Uncomfortable

Travelling south, there are fields already dotted with baled hay.  Time has moved quickly in recent weeks and I’d forgotten that it’s almost Lammas.  The landscape is still green, but accented by the coming season’s gold.  I hurtle through the country, train travel giving both distance and connection.  Things seen from above that would normally be seen from below; landmarks made miniature; glimpses of things that would never normally be noticed.  We sweep past the Angel of the North, the Penshaw Monument, the Kilburn white horse and the cathedral-scape of Durham city.  Cows, sheep and horses populate the fields, but there is also picturesque abandonment – crumbling buildings, dilapidated trailers and huts often now used to shelter the animals.  But mostly, there are fields and big sky, blue-grey clouds and the threat of rain.

Two weeks ago I gave my first performance as a writer.  North Tyneside Writer’s Circle hosted Keeping My Soul 2, a second annual event showcasing the work of its members.  It was held at the library where we meet, with an audience of around 40 people.  I was terrified to take part, worried about it irrationally in the weeks before.  Though I was confident in the words of my story, I wasn’t confident in my delivery.  I’d thought I would settle as I began, but I could hear the fear in my voice as I was reading.  Strange how much harder it is to present something personal than to present something work-related, because it is, of course, a little piece of your soul that is on show to everyone listening.  I didn’t enjoy it, but I’m glad I did it.  And I’ve realised the value of performance, as another way  to have stories heard that might otherwise never be shared.

Now I’m stepping out of my comfort zone again, coming alone to the Mslexicon writing conference in Leeds where there will be dozens of other women writers.  At the venue, big sky and open fields have given way to the shelter of the canopy.  It is a place of old stone and old trees, hued in green.  Eccentric buildings and hidden corners.  Flag stoned paths lined with lamps.  A bengal cat complaining loudly.  There is a tennis court with an air of abandonment and a dusting of seeds.  A lichen-ed bench and an old tree swing.  Stone cloisters in which to walk and ponder.  A narrow lane leads to a park bursting with giant trees, steep paths and graffiti on old stones.

But there isn’t much time to be inspired by landscape, the inspiration is coming from within.  I learn that what I write may not be magical realism after all, but may be speculative fiction – but I also learn not to worry too much about labelling it.  I learn about Ikigai, about synopses and ‘when to press send’, about concealing and revealing and about making characters interesting.  Regretfully, I miss a performance by Jackie Kay, but laugh out loud with Sophie Hannah.  Most of all, I talk to other women writers and am awestruck by the sheer number of different stories they have to tell.

And the owls have followed.  Since I met the owlet in the forest, there has been a sense of owls all around me.  I hear the call of a tawny outside my window.  What I think is a barn owl takes off into the dusk on the train home.  And Leeds, I hadn’t realised, is a place of owls – they are part of the crest and their images appear all over the city.  Owls can see what is hidden, hence their reputation for wisdom and perception.  I’d like to think that the owls are signs that I’m on the right track.  There may be more discomfort to come, but maybe that will lead me to where I’m meant to be.

Blogger book of the month: Roy McCarthy – Supply and Demand

Supply and Demand: The story of a young woman trafficked into the sex industryI’ve known Roy for a long time in blogging.  He has published a number of novels, each one unique.  His latest is a moving, heart-wrenching and ultimately uplifting novel set in the world of sex trafficking. Chameli is kidnapped from her Nepalese village and sold into the sex trade in India. Through her story we learn about the harrowing and brutal lives of the girls who become sex slaves. I immediately cared about Chameli and her fate; the author has done a great job of writing from her point of view, in a way that educates without preaching. Through Chameli’s story, and that of Chantilly, a privileged Australian determined to make a difference, I learned a lot about sex trafficking, the challenges involved in trying to stop it, and the difficult choices facing those lucky enough to escape.

Running parallel to Chameli’s story is that of her 11 year old brother, Dilawar, who travels to India to find her, but ends up struggling to survive on the streets. Ultimately this is a survival story of brother and sister struggling to exist in a world over which they have no control. There is a lot of darkness in the subject matter, yet this isn’t a dark novel. There are touching moments of friendship, great descriptions and sense of place, and an ending that offers hope. An important story that spotlights a horrific trade.  You can find Roy here and his book is available on Amazon.

100 thoughts on “Uncomfortable

  1. What a wonderful opportunity to nurture your writing and your story-telling self. It sounds like the sort of beautiful work that is both difficult and rewarding, and I hope that you gain plenty from the experience.

    And isn’t it funny how and when those animal messengers make themselves known to us? A blessing of owls – I just love that. ❤ Wishing you all the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post, Andrea, especially your comment about owls. Congratulations on forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m sure your journey will be educational and ultimately rewarding
    Love your review of Roy’s booked. He has worked hard on it. Gorgeous pictures too.

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  3. Interesting what you say about owls. I collect owls (ornamental, not the real thing) and the surround me where I write at my desk. But of late I’ve seen the occasional barn owl, completely out of time in the mid-morning light. Never the same one, for never the same place. Hmm, gives me pause for thought. I thank you.
    And more power to you for leaving the comfort zone. Very few people are comfortable in the public eye. Those who appear so, do so only because of practice and training. Even the greatest performers get the collywobbles. And I say that as an ex-theatre manager.

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  4. Good for you for taking part in the opportunity to read your work. I’m sure you performed better than you thought. It is not easy, I agree. I muddled through my first experience reading some of my poetry a few years ago. And, it still makes me cringe a bit thinking about it. 🙂

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  5. How i empathise with that sense of vulnerability when reading our own writing. For the longest time I’d cry when i read out loud. But I have always found that testing myself somehow moves me on – i learn something every time. I salute your courage, because i know how much it takes.

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  6. I used to chair the Writer’ Guild meetings in Christchurch NZ – basically because I had nothing worth reading and wasn’t afraid to tell people to shut up. The writers with nerves in their voices were generally the ones worth listening to. Those who couldn’t shut up really had little to say! So – well done!
    I think owls somehow are the most “mystical” of birds…

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  7. As always, you hypnotise me with your words, be it the narration of landscape unfolding on a train journey, gardens in less than their prime, or the fluttering bouts of vulnerability that grips at the very moment when you should be showcasing your beautiful wings to the world.

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  8. Lammas! Great to ‘hear’ the old festival names.
    I still struggle with labels like ‘spec fiction’, and usually resort to saying “a bit like…[author name]”.
    Well done for performing. It gets easier.

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  9. I so admire your choices, Andrea. I’m sure you will have grown from it. Fascinating about the owls. We each need to remember to look and listen – there are signposts out there 🙂

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  10. I love your descriptions of place, so very evocative, and I’m glad it’s not only me that gets enthralled by the tumbledown areas on the edge of conurbations, as seen from train windows. Always feels as if nature is reclaiming what is hers.

    Well done for pushing out of your comfort zone. It’s definitely how we grow. To quote Wainwright, “If you accomplish nothing else, you’ll have kept the rot and the rust away.”

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  11. Well done, you! It is terrifying to read our works in public. I’ve done it and I had cold sweats for days prior to the reading. All I can say with certainty is that you are a terrific writer and I have no doubt your writings would be, will be, well-received.

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  12. Andrea, thanks for sharing the experience you had with other writers – and the owls. I look forward to reading about where getting out of your comfort takes you. Best wishes, my friend.

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  13. Well done for stepping out of your comfort zone, Andrea. Reading in front of an audience is always intimidating. I haven’t braved a writer’s conference yet. Not sure I ever will. The owls…definitely a sign if they keep appearing, especially in unusual ways, and the symbolism seems to be spot on. Speaking of repetitive signs, thanks for the rainbow.🙂

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  14. Congratulations on going outside your comfort zone. I have difficulty talking to a group for any reason, let alone sharing a piece of your soul/writing.

    Interesting that you would share Roy’s novel now. I’ve recently been educating myself on the political climate of our world and learned that sex trafficking happens all over the globe. It’s something done in hidden corners, and many times elites are involved. Some of them are involved in the abuse, and others get paid to allow the abuse to go on. I learned this when researching about the massive leak at our southern border and how 30% of it is children being trafficked for one form of slavery or another.

    Thank you for sharing about Roy’s novel.

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  15. I admire your bravery, both in performing your story and attending the writing conference. I can see that you are starting to believe you are a writer, despite your discomfort – what an exciting transition! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ah, you must follow the Magpie Andrea.
    ‘Oh the Magpie brings us tidings of news both fair and foul
    She’s more cunning than the Raven, more wise than any Owl’

    You’ll soon find more confidence in your presenting, remember everyone is on your side.

    Thanks a million for the shout out for S&D Andrea, much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Congratulations on your writer performance, Andrea. I like to see when others step out of their comfort zone and, no doubt, you’ve been embarking on that more lately. It encourages me.

    I also wanted to comment on your mention about owls as it’s interesting to me. Seems like you may be entering into some intriguing, perhaps supernatural, adventures. I always look up birds and animals in Ted Andrews’ book, “Animal Speak”, when they come into my life and I looked up the owl for you. He notes that, “the owl is the bird of magic and darkness of prophecy and wisdom.”

    He also says, “One who works with owl medicine will be able to see and hear what others try to hide. You will hear what is not being said, and you will see what is hidden or in the shadows. You can detect and pinpoint the subtleties. This can make others uncomfortable because they will not be able to deceive you about their motives or actions.”

    Here is a link to a partial PDF of Animal Speak and you can read more in the owl section.
    https://miltonthed.weebly.com/uploads/1/4/1/6/14162844/animal-speak_by_ted_andrews_partial.pdf

    Looking forward to hearing more on your adventures, Andrea, and how this unfolds for you. Love and hugs from across the pond.

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  18. Speaking in public is terrifying and if you’re reading your own work, you’re exposing yourself and making yourself vulnerable to everyone in the room. But you did it. Those owls saw your hidden strength.

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  19. I love that you featured Roy’s book! I so enjoy his blog. And I’m so glad you’re putting a piece of yourself out there. The world could sorely use you right now, even if bits at a time. I was waiting for the pics of baled hay in the fields . . . one of my favorite scenes.

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  20. Good for you, Andrea! Your voice may have been shaking, but you did it anyway, and what a great reward – a genuine camaraderie among women writers who have plenty to share.And I wouldn’t worry too much about labeling either, although agents/editors do often want to know what genre you write in – least of your worries, I’d say. You did great. Owls, you say? A little more about them when they come into your life – https://www.spiritanimal.info/owl-spirit-animal/ – wisdom, change, intuition … go for it! Great book share, too. Tx.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Wow, Andrea, it seems that you are embracing a lot of new, brave experiences. It makes me wonder whether this is connected to the giving up smoking.
    I am married to a performer and you realise how much it is part of dna. I am not a performer and so totally understand your anxiety about it all. On the other hand, I feel we are always performing in some way …
    So well done for all your achievements. Can’t wait to see what comes next!

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  22. ‘The owls are not what they seem.’ As a fan of Twin Peaks I will use any excuse to get that in but they are always a sign of adventure, I’ve always thought that at least. Reading aloud is a harrowing experience but your own work to boot must have been intense. Good for you for doing it though and for sharing all of your adventures. I always learn something from your posts.

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  23. Good on you for performing your work, Andrea. As an introvert who doesn’t like public speaking, I can totally relate to you feeling nervy reading out your work. There’s always that chance someone might judge and say something about our work which will upset. Then again, writers circles and events like these are very welcoming places. Good luck with the Mslexicon writing conference and may you draw inspiration from it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  24. You are braver than me, Andrea. I’m very proud of you speaking for the first time and for going to the writer’s conference. This is the part of writing we find so hard, I think. I’m still trying to get my submission package together, write my synopsis, cover letter, get my pitch right, for my memoir, my debut book as an unknown with a blog and some publications. I feel like I’ve hit a wall with it, battling a massive crash of self doubt and despair at times. After all this time, coming so far, 6 years of blood sweat and tears. You have inspired me to keep pressing on and I hope that once I’ve got some submissions out, I can attend one or two events such as these, though I’m not a member of any writing group off line. I hope you’ve since felt more encouraged. And I love your descriptions, sublime and beautiful as always. Train journeys, I find, are therapy in themselves. Except for in a heatwave with broken air con, that is! 😉

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  25. Andrea, I’m glad to hear about your performing a reading of your work, as well as your observations about the Mslexicon conference. I agree, FWIW: labeling one’s work as magical realism or speculative fiction is not necessary. Readers may make something entirely new of one’s work–and there is some logic in letting the editors, marketers and agents and publishers apply the labels, if need be. Also, can’t remember now if I commented (in my mind, I did!) about your post revealing how you’d been able to leave smoking behind; I wanted to be sure and offer my congratulations on that incomprehensibly (to me, anyway) difficult endeavour. Finally, as tough as it was, I hope you will continue to amble along or even proceed apace the process of doing authorial readings. It would be quite something, I think, to hear your read your stories, imparted with your own voicing and other nuances. Best wishes always!

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    • Thanks Leigh, I think we build the genre thing up after being told we should be able to sell to an agent where our work fits, but actually they seemed far less concerned than we were. Being a non-smoker is now second nature (bar a few cravings – for the habit rather than the cigarette itself). I think I need more practice with speaking aloud, but I’m not rushing to do it again! Interestingly, I seem to have a weaker voice since giving up smoking.

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  26. When I read of owls, I always think of Harry Potter…there is a juvenile barn owl that has been spotted in our beloved park, I hope to catch sight of it this summer! Kudos to you for moving out of your comfort zone, one of my next goals is to participate in a writer’s weekend or conference…your beautiful description of your journey was a joy to read.

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  27. I’m sorry it took me so long to get here – sorry for ME, because I love your posts and this one inspires me even further. First, congrats on going past your comfort zone to read your story. I’m SO with you – hate making my introverted self become a “functioning introvert” and getting myself and my writing “out there.” But if we don’t allow it out the door and into the hearts and ears and eyes of others, then how can we share our soul work? And yes, we are sharing a bit of our soul with each story we release. Many congrats to you, Andrea. The writing conference sounds ideal. And lastly, hurray for Ray. I enjoy reading his posts and knew he was working on this book. To be honest, I worried about being upset (as in nightmares) during the reading of the book, but your review is so excellent, I’m off to download it on my Kindle.

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  28. Hello Andrea, you are not out of your comfort zone; you are just expanding it. And, regardless of what pigeon hole they put your work into, I think it’s fantastic. Congratulations and a massive well done; it’s a ten from Len.
    Apologies for being a little on the slow side in responding, but I’ve been nursing Jackie my wife back to health after her op. She’s doing well and making good progress.
    Take care.

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  29. Oh, I love owls. We have a barred owl in the woods behind our house. He/She hoots regularly every night and early morning. They do have their own brand of magic, so I think if you are taking it to mean you’re on the right track, then you are! 🙂

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  30. I relate to everything you wrote. The performance part of writing still feels awkward and uncomfortable. But, like you, I will continue to do it. I think it must make me stronger at some point. Kudos to you for trying new things! I hope you enjoyed your writing conference. It sounds magical—just like you!

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  31. Oh Andrea, you say you are terrified of reading to the audience, but I wish I could be in that audience, listening 🙂 Your writings are magic, regardless of the official label. The increased owl activity means the presence of magic too 🙂
    Thank you for sharing the book and for your wonderful review.

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  32. Cheers Andrea!!! Cheers to stepping.out of your comfort, to growth, to your first performance as a writer! So so proud of you, you always inspire me, thank you for the courage, thank you for your words and nature writing pieces of art

    Sharing a piece of your soul is so so uncomfortable but its awesome to share the unique creativity that is only you with the rest of the world. I can’t wait to read your finished novel(?)

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  33. I fear my blogging will continue to be sporadic but I enjoyed reading this piece even though a month old. Trying to catch up! This sounds so positive and exciting- and brave for you in the writing journey! and I’m not surprised that the owls follow you. You are certainly following the path with heart!

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  34. I’ve been avoiding going to poetry reading sessions and becoming part of writing groups too because I’m just not sure. Again, your post provides an answer. They are necessary evils that we must take part in – to learn and grow. Knowing that someone like you who is so good with words can also be uncomfortable, helps. So thank you Andrea 🙂

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