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    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

    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.

    (more…)

    Behind the Magic: Shooting Sparks


    2012 - 08.04

    Or: behind the scenes shooting at Utopia Forge with Carolyne Jackson Photography

    Photo: Carolyne Jackson Photography

    I’ve been threatening to blog about some of my shoots for some time now, partly because I feel the need to try to justify them in the first place (beyond ‘but…but…they’re FUN!’ and we all know my attitude to life, which starts with Fun and hopefully ends there also), partly because photography is a fascinating art and mostly because they’re FUN. Oh and let’s not forget that I am the pin-up for Early Senility and there are some things one simply shouldn’t ever forget.

    Get dressed. Have hair and makeup done. Realise I’ve forgotten to get pumped up. What’s a girl to do? Push press with a stupidly heavy lump of metal, of course…

    Therefore I shall constructively procrastinate over blogging a few of Life’s Big Bastard Questions with, instead, a little Behind the Scenes of a Photoshoot blog. Or in the case of my shoots, Behind the Magic because let’s face it: even my nearest and dearest would never have imagined a girl so infamously awkward, fashion-stricken and determinedly tomboy to…you know…model and stuff. (more…)

    Taking the 48Hr Challenge


    2012 - 05.05

    >> post originally written for and posted on Chris Jones’ blog

    I’ve been going to the SF London Film Fest a few years now, and annually considered the people who undertook the 48Hr Film Challenge to be a pack of loons. Having now completed it, I can safely confirm this as truth.

    I’m a novice writerly sort myself; this whole film-making business is something I considered better left to people better qualified. But after watching a couple of the 2011 shortlisted films at the SFX Weekender in February, I had an itch. I also had a twitter account and predilection for enthusiastic tweetage.

    By the close of the Guerrilla Film Masterclass a few weeks later, I accidentally had a huge team of very awesome (and far more qualified) people wanting to do this thing. I accordingly called them Team Awesome and we got started.

    How awesome? THIS awesome.

    Let it be said: Team Awesome was absolutely a team affair, as was always my intention.  I didn’t assemble a group to carry out my particular vision; I assembled a team to produce a film in which we could all claim creative ownership. Mission Objective 1 was obviously to complete and submit a great film; Mission Objective 2 was to have a damn good time doing it and build creative partnerships that would far outlast the key 48 hours. In this, we absolutely succeeded, with a hugely enjoyable shoot and plans already afoot for further films.

    We were a team of 19 in the end, 18 of us innocent 48Hr virgins. Veteran Edward McLeod Jones bought invaluable advice on workflow, which got us across the line within time, and that was despite set-backs in post.

    Whatever the competition rules on “preproduction”, PREPARATION is absolutely key to these events. I’ll first explain our preparation; then you can then see the film and I’ll explain our reflective conclusions. As first-timers, the learning curve was MAHOOOSIVE.

    Much like Alex’s… gun…

    (more…)

    Life’s too short not to be Leia: SFX Weekender 3


    2012 - 02.09

    This may require some explanation

    If the geeks do inherit the earth, rejoice my friends, because they know how to throw a damn good party.

    Now since arriving on the fair shores of Albion I’ve been no stranger to the writing, film, TV and comics fan scene, and there is photographic evidence of me prancing around in a wannabe Xena/Angua outfit at Discworld events. But I am telling you true, ain’t nothing I’ve seen could have prepared me for geektasm of an SFX Weekender. Or a Pontins Holiday Park, for that matter.

    Am I talking Swahili? Never heard the word geektasm? Fair enough, I probably made that one up. Put it this way: SFX Magazine hosts an annual Weekender consisting of talks, panels, screenings, merchandise trading, cosplay (costume play, aka legitimate dress-up for adults and yes, that is no euphemism), excessive alcohol, extraordinarily bad food and very little sleep. Walking into the bar at such an event is likely to look like this:

    Drinks, ladies?

    An SFX Weekender is a place where you can run into any character from the varied realms of SF, Fantasy and Horror and the people who created or bought them to life. Where you can be groped by Chewbacca in the bar, run into Paul Cornell in the cafeteria and hear Brian Blessed sing O Sole Mia ala Pavarotti (from about three miles away).

    OH, THE TRAUMA

    It is therefore, in short, strange, surreal and very special.

    (more…)

    Schedule of Awesome (and the C word)


    2011 - 05.17

    Let’s be honest about this: I am hardly the most qualified person to manage my own life. I’m overly curious, endlessly interested, easily excitable, more easily distractible. Is ‘distractible’ a word? ‘Distractable?’ Whatever. You know what I mean. Attention span of a –

    – where was I?

    Oh, life management. Fortunately, while we may not always have what we want (ie the unflagging ability to self-manage), life does often seem to make sure we have what we need.

    For the Doctor Who fans amongst us… Doctor vs Tardis, Neil Gaiman-style

    Like friends who will wade in when required, roll up sleeves and call us to task. I am blessed with a few of these. They are like a living arsenal to which I can turn when in need, and right now, my secret weapon is The Mann. Hollie Mann.

    Thus far, 2011 has been a perfect example of the old adage it never rains, but dammit it can pour – it’s been the Year of Open Doors. And I’m the first to be grateful. But you must bear in mind that I run to an open door like the Doctor to a terrified scream and so have merrily charged through so many – without thinking to leave myself a trail of string or crumbs by which to find my way home – that I found myself well and truly lost.

    And right there and then is where you need a Hollie to say: “You’re not coping, are you?”

    Adele (thumbing through an ink-black diary, while on mobile, while on facebook, while answering an email, while listening to new choreo): “Whatever gave it away?”

    And that’s where you need a Hollie to say: “Ok. So let’s do something about it.”

    Now in my (admittedly inadequate) defence, I was trying to be awesome. We always try to do as we know best for any given situation, right? Who ever sets out to make a mess of life, the universe and everything? But if we’re trying… and we’re failing… there’s only thing left for it.

    That’s right. It’s the big C word. Run for the hills, while you still can.

    For creatures who are so adaptable, it’s amazing what we humans will do not to change. There’s another wise saying that goes something along the lines of ‘The difference between real people people and fictional characters is that characters change.’ It’s true, right? Great story telling is always abut transformation. Or, in rare and priceless cases, like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, about characters who refuse to change, and these are inevitably tragic figures.

    Sandman: “The King of Dreams learns that he must change or die, and makes his choice.”

    (more…)

    Writing without a recipe


    2011 - 03.03

    Recipe? Moi?

    Amongst those many people I have lived with, my cooking habits approach the notorious. Alarmingly, these habits have changed very little; Poppy, my best friend through my early teens, once fell victim to my favourite culinary past-time of throwing everything to hand in a blender, a habit I still carry out to this day, the only difference being that I now control what’s in the cupboard and because I dislike shopping even more than I dislike cooking, there are less things to hand to poison oneself and ones friends with.


    It’s a method of cooking I blame my father for. He never followed a recipe if didn’t have to, or even when he did, he considered it a loose guide, like a series of suggestions just waiting to be improved upon. Why make the same boring thing as everyone else when you could make something UNIQUE?!

    What happens when people meet my cooking

    Consequently my attitude towards the kitchen tends to turn out things accurately described as ‘slop’, of which I make and freeze a weekly batch because the idea of preparing food every day literally reduces me to tears. Consequently, the kinds of slop I produce involve a lot of the right ingredients, but combined with no art, no care, no regard for valid rules of culinary practice and so are palatable to myself (with my extremely low standards) only.

    Now thanks to last week’s re-education by Kristen Lamb I spent yesterday under the tuition of Messieurs Gladwin, Snyder and Vogel, taking their respective story beats and laying them down in the context of my book. What I was relieved to discover what that I had most of the right ingredients, just not in the right order and often in flagrant disregard to the valid rules of dramatic practice.

    What I was embarrassed entertained to later realise, determinedly pushing pedals up the royal road with knackered legs that protested every revolution, was that I wrote the first draft of The Sinless Sword with exactly the same technique I approach cooking: taking all the ingredients to hand, throwing them together, and hoping for the best. This yielded the same result as my infamous slop: something made of all the right ingredients, yet palatable only to myself. And right now, that is so freaking obvious.

    Laying out the beats of the book is like running a MOT on the story: checking all the elements are present, accounted for and doing the right thing at the right time, which is where I’ve been failing before.  Previous versions of chapters thrust upon helpful friends have come back with comments generally praising the writing, but absolutely baffled about the story itself. This week, I’ve had two readers actually ‘get’ the book.

    Progress!

    Structure is now officially my bitch. Not my prison, not a generic cookie-cutter that’s going to give me an unoriginal book you’ve read a thousand times before, but a framework that’s going to strengthen my story and allow it to fulfil its promise. If you think I’m slavishly converted here, read this from Kristen about why you are wrong. There are exceptions to all rules, but know the rules first.

    And please don’t think I’ve never looked at it before now with my scripts – I’ve long been a convert to the basic elements. But between the work of Phil Gladwin, Blake Snyder and Christopher Vogler’s translation of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, I now have 10 pages of outline beaten out with logic, pace and most importantly (at least, I sincerely hope…) resonance. My idea for the end of the book wasn’t translating through my first draft; like the magical taste that makes a dish, it was lost in clumsy, unbalanced chaos of the other ingredients. I have so much work to do from this point, but I am unbelievably excited about doing it because now I’m pretty damn sure the book will work. There are still numerous ways I can screw it up, but it’s now shaping up an awful lot closer to something people will want to read than it was last week.

    [however for my nearest and dearest who might hope this means a transformation in my culinary arts, I’ll just point out that writing to structure is hugely time consuming and I am still the laziest person on the planet when it comes to meals, therefore I fully intend to devote all available time to the book and allow shortcuts to remain in the kitchen…!]

    Awesome references:

    Kristen Lamb’s Warrior Writers Blog

    Phil Gladwin’s Screenwriting Goldmine (available hard copy or electronically incl audio)

    Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Strikes Back

    Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

    Smug Mode


    2009 - 10.23

    Though truth be told, I should be less smug than utterly ashamed. I am constantly amazed at how blind the creative process can be – or perhaps it is only me who suffers from this affliction.

    You see it goes something like this: you’re working on story, right. And you think you know your shit. You think you know what’s going on, that you’re in the drivers’ seat. And then someone asks you something extremely simple and blatantly obvious – and you’re totally flummoxed. For me, this catastrophic questions tends to be: so what’s it actually about, then?

    If you’ve seen some of the earlier entries, neither of us is suffering an unexpected bout of déjà vu – I’m just having a creative Groundhog Day. Having ummmmed and ahhhhhed and ripped up and re-laid down the bones of Sieren & Rael/Sienna & Arial (jury is still hung on this small matter of names) over the last fortnight, I had a similarly illuminating confrontation with Lien today.

    What I’d written on the tab page above was utter rubbish. It was a Why, not an About. I knew it needed changing, but was highly reticent about actually sitting down to properly tell you, dear reader, what those 8(ish) books are about. And that’s because, somewhere along the imagination highway, I’d kind of forgotten.

    Fortunately a fruitless ummmming and ahhhhhing session in the cafe this afternoon, followed by a brisk walk home in the chill autumn air, turned about to be exactly the right ingredients. All the confusion and plots and strands and themes joined to make an alchemical concoction… which went something like this:

    (more…)

    hurrah!


    2009 - 02.14

    Delly Belly has a website!

    Now that the first miracle of making said website is achieved, I’d better get cracking with some content to stock it with.

    Bring It On.