In which I share things about Dyslexia, blogging, and publishing

I have had this post sitting in my drafts folder since 2007. Every now and then I would take it out, noodle around a little, then put it back because it just wasn’t right. I touched on it briefly, but never went into more detail (though I strongly urge you to go through the comments on that post, because they make some interesting points).

At the Gathering recently, I got talking with a sort-of-sister-in-law (one of my sister-in-law’s sisters to be precise) about how her eldest was doing at school. He’s a bright kid. Funny. Interested in how things work. But his teachers said he might have dyslexia, and not surprisingly it had really knocked his confidence, so they were working to get him back up and running, and she asked if there was anything age-appropriate I could recommend him to show him he wasn’t alone (Maggot Moon was top of the list).

And this is what prompted me to finally publish what I have been trying to say for so many years.

Firstly, a little background
Dyslexia affects around 10% of the British population, and each of those is affected to differing degrees. The brain of a person with dyslexia works differently to others – not better or worse – just different. It is a bit like a motorcar and a motorcycle: they are both powerful vehicles to get you to your destination, but they need different skills to ‘drive’ them. Each person has to work out, through trial and error, what coping mechanisms work best for them.

And this is a little snap shot of how it affects me.

This morning I tried to spell ache, a-k-e. For a fraction of a moment I couldn’t see why spell check had underlined it in wiggly red. I have never in my LIFE tried to spell it that way before. But this morning, my brain had to grasp at the rarely reliable phonetic method because I had a momentary fritz.

It has been this way since I started school. One memorable report card said “her spelling raises the eyebrows”, and my handwriting wasn’t much better. But no one ever even thought to say “dyslexia” because I read VERY WELL indeed and was in the top set for everything. I didn’t fit the profile. And I taught myself tricks, to watch out for words I couldn’t spell, and to memorise how they SHOULD be spelt. My spelling might have been shocking, but I got better very quickly once I was told how a particular word should be spelled (and I am not going to admit to how I just spelled “spelled”).

To this day I cannot spell business without sounding it out in my head busy-ness. Management (which autocorrect just fixed for me, by the way) is man-ag-e-ment.

All of this never held me back because, honestly, I thought this was how everyone did it. “I before E except after C” made no sense to me because every single word has to be fixed in my brain. Standard patterns and tips that made sense to my classmates didn’t help me in the slightest.

“Separately” is another word I cannot get right no matter how hard I try. I just cannot seem to get my head to spell a word that sounds like “sepEERRate” as “sepARRRRate”. Though I might have finally found the key to the word – pirates.

I love writing and reading but I cannot play scrabble or anagrams because a word is a singular entity to me. It isn’t made up of letters that can be mixed up, taken apart, and put back together again in another order. I love word searches however, because I am looking for a pattern I recognise that is buried in a jumble – which is essentially how I see all language.

Numbers, though, are still my nemesis. Numbers dance on the page and don’t stay where they should be. Numbers are incomprehensible. Bizarrely, I quite liked algebra – make numbers into letters and – ah-ha! I know how to conquer letters! It often takes me three or four times to dial a number correctly, which is a problem when I have to dial five or six people I don’t know on a daily basis. I say in my brain “I want to press three” and I press 9 or 7. It is worse when I am tired or on a phone I am not used to. Adding things up on a calculator can be interesting. If I try it three times, I’ll almost certainly get three different answers.

As for writing down phone numbers… Oh, that is sheer hell! I will say back to you “0207…” But will write down “0270…” On particularly bad days I will even read it back to you as “0207…” There is no fix for that.

I have to say I have made my peace with the written word. I enjoy the written word. I can’t read aloud well at all – I stumble and stutter and that is a whole other post – but I love stories. I blog. I write stories. And I have made myself a career in publishing… You can’t get much wordier than that! In no way has any of this stopped me doing things I enjoy. Would my schooling have been easier if it had been recognised at the time? Who knows – I can’t exactly claim it was hard for me. I am very, very lucky, because my particular quirks haven’t impacted my life to any significant degree. I have worked with people where that is sadly not the case. Yet it is sometimes as easy as printing forms on yellow/off white paper. Or voice-to-text software. A smile and understanding goes further than you could possibly imagine.

If you’re curious, go to the Dyslexia Checklist (what we used to use when I was doing social work) and work through the list. Answer “yes” more than nine times, and you could have a dyslexia-type problem.

For the record, I’m currently rocking a 15.

(Please note, this is NOT an official diagnostic tool. It is just a simple screening test we could administer easily in prisons. If you think you/a child might have a problem, go to your GP, the school, or the British Dyslexia Association for proper assistance).

I see people… Pretty people…

I am getting back into the writing groove (sort of) and I am determined to keep the novel going forward. It is inching its way slowly onwards. Part of that inching is to really get the character list pinned down and to work out, at least roughly, what happens.

Now, most of what I have written in the past has been sci-fi/fantasy and whilst I have had an idea in my head roughly what characters look like (hair colour, skin tone, eye colour at a push, tall/short etc), I have never felt the need to have an actual image of each character. It’s just not how I see people, or characters – when I read, I don’t have a photo in my mind of what they look like. I simply have the feel of the person. Ask me to describe someone I’ve met and know well and I can’t do it. Yet I know without a doubt who that person is. And that, up till now, has followed into my writing.

The current WIP however is set very much in the real world and, for some reason, I have found myself needing a physical image to build the characters around. I still know clearly in my head the feel of Bob, and his characteristics, mannerisms, and how he interacts with the world, but central to it all is a photo of Bob. Strange, and a little weird for me to get used to writing this way, but that’s how it’s flowing this time around.

To facilitate this, I have a folder of character bios in Scrivener with a mug shot for each character. These are mainly images I have found on the internet and gone “oh, that’s Bob!” or Lizzie. Or Sarah. Or John. Some are famous people, others are just random people. I just spent a merry ten minutes uploading these images to a private board on Pinterest so I have a quick and easy way of checking character info when I am away from Scrivener (i.e., at Wednesday Writing each week on the iPad), and it was quite an eye-opener to see them all spread out in once place.

I noticed a few things in particular:
1) I have a thing for brunettes. Most of my characters are brunette. There’s one ginger chap, a blonde guy, and a blonde girl. That’s it. The rest are various shades of brunette/black. Huh.
2) They are reassuringly of diverse ethnic backgrounds. It’s a small group, but they are not all white. I didn’t do this consciously either, it’s just how it worked out (go me!)
3) For the male characters, I seem to have gone for lots of actors (and one rugby player).
4) For the female characters, I seem to have gone primarily for non-actors.
5) They are all stupidly attractive. I really need to get some ugly/more normal people into this book!

And it is point 3 and 4 which really caught my attention. I seem to have no problem of taking a picture of Michael Fassbender and going “that’s Stuart” and building the whole Stuart character. The one photo becomes STUART’S photo. Nothing of Michael Fassbender, or the characters he has played, carries forward into the character I am writing.

I cannot, however, seem to separate the image of a female actor from the characters she has played, and so I can’t write my own character. I would love to have a character who looked a little bit like Tamara Taylor for example, because she is beautiful. But I can’t. Any character I try to write immediately becomes a really bad copy of Camille Saroyan in Bones.

I don’t know what conclusions to draw from this. I am sure there is a whole branch of some -ology which can explain our relationship to faces and actors and the characters they play and gender and identity… (ooh, that does sound fascinating!) but I don’t have the answers. It just struck me as interesting, that’s all.

Narrowboat Jess

Not sure how jt happened, but currently a two boat family (green on right up for sale soon).

The Aged P has been living on Triss for the past 10 years, and whilst she is still a lovely boat, she is not quite up the 365-cruising/live-aboard lifestyle he needs her to be now he’s retired. So enter the younger, longer model – Jess. A few months back I had a grand plan to do a video tour (or at least a photo tour) documenting the state of Jess when we first got her, so we are better able to chart her progress. But I didn’t take the photos and then I just plain forgot. I did write a tour though, so just engage your imagination!

I also drew up a little plan to help. But it’s pretty crappy.

The outside. Please forgive the dusty state of her. There is construction work going on next to the marina, and the dust gets EVERYWHERE.

Entering from the back, you come into the engine room. Mind your head! Oh, never mind. Spend much time around narrow boats and you get inured to the minor concussion you sustain on a regular basis.

The engine room is where the magic happens. More practically, it is where the engine and batteries live, but as these are what power everything, it is pretty magic. Black, oily, messy, gunky, SMELLY magic, but still magic.

This here on the wall right in front of you, this is the Webasto. It provides hot water to the radiators and taps. Without such a unit in place, you are reliant on immersion heaters and/or the moderately hot water that can be drawn when the engine is running. The Webasto means reliable hot water, when you want it, for as long as you want it. Well, until you run out of water in the tank or fuel.

In theory. We have spent all weekend trying to get the damn thing installed properly. One cracked filter unit, one diesel leak, a hole in the hull (intentional!), several yards of bendy copper pipe, much swearing, four days, three men, and a large amount of praying later, is 90% installed. Just the timer unit to sort out now… If only someone knew what the extra black wire is for.

Through the engine room, you take a step down and are into the back of the boat proper, and the bedroom. That’s a full size double bed and there is lots of built in storage. She may be only 6 feet wide, but one thing Jess doesn’t lack are lots of cubby holes! Note the adorable porthole windows. These look adorable and are frosted, so people can’t see in, but they don’t shed much light, meaning the back of the boat tends towards the “cozily lit”, also known as dim.

Past the bedroom, to one side of the gangway, is the bathroom. Small, but adequately formed. Full sized shower, sink, and toilet. This room here? This is why I could never live on a boat permanently. Lack of water pressure aside, the toilet is just… Well, frankly, it is one step up from a camping toilet. You can get models that are more robust, but those have their downside as well. Everything goes into a tank in the bilges and this tank needs to then be sucked clean… Nasty.

Next, we have the kitchen and saloon area. The kitchen, like everything else, is compact but fully functioning. Gas hob and cooker. Fridge. Freezer. There was a microwave, but that got given to a neighbour. It might, or might not, be replaced. Microwaves, like toasters, and electic kettles, draw a lot of voltage and when cruising the canals away from a regular mains supply, they put a massive drain on your battery bank and inverter. You could always run a gennie (generator) to provide the extra OOMPH, but they are noisy and awkward. To some purists they also smack a little bit of cheating. You learn to do things a little bit more slowly and in a more ‘traditional’ manner when you live on a boat. We’ve even been known to resort to a toasting fork.

Then the saloon. This is VERY much a blank canvas at the moment. But it will soon be filled with shelves and books and a table and chairs. Cozy. The solid fuel stove will provide most of the heat, when the chimney is hooked up, but there is also a mammoth radiator. Yay for radiators! Oops for this one, however! It is rather on the heavy side and, at the moment, is dragging the starboard side of the boat down. We need to get some more ballast to balance things out, and also to bring the prow down. Jess is quite light at the bows, and is also tall for a narrowboat. This makes her spacious inside (for a given value of “spacious”), but slightly awkward under low bridges.

And at the front, the cratch area. With the gas locker just behind the upright, and the water tank underneath.

That’s Jess. I hope you enjoyed the tour. I’ll possibly do an updated tour when she is all finished – at least as finished as boats ever are! – but I wanted to document her at her worst.

Notebooks. God, I love notebooks.

This post is subtitled: Because I Suck.

Let me explain.

Firstly, we all know I like a good notebook. Well, like might not be quite the word

One day, @LizUK and I got lusting after notebooks on twitter, as we are wont to do. I said I have a special cabinet to hold all my notebooks (because I do), she said show me! (I did), and then she said “I want to do a blog about notebooks!”
And I said cool! Here are some of mine.
She said “do you want to write something?”
I said “AWESOME, yes!”

And then… Then I failed. Epically. Because I suck. Yes, I started the post by saying that, but it bears repeating.

The wonderful post Liz wrote is here and full of yummy notebooks.

As I have already spoken about notebooks in the past, I don’t really want to bore you all by talking about them again. So I am going to talk about my recent forays into bookbinding instead.

Mini Monster Notebook

I started bookbinding on something of a whim, back in September 2011. Michelle had done this course locally and told me the chap had a space free. To say I jumped at the chance would be an understatement. Make my own notebooks, to my own exacting specifications?! Where do I sign up?!

These were two of the first notebooks I made. Simple, flat back, case bound, with plain pages. And ugly ass blue cloth covers, because that is all the tutor would let us use. Aesthetically unpleasing as I might have found them, I cannot understate the sheer joy I had in making them and knowing I had MADE these from scratch.

I have always been crafty. From a really young age I made cards, jewellery, christmas decorations, quilts, and all sorts. But somewhere along the way I stopped making things, stopped creating. I hadn’t even noticed, till that first night in bookbinding class. The first moment I started folded the paper, something deep inside of me woke up, and I felt something deep in my soul click. It sounds silly, putting it like that, but it’s the closest way I can describe it.

At the time I was working in a publishing company and enjoying it, but enjoying it a little less than I had when I had started. Three years in, without realising it, my own creativity – be that writing, blogging, or crafting – had been drowned out by the creativity of all the authors I was working with. It was never a conscious thing and I cannot explain how it happened, but it did. Looking back, I can see the slow decline in my own confidence. How could my messing around with words on the blog compare to the people who were writing stories that were actually published? Why did I waste my time doodling when the fabulously talented designers I worked with did it so much better? If my boss didn’t think I was worth promoting (that’s another story, but related), how could I possibly think I was worth anything? I was giving my voice away, closing off something that made me happy, because I started to believe my own self doubt.

Then I did something totally out of character and went somewhere where I knew no-one and did a class. And I made something that hadn’t existed before. I created. And the tutor said I was good at it. I was learning something new, remembering the joy I always found in working out how things worked, and messing around with glue and craft knives and paper. And I went to work and I knew a skill people around me didn’t, and they were jealous. Of me. I had something outside of work and it was mine.

And I woke up.

It is, I admit, a ridiculously simplistic leap to say that bookbinding gave me the faith in myself to go for a new job, but I do not think that it is a total coincidence that shortly after I started the course I DID find a new job. A job I am, somewhat surprisingly, rather good at.

And nearly two years later I am still bookbinding. Still making things and learning. It is fun and frustrating and challenging and annoying and delightful.

Sort of like me.

Today. In Gif form.

(Sorry, I still haven’t gotten over my obsession gifs. I am sure it will pass. Eventually).

This is today.

First, I woke up. Sort of. It took a while.
sleepy kitten rolling over

Then, in a continuation of the end of yesterday, things started to spiral into a fuck up of epic proportions.
fucking up

I reached a point about five minutes ago where clearly,
shouldn't be allowed to make decisions

Now I’m just sitting at my desk. Doing my very best Buffy impression.
crying Buffy

Screw finding my professionalism. Can someone just find my ability to function as something resembling a normal human being? Also, tea, chocolate, and hugs would be nice.

Design lust: Rockett St George

Rockett St George logo

We are quick to call companies on bad service, but we rarely say anything about the ones that impress us. So I am going to do just that.

I make no secret of the fact that I want my own house/space to decorate exactly as I see fit. I am more than a little fed up with the rental lifestyle and being forced to cope with white walls and inherited crappy argos furniture and saggy sofas. So in preparation for the day when I marry that Scottish architect and he builds me my dream house, I torture myself with design blogs and browsing stupidly pricy online stores. Just look at my pinterest if you doubt me!

One of the websites I torture myself with on a regular basis is Rockett St George. They have all sorts of lovely stuff ranging from luggage tags, cheese, poodle lamps, dandelion lights, bears that are tables, magical wallpaper and OODLES of other stuff.

I don’t order from them very often because they are a edging into the “treat yourself” portion of the budget, especially with the postage on top, but I did fall in love with Mortimer and I really DID need a new office footrest.

Every time I have ordered they have been prompt, well packed, and just what I wanted. But that is not why I am writing this post.

I am writing this post because of how they respond on social media, in particular Twitter. My first interaction was a little while ago when I happened to mention I really liked the crow fake bird, and that if I owned him I would call him Mortimer. Next thing I know, they’re tweeting me to say they’ve renamed the product on the website! I was secretly hoping they’d send me one free, but you can’t win ’em all 😉 So of course I had to buy one.

Today, the pouffe arrived and of course I had to #365 a picture. But at the same time, I was a little disappointed the blue/pirate pouffe was listed as “for boys”, whilst the pink/flowers was “for girls”, so I might have said something. And next thing you know, they are responding with grace and changing the listing on their website!

This is how it is done, people. Listen to your customers and respond to them. I’m not saying update your listings every time some crazy girl in Oxford grumbles, but if you agree with them? Admit you’re wrong and do something about it. Because you can guarantee RSG have gone up another notch in my estimation and been stepped up a priority on my mental “I have some spare cash, where shall I waste it?” list.

Plus I just wrote a 500 word blog post and sent it out into the internet for all to see.

Spread the love people.

Um… No.

It is that time of the year – spring. And, more than sunshine and flowers and flip-flops, spring means LOTS of people staring graduation in the face. And shiny soon-to-be publishing/english graduates + assistant positions = me drowning in CVs.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it. I really do like uncovering the gems and helping Bright Young Things into their chosen career (oh, the poor hopelessly optimistic young darlings!) But given the sheer volume, I do find myself saying No an awful lot.

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