When the Music Stopped

Content warning: References Manchester bombing.


 

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I was shocked when someone bought her that album.
It’s a Christmas present, my step-daughter told me.
But she’s only eight, I gasped to my husband.
She doesn’t know what the lyrics mean, he said,
but he agreed they were a bit risqué.

A couple of months ago she stopped singing those songs.
Had her mother confiscated the CD? Secretly, Ariane Grande was my guilty pleasure,
and I felt ashamed I’d reacted so terribly to my step-daughter’s admiration of her.
It’s not for me to decide her music tastes.
Being a lover of words I should have embraced the meanings, not criticised them.

This week something horrific happened in our country.
Could she have been there?
Would she have been that eight-year-old having the night of her life before it was taken away so cruelly?
The next time she stays with us, I will hold her that little bit more tightly,
and I will let her sing her precious heart out to any song she wants to.

 

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The Little Things

I have a collection of special, yet random, artefacts placed on a shelf above my writing desk.

Here is a list of what they are:

  • A winner’s 2013 NaNoWriMo trophy
  • A handmade 30th birthday card given to me by my granddad before he passed away
  • A lump of volcanic rock given to my by a dear writing friend, with two special grooves to symbolise my two sons (before we knew there would be a third)
  • A miniature cat moneybox given to me by my parents as a joke (I’m always broke…)
  • A handwritten poem which was handed out for free in my local supermarket
  • A sticker with the number 52 on it for an audition as a scare actor
  • A Linda Belcher from Bob’s Burgers figure bought for me as a present from my husband
  • A quill, which was another present from my husband
  • A glass paperweight with my university logo printed on it
  • A brass horse ornament I’ve had since I was a teenager
  • (And finally) an R2D2 USB stick, because I thought it was cool not because I like Star Wars

For such a small room this seems like a mighty big collection of little trinkets to own. I’m not even sure why I’ve kept most of them but they seem to have become an integral part of me. They are like mini, frozen cheerleaders which encourage me with my writing every time I sit down at the computer.

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Sometimes it’s not enough to love the process or the final story. Sometimes I need more than that and I can’t expect my loved ones to be a constant source of encouragement. So it’s nice to know I have this little selection of ‘things’ to give me an unspoken boost when I need it.

I’m not sure which item does what exactly to keep me going but knowing they are they to share and witness the blood, sweat, and tears I produce while sitting here crafting and constructing is enough.


 

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Water and Wine

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The rain looked different in the city tonight and yet the only thing which had changed was us.

The last time we visited we drank our happiness by the bottle and embraced the dizziness which came with too much Merlot. Now we just sipped at water like reserved teenagers at their first school dance.

“Can we start again?” you whispered, eyes focused on the spilt grains of salt you played with on the table top.

“I think it’s too late for that.”

“That’s your answer for everything. We could try though?”

“I was trying. I never stopped trying.”

“Okay.”

Okay.

“I mean, I could try,” his eyes locked onto mine and demanded that he got his own way.

I wanted to throw my water at his face, let the ice cubes sting at his skin like miniature jellyfish, watch as the rest of the people in the restaurant pointed and chuckled behind their napkins. I wanted to scream until the glasses we drank out of cracked and smashed, shout until I had nothing left to say, and then move on from whatever we had become.

“I never stopped loving you, y’know?” he tried to reach for my hand but it was too far away.

“I never stopped loving you either,” he smiled at me. “But it didn’t make me go and fuck someone else.”

“There’s nothing I can do to fix this, is there?”

“No. There’s not.”

He thought – we both thought – that a weekend back here would resolve things. It would be an escape, a fresh start, a time to wipe the slate clean. All it did was make me hate him even more.

I didn’t stop him when he walked outside and into the rain.


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‘If it’s not what you want to write, don’t write it’ – Author S.J.I Holliday shares her writing tips with Author Advice

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S.J.I Holliday

S.J.I. Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. She spent many years working in her family’s newsagent and pub before escaping to St Andrews, Dundee and Edinburgh to study microbiology and statistics. She has worked as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry for over sixteen years but it was on a six-month round-the-world-trip, that she took with her husband, in 2006 that she rediscovered her passion for writing.

She has now written three novels (Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly), a loosely linked trilogy full of dark secrets set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun. She is currently working on two exciting new projects, details of which will be revealed soon.

She blogs occasionally about books she has loved, writes short stories when time permits, and has recently taught creative writing workshops in a male prison. She now lives in London.

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My Three Top Tips for Writers

1. Don’t write into the void
People often say that writing is a lonely profession, and it can be – if you don’t put your work out there and seek advice (and solace!) from your peers. Whether it’s via social media or evening events or weekend festivals, try to get to know other writers – both at the same stage as you, and those who have gone on to have their work published (by whatever route) – knowing you’re not alone and that everyone goes through the same thing can make it a lot easier when you are struggling with that chapter that just refuses to come out the way you want it to.

2. Be prepared for the slump
Mine comes at 20k in. Some make it to 30k, or 40k before it happens. Just be aware that it will happen, probably in every book you write, and try to find ways around it. My way is to go and write a scene that happens much later in the book, and also to re-read my 20k and work on an outline for the rest of the book – whether you spend time on an outline at the beginning or not, you are likely to have to tweak it later, and it’s at this slump stage where you are banging your head against the wall that you may benefit from this the most.

3. Be aware of the market, but don’t drive yourself mad
It’s important to know where your book might ‘fit’ in the current market (unless you don’t plan to do anything with it except read it yourself) – read the genre you want to write. See what’s popular. But don’t tie yourself in knots. Some books don’t fit neatly into just one category, and never ever try to chase a trend to the detriment of your writing – you might think you can bang out the next Fifty Shades of Girls With Horrible Husbands, but really, don’t. If it’s not what you want to write, don’t write it.


You can find out more about Susi via her websiteFacebook, or Twitter. You can also join her Readers Club, for exclusive news and competitions.

Her books (published by Black & White) are available in all good bookshops, and online at Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, Sainsbury’s.

Her latest book, The Damselfly, is available on ebook and paperback now.

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My Own Way

Like a cat with a full stomach, satisfied only by a bowl of cool milk, I slip silently out of his constrictive bedsheets.

No goodbye would sound right, no excuse plausable, so instead I walk away without vocalising the unbelievable lie I had already decided on.

You do not move.

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Under the sheets 

Your body on top of mine; your eyes reflect our seven years together in my own.

When it finishes we fall asleep. Our eyes are no longer locked on each other. Only the stars remain awake to peek through our bedroom curtains. 

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Dear Vagina, F*ck You.

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Dear Vagina,

Fuck you.

This all started at the age of 10. Do you remember? You lead me to believe I had started my period when actually it was a false alarm. It ended in that embarrassing heart-to-heart with my parents which I’ve never quite recovered from.

When you eventually let Mother Nature have her own way, I was completely unprepared. I was at school and you didn’t stop it coming. I wasn’t proud of it like my girlfriends. I was terrified the blood would soak through my knickers and skirt and onto my chair.

Our next big hurdle was at the age of 14. I should stop blaming you for what happened, because it was both of us who endured it, but having you around all the time has made the healing process slow. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop him taking you, despite my sobs of “no”.

This was part of the reason I got upset in the car the other day. Knowing that a vile man, who had openly admitted to unashamedly grabbing pussies without consent, was now the leader of a superpower… It was all too much. Do our bodies mean that little now? I’m starting to wonder if you’re a curse, Vagina. What if I had a penis instead? Would life have thrown me a different curve ball?

I’m actually struggling to remember any good times between us. Do you remember my first labour?

I know you’re going to hate me for bringing this up again but something went seriously wrong and who else can I blame but you? Our cervix stopped dilating and my poor son’s heart nearly stopped. If it wasn’t for the emergency cesarean section, neither of us would be here right now. So in case you were wondering, that was why I decided to have an elective c-section the second time around.

It wasn’t the final nail in the coffin though. That was hammered in only last year.

It’s just a routine smear test, the nurse said. Nothing to worry about, she said. Just keep an eye out for your letter in the post to confirm everything is okay, she said. When it did arrive, I read the words HPV – the human papilloma virus.

We were told it was probably nothing to worry about but that the cells could develop into cervical cancer if left untreated. To be on the safe side we needed to have a small part of our cervix scraped off. It was almost as painful as contractions. After that though we thought it would be fine, right?

It wasn’t. Now here we are again.

The cells have returned, only this time there’s more of them. I don’t know what this means for us, Vagina. I do know that I can’t hold on to hope anymore. I didn’t want to break things off in a letter to you but right now I need some time apart. I need to forget that I’m a woman and to forget I have you in my life.

So Vagina, thanks for the memories, but right now – fuck you.

Yours,

Me.

P.S. Dear Vagina, since writing you this letter I would like to say how sorry I am. I never knew you could have such a special gift waiting for me, especially after all of the cruel things I said to you. Instead I would like to say thank you. Thank you for putting up with what life has thrown at us, thank you for reminding me why I am proud to be a woman, and thank you for blessing me with another baby. Unexpected, unplanned, but never-the-less loved. Whatever the HPV throws at us, we will handle it together.

 

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British Book Challenge 2017

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Well 2016 didn’t quite go to plan when it came to my annual reading list. I actually think I ended up reading less this year than I did the previous year. There’s no time to dwell on that now though as I am totally embracing the British Book Challenge 2017.

I’ve not heard of it before but after the hashtag #BritishBooksChallenge2017 popped up on my Twitter feed I decided to find out more about it. AND I’M IN!

To find out more about it, this year’s host, Chelly from Tales of Yesterday, explains more here.

So without further ado, here is my British Books Challenge 2017 list.


 

January:

The Driver’s Seat

Muriel Spark (Scottish)

 

February:

Days of Grace

Catherine Hall (English)

 

March:

The Eyre Affair

Jasper Fforde (Welsh)

 

April:

Night Geometry & the Garscadden Trains

A. L. Kennedy (Scottish)

 

May:

In Between the Sheets

Ian McEwan (English)

 

June:

Tea for Mr Dead (short short stories)

Maria Donovan (Welsh)

 

July:

Girl Meets Boy

Ali Smith (Scottish)

 

August:

The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry (English)

 

September:

Kiss Kiss

Roald Dahl (Welsh)

 

October:

The Cutting Room

Louise Welsh (Scottish)

 

November:

TBC

(English)

 

December:

TBC

(Welsh)


 

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Two Little Lines – a microstory

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Two Little Lines

By 

Donna-Louise Bishop


She flinched as the roll-up, which had been stuck to her lip, ripped off a peeling of red-stained skin. Its shade was Sunset Lust, or so the shop assistant had informed her earlier that day, but now she thought it just looked cheap. Less lust, more lame.

The vibrations from the party music in her flat wiggled their way outside and onto the balcony where she stood alone, shivering in her strapless dress. It was mild for New Year’s Eve but it didn’t mean it wasn’t cold.

In one fluid motion she gulped the last of her wine and took one final drag of her cigarette, stinging the raw patch of skin again. Wedging it in between her thumb and middle finger, she flicked the butt into the darkness below.

She hadn’t planned to do the test until tomorrow morning. Ignorance is bliss, she thought. But now those two pink lines had changed everything. And despite the fear she felt, she knew next year would be the start of something wonderful.

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Next – A Tritina

They say nothing ever truly dies,

But that’s an expression too distant to console me right now.

Instead, I will let my memories carry me.

 

But who will be there to catch me

when my heart breaks and dies?

It might not be able to cope with the pain right now.

 

I might not be able to cope with the pain right now.

I pray for the day when you can return to me

and we can pretend nothing truly dies.

 

No one truly dies, and now you will always belong to me.

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