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  • With thanks for a miracle, or damn near close enough

    2014 - 10.30

    A miracle* is happening. A miracle 32 years, 449+ people and £14,225+ in the making.

    Literally my lifetime of scheming, dreaming, trying, failing, hoping, waiting, experimenting, working and playing in the fields of creative writing, fitness and geekery are intersecting in a Kickstarter campaign that completes its funding in exactly 24 hours from the time of writing.

    Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 17.51.28

    32 years in which I careened between interests, jobs and even countries, with no apparent road map, at times to my own despair and, I am sure, that of my family.

    Coming to the UK was… not accidental, but really only happened because of a wedding. Becoming a fitness instructor was… not accidental as such, but only really happened because of a combination of job loss + recession and the fact I was in the studio every lunch time anyway. It was a three year plan that has just hit 5 years, the longest I have ever held a job. Totally unintended. I had just found something I loved and was good at.

    Through it all, and always, I have written, almost daily; and I have watched and read, captivated by novels, films, TV series and comics. I’m never quite satisfied with real life, but always listening out for the next call to adventure.

    And tomorrow, I answer the greatest call. 449 people have invested their faith and money in me to produce Apocalypse Survival Training, a narrative fitness app that is a cross between an exercise class, personal training, life coaching and a rollicking adventure story.

    Although indebted to the first and only truly successful narrative fitness app on the market, there really is nothing out there quite like AST. It’s going to be insanely difficult to do. There are going to be twists and sheer drops on the road, most of which I won’t see until I hit them.

    This scares the shit out of me.

    It also ignites me with excitement, and every day I remind myself that fear and excitement are two sides of one coin, and that I’m going to have a lot more fun if I choose to be excited (do remind me any time you find me freaking out). And besides, I have amazing people beside and behind me.

    I am so grateful to every friend and every stranger who has gone onto the campaign page and said, with anything from a pound to a grand,  ‘yup, AST should totally Be A Thing!’

    Because of you, it will be. 

    I THANK YOU, AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.

    And I will spend the next year doing everything in my power not to let you down.

    579767_10151413501341897_953266432_n

     

    *Ok, I realise it’s not technically a miracle, but from where I’m sitting right now, behind the dashboard of the kickstarter campaign, it feels a lot like it. It’s certainly an extraordinary and welcome event and while there’s no identified divine agency involved, it still feels inexplicable that this has come to pass. So if it’s not a miracle, it’s damn near close enough for me.

     

    Why. Framing. Friends. And Tony Stark.

    2014 - 09.21

    I am one lucky unqualified entrepreneur. I have a mentor who has my back, but doesn’t gloss over the hits that life in a startup will swing my way.

    Business-stuff doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m a feeler, a dreamer, quick to laugh and just as quick to cry. I’m finding my way. It’s dangerous to go alone. Take someone who knows more than you do about where you’re going.

    In my first freeform game, The King’s Musketeers, I got to know Alex Jones as the Musketeers deposed him (as the evil king) and restored him to the throne (as his twin brother).

    um

    I was cast as a woman pretending to be a man running around duelling. AWESOME.

    We had a brilliant weekend of swashing and buckling and, discovering a lot of common ground including our writing, made Facebook friends.

    The following year we were fellow detectives in the world of Casablanca, and right at the end of the weekend, he mentioned he was there with his parents – a couple I had seen several times around but in games of 80+ players, had not actually spoken to much. Facebook soon after suggested his father, Chris, as a mutual friend, which seemed a good idea.

    I BLOODY LOVE FACEBOOK.

    Chris answered a Facebook plea for business advice. We had a couple of calls, where I displayed how staggeringly uninformed I was about all things business. We had more calls. And Facebook messages. Then he started letting me know when he was in London, so we could have face to face sessions.

    What Chris is very good at is looking not just as business, but what it means to be in business. We have had very frank discussions about the costs to lifestyle, relationships, sleep, stress levels. I’m not going into this naive and blind anymore. And I am lucky: Ras has seen me at my best and also my worst and every time I give into stress, he never asks me if I really want to go through this. He just asks what he can do to help, and assures me we’ll get through the current bump together. I don’t have to choose between him and the business, just like he will never have to choose between me and his musical career. So two key people have my back.

    On a Friday, a couple things came to head for me. It started with discovering that our Kickstarter video isn’t actually right as a kickstarter video. It’s a great little video, and has been the best part of my last month’s work in pre and post production – but it’s probably not our best chance at pulling strangers into our campaign.

    I have been working and working towards launching our Kickstarter campaign tomorrow and the key part of that campaign needs revision, if not re-doing completely.

    On Friday I sat in my coffice on the receiving end of a torrent of feedback on Facebook and PM – all of it helpful, all of it well meaning, but the sum of which I was not, at that time, equipped to deal with. In there, a few people really reached more directly out and ended up dealing with me in a heightened stare of aaargh but walked me through it, and I’m grateful (as I always am to everyone who fed back).

    I don’t know how to manage these new levels of fear and stress yet. I don’t know how to put so much on the line and have the line cut and while ill and sleep deprived, just go ‘ok. Bummer but here we go, Plan B’ without having an almighty emotional crash first. The video was the tip of the iceberg – there were other issues and fears around the project which jumped me on Friday.

    Which all led to the big question at the heart of all endeavour:

    WHY.

    Why am I doing this? Having to delay a campaign and throw out a month’s work will be the least of my worries if Imaginactive actually floats. Chris and I have talked about why he does what he does. He has a very clear understanding of his goals and rewards and is satisfied that they outweigh the costs.

    So I thought about that. I dug into everything that’s going on.

    I found an answer I’m happy with.

    And now I have a new tool: a frame tool. In a highly emotionally charged, exhausted state, my default frame for Friday was fuck my life. It’s hard to re-frame when you’re on edge anyway but I didn’t really have another strategy to even try and draw on.

    Ras is in Copenhagen. I should have been with him, for an important personal event, but I had to say no: I was launching a crowdfund on Monday. The day he left, the crowdfund strategy fell apart, as did I shortly after. I went home to an empty flat, ate all the peanut butter, started on John’s cereal box and genuinely didn’t know what to do with myself.

    So I put on Iron Man, and curled up on the couch with Tigger.

    A different kind of mentorship.

    A different kind of mentorship.

    A really helpful email from DiG came through.

    I started to regroup.

    Chris offered to call.

    I didn’t want to talk, but I also knew I had to get out of my head.

    I paused Iron Man, rang Chris, expecting a bit of ‘pull yourself together’. But I had a friend on the line, a mentor in the truest sense of the word.

    I started to re-frame the day.

    I finished watching Iron Man, fell asleep on the couch with Tigger, woke up when she got up later, went to my empty bed and lay awake until about 2am just running everything through my head, getting the heart of a couple of issues.

    I took yesterday off, which is an event in itself, and which let me think about the Why of Imaginactive. Think about framing. Inspect my weaknesses. I even went to the hairdresser, months late for my annual haircut.

    You get THIS with a HAIR CUT? Might have to start at least twice a year...

    You get THIS with a HAIR CUT? Might have to start going twice a year…

    I had a dvd night with two of my closest girlfriends and they sorted me out a bit further with a mixture of love and tough love.

    I was nervous about releasing the kickstarter video for feedback because my gut feeling was that it wasn’t right. I desperately wanted my paranoia be proven wrong.

    I was not. Everything I worried about came to pass on Friday afternoon.

    I took this as a terrible blow: my paranoia is real!

    Hollie and Eleanor re-framed that: my paranoia was true, therefore not paranoia but instinct. My instinct was true. Far from trusting myself less, I could take this as an opportunity to trust myself more.

    (that took some digesting)

    With Iron Man still on my mind, I complained that I wanted to be more like Tony Stark (post kidnapping, obviously) but have have none of his skills, business background, cast iron self-belied, teflon plating. Or, like, money.

    They reminded me that even Tony plays Tony Stark.

    We play roles. We imagine playing roles. Part of why I love reading and writing is the ability of characters to inspire us in our own lives, and to allow us to imagine being in theirs. Well, right now I’m on the other end of that. Tony crashes his suit and is pleased. He gets bashed around, thrown into walls, trashes his workshop, nearly dies in space – and it’s all brilliant to him.

    "...not bad..."

    “…not bad…”

    My journey isn’t that exciting but do me a favour: any time you see me falter, here’s the codephrase: ‘What would Tony Stark do?’

    Today I’m back to work. The kickstarter campaign has to run asap or we hit the pre-Christmas and new year crowdfund slow down and that’s it until March/April next year, and as Hollie says, all this momentum will be lost. We were already cutting the timing fine and now it’s even finer.

    Part of me is still freaking out about writing and trying to get my cast and crew back together for another video, with another edit, and in an even shorter timeframe.

    But.

    What would Tony Stark do?

    …ok, he wouldn’t write a blog about it…

    …he’d go off to the workshop. Mine isn’t anywhere near as cool and has a distinct lack of Jarvis and droids.

    But the coffee’s not bad.

     

     

     

    So, Imaginactive: this thing I keep talking about…

    2014 - 08.26

    I have spent the best part of the last year coaxing an idea for creating ridiculous/ly fun fitness programs to life. Whether they know it or not, many of my friends, Facebookers, bootcampers, class members and complete strangers have been acting as advisors, think tanks, brain storming parties, cheerleaders and guinea pigs throughout – so it seems only fair to share with you the story of What It Is and How It Came To Be. 

    The idea that has become my startup company Imaginactive began, as many extravagant and inadvisable ideas do, around a table in the Bear pub, Wincanton. It was Hogswatch (the Discworld equivalent of Christmas) two years ago this November, and a group of us were speculating whether we could cross Discworld with fitness to make the latter more attractive to fans of the former.

    Weekends in Wincanton: business as usual.

    Weekends in Wincanton: business as usual.

    I returned to London with A Cunning Plan: to write a proposal for Discworld audio fitness programs. From memory, there were three levels: Guards (intro to fitness), Thieves (general fitness) and Assassins (for the fitness fanatics) and it would have a been a ton of fun. I drafted the proposal, ran it past a few fellow fans and sent it off by the proffered route, and never heard back.

    I kept writing my short stories and redrafting Vandal.

    …but…

    I couldn’t quite put the idea down. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that the concept of ‘audio fitness adventures’ worked far beyond the Discworld universe. I had no time to work on it directly, but my sneaky subconscious would occasionally bring it back up, chew on it and spit out some messy and illformed cud which I duly wrote down.

    In April 2013, over a coffee in Victoria with software entrepreneur Nathan Hague and his friend Claire Aberdeen, I bought audio fitness adventures (AFA) up in passing. To my great surprise, Nathan and Claire jumped on the idea.

    I was supposed to be meeting Nathan to get signed up to delivering his online personal training program, but he refused to let me get started with it, insisting I worked on AFA instead. I don’t see Nathan around these days but Claire has remained a stout and enthusiastic supporter of me and my zany ideas, for which I say: thank you Claire for believing in it before I did and in me all the way through since. I cannot stress this enough: cheerleaders matter when dreaming out of your depth.

    So I did keep working on it. Kind of. Mostly in my head and occasionally in my writing time between classes – just trying to work out how the bloody thing would work as a really good story that ‘oh yeah, by the way, has a fitness program attached to it, fancy that…’ The idea was always, at that stage, to write for reluctant exercisers – to make fitness more accessible to people who loved immersing themselves in books, TV, films, comics and games but found exercise a foreign and unforgiving country.

    Of course there were – as there always are in these major life shifts – multiple tangents converging in my head at the time. The whole Hogswatch discussion, for instance, had come out of a topic frequently run past me by friends: could I, a fitness addict and professional, make exercise more fun please?

    Now the relativity of the term ‘fun’, especially in relation to exercise, is a whole blog on its own. In brief: I’m a group exercise instructor and I find teaching and participating in group exercise classes hugely fun – as do a majority of my class members (one hopes…!). But there are loads of forms of exercise to which I am ambivalent if not allergic. I don’t love all exercise. I just exercise the hell out of the kinds I do.

    Group Ex: what's not to LOVE?!!

    Group Ex: what’s not to LOVE?!!

    In many a trip down the alternate trouser leg of time, I’d probably still be the 8kg heavier casual jogger I was before I went to Topnotch Brentford and discovered Body Combat. I jest not: my current career and physique are entirely credited to my friend Hollie taking me to a Body Pump class one Friday lunchtime with Katie Curtin, the instructor who showed me that exercise wasn’t just ‘a thing you should probably do for about a million reasons’ but ‘a really freaking awesome thing you could do for about a million reasons but really want to do because it’s also the highlight of your work day’ (at the time, in that job, entirely true).

    On the other hand, I hate things like cooking, shopping (for books and saddlery exempted) and housework. They are to me as exercise is to many of my friends. So I started listening to audio books or watching TV shows while doing those things, to make them more tolerable. They diverted me from the otherwise mundanity of the tasks as hand and engaged me intellectually and emotionally.

    So: multiple tangents converged. I was
    – mulling on this idea of narrative-based audio fitness adventures
    – frequently engaged in conversations about making exercise more enjoyable
    – trying to add personal training to my group ex work but not taking to it at all
    – and facing the very bleak economic, physical and career prospects of my current profession

    Teaching group ex is a brilliant, rewarding and seriously fun job but I was running into financial ruin and had to add personal training or something else to make rent, much less savings, pension, holidays, et cetera.

    As inevitably happens to writers, a story started assembling itself in my head. Characters popped up, unbidden. I had an over-the-top bootcamp trainer, Sergeant Hardman, taking a circuit training program called Hardman’s Army. 

    Beta tester Alda Rana's sketch of Hardman, agreed unanimously to be accurate in all ways

    Beta tester Alda Rana’s sketch of Hardman, generally agreed to be a 100% accurate depiction

    I had Agent Delta Foxtrot running missions through destroyed cities in World Apocalypse Survival. I had a holistic story taking place with a monster called Bob and – after Facebook Author Assist thread that ran to over 100 comments – a blind woman called Serenity, in a space between universes called The Shadowlands. 

    LETTER-Q: EAT THE EYE

    Apocalypse Survival Training In Progress! (Catalyst concept art from LETTER-Q)

     

    But as often also happens with writers, it was all happening in my head and on my laptop and…that was it. Oh and on Facebook Author Assists, to the general bemusement of my friends. I occasionally mentioned it to people, they nodded, and other than that, it was just A Thing I Was Thinking About.

    And then a few months after seeing Nathan and Claire, I had a coffee in Hammersmith with my then screenwriting mentor, Nicholas McInerny, and his partner Jordan Flaste, who was completing his personal training course and wanted some advice about what to do next. In the course of conversation I mentioned this audio fitness adventures thing I was thinking about, and like Nathan and Claire, they jumped on the idea too. But these two didn’t just like the idea – they wanted to help see it from my head into the real world.

    WHAT?
    THE REAL WORLD?
    IT’S JUST A THING IN MY HEAD!
    IT’S *SAFE* IN MY HEAD! STAY IN MY HEAD!

    So this was both really awesome and really aaaaaargh because it now meant AFA had a chance of becoming An Actual Thing but I really wanted to go hide back in my book thank you so much. While writing a YA fantasy book is a pretty big risk, starting a whole new fitness business venture, especially one so niche, was a far, far bigger risk. Also a huge time suck and man, I was just a fitness instructor writer dude. Admittedly I was also the kind of super square who sat on committees from the age of 15 and started student TV at my uni from scratch when I was 19 – but that was all half a lifetime ago, right?

    LETTER-Q: DAJR

    Like anyone in the presence of the DAJR, I had an overwhelming desire to Don’t Ask, Just RUN! (Catalyst concept art from LETTER-Q)

    So I panicked a bit, ummmed and aaaahed a lot, but at some point started properly developing Hardman’s Army. 

    And then it got fun.

    Except for all the bits when I wanted to smack my head against the tables of various cafés around west London, where I would write between teaching fitness classes.

    Probably the most fun bits were the many Author Assists I ran on Facebook, where I’d get anywhere from 20 to 100+ comments from friends on subjects varying from the names of characters to how, in real life, all telecommunications in London could be knocked out. To everyone who has contributed to any of my Assists: I thank you.

    Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 09.51.15

    60 comments?! I am constantly stunned at the obscure queries friends can actually answer…

    Now writing an audio fitness adventure poses some serious logistical problems. I mean this is a cross between a fitness workout and a story, an ongoing narrative that’s essentially a radio play with a fitness program plugged in. Every piece of dialogue has to be built around the necessity of the exercise. Every exercise has to make sense in the terms of being part of the story.

    Hardman’s Army made that relatively simple: the whole world has been recruited to the army to prepare for a coming war (the nature of which is uncovered as part of the ongoing plot). The program I’m writing now for the Kickstarter, Catalyst, is considerably more complex. But this was my first go and some days I really did wonder if I could pull this bloody thing off.

    (Ok, I still do. I also still smack my head against tables with alarming regularity).

    Other logistical issues included how to incorporate coaching into a program where the trainer is
    – a fictional construct and
    – communicating via audio only and
    – therefore can’t actually see and respond to the user and
    – cannot be seen or fed back to by the user

    Like all knotty problems and really annoying limitations, it became a creative challenge, the solution to which actually solved a number of other issues and made the finished program work far better than the earlier ‘head-desk’ drafts.

    I put out a call on Facebook asking for actors to record me a demo of Hardman. A number of people offered, and a few of those did send me a recording. I was surprised and pleased that Chris Lehr, an old friend from my first gym, long before I started instructing, messaged me to say he’d like a shot.

    Now although I couldn’t accurately define it, I had a fair feel for what I thought Hardman might sound like – and I hadn’t quite heard it by the time Chris’ demo arrived. I remember wanting to reply to him asap as I know how scary it is to send a creative offering out and then fret over how it will be received, and I had ten things to do before bed that evening, so I popped on my earphones to listen on the ride home from class.

    I will always remember that evening: 9pm, riding down Castelnau, thinking ‘nope, nope, nope, shame – WAIT!!! Yes! That! Hang on… nooooo – YES!’ and laughing my head off on my bike, in the dark and the rain, at my friend becoming my character.

    Laughing because for about one minute out of five, Chris was Hardman. Laughing because I was going to get to work with a much missed friend again. Laughing because when we met, he was a gym receptionist dreaming of acting career and I was a slightly better paid website editor dreaming of a writing career. And laughing because I had experienced that electric magic that comes from hearing words you wrote down said better than you could have hoped to hear them.

    Soon after, Jordan and I met Chris in my Hammersmith coffice for a catch up and rehearsal. We were sitting outside, but when I got to the business end of things by pulling out the script, Chris had a hunted look in his eyes: here? We wanted to rehearse here?! This, he assured us, was not possible. Bemused, we packed up and went to the nearest public space: the grounds of a church. 4pm on a Sunday, right before family service.

    at the church

    Subtle: no. Appropriate: not really. Entertaining? HELL YES.

    Chris didn’t just read as Hardman, he became Hardman, waking around, pointing, shouting, the whole drill sergeant package. The bleeped swear words and all. Jordan and I intermittently coached his accent between dissolving into fits of the giggles. I have the whole 90 mins recorded for posterity’s sake. If we make it into production, I’ll release it as a bonus some time – it’s utterly mad and brilliantly entertaining. 

    So we had our Hardman – and as he turned out to be such an exceptionally versatile voice actor, Chris ended up voicing three other characters in the Hardman’s Army beta test, along with Jordan and myself with one character each.

    chris playing hardman

    Chris playing Hardman…

    ...and not playing Hardman...

    …and not playing Hardman…

    But: I jump ahead.

    I had started routinely talking to friends about AFA a lot because I was finding this often led to good ideas, feedback and mostly importantly, people saying genuinely lovely things like ‘that is an awesome concept’ which, given the enormous amount of emotional and time investment it was sucking up, I really needed to hear. Obviously I fully believed it to be a great idea, but if the crowd don’t like your idea, your idea don’t float.

    On 6th September 2013, with the Hardman’s Army beta test script written, reviewed, re-written, rehearsed and scheduled to record with a friend of Jordan, I cautiously fell for the man who would become our audio producer and, not to put too fine a point on it, the love of my life.

    As well as working on AFA I was doing several other things as well, one of which was working on my Animal Flow coaching. Ras and I had met briefly in April and he’d sent monthly catch up suggestions since, all of which received a polite reply along the lines of ‘love to but man, my life – maybe June/July/September/you know, next year is looking good actually…’ Fortunately he was persistent and turned up, hung over and off a morning flight from Copenhagen, for me to practice teaching on.

    A man who can cope with being treated like this can cope with anything, even me...

    A man who can cope with being treated like this can cope with ANYTHING. Even, it seems, me…

    We had coffee after – not at a Starbucks, for the record – and that was the first time I realised he was an audio producer. Weeeeell said I, I’m working on this audio project, would you like to get involved…?

    Cautiously, he agreed – it was, after all, his best chance for seeing me again in under another six months – and the following week he came to rehearsal at mine with Chris and Jordan. The session was brilliant and hilarious and he was IN. Jordan, meanwhile, had a quiet word in my ear in the kitchen about not screwing up the professional relationship by screwing up a personal one because Ras was a really good sound designer and we needed him…!

    Jordan, Chris, me and Ras (and, yes, there was cake)

    Jordan, Chris, me and Ras (and, yes, there was cake, which I seem to be letting Ras eat…)

    We recorded the Hardman’s Army beta test a week or two later, although alas without Ras’ input because I had fallen in love with him just a bit too late along the schedule – for as they say, love does not run on time.

    beta rest record

    Chris hard at work as Hardman, giving attitude back to his director (moi)

    I left shortly after for a month back home in Australia and came back to start my first relationship in ten years and, not coincidentally,  the inexorable decline into my first proper burn out.

    That cost me months of progress. With the beta test was still in edit, and not much else to do until it could be released and I could find out if the concept even worked at all, I was feeling detached from the whole thing by the time I was back on my feet in February for a coffee with my writer/publishing friend Ian Whates. We met in Camden for me to sign book plates for an anthology he was publishing me in, during which Tom Hunter, director of the Arthur C Clarke Award and marketing master, and techie Colin Tate, joined us and what would you know? Turns out I had told them about AFA about several months earlier when it really was just ‘this idea I’m mulling over’ – and here in 2014 it was Becoming A Real Thing. 

    Ian, me, Colin and Tom after the boys gave me a real push forward

    Ian, me, Colin and Tom after the boys gave me a real push forward. Alas, no cake.

    After listening to me review the progress to date and throwing around a few ideas, they suggested I get in touch with a Bethnal Green Ventures, a tech startup accelerator program for socially responsible projects. I did immediately, discovering they were soon taking submissions for their summer intake.

    For the next month or so, Jordan and I really stepped up our activity as we prepared to apply for the accelerator. That process was an accelerator in itself as we suddenly had to explain our fun idea as a business concept to People With Money.

    Until that point, and prior to my burn out, I had been devoting what was once my sacred writing time almost exclusively to AFA, which meant I’d been working on it a few hours a day most days of the week, with a few meetings with Jordan and rehearsals with Chris. It had been a fairly solo process. Suddenly Jordan and I had weekly meetings, we needed to recruit more of a team, and we had Hardman’s Army coming out to release to our waiting beta test group.

    bgv

    Nick, Jordan, me and Ras debriefing after meeting with Bethnal Green Ventures. THERE WAS DEFINITELY CAKE.

    Shit was getting real, man.

    We also needed to assemble more of the production team. Jordan would be marketing, I was writing and conceptualising, Ras was recording and producing, Chris and Ras’ housemate Ian were our main voice actors and that was it. BVG was a tech accelerator and although we had agreed we wanted to release our programs on an app, we didn’t even have an app developer. One of the beta test members, Nick – who I had met at an Amanda Palmer house party – came forward to help out on the tech side to my great relief, because we still had no money and sure as hell couldn’t afford to hire one.

    Meeting have always been SUPER SERIOUS (and NEVER involve cake... BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

    Production meetings are always SUPER SERIOUS (and ‘never’ involve cake…)

    The concept of Audio Fitness Adventures as a company that produced ongoing exercise programs started to take shape, and I drafted the first business plans, while we talked about how the app would function.

    The beta test arrived from post production. By that time I’d had a few months to really stress myself over whether the damn thing even worked. With great trepidation, I took it to the park and ran it after bootcamp one morning –

    - and finished beaming because Ras had done a great job and it was well worth the wait.

    It worked. 

    beta test worked

    EXHAUSTED ELATION: this is it.

    We meanwhile decided not to apply for Bethnal Green Ventures because the more I thought about it, and the more I consulted with people in the business, the more I realised that by fulfilling my original goal and the BVG social issue mandate by specifically targeting reluctant exercises, the more risky the whole thing was. It’s not that we were looking at a small market – it’s a huge market. It’s just also the demographic most reluctant to spent money on a fitness product.

    The unanimous opinion coming from people outside the project in technology business was: focussing on the reluctant exercise market will kill your product. Widen your demographic. Start with people who already spend money on exercise and are looking for the next fun way to do it, establish the company and product and then expand. So I still intend to go there, just after we’ve got through walking – then we will learn to run.

    So with the decision not to apply to BVG, we decided to go for crowd funding instead. I started the loooong process of learning, from scratch, how to set up and run a company, and set up and run a crowdfund.

    (Declaration: much head-desking still occurs: soooo much to learn…)

    Two of my fitness instructor friends turned out to be moonlighting accountants, and sat me down for a few hours of really scary Legal Shit. Various versions of ‘toughen up’ started to be thrown around as I arrived for meetings full of idealism, only to falter over the crushing reality of business and economics.

    There were a few really tough months early/mid this year when I felt like I was drowning in all the things I was coming to understand I didn’t understand. My production group were busy with their own lives and projects, I was getting some amazing external input which had me radically changing tact on a weekly basis, and the speed with which I was realising directions needed to shift – and the somewhat manic, increasingly unhinged ways I reported them – left some feeling left out of the process. By charging off on my own, I ended up largely working on my own. Bull, china shop, same old, same old.

    Too frequently, I broke down with fear to Ras, convinced I couldn’t do this, it would fail because of me, that I had a great idea but was going to fuck it up for everyone. One morning I actually burst into tears at bootcamp, to be hustled back to Kirstin’s flat for a fortifying coffee and counselling session with her and Cresta – two entrepreneurs who understood very well where I was and how I was feeling.

    It was a really hard, lonely period, but all the way through I was being gifted with the time and expertise of some truly incredibly people. A plea for business advice on Facebook had found me my primary business mentor, Christopher Jones, who has given me more time and help than I would ever have asked from such a busy man. He has very patiently taken me from Page 1 of Business For Dummies (’so… what’s a share again…?’) through business points of failure (me, me, me, Ras, beta test, me…) and all the reasons people won’t invest and into all the reasons people will invest and how to manage that: #MaxGratitude.

    Over phone, email and coffees, Tom Hunter very kindly let me bounce both ideas and fears about the Kickstarter – and there were loads of the latter – and was the first person to ask me to consider the failure fallback. Statistically speaking, my start up will fail. That is sucky information for someone in my position. I have no capital, no business experience, no marketing skills, no fallback beyond staying a group ex instructor whose wages completely fail to reflect the inflating economics of one of the most expensive cities in the world. But it was a good conversation to have.

    Alison, who I believe was a cunning heiress and I the plucky detective daughter of a mobster when we met, facilitated a very valuable coffee with game designer and consultant Oscar Clark, who helpfully ripped up and broke down the business and product concepts for three mind-spinning hours. This was the point where I started to realise that running year long programs as intended – we wanted to produce lifestyle fitness, not short-term accelerator fitness – was risky and made the sales model unwieldy, not to mention the production schedule terrifying. A few days later, supposedly on holiday with my parents, cruising the Thames, I was running my conversation with him through my head and had an ‘oh my GOD this is ALL WRONG!’ meltdown moment. Very classy.

    Brian, who I met as the Scarlet Pimpernel while I was a woman marauding as a man in the Cardinal’s Guard in the time of the Three Musketeers, hooked me up for a lengthy skype with DiG, an awesome guy who does everything interesting tech wise. He gave me a very generous three hours of his sunday off and again, deeply questioned the business and sales model in a way no-one closer to the project knew how to.

    Quite early on, one of my class members, KP, had Nick and I into the Facebook London offices to talk about the business structure, shares and equity, projected profits and sales.

    facebook

    Facebook check in…from Facebook…FTW!

    And David Wild, a friend who met me running around in a chain mail bikini in 0 degrees on a film set last Easter – hardly a display of my more sensible professional side – surprised the hell out of me by coming forward offering advice for and investment in AFA, my beloved, now all-consuming baby.

    Totally normal attire. For 0 degrees.

    Totally normal attire. For 0 degrees.

    Shit was getting really real.

    However, Hardman’s Army was returning slow but positive results from my beta testers. Two friends pulled out of the group completely, offended by Hardman or some of the characters and dialogue, but another 20 people really enjoyed it, running it between 1 and an astonishing 13 times (high five Elina!). Repeatability proved better than expected and the whole exercise very educational and highly encouraging.

    Easter of this year, as I was boarding a plane for Nice, Jordan texted to suggest the Kickstater project be the prequel of the Hardman’s Army storyline, and over the next week of holiday, the Catalyst storyline – the program we’re Kickstarting – was born.

    While being terribly busy Doing All The Things, I’d been quietly fretting on the side about the exercise programming component of Catalyst. Will Pike, a friend from my old Gym Box personal training days, has been doing great things with his Love: Fitness business with a strong emphasis on training with intent. After reading another of his blog posts, which just perfectly resonated with my philosophical approach the mind/body side of AFA, I had a spontaneous screw it moment and just messaged him there and then, outlining what I was doing and hoping he might be interested.

    He was.
    He loved it.
    He was IN.

    I was elated. I have to build a team of people who are brilliant at what they do and will take a punt on this crazy dream of mine and so far I’ve been pretty damn lucky.

    Will referred me to Gurmukh Panesar, who has come on board as our app designer, bringing much needed experience and sound counsel to allay my gaping ignorance over what was possible, what was effective and what it would do to my Kickstarter budget…

    Nicholas, still around from that fortuitous conversation over a year ago, and a highly experienced writer of TV and radio, has been helping me develop the Catalyst universe and cast. He will be script editing me during the lead up to his marriage and co-writing with me later in the year. Again, a strong team is a team full of people better than you and as lead writer, it’s a relief and honour to have Nicholas onside.

    I contacted Daniele Quataru, a bloody brilliant artist who had also been my barista at my favourite coffice for years before his success as Letter-Q allowed him to become a full time artist. I begged Daniele to draw me some concept art sketches, and have been delighted by the work coming through.

    LETTER-Q: BUS

    ‘Please may I have some people in London completely unaware there’s a monster behind them…with an iconic landmark being destroyed in the background’ – DONE! (Catalyst concept art from LETTER-Q)

    The need to prep the Kickstarter was looming ever higher on my Aaaargh Shit To Do List when Tom Hunter encouraged me to think more about how to put the crowd into the crowd funding. Crowd funding is a marvellous modern invention but we are an unknown group with an unknown product which doesn’t have a high nostalgia pull, trying to get the crowd to back our idea of what I was now calling exer-tainment – exercising while being entertained.

    Of course we’re not the first kids on the audio fitness adventures/exer-tainment block – the hugely successful Zombies, Run running program  was crowd funded a few years ago with runaway success. Like ours and many other product based kickstarters, it was a ‘presale’ campaign with some fun bonus perks. Unlike Catalyst though, Zombies was produced by a known games company and sold as a game, which our programs are not – we’re more a cross between a TV show and workout than a game and a workout.

    So Tom lead me to thinking beyond ‘crowd, fund me’ to ‘crowd, fund me and get involved!’ We are still considering to what extend the crowd can be manageably involved (in the first instance, I want to move all my Author Assists from my FB onto the backers Facebook group for their input) but it was a brilliant shift from thinking ‘how can we get enough people to fund?’ to ‘how can we get people to feel involved in what they are funding?’

    On the topic of Zombies, Run, it’s success is an absolute blessing to us because we’re working on the same concept (exercising within a story) but within a completely different context. Zombies is only a running program, and can tell stories only within the constraints of a zombie apocalypse, where my vision is for full body, and importantly, mind/body workouts. We are still working from my initial concept of a 3 stream workout program: strength circuit training, mind/body section and running.

    LETTER-Q: GRANNY

    Also: fighting aliens. Even at Bea’s undefined age (Catalyst concept art from LETTER-Q)

    There will be fit pros who criticise AFA’s fundamental principle of diverting the brain from the body. I understand this completely. On the one hand, the entertainment part of AFA is a diversion from the exercise, which seems to suggest a mental disengagement from the body. On the other hand, cunning writing gives the exercise genuine meaning within the context of the entertainment. All the stories I’m working on put the user into a hero’s journey, which challenges them in ways requiring both physical and mental application and adaptation. The idea is to give a much deeper, not shallower, exercise experience.

    Catalyst, the first three month program and the program we’re kickstarting, sets up a gateway to adventure through which all following programs can step while belonging to the same universe and involving a rotating list of our main casts. I am ridiculously excited about placing programs in the past, future and alternate realities, the latter visiting alternate versions of our established characters – if you get me started on it, make sure you’re sitting comfortably and that I have no liquids or sharp objects near my hands or I can guarantee accidents.

    The last few months have seen me working very solidly on the business and creative side of AFA: every day sees me teach, work on it between classes and try to be a decent friend and girlfriend, and some days it’s a hell of a juggling act. This means things slip through, I make mistakes and my timing is not always perfect. For instance, ‘check trademarking info’ had been on my list for untold months by the time I discovered that I could not trademark ‘Audio Fitness Adventures’ because it’s a descriptor of the company or product. Suddenly, AFA couldn’t be AFA any more.

    Being awful with names, I asked Facebook for alternate titles and landed on the suggestion Imaginactive (with thanks to Tony Ainsworth), after workshopping it with my team and on Facebook again. My subconscious then started to get more ambitious than my conscious mind would dream of being, sneakily suggesting that Imaginactive could be an over-riding company name and the audio fitness adventures just the first product. Imaginactive could, in other words, become a company eventually dabbling in many areas, as long as it did so in creative ways, such as producing narrative workouts.

    Current draft, feel free to improve...!

    Current draft, feel free to improve…!

    …I dream on…

    So: here we are. I have a limited company called Imaginactive. I have a large support network, although I suspect someone key is missing and yet to be found. I have a £40k three month audio fitness adventure program to fund via two private investors, a £10k Kickstarter and requiring another two £5k investors. The debates over how much to attempt to kickstart for have swung this way and that and I just don’t know that there’s a right answer beyond ‘lower is probably better, and pray’.

    I’m on the fourth draft of a kickstarter video, and after earlier impassioned pieces-to-camera, have settled on a risky but far funnier and more suitable narratively-driven script, featured the good Sergeant Hardman.

    I put up a website last week which was hacked the day after and now requires days of me slogging through WordPress Forums (from ‘how do I replace the header image with my logo?’ onwards, I have forgotten everything).

    We had a shoot with Lorenzo Guerrieri on Friday for concept images for the website which may or may not have worked out as planned…

    shoot 2

    Fun photo trickery (no logs will be jumped off in the running of this program, but monsters MAY attack you from below…)

    shoot 1

    …and then we just got carried away… (no flying side kicks will be used in the running of this program. Yet…)

    We’re hoping to launch the Kicikstarter on Sept 22 as the plan was to deliver next Summer and already I’m biting my nails over that. Aside from trying to work out how to build the website and arranging the video shoot, I’m in the throes of writing the first three episodes.

    Once we have the website up, everyone involved will be gently priming their social networks to be aware that we have a major crowd fund coming up. It feels awkward to me to do this but the general rule is that a crowd fund must fund to 30% of its total in the first few days off the team’s local network to have a chance of completing, and even after that, about 70% of the total will come from close  to home.

    That’s £7k.

    Frankly I am amazed I have any nails left.

    Whatever happens over the next few months, starting up Imaginactive has been a hell of a ride. I have learned more in the last year than I have in a number of years preceding it. I have been helped, pushed and encouraged every step of the way by people I would have expected to have my back, but often more from people I barely knew at all, and that’s been staggering.

    I hope we fund.

    Actually, I hope we significantly over fund, as that’s
    a) a big vote of confidence in the concept from the crowd and
    b) means everyone’s going to get paid half decently instead of half what they’re worth and
    c) just going to make everything along the way so much easier.

    I hope we then deliver Catalyst as an audio fitness adventure that first meets and then exceeds expectations, and that my dream of a company which employs many of my brilliant creative friends – mostly working in other, unrelated fields to make their living – for what they are worth, becomes a reality.

    And I really, really hope that we can deliver program after program that engages, energises, exercises and entertains people in ways they never thought possible. That they can start to understand and tap the potential of their bodies and the power of their imagination, to be more active, to able to better pursue their life’s work and play.

    And I thank everyone who has got behind me or the idea and pitched in, whether in meetings, phone calls, providing contacts, brain storming on Facebook, answering stupid questions and picking me up when I have stumbled along the way.

    If you’ve read this far, you’re a bloody legend.

    If you’ve read this far and are wondering if there’s any way you can get involved or help out, there absolutely are. To successfully complete our Kickstarter we will need

    People to share the hell out of the campaign. Not just sharing the link but sharing it with reasons why friends might be interested, and even tagging in those who might back it

    People with social networks related to writing and fitness who might act as ambassadors, sharing our campaign to their followers

    Links to media outlets who might cover the campaign with articles or interviews with me

    A friendly entertainment lawyer to draw up our contracts, insurances and ensure we’re not breaching anyone else’s copyright (and while absolutely being paid, without doubling the campaign total to do it…)

    Two more £5k investors to pick up our current shortfall, with return on investment from the commercial sales of Catalyst

    A backup videographer for the Kickstarter video in case Lorenzo is moving house…

    …and I’d be forever grateful for an hour or two of a WordPress pro’s time to save me hours of fumbling around with templates and slipping into html hell… o.O

    AND SO. EPIC BLOGGAGE ENDS. 

    For everything that has passed to date, the Imagianctive adventure really is just beginning – and everyone is welcome on board for the ride.

    Join us: we're fit and TOTALLY HAVE CAKE!

    Join us: we’re fit and still TOTALLY HAVE CAKE!

    The Dirty Thirty does Tough Mudder

    2014 - 08.04

    I’m not a natural born runner and I’m sure not one of the hundreds of thousands of people signing up by choice to do a mud obstacle race. I am, however, dating one of those fanatics and when he decided his 30th birthday party was going to be running a Tough Mudder… I gritted my teeth and signed up too.

    Gritted my teeth REALLY hard. As you can see.

    Gritted my teeth REALLY hard. As you can see.

    As a fitness instructor I can work out for a good 3-4 hours at a time if needed but at 12 miles, Tough Mudder is a half marathon, largely on the inevitably eponymously muddy terrain, with what feels like the odd obstacle thrown in. There are in fact around 23 of the things, but they can feel a god-awful long way apart over that distance. The obstacles are all based on British Special Forces obstacle training and are therefore designed to test people against typical fears (fire, ice, electricity, heights, water) as well as strength, agility and skill.

    Ras and Ian last did the London Tough Mudder and admitted the Midlands Kettering course had considerably more mud. Not only that, but apparently feature mud: cow shit mud. Sheep shit mud. Sewerage mud. People-piss warm muddy water? Really doesn’t bear thinking about.

    Did I mention mud?

    Did I mention mud?

    That all said: Tough Mudder is one of the more accessible of the endurance mud races around. It is not even technically a race, in that, unusually, it is untimed, and the key focus is on getting around as a team rather than getting the fastest time. Most people do turn up as a team, with shirts and costumes (between cakings of mud, The Dirty Thirty were intermittently visible in our bright yellow shirts) and treat it as a rather extreme day’s entertainment.

    The Dirty Thirty (those who made it to the team start...) while still clean - Phaye, Ian, me (yes I am an air bender), birthday boy, April, Jess and Shanice

    The Dirty Thirty (those who made it to the team start…) while still clean – Phaye, Ian, me (yes I am an air bender), birthday boy, April, Jess and Shanice

    To my shame, my ‘training’ mainly consisted of 10-15 minute post-class runs, two to three times a week, for about…oooo…two weeks. My Trilogy bootcampers probably run 10-15 minutes a morning three times a week and could frankly run my socks off (running not being a main feature of the indoor studio and cycling classes I get my exercise through!) and indeed, it was in the running that The Dirty Thirty discovered Tough Mudder to be perhaps a little tougher than we were. Running on mud is particularly challenging for the hip flexors because of all the extra stabilisation required compared to, for instance, running on a dry safe path.

    Again with the MUD...

    Again with the MUD…

    So…there was some walking. Later, quite a lot of walking. But there were also dollops of camaraderie, silliness and the odd drama (falling from 12 foot walls is not recommended but thankfully Jess remained unbroken).

    4 miles, quite cheerful

    4 miles, quite cheerful

    The first obstacle on our Kettering Midlands course was a pair of giant walls – which the boys in the team hung around at to leg a bunch of other people over, probably knackering themselves a bit early in the day, but it was Very Chivalrous and absolutely in the spirit of the event.

    9 mile selfie - still running, still smiling...

    9 mile selfie – still running, still smiling…

    The third obstacle was my nemesis: the Artic Enema, aka A Freaking Ice Bath. I jumped in and out of the Copenhagen harbor a few times over Christmas but there wasn’t any actual ice in it.

    Now I won’t lie – I’d been threatening to skip the Enema, but at the time, as I suspected, it seemed the teamly thing to do to just jump in, go under the stupid tyres and hope not to go into shock.

    Was it awful?

    FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKSHITBOLLOCKSFUCK

    FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKSHITBOLLOCKSFUCK

    FUCK, YES IT WAS.

    It was exactly as awful as… jumping into a full immersion ice bath. And not just any ice bath, but a manky, muddy, full immersion ice bath full of screaming people.

    I thought putting the Enema so early in the race was poor sportsmanship from the event organisers, but actually, we arrived hot from the early running, and shot out ready to run again so shook the goosebumps off surprisingly quickly. I was a lot colder later in the event when we were too tired to run but had to keep going back into water and out into an unforgiving wind.

    So. Much. Water.

    So. Much. Water.

    So: I survived my greatest fear and was all woooohoooo for a time – until I started fretting about the Electric Eel. I’ve bounced off more than my fair share of electric fences in my time and just didn’t see the appeal of being voluntarily electrocuted. So: hands up, I boycotted that one on the grounds of ‘I’m not paying £100 for this sort of shit.’

    The rest of the Dirty Thirty were much more macho than me about it – and then in a cruel twist to them, I think I was the only one who didn’t get electrocuted in the final Electro Shock Therapy run for the finish line (MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA).

    Don't ask. Just run.

    Don’t ask. Just run.

    The rest of the obstacles blur. I made it through everything except the monkey rings, where I grabbed one, just grabbed the second one, didn’t commit and was left hanging until, squealing and cursing, I had to drop into the water and get wet again. Jessica and Shanice swung straight through that one like gymnasts while I waded my way across feeling the Sads.
    April doing it exactly the way I didn't: well.

    April doing it exactly the way I didn’t: well.

    The Island Hopping was actually surprisingly fun (I leapt like a frog from one to the next, feet wide and hands down – highly inelegant but effective). I really did freak out a bit on Walk the Plank, a sheer drop that looked too high by far. Ras and I were up together and while he gamely jumped on the required countdown, I dithered precious seconds and could frankly have benefitted from a shove. The water impact burst my bum bag, which was the end of our gels (potentially a blessing, to our taste buds at least). Making something of a comeback, I scaled Everest (a steep quarter pipe) on the first try – thanks to some helping hands at the top who caught and pulled me over.

    11 miles...says it all really...

    11 miles…says it all really…

    In the weeks before the event, I was not-so-quietly anxious about getting an injury which would then prevent – or greatly handicap – my teaching for a period afterwards. No teaching, no income, no eating. Now I’ve been pain free from plantar fasciitis since October and am very keen to stay that way, and the week before Tough Mudder I limped into my physio with a dodgy left ankle, stiff back and locked right shoulder. I started the race still with the ankle still under par.

    And yet…

    …I can only assume it was the ice bath, frequent dips into cold water and last hour and a half of chattering teeth that stripped every bit of lingering inflammation from my body, because I came out of Tough Mudder in better shape than I went in.

    I’d long before booked a pre-emptive massage for two days after and sheepishly walked into Cherie’s treatment room in basically the best shape I’ve been in for years.

    I know, right Vizzini?!

    I know, right Vizzini?!

    The rest of the team are already talking about the next event, and Ras and Ian are going as far as to consider doing a Double Tough Mudder (running it both the Saturday and Sunday). I am… not so enthusiastic for a return visit.

    Yeah, okay, we did have fun...

    Yeah, okay, we did have fun…

    On the long list of very fun awesome things I get to do in my life, four hours of muddy, teeth chattering, electricity and ice-ridden running/walking isn’t particularly high up there. It was certainly a tick off the old bucket list though and I’m glad I was roped into joining the Dirty Thirty – and am thoroughly enjoying the new lease of life my body has experienced in the weeks since. Not sure I’m game to risk it as annual physical therapy mind you…
    I was strangling him at the time for bringing me, but then I saw the camera...

    I was strangling him at the time for bringing me, but then I saw the camera…

    …oh, and of course it was Ras’ birthday party, which I womanned up enough to share with him. We took him out for drinks the next day, limping around London (and I mean holding the stair handrail limping), just to be a bit more civilised as well.

    And, you know… it was little romantic.

    I mean an eeentsy weeency bit.

    Still with the whole WHAT HAPPENED TO ME?? thing

    Still with the whole WHAT HAPPENED TO MY LIFE?? thing

     

    Step 27: Get Published

    2014 - 05.02

    I’m pretty sure I planned to have a book published at 30. That was definitely in a Life Plan somewhere. Quite a few, really. 

    I’ve missed that life goal, it seems, even though I’m sure I’m still only in my 20s really. The first book is mostly written but now it needs a staggering amount of re-writing, and this was the year I was going to do it but… this whole Audio Fitness Adventures thing kind of got going and…

    …well. I have not completed, much less published, a book by 30. It’s like in my head, my deepest self validation starts at Step 1: Get Published. Thing is, to get to that step, there a stupid number of previous steps and I don’t even want to tell you how many mistakes. So long story short (and the sequence of steps may one day appear as another blog post) I’m going to review that to Step 27: Get Published.

    Which I’ve finally bloody done.

    LE FEMME (NewCon Press)

    Front cover image: Pam Martin – Back cover image: Shaun Hodge

    And this is the story of how.

    It technically started with my friend Ian Whates getting in touch about a year ago – maybe more? – to ask to use some of my modelling shots for the covers of an anthology he was putting together. It really started when super comics writer Tony Lee dared me to wear the Slave Leia outfit at an SFX Weekender, and having rather reluctantly done so, I had my single best night of professional and geeky networking ever. And met, amongst many others, Ian, who I then bumped into at Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker launch and have been very happy Facebook and real life friends with since.

    Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 18.43.15

    Me and my first publisher – YAAAY IAN!!!

    Now there was a time, about 18 months ago, when it seemed I was more likely to get agented and published as a model than a writer. Which quietly wearied me – and then that didn’t happen either so the equilibrium of my total obscurity remained unchallenged.

    But Ian wanted some shots, and photographers Pam Martin and Shaun Hodge OK’d them and VOILA: I was to appear in print!

    Well.
    On the cover of someone else’s print.

    Quietly, I despaired.

    And then asked Ian whether – ‘long shot, no worries if not, totally understand if it’s utter unprintable bollocks’ – I could submit to the anthology. The theme was the Femme Fatale. I write several of those already and sometimes prance around pretending to be one on the weekends. I felt marginally qualified.

    He said yes, I could submit.

    But with the usual necessary disclaimers that he would not sympathy print me just because I was 31 and incapable of getting a book out in the public domain or short stories beyond my website. Not that I’ve tried the latter much mind you, to be fair. I write them, and then I hide them on my website, and might link to them once ever, when a new one goes up. Little secret for you: you can find them right here if you feel so inclined.

    No, for this, I had to write a decent story, one I couldn’t just sympathy beg my friends to read.

    So I pondered over whether to start a completely new story, or step into one of my existing works. This was 2013 and the theme of the year was to write stories from my larger projects in short form (my reasoning being that instead of saying ‘oh yes, I write stuff! But no, none of it is finished’ or ‘so do you read scripts for pleasure?’ I could say ‘oh yes, I write stuff! And you can read some of it here!‘).

    Vandal is my most obvious femme fatale, but the most interesting part of her life does rather require backstory, and I had a 4,000 word limit. So I ended up working with Soleil in the backstory to my TV series concept Life In Me and from an image taken by my friend John Henry:

    John Henry

    Adler vs Sherlock (poor Jez Hellion – but he had his vengeance) PHOTO: John Henry

    A few loyal friends have endured various drafts and forms of Life In Me being thrust somewhat desperately upon them, and while the story has its fans, it has its detractors as well. I will never forget one friend telling me to abandon the whole thing if I ever wanted to write something decent. I’ll never forget it because while reading that feedback, in an email on my phone, I became so distraught that I didn’t notice some bastard nick my purse on the bus home. I was already crying by the time I got off, checked my bag and discovered the theft. It took a while to get over that.

    Soleil's future on Earth - and a surprisingly accurate portrayal of how I felt after the feedback (PHOTO: David Long of Exposure Studios London)

    Soleil’s future on Earth – and a surprisingly accurate portrayal of how I felt after the feedback (PHOTO: David Long of Exposure Studios London, MODEL: Anita De Bouch )

    But Life in Me is what I largely spent my university years working on, what I wrote my first ever attempts at scripts for, and what kept me writing through my seven months in Italy by getting up at 4:30am to get the hour in before getting the kids up at 6. I wrote and shot a photo story for it with my photographer friend David Long, and I wrote and workshopped a ‘trailer’ for the series as an experimental piece of theatre for The Hospital Club a few years back (a truly, truly strange video does exist). I can leave it for a year and dive back in as though I never left – and I loved stepping into its backstory for the short story submission.

    An alternate vision of Soleil (PHOTO: David Long, Exposure Studios London)

    A vision of Soleil (PHOTO: David Long, Exposure Studios London)

    Only one person read it before I submitted it to Ian – and that’s rare for me, as I’m always bumming around for feedback, even though I’ve had to learn to toughen the hell up the last few years. But I submitted and didn’t hear anything back for months and forgot about it.

    Then Ian emailed, and there were some tense issues and a definite need for some editing between us but he liked it.

    He said: yes.

    Suddenly, I was going to be published! As both a writer and a model! And at the same time!

    I rejoiced!

    Then I realised that by announcing my first publication (at 31), I was also confessing to having my first publication at 31. Which really didn’t match those younger Life Plans.

    I despaired.
    Again.

    As is my fractious nature – I have a sunny disposition on all matters unless I have a pistol to hold to my own head and then damn I will take aim – I did indeed manage to make this first win into a fail. During the editing back-and-forths, some of which were taking place during my pre-burnout period at the start of this year, and when my self esteem and emotional resilience was precarious at best, I actually demanded Ian to tell me why he was even publishing it. WHY, IT’S CRAP!

    It really became a messy situation in my head, a success that just seemed to illustrate a larger failure, and the closer we got to print, the more I worried people would buy the book to support me having finally been published, but wouldn’t particularly enjoy the story. And then probably wouldn’t tell me they had bought it or mention that they had read it (knowing someone is planning to read your work, and then never hearing back, is like trauma to a writer, believe me).

    The good news is the anthology has stories from many considerably experienced and imaginative story tellers and I, so is totally worth your investment :)  It’s a steal on Kindle and also available in paperback and hardcover with signed author sheets, if you’d like to enjoy the covers. Or like signatures.

    Really should have practiced my scrawl first...

    Really should have practiced my scrawl first…

     

    I! Signed! Author sheets!

    I! Signed! Author sheets!

    Of the covers themselves, let it be said that the front cover was one of the first modelling pictures of me that didn’t involve weapons and a variation of the ‘I’m going to fuck you up’ face and was therefore quite the challenge for Pam Martin to capture, and the back cover makes me look elegant and like a dancer which is a bloody miracle on Shaun Hodge’s part.

    So I guess the concluding moral of the story is: dress up as Leia, get published a few years later*.

    Also, steal everyone else's steampunk weapons.

    Also, steal everyone else’s steampunk weapons.

    *though I am fairly sure there are faster and more conventional methods

     

    Buy LA FEMME on Kindle
    Buy LA FEMME in paperback on Amazon
    Buy LE FEMME in hardcover on Amazon
    Buy LA FEMME  from a small independent bookseller

     

    Of gratitude (and a love letter to Facebook)

    2014 - 02.28

    In the last of my trilogy of recent blogs (after which I resume writing on my current projects, so it’s ciao here for a while), I would mostly like to praise Facebook. I’d also like to say THANK YOU to quite a lot of people, and one in particular.

    So, of Facebook. If you’re reading this, you’re probably on it and have a fair idea of my usage. But can you imagine: I had to be more or less coerced into joining. It was back when I was leaving The History Channel to be a nanny in Italy, and I think it was Gemma who sat me down at my desk and basically did the registration for me while I sulked melodramatically.

    My first profile picture was a bad tempered cat icon from an online comic, as protest at the whole affair. Besides which, there weren’t really many digital photos of me at the time (which is probably just as well but seems hilarious now).

    Today, of course, I cannot for the life of me now remember why I was so reluctant to join.

    Oh wait – maybe it was because I have a highly addictive personality.

    Not that people become addicted to said personality, you understand – it’s that I become addicted to things easily. Exercise. Cornflakes. TV shows. Rasmus. Peanut butter. But nowhere has this proven more true than with Facebook, and thus ours is a… complicated relationship. I love the old book of face. But I’d probably have an actual book of fiction finished by now if I’d never been signed up.

    That said, I’d like to think I’ll eventually have more of a platform from which to beg people to read promote the existence of Mandala, when I finally do finish it, as a result of my addiction. Being a prolific user, I have many friends.

    arguably too many, and really, let’s not start on the number of photos...

    Arguably too many, and really, let’s not start on the number of photos…

    The number itself has been observed many times, often in a slyly accusatory manner – the insinuation being that I go out of my way to collect them, or even friend whore. The truth is that one of the few things I am not addicted to is Adding All The Friends!!, checking all requests carefully and ignoring many. But I am addicted to connecting with compelling people. If I meet someone interesting in the real world, I ask to friend them. It’s only been awkward a couple of times, which is statistically quite lucky, really.

    In April, for instance, I hooked up with a man I spent around 10, 15 minutes fooling around in a gym with. Months later, he turned out to be the love of my life. Potentially one of the most important chance encounters of my life would have gone nowhere did I not always have my phone to hand and a keen interest in connecting.

    That this may never have happened...I SHUDDER.

    That this may never have happened…I SHUDDER.

    Now that may not quite excuse the number of incriminating photos other people have of me from this weekend, dressed in glorious 40s garb but with my very contemporary mobile to hand – but I’m just saying. Wins and whoopsies. It’s a complicated relationship.

    So. I was signed up against my own will and yet Facebook was a life saver while I was in Italy. Then I came back to London and History, and for my life, and for a given value of normality, normal services resumed.

    A year or two later, the end of my contract coincided rather unfortunately with the 2009 recession and elimination of all further job prospects. My friend Hols pointed out that I was spending so many hours a week in fitness classes that I might as well try and be paid for them, as opposed to just packing up and heading back to Australia. So I became a fitness instructor and then my life started to get really unconventional.

    But I get to meet the BEST people.

    But I get to meet the BEST people.

    I’d always done Quite A Lot Of Things! but I was soon having a good shot at doing All The Things!!, which meant Meeting All The People, and happily hooking them up on Facebook. Facebook evolved from a social network to a networking asset, and then a creative tool – the amount of solid writing I’m getting done can be fairly accurately gauged by the frequency of AUTHOR ASSIST statuses (yeah, I know. It hasn’t been a good six months or so).

    So yes. I love Facebook. I don’t keep up with everyone on there (obviously) but I keep up a whole lot better than I did without it. I’ve had countless professional, creative and fun opportunities crop up and problems solved through it. And I get a bit of justified flak from friends about my practically unconscious habit of nipping off to cyberspace mid conversation, event, film, show or even – and this is how bad the addiction is – while in bed. With my boyfriend. Who was paying me plenty of attention at the time #GirlfriendFail

    Keeping up with old friends is wonderful but for me, one of the greatest blessings of Facebook is being able to connect with and develop friendships with people I would otherwise have never met, or have met only once or twice, and briefly. I may never meet them in person – but I have inspiring, hilarious and enlightening interactions with them (along with utterly banal ones too of course) nonetheless. Their lives cross mine and mine theirs in a way that was impossible a decade or so ago and is a privilege of the current social media age.

    So let me tell you about one of my long distance Facebook friends.  Rachel Wemyss Syme and I met, briefly, in the real world, at the launch of Nick Harkaway’s second book Angelmaker. I think, from hazy memory, that we mostly met in the foyer of Camden’s Gilgamesh on the way out, and were in the same group walking to the tube.

    On the way out - Nick in the middle with Olivia and Rachel to his right

    On the way out – Nick in the middle with Olivia and Rachel to his right

    We’d managed to miss each other all the way through the party, hit right off on the way out and therefore hooked up on Facebook. Incidentally, at that party I also friended Ian Whates, who recognised me from my evening as Slave Leia a few months earlier at the SFX Weekender.

    ...it was a highly inconspicuous cosplay debut...

    …it was a highly inconspicuous cosplay debut…

    Ian is now my first publisher – of both my photographs and writing – in a Femme Fatale anthology which launches at this year’s Eastercon (SQUEEEEEEEE!). Just two days ago I did my first ever signing sheets and actually felt like A Proper Writer.

    still just going SQUEEEEEEEEEEE

    …still just going SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

    I also there friended Olivia Du Bois, who again I think I met on the way out of the launch, and has since become a friend without equal.

    Also a worthy adversary, quite capable of kicking my ass...

    Also a worthy adversary, quite capable of kicking my ass…

    And I was only invited to the launch because I stalked Nick himself on Facebook after briefly meeting him at one of Si Spencer’s networking SWALC events, and discovering that he used to take part in Body Combat at Esporta Swiss Cottage with the unstoppable Chi.

    So. Moral of the story: YAY FACEBOOK, making bloody brilliant connections.

    Now all Olivia and I need is for Nick to write us into his next book, so we can cosplay ourselves. Otherwise, we've said we'll cosplay him, and tweed is expensive, y'know...

    Now all Olivia and I need is for Nick to write us into his next book, so we can cosplay ourselves. Otherwise, we’ve said we’ll cosplay him, and tweed is expensive, y’know…

    …and back to the story. Rachel is as prolific on social media as I am – probably more so, for she also has complete mastery over the mystery that is Twitter. We chatted a lot over the following year or so, but I was still hugely surprised to be one of a relatively small group of friends invited to attend her wedding. At the wedding, I made friends with another friend of hers, Jess, who within a week, had found me my Tiggertron to adopt. Behold the power of Facebook…

    ...facebook thereafter being known as CatBook...

    …Facebook thereafter being known as Catbook…

    …and the point is that through Facebook, I have developed a closer long-distance friendship with Rachel than I have with friends I live in the same city with and actually see more than once a year. And about a month ago, she did something utterly ridiculous; something which proved just how powerful Facebook is, and how generous people are, and how invested we can get in each other just over the internet.

    Recently, I became very run down. The biggest fear for a self employed fitness instructor is getting an injury or illness which stops you working. You might be surprised how many injuries and illness you can teach through, if you’re bullheaded enough, and I have spent the last four years working my way down the list.

    But I got benched by a doctor, who wanted me to take a month off. I couldn’t laugh at him – I was too busy crying. Take a month off? An unplanned month off? I’d just had a month off to go back to Australia for the first time in four years because I can’t afford more regular trips. Another month?!

    Being the private, introverted soul I am, I made no mention of this told the world about it. I’d argued the doctor down to a minimum and reluctant 10-14 days off. He thought this was a bad idea but not as bad as me attempting to take just Monday and Tuesday off, because that would have made it a four day weekend, which was positive luxury, right?

    I fretted – about my body failing me, about my failing other people, about this foreign sense of helplessness, about the loss of income my failures were costing me. About the fear that I was hitting that time so many instructors reach, when the physical cost of the job grows too high while inflation never makes it to your income, and pulling back just makes the whole thing more unsustainable than it already is. And I haven’t written the three or four books most writers need to break into meagre money making and Plan B (Become a PT!) crashed and burned a year earlier. So, there kind of isn’t a Plan C.

    And in a comment on a thread on my wall, Rachel said something along the lines of ‘I bet if half your friends threw a pound or two in a kitty, we could soften that blow.’

    And I said something along the lines of ‘that is too lovely but I will survive, thank you…’

    And she went and started a crowd funding campaign and asked most – if not all of my friends – for a pound or two.

    And somehow – and I’m still not entirely sure how, but the selfless effort of one good woman and the power of Facebook definitely got it started – this happened:

    Angels exist, and they are ALL AROUND YOU.

    Angels exist, and they are ALL AROUND YOU.

    And…

    …(Adele makes incoherent noises and gestures)…

    …I just don’t even know where to start. I’ve written 1,800 words over several days trying to work out what to say at this point, and I still don’t know.

    I know I need to say a massive, heartfelt and still somewhat bamboozled THANK YOU to Rachel for taking a wild idea and taking on my Facebook friend list to ask people for a pound or two to help me take a break. Years ago, Rachel burned out way more spectacularly than I was on track for, and has kept a motherly eye on me for a few years now, whispering words of caution and concern.

    I wish that she could have had someone like her present self to act as a guardian angel in her time of need. I hope I have the chance to pay her kindness forward in time.

    I thank everyone who wrote to me, either via Funrdrazor, PM, email or text to share their stories of burn out and implore me to take action now, as they wish they had when they were in my situation.

    I thank everyone who threw in one or one hundred pounds. I cried a lot after Rachel revealed the fund to me, and as I watched as contributions kept on coming in, even after the (very generous) goal was reached. Some of the amounts stunned me. Some of my cover instructors paid me the fees they had earned for covering my classes. Some friends, who I know earn less than me on a weekly basis, threw in 2 pounds or 5 pounds – which I know is as generous from them as 10 or 20 from other incomes.

    I thank all the people who donated anonymously – I can’t tag you in this post, even though I wish I could.

    I thank Facebook for facilitating this humbling surge of love, support and generosity from my friends. From people I know well, and people I have never met, whose lives intersect with mine nonetheless and who felt moved to help me out in a time of need.

    I thank everyone involved for showing me that any situation can be turned on its head. That I can hit the wall and look up to see hands reaching down to get me back on my feet. That from bad times, beautiful things can happen. That in darkness, candles unseen in the day burn brightest.

    And I thank you, dear reader, for even being here reading my words. Fitness instructing was supposed to be Plan B while I got Plan A – write cool shit that people will pay to read – underway. The faltering of Plan B has helped me refocus on Plan A.   My last two blogs – distributed solely via Facebook of course – struck a surprising chord amongst some readers and even though blogs are not the key business of Plan Awesome, all writers want is to be read. And for being here reading, I thank you for giving me your most precious asset: your time.

    Facebook is shallow by nature, skimming the surface of lives. But in coming off it to a page like this, I thank you for giving me your attention.

    Lastly, I hope everyone will have a Rachel at some point in their life – a friend to keep an eye on you when you falter, and to lend you a hell of a leg-up when you fall.

    My guardian angel x

    My guardian angel x

    Being Human, not Batman

    2014 - 02.19

    So I have a reputation of sorts.

    Well.

    Ok. More than one. Of all sorts. But.

    One of my reputations is was for being indefuckingstructible. It’s a relatively recent reputation and has absolutely nothing to do with the appearance of pictures like this over the last few years:

    Images: David Long, Rob Gallop, Sean O'Malley

    Me? Fictionally obsessed? Surely not… (photos: David Long, Rob Gallop, Sean O’Malley)

    Then I got a bit crippled last year, which was awkward, but generally speaking, I would bend but I would not break. I would always give myself too much to do and would try to see it through, and usually mess enough of it up to be annoyed at myself but not enough to cause anyone else catastrophe. And I went to work – which is to say I taught physically expensive fitness classes – sick and injured because…well…

    go hard or go home, baby.

    Right…? Because, like, that’s what Bruce Wayne would do.

    Ok, if Bruce Wayne dedicated his life to inflicting acts of exercise on people while being a wannabe writer…

    …..

    ….

    ..

    .

    …run that by me one more time…?

    …run that by me one more time…?

    So, ok. I cannot deny it: I am not Batman. I could not be Batman. If I got hit, I would stay hit, and with a definite lack of heroic stoicism. If I stayed up all night cleaning up London’s criminal element, ran a company during the day and all the while being the world’s greatest detective, then really, not many crimes would be solved, criminals captured only by accident and KirbyCorp would have even worse finances than my own.

    Another obvious reason I surely could not be Batman is my inherently sunny disposition. I grin my way through life with almost offensively relentless cheer. Most of the time, this is completely genuine – though I have a dangerously decreasing tolerance for well-intentioned people trying to find the deep inner sadness which I amclearly covering with my usual sunny disposition. I mean seriously, I am too undamaged to even be a ‘proper’ writer, much less a vengeful superhero.

    But the real reason I really cannot possibly be Batman is that it took Bane breaking his back to put Bruce out of action…

    3

    …whereas three weeks ago I just… burnt out.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Love. Actually. Actually actually ACTUALLY.

    2014 - 01.31

    So I have some time on my hands. 

    Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say. And it hasn’t turned out quite as I planned: three month of relentlessly running myself into the ground (business as usual there of course) just crashed my romantic weekend break with an unfortunate visit to A&E -

    - now wait a damn minute – there’s another sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say.

    Romantic weekend break…

    This is someone else’s life, surely? I’ve interloped into another woman’s reality. The Adele I know never has ‘time on her hands’ and she sure as hell doesn’t do romance. In fact, she’s practically notorious for her spinsterhood. Romance would require, like, a boyfriend and a heart and everything.

    And YET.

    It seems, against all statistical and anecdotal evidence, that I do have a boyfriend. 27th January marked four months together and I still have to ask myself at least twelve or thirteen times a day: so come on Kirby, how DID this whole relationship thing happen again…?

    We didn’t even notice the 27th pass this week. We were otherwise preoccupied. Ras had a hard time getting me up. We needed to shop at the giant ASDA while we still had the hire car, so I wouldn’t have to suicide cycle home my mega-tons of fresh fruit and veg. I trailed him wearily around the supermarket and when he dropped me home, I did the only thing I could at the time: I lay on the floor and cried. He held me and talked me round, the way only he can, until smiles replaced tears. It hadn’t been the romantic weekend we were hoping for, but I cannot imagine circumstances under which I could been shown more love.

    1472737_10151951046325852_1140893854_n

    Best. Pillow. Ever.

    So. I have some time off work, therefore unexpected time on my hands, and many seriously pressing uses for that time. I have fallen inconceivably far behind on AFA, that novel just won’t write itself, dozens of books lay accusingly unread by my bed, accounts need to be filed and of course Tigger is sitting here next to me tutoring me on the absolute importance of the mid-afternoon nap.

    tigger

    Sleep, you must.

    But I am going to try to write three blogs, all recent lessons taught by Life with varying degrees of subtlety and brute force. I figure I have been forced to rest and reflect, so can process them the way I do best: through writing. One or two paragraphs may even be interesting to other people. They shall be:

    1. Love. Actually (aka ‘how I got dated’)
    2. Beautiful Lies
    3. Gratitude

    So…

    …about this love thing.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Fragile Things

    2013 - 07.14

    There are many moments from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels that resonated strongly with my teenage self. One is from World’s End, and if memory serves correctly, it took place between a master and prentice of the Necropolis Litharge. As they prepared for a funeral, the master told the prentice that it was their Duty not to let their work harden them.

    That single evocative scene – in which the prentice was faced with a lifetime of tending to the grief of others – and that one line – it is our duty not to let us harden us – had a huge impact on me. I must have been, what, fifteen?

    And the understanding I took from those few frames of a comic became the foundation of my entire novel series Lien, in which an innocent young boy, journeying through the most hardening of life experience, must find his way back to innocence once more. Lien’s character arc is a circle, not a straight line; his challenge is to not let life harden him. To retain hope in despair, to always carry light into darkness. 

    It’s a philosophy I try to live by myself, but let’s be fair: you’d have to look long and hard and even then have an imagination prone to flights of tragic fantasy to find much darkness in my life.

    Fortunately I have such an imagination, and put it to good use in the writing of fiction. Friends and family have joked that I am no way near screwed up enough to have the mental and emotional gearing of a good writer. But I try very hard not to get screwed up by things. I’m very aware that while we have less control over what happens to us, we are entirely responsible for what subsequently happens within us. 

    So…I put a pretty strong handbrake on some Life Stuff, to keep on an even keel – some of it consciously, much of it unconsciously. We all put shit in boxes in our heads, we just have different shit and different boxes. Symptoms of this manifest in various ways. I spent the weekend discovering how some of mine manifests through movement. 

    Let me wind back a moment. When I was a much younger, I loved the idea of the metaphysical world, but aside from my friend Harmony’s dad, and a friend who’d gone a little to far, a little too deep, and built a damn solid box around it, I didn’t know anyone who could guide or encourage me. There was certainly nothing of the esoteric in my home life or close friendship group.

    Again: fiction to the rescue, for through books and later telly and films, I could both imagine and express the idea of deep inner personal power and a universal connectivity. I suppose Lien, with its books loosely themed on his progression through the chakras, is my way of exploring this realm.

    So from years back, I have An Interest, but no real-life application, for spiritual practice. And so when I was looking for sword courses in London, and came across a school based on Eastern spiritual practice, despite with my many over-commitments and the protests of both the budget and Diary of Doom, I signed up immediately for an intro course. And that’s been this weekend: an introduction to Tanren training with John Evans of Battodo Fudokan.

    John Evans

    Tanren is an eastern form of conditioning-training – tan meaning ‘forge, discipline, train’ and ren meaning ‘refine, drill, polish’, and forms the foundation of John’s sword work. In preparation, I’ve been reading (and recommend) John’s book Kurikara: The Sword and the Serpent, which constituted a couple of hours of mental checklisting me, me, that’s me, oh bugger that’s me too in the general faults John identifies as inhibiting physical and spiritual development and performance.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Meditation through Movement

    2013 - 06.10

    I am not what you would consider a person naturally predisposed to meditation.

    It requires being still. It requires being calm. It requires being clear-minded.

    Most difficult of all, it requires the application of some serious mono-tasking – a nightmare to someone who has just been doing therapy stretches while eating lunch while listening to a podcast on swordsmanship and spirituality while also having a conversation on Facebook, all while running through the idea of this blog in my head.

    WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN DO ONLY ONE THING AT A TIME?

    And so, despite my zen-guru Hollie’s many attempts to help me employ mindfulness techniques into daily life, apply focus and practice meditation, for better or for worse, I remain as ballistic as ever.

    In the newly immortal words of Jackie Chan as Mr Miyagi, my focus needs more focus.

    And then I have this amazing riding experience on the weekend with my new equestrian Jedi Master, Dylan Jones of Dolbadran Film Horses, where he pretty much Mr Miyagi’s me. I’m pretty sure he mentioned focus more than once. I’d know for sure, if I only had more of it.

    So that’s on my mind, and both getting-and-staying asleep is a drag, and then Mike Fitch, creator of Equinox’s Animal Flow program, and of whom I am an avid disciple, posts this video last night: slow flow.

    And I’m in bed way past bedtime but watching it anyway – while having two Facebook PM conversations at the same time – and I’m thinking: that looks like meditation to me.

    Mediation through movement.

    I have a feeling, like I’m on the cusp of something. In his feedback on my last video, Mike told me ‘your body will know where to go.’ If that’s the case, then I don’t give it anywhere enough credit because I’m always doing the telling and I ain’t ever doing the listening.

    So after teaching this afternoon, I put on some of my favourite music from Body Balance – the tai chi and yoga tracks, all emotive and expressive and slow - and I start to…listen. I start to flow.

    AN HOUR FLOWS BY.

    Say what?!

    I was thinking 30 mins max – I’m busy! I’ve just flogged myself in cycle and combat, I’m tired! My To Do List is a thing of terror and this blog isn’t even on it!

    But this hour just goes by and I’m all calm and focussed and stuff. I’m listening to my body, and it’s talking back. It’s a bit lost, but it’s loving not being thrashed by all the high impact, cardio and resistance training I assault it with daily.

    I have, in fact, just been in the closest thing I’ve probably ever experienced to a willingly meditative state.

    This is sort of where I got up to – I handstand all the time, in fairly average fashion. It’s a lot harder from here, and this is what my body wanted to go – into a sort of animal flow/hand balancing fusion. I am, in this film, surreally relaxed and focussed.

    This will get better. But this is a new – and thoroughly enjoyable – place to be. I may not be ready for meditation sitting still with my eyes closed, but I am right up for meditative practice through movement.

    If there’s some kind of movement you like to do, I suggest trying it without your head in the driver’s seat. Find a space, find some music that you connect to, and just…flow. Listen. Be. I’m a big fan of Nike’s Just Do It, but now I’m starting to think there should be a new slogan: Just Feel It.

    …to be continued…