In praise of understanding

I’ve had so many kind responses to my last post – it’s very much appreciated and heartening to know how many people want me to keep writing. The critical voice is strong (does that sound a bit Star Wars?) and the downside of increased socialising means she has so many more things to pick to belittle me about. Tools and tricks are there to be used though and I’m going back to basics in terms of managing my mental health. One of these days I’ll learn to take care before it reaches this point. 

Writing is a big part of this of course. Other than gardening and cooking it’s the only thing I know – the only thing I feel right doing. I wish I felt more certain about my skills, but I guess, unlike gardening and cooking, writing is incredibly subjective. I know if I’ve cared for a plant well, because it blooms, sets seed and continues its life. I know if I’ve cooked a meal well because it pleases my taste buds – and hopefully those of others. I deal with failures in gardening by learning how to do it right next time, I deal with failure in cooking by learning how to do it right next time. I don’t feel torn up, distraught or as though I never want to cook or garden again. Why so? 

The simple fact is that it’s really hard to know if my failures are because I’ve made a colossal mistake, or just because I’ve not tickled the metaphorical tastebuds of the editors or competition judges. There’s no-one saying – “oh it’s so close but a bit under seasoned” or “what the blazes made you put chilli oil in the rice pudding?”. It’s a simple thanks but no thanks and on you go. This, of course, is no fault of the many long-suffering lit mag editors. Many decline work in the kindest, fullest way possible. A few give what reads as a very formulaic response, but hey, these are busy, unpaid people wading through a colossal amount of work to find the perfect fit for their magazine. 

I’ve realised I need to wean myself off the dopamine rush of having work accepted. I love the thrill of opening that email, expecting rejection and reading that my work will be published. I love shouting about it all over the socials and getting the flurry of interest and interaction. It feels nice. It feels like I’m worth something. And it’s as addictive as all the other addictive things. 

I planned today as a poetry day. This is a luxury I rarely afford, and something I usually crave, like a warm bath, or a hot buttered toast. A poetry day usually makes me feel better. Today – oh how I wanted to roll over and ignore the alarm, How I wanted there to be some ad hoc freelance work that was just too good to miss. I felt scared. I felt as though I was setting myself up for more failure and more sadness. Today I sat and looked at my work and wondered why the heck I actually do this? Is it to make people like me? Is it to give myself status? Is it to justify my place in the world? Yes. Of course it is. But writing can’t only be about these things. It can’t only be about making myself feel better about not being who I feel I should be. For me, writing has to be about making a difference. It has to be about forging a connection and showing a way for people to feel less alone. It has to have a purpose beyond my personal vanity. 

So this feels like a point of maturity. I intend to step away from the submissions treadmill for a while and work with the work I have produced over the last few years. I’ve spent time today looking at the themes in my work (sadly there isn’t a strong theme of fluffy bunnies) and intend to spend a little more time with the poems, redrafting and wrestling them into a series of pamphlets, before approaching some of the people who showed interest in being a mentor to me and my work.  Above all, I’ll spend more time reading and listening to poetry, more time absorbing and enjoying, and less time listening to that critical voice. Honest. 

EMDR published today on Fevers of the Mind

Speed post to let you know I’ve a new poem about EMDR therapy, published today on Fevers of the Mind.

The final gift of 2020

My news feed is full of folk feeling joy at “seeing off” 2020. I get it. The year has oscillated between terrible and banal, frustration and despair. People have lost loved ones in a way none of us would choose. Teachers, healthcare workers,retail staff, hospitality teams are all working to keep things running so we can keep feeling “normal”. The year has been hard, and the things that keep us going have, well, gone.

Christmas covid-style. Fire pit and family.

For me – it’s not been so very different. Being trapped at home is my “normal” and in many ways not feeling the pressure to socialize (one of my biggest energy sappers) has created a sense of calm. I miss people terribly, but I realize that the round of events I rope myself into does need to be managed more closely when we emerge from the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

We’ve had fun stuff too. Lockdown birthdays with Llama bunting, livestreamed gigs, a visit from friends complete with exciting trip to get a sausage roll from our local café. It’s been a year of thinking small, and learning what I really love.

This considered calm has meant more writing. I’ve developed so much this year. I think I’ve had more publications, including my pieces in Popshot and Paper Swans Press, I’ve launched my own bespoke poetry business and dipped my toes back into flash fiction.  More than this, I feel like something has shifted – I feel like I understand that I’ll never understand,that I’ll never feel like the world’s best writer, that my work may never be declaimed from the rooftops. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I write, what matters is that I think. I end the year feeling that small quiet strength that carries me through so many changes and challenges.



The final gift of 2020 came a few days before Christmas, when we learned our neighbours are planning to build a large house directly opposite our bedroom window. This means we may be facing a house move. This in turn means leaving a community we’ve been part of for twenty years, and losing the support, safety and calm I enjoy and rely on for my mental and physical health. It’s a blow, and has caused some distress during an already fretful Christmas,but I’m trying to keep my positive hat on and see this as an opportunity rather than a loss.

I’ve been lucky to have this view for 20 years. It seems my luck has changed.


Sending hopeful wishes and thanks for your support over what has been a most unusual twelve months. Here’s to more love, kindness and empathy.

Kathryn xx

Year seven, week two

What does M.E. feel like? Like a holiday. No, seriously it does. Like a holiday where you’ve gone down with the food poisoning the guide book warned you about, and you’re bravely/bitterly waving everyone off to climb up a hill or eat some delicious food.

I’m clinging on. Physically I wake up feeling a little worse each morning. My arms, legs, feet all have a dull ache and weirdly limited range of movement. I sat at my desk this morning, full of grand plans to apply for some more freelance work, and

get another batch of submissions in. I managed one before my brain slowed and fogged. Without work there’s no spare money to study, or enter competitions, or go to readings or buy the magazines I want to be part of.

You get it, I know. You’ve been following this blog, and you’ve read it all before. It’s groundhog day. Dull, tedious and repetitive. I’m striking things out of my diary, missing birthdays, wondering if I’ve been overambitious in my plans for the year, wondering if I’ll be well enough to get the seeds sown or the garden tidied, or sort out my desk. My world is a small white room and it’s getting smaller.

Two steps back

Reasons M.E. sucks number 76

It stops me doing stuff. Sometimes, it’s because I’m too ill to get up. Sometimes it’s because my brain won’t work. Sometimes it’s because I’m in too much pain. Sometimes it’s because the sheer effort of planning enough rest before I take part in anything, and the fear of consequence, is overwhelming. I deal with these things every day, and have kind of come to accept them.

This month, a new obstacle has raised its head. I’m going to have to step down from my role as poet in residence. Not through lack of skill, or lack of interest from the talented people in Secret Severn, but because I can’t manage public transport on my own, which means I can’t get out to see the artists at work in their studios.

An invisible aspect of M.E. is brain fog. Brain fog feels as though someone has reached in to your mind and twisted up all the normal paths of thought. This happens when I overload and it’s pretty unnerving. I get confused and can lose track of where I am. This means using public transport alone isn’t safe for me and I have to rely on taxis for getting around. Taxis cost money, and purse strings have been pulled, so there are no longer funds to support my role. I’m incredibly sad, frustrated and unsure what to do next.

Undoubtably, the work has taken it’s toll. Producing good posts, editing photos and seeing folk takes time and energy and I’ve been ill since my last visit. The thing is, I’ve loved stepping up to the challenge of meeting so many new people, and even enjoyed my spell as an emergency steward in the gallery. The positive feedback from everyone was a tremendous boost, both as a writer, and personally.

Sadly, any future visits to artists studios have had to be cancelled, as well as my fledgling plans for plunging in to giving a reading or two and running a workshop as part of next year’s trail. Having to lose all this for the sake of a few pounds dispiriting.

There are still poems to be written, based on the work I’ve done so far, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to continue working with the lovely people I met. Right now, this change of plan, as well as the general low that comes from being ill is tricky to deal with. My confidence is pretty dented, and I’m finding it hard to find resources for rebuilding.

Sometimes it feels like it’s time to stop trying.*

* I pride myself on positivity, and am an expert blessing counter. I am having a day off today. Normal service will resume shortly. I hope.

A game of two halves……

Two football references in one year. My goodness. I’ve little else have to say on the subject, but I am struck by what a lovely World Cup I’ve had. I’m reaching the point where I feel I can finally call myself a writer. This is tremendous on so many levels.

Anyone who’s been out of work, whether through ill health or other circumstances will empathise with the dread of being asked and the shame of having to respond to the question “what do you do?”. It is very good not to have to explain and mumble away my life anymore.

I am still learning how much I can do, and as ever I struggle to say no to work. Sadly it’s not a simple case of ” if I have a job I find I can get up in the morning” as has been speculated. If it was, I’d have been still been employed in the wonderful world of NVQ assessment and training after all. The challenge is balance, and learning the boundaries of my body and brain. I’m getting there, but the fear of pushing too hard and causing a major relapse is still present, but I’m working closely with my occupational therapist to make sure I don’t put myself at risk. As someone who likes things to be black and white all this grey area is difficult. Nonetheless, work I’m producing as a copywriter is successful,my editor is very happy and I enjoy what I do.

Creative work is going well too. I’m loving the course I’m doing with The Poetry School, it’s challenging and pushing me in new directions, which is exactly what I wanted. I’ll write a full post when I’ve completed the course.

I’ve finished my first six poems for Primers scheme, and I’ll know in September whether I’ve made the shortlist. If (and it’s a big if) I am successful, then I’ve to produce another fifteen pieces of work. I think my chances are slim this year, but the discipline of having something to aim for is giving me structure.

This has been a year of two halves (😉) and I wouldn’t have believed how much things can change just by reassessing and changing a few things that were making me sad more than they made me happy.

Hoorah for good friends and family.

Futuristic zombie poems* and some new friends**………

July seems to be as positive as June.

I’m delighted to have been invited to work on another major project with Big Star Copywriting. I was feeling pretty low about my health and circumstance at the start of the year, so naturally having my commercial writing sought out, and getting good feedback is a big boost. My only caution is that my natural work ethic means that I tend to put paid work first. This is right and proper, but it does mean a lot of micro-management and balance within the life of someone who has M.E. I’m doing okay with it, but I do need to remember it’s permissible (and wise) to say no.

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Primers is my current creative focus. Thanks to the care and time from my lovely Beta readers, I have two poems I will definitely submit and two I’m almost sure are ready to go. There are two that need to be hatched…..my deadline is July 22nd, so I need to get cracking this week .

I started a very short online course with The Poetry School, called Archiving the Self, looking at our every-day lives and how we could write about them. It seems ideal for me because my life can be quite static at times. Learning how to respond to my world, however limited means I feel less trapped by circumstance. I’m hoping working with other poets will bring a new dimension to my work too. My plan (if it works) is that this course will contribute to the last two Primers poems.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of fitting in lately, it’s a state I’ve never been lucky enough to inhabit and one that has never really worked if I’ve tried to move in to it. With writing (and any creative activity) it is a tricky subject. Talking with my writers and readers group last night** it was clear that responding to the needs of agents and publishers can be a creative challenge. I’m nowhere near that stage and I’m kind of glad, although there is an element of coherence required when submitting for competitions and magazines, after-all It would be pointless to submit my best futuristic zombie poem* to a magazine that specialised in post-Freudian theory. I planned to do a great deal of research on this over the summer, but things are taking a different turn. Hopefully it will be something I can focus on in the autumn, once I’ve submitted my assessment work.

Here’s hoping the positive trajectory continues. As ever I couldn’t do any of this without the care and support of those close to me, and without the interest and enthusiasm of everyone who reads, shares, follows or gives a cursory glance to what I’m up to. Happy Tuesday !

*I don’t have a futuristic zombie poem. Yet.

**I’ve joined a group of like-mined people, who love words. Several are proper published and everything. I was terrified to go to my first meeting (social anxiety is not a good companion) but they’re a kind and interesting bunch. I’m glad I was brave.

Reasons I like the world cup

IMG_0998There’s just one I’m afraid . Quite simply it gives me more time to write. I’ve squirrelled myself away from the falling down and kicking around that is the wonder of football and had a rather good week. I’m really enjoying my new work project, which I’m finding easy to build around my pace/rest regime. I’ve  also sent two potential Primers poems out to my long-suffering Beta readers and had decent feedback. Sending work out is so scary, even more when it’s people who know me, but the feeling when someone “gets” what I was trying to say is incredible. It’s why I keep pushing on despite the challenges.

I’m looking forward to my Poetry School course too, called Archiving the Self , I think it will work well within my wider efforts to improve my mental and physical health. The start of this year was difficult (more than I realised at the time) but I feel like things are joining up as the year moves on.

A short post, so I can enjoy some sunshine, happy Friday everyone, and thank you, as ever for your ongoing interest and support.

More good things…….

img_2485Two good weeks in a row ? How can it be ? Whilst my health has been a little tricksy this week ( I had to cancel my outing to Wenlock Books and being upright has been less than consistent) I have had a positive week.

To an outsider thinking positively when you have a chronic illness often means dashing around looking for magic solutions to make oneself better. A spot of gentle exercise or a vitamin supplement are amongst the more prosaic suggestions. On the inside, positive thinking means accepting the way things are today and living the best I can. I can’t get up today?  I’ll can write in bed instead. I missed x,y or z that I wanted to do ? There will be another thing soon. It’s not always easy and being positive when I can’t stand the light from the window and wish someone would turn the birdsong down is challenging.  I consider myself very lucky to have the good days that I do. The most difficult aspect is negotiating other peoples opinions. I’ve still not managed it and it still hurts when I’m misunderstood or misrepresented. My resilience is growing though and I’m learning to avoid those who choose to be unkind. img_2468

On the subject of writing things really are going quite well. The short story for my final assignment was very well received, despite me having given up on it and sending it off in a fit of “who cares”.  My intention is to submit it to Mslexia’s short story competition in October. I’ve produced some poems that I feel happy with and am in the process of sending them to my group of Beta readers to get their feedback.

Finally, I’ve had a new opportunity for commercial writing which happens to be on a subject I love. It’s a project I can complete in short bursts so it works perfectly with the limitations presented by brain fog,pain and general hypersensitivity. I’m also learning about the wonderful world of SEO and keywords which is a skill I’ve needed to develop for a while.  It’s a great opportunity and I’m thrilled that I no longer have to apologise for not being able to work. It’s not full time by any means (it’s not even quarter time) but it is a step in the right direction and my hope is that I’ll recover enough to increase the amount of commissions I can accept.

Overall an imperfect but positive week. Thanks again to my friends who support me  x

 

A change……

is as good as a rest.

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As it happens I’ve had both. It is wonderful how a break from the microscope of daily life has shown me a way to feel a little less trapped. Being awed by extraordinary natural beauty, has left me hungry for the world away from this corner of Shropshire, and shown me that perhaps I can escape. After a week I was able to feel myself breathing more confidently, moving assuredly away from worrying whether Mrs Miggins down the road thought I was a bit of a lazy madam and moving away from trying to squish and squash myself to make myself more palatable to others. The need to be liked is a powerful one but I have been at my most miserable when I have allowed it to dominate my behaviour. It doesn’t seem to matter quite so much when I have other things to look at.  What to do with this new found sense of freedom ? Not a lot. Just try to turn the mirror outwards, consider my behaviour in terms of how it makes others feel instead of being tied up in how I think they make me feel.

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What I write has improved too. I have enjoyed seeing new things and seeing different people, from so many countries and cultures. Perspective is a curious thing that shifts and shimmers and I’m never sure my view is quite true. Being jolted from the norm has been a good thing.

I’m still obsessed with poetry and have countless scribblings on napkins and receipts and there are some that I think may bloom. I’ve given myself a week to recombobulate and trawl through my eight-hundred and ninety-seven photographs before starting a more structured writing schedule next week. I have the last part of writing short fiction to finish, and a raft of material to fashion into submission worthy poems. Conveniently my next chapter in How to be a Poet  bears the title On Submitting to Magazines and Journals:The Patented Jo Bell Method. It has tables and whatnot, plus SEND THE BLIGHTERS OFF written on the first page.

Watch this space.