his hands.

But this only antagonises them further. “NO THAT BAG THE OTHER WAN!”

The other one? The gift bag with the mug? I hold it up, “What this on-?”

Before I can finish, it is snatched out of my hands, and he scurries away down the street.

That was Cucci not Gucci you idiot! I smirk to myself. If I ever get a present like that again next year, remind me to walk home!