Keeping Our Peckers up, day 9 self-shielding 26/3/2020

Well it’s all changed in our house. Yesterday, I went down the kitchen at the crack of sparrows to avoid contact with my still office-working family (and to disinfect all the surfaces in the kitchen) and couldn’t fail to notice two computer screens, two stacks and loads and loads of wires on the kitchen table. George’s work had sorted out home working for him then. Later, once he’d got up, George confirmed this (I came down the garden for a second time from my hobbity isolation to get the deets and stood at a safe distance talking to the kids from outside the back door). The new arrangements are as follows:

George is working from home as of today (he had yesterday off to get set up)

Paulina is not working at all but on hiatus and in receipt of the government organised 80% wages for staff/employees who are on PAYE

Also yesterday Harry emerged from the doldrums where he’d been for days, sleeping in late and harrumphing round the house in desultory disbelief at the solitary, no-mate situation he found himself in

Nick is still working on the website he’s launched in response to the Covid-19 crisis. He was so outraged at lack of info and action and the mixed messages we were getting form everywhere, when things first kicked off, he started building a sort of webpage of shared information where people can log experiences, thoughts, findings, data on a local and global basis. It went live yesterday but it’s not pretty or very user friendly at the moment I’ll post a link on my next blog in case anyone wants a look once its a bit more polished.

I now have an Alexa device thang in the Hobbit Hole which Nick installed the day before yesterday so I can be contacted at all times and I can contact the house. To ‘dial’ them I have to say – Alexa, call kitchen/study/all devices. I really dislike the tone I have have to adopt addressing Alexa. If my mum had heard me speaking like that to someone, with no pleases and thankyous I’d have been on the naughty step, or worse – leg-flicked with a wet pot cloth (her ultimate sanction.) I’m resolved to say please and thankyou to poor old Alexa whether-or-not it confuses her. And today I shall be busying myself seeing if she has a male-voice setting. It makes me feel very uncomfortable barking clipped orders at always female-gendered electrical ‘servants.’

Anyhoo as part of Harry getting himself over the first wave of shock of having to stay in for the first time in his life and being separated from his lovely girlfriend from Uni who is at her home in Leeds, he set up a sort of home gym, up the garden, outside the hobbit house. Harry’s mental health and well being very much depends on his rigorous gym routine. He does deadlifting and works out everyday in more normal times, so I was all in favour of him doing this. Unfortunately we have no gym equipment except some teeny weights and a skipping rope, so he improvised with stuff from up the garden and in the shed vis a vis, a jemmy, a jack hammer, a huge mallet, a tyre and two enormous rocks. Here’s a picture of some stuff he came up with and a link to wee video of him weightlifting. (sorry about the cobwebs on the window). https://www.facebook.com/jankaneen/videos/3113054502118428/

I actually feel really proud of him for doing this (though I actually peed a little bit laughing silently from inside the hobbit-hole as I watched him gather the motley assortment). When he was done I asked him if he wanted to warm down by joining me in my online Tai Chi (at a safe distance of course), but he said it wasn’t his cup of Tai Chi which really made me smile.

In terms of my own mental health and well-being, this blog is really helping as is a wonderful idea by the lovely Hannah Storm who’s started a Twitter thang called #flashfamily where-in the lovely Flash Fiction writing community record themselves reading a micro-fiction, or longer flash or extract from a longer story and post themselves reading it. I found hearing the voices of on-line friends with whom I usually only interloculate in the Twittersphere really uplifting. The stories are just wonderful and hearing them read by the voices of the people who wrote them and seeing their faces strangely moving. Thanks so much lovely @HannahStorm for thinking of it. If you’d like to access these readings, just go to Twitter and tap into the search box #flashfamily, and up they’ll come. Here’s my attempt which you can access with one click, https://twitter.com/JanKaneen1/status/1242789960740200449 Here’s a link to my fave so far, read and written by Donna Greenwood, my cyber friend who I’ve never met in the flesh but who I count as a genuine friend because of her supportive and joyful on-line presence. She is such a wonderful and talented writer, (and it now turns out reader) but don’t take my word for it. Here she is. https://twitter.com/DonnaLouise67/status/1242859339427336195

Also, mental health wise, I’ve been looking at some photos I took three weeks BC (Before Coronavirus) when me and Boo went to the seaside in Llan-on in wales. Looking back at the wild outdoors and snuggly indoors really cheers me up so I thought I’d share some here in case they cheer anyone else up who chances past this page.

So that’s where we are in our house then. All home for the foreseeable. Very much like the general population who aren’t key workers I suppose, and it feels better knowing that they’re home rather than braving the outside. Today the big news in the outside world should be the government announcing measures to help self-employed people in the same way they helped employees. I’m keeping my fingers crossed these measures bring relief to the many freelance and self-employed friends and family who are struggling so badly at this worrying and frightening time. As I write this, Zoe Ball’s program is playing on Radio 2, and the news just came on saying that Dyson are going to build 10 000 ventilators to help treat people suffering from complications of covid-19. Hope they get them built in time! It also said that over half a million people have responded to the govt’s call for volunteers to help in the crisis which really makes me think we’re not all a bunch of selfish, stock-piling shit-wits after all. Though I knew that all along its good to see the proof. Stay safe peeps and do whatever you have to to keep your peckers up – within new legal perameters of course.

Ten things I have learned in a week of self shielding 24/3/2020

Last night the prime minister did a broadcast telling us all to stay indoors except for shopping, exercise (once a day) and essential work. As no-one is clear what essential work is and as no-one wants to get sacked from their first ever jobs, George and Paulina are still going to work in their respective offices which are still very much open for business. The rest of the family, me Nick and Harry are staying indoors in various places .

Harry came home from uni last Friday as they closed it down for the foreseeable. His first year as a biomedical sciences student ended abruptly and without warning. There will be no exams and the year will be marked by assessments which he continues to work on. Loads of his possessions are still in his halls as he planned to go back next week and pick them up and see his girlfriend, but with this new lock down in action he wont be able to. I feel so sorry for him, having to stay in like billy no mates at the age of nineteen. I was chatting online with one of my friends last night who I met when we were at uni together at a similar age, and she said how it would have killed her to be socially distanced at nineteen. I thought back and agreed whole-heatedly. Social distancing doesn’t bother me now but teenagers are such herd creatures. Still – metaphorical death is not the same as actual death and since that’s what Harry risks by going out, both for himself and others, he’s is mostly (except for running round the village by way of exercise) staying in.

I’ve now been shielding myself up in my writing shed for a week, so yesterday’s announcement didn’t change anything for me and I’m starting to get used to this new normal. Mother’s day was weird though. Nice pressies but no dinner together and no visiting. George bought me a pair of harem pants that fit perfectly and which I’m wearing now and Harry bought me a bottle of gin. I had one last night even though it was a school night (well a night formerly known as a school night so that’s all right then) and fell asleep quite easily. When I first started sleeping up here the night noises made me jittery and jumpy but now I quite like them and its been so cold and clear I’ve been doing a bit of star gazing before I drop off

On the writing front I’ve started two new extremely weird flash fictions which have allowed me to channel my disquiet into something positive. I’m planning to sub them to Molotov Cocktail and Reflex Fiction.

In a world BC (before coronavirus), I wrote a blog detailing some good writing news that I couldn’t divulge which I said I’d mention in the next blog and then didn’t because of – well the pandemic so here it is…I’ve been shortlisted for the Dinesh Allirajah Prize at Comma Press! The winner was going to be announced at a ceremony at The Northern Short Story Festival where we were all to read an extract from our stories at a theatre in Leeds on May 30th but as that’s been cancelled, it’ll now be done on-line instead. So watch this space! Here’s the link to the announcement https://www.facebook.com/commapressmcr/photos/a.1583467751889275/2613135238922516/?type=3&theater and (above) the photo that went with it.

Also good news writing wise is this – the publication of Ellipsis 7 in which I have a sad and strange wee story. If you’d like to buy a copy you can do so by following this link http://www.ellipsiszine.com/seven/

Right – back to where I started, at the top of this blog – things I have learned from my first week self shielding

1) I was very lucky to have gone to Sweden earlier this year and the memories have been wonderful to linger over

2) You are never alone with pets, even in the teeniest space

3) Social media is brilliant

4) The writing community is brilliant

5) Writing is the best therapy for me even in the darkest of times

6) On-line Tai Chi is the way forward

7) I am super fortunate to live where I do and know the people I know

8) March is not a warm month

9) I am so weird it shows even in my candles (observe phantom hand that melted into existence the night before last)

10) This pandemic will come to an end one day. Its just a matter of battening down our hatches and staying in and safe. We can do this people.

23/3 Self-shielding

I wrote the blog entry blow last week when I first moved into the hobbit hole (my writing shed) five days ago, but due to technical problems (both digital and human) it didn’t load properly so I’m posting it now by way of backstory so I can continue charting what its like being in proper isolation during these weird, weird times. As I now have more time on my hands I plan to blog more, by way of therapy as much as anything.

Day (and Night) One – 18/3/2020 – Dreaming of Hilary Mantel

Me and my nine year-old pug, Booboo went into a sort of isolation last night up our garden in my writing shed (also known as the hobbit hole). The reason for this in-house isolation is that I’m a chronic asthmatic with a dodgy immune system and so am vulnerable to covid-19. As I live at home with my husband and twenty-year-old son George and his partner Paulina, and as both the young folks are still working in offices full time (for now) in the virus riddled outside,  I have adapted the hobbit hole so I can live in it, virus-free, for the foreseeable. It’s not just to keep me safe though. If (when) the young people and my husband come down with the virus I will be able to keep the house running, do the shopping, make sure the ill have all the necessaries, take the bins out etc and help my near friends and neighbours and elderly relies without actually coming into contact with them, by doing their shopping too.

As I write this I’ve got the radio on and its saying that London is a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of the UK virus wise and that the NHS is already seriously feeling the strain there. It also says that the Govt aren’t going to stop people leaving the city, hoping to rely on people doing the right thing (whatever the right thing is.) I really hope people do start behaving more responsibly. Last week I was ill with a non-covid tummy bug which George and Paulina had the week before, so on Monday I realised we’d run out of paracetamol. I went out early yesterday morning to buy some and after going to the village shop, then the adjoining village shop, then the local Tesco then our local Morrison’s, there was not a single paracetamol to be had (or eggs, or pasta or loo roll).  Came home and tried to do an internet shop. The Ocado site was in total meltdown and unusable so I went to Morrisons and managed to book a delivery for 3rd April. I know panic buying is often caused by anxiety but people really do just need to buy what they need and not stock pile. I’ll try to get paracetamol again when I go out later… and gin I think! Here’s a link from a blog page from someone living in Italy which details what she wished she’d done before they went into total lockdown. Maybe we can learn some lessons? https://www.insider.com/coronavirus-italian-mom-and-these-are-the-mistakes-we-made-2020-3?amp&fbclid=IwAR0YMlWFWuVM-TFFfhC5cwEUHZB_bjUiHOGF0YCFqf-e5vm0sZApdP9KQ9E&__twitter_impression=true

The radio just said there will be no exams this year, no GCSEs or A levels which more than anything drives home to me how this pandemic is changing normality – way more than the FTSE plummeting, the shops being empty,  the grounded aeroplanes and shutdown European cities. The world today, one without A levels and GCSEs feels like a totally different place. I’m trying to look on the bright side though. That’s why I’m starting this blog which aims to document how we manage to keep things normal, or make a new normal in the face of changes. I began creative writing 5 years ago as a sort of therapy for anxiety and grief so writing this blog is a sort of self help too. As part of my creative writing journey I did an MA delivered online by the Open Uni, so I know that delivering education and testing knowledge doesn’t need to happen in classrooms. Maybe its time to make some educational changes to help us through this so the kids don’t lose out entirely. And Brightside wise, staying put both locally and globally will defo help the planet. It’ll reduce carbon emissions no end and halt climate change which may well end up saving gazillions of lives in the long term.

Anyhoo, getting back to last night – I didn’t sleep very well at all up here in Hobbit-land. It was all so weird and noisy.  I decided to listen to The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel on Audible. I’d downloaded it just before I got the tummy bug and had played it on and off as I tossed and turned in feverish half-dreamland when I was poorly. As I’d been too ill to follow the plot, I decided to start again last night and dozed off to it by way of not listening to the jack-booted wildlife partying all night long up our garden. My broken, shallow sleep was full of strange Tudor-related dreams and imagery – headless strangers and threads of story when everyone I met morphed into Hilary Mantel – my husband on a park bench on a wintery snow covered walk changing into her mid conversation; my dead step-mum morphing into her on a picnic chair in a layby in 1970s July; a stone garden sculpture of a Roman goddess morphing into her as she foretold how to create a better, non-pandemic future which I forgot the moment I woke up. If I was a sensible person I’d listen to something a little more floofy tonight but I’m not going to. I’m going to start from the beginning again, hold on tight and see what happens. No prizes for anyone who spotted the all-too obvious metaphor there.  Right this pug won’t walk herself and I have gin to source.

So many stories 26/2/2020

I’ve had a cracking start to 2020 both writing and non-writing wise. I’ve visited friends and family in Bolton and attended a very cool concert in Manc with them, celebrated my birthday with a cake in the shape of an open book that had one of my flash fictions (in icing) on the open pages, been on my first ever writing retreat which was totally wonderful, visited Arctic Sweden to spend a night in the Ice Hotel and see the Northern Lights – and we SAW them, met one of my best feedback writing buddies Gaynor Jones who I’d hither-to never met in real life, celebrated my son’s 21st birthday and won a really cool flash competition. Here’s a montage of pics of the above which I’ve really enjoyed uploading as a sort of quick jaunt down very recent-memory lane.

 

Pure writing wise things have been going really well. One of my flashes was chosen by the lovely Laura Black for Fictive Dream’s Flash February. It was published 24/2/2020 and was accompanied by a wonderful piece of artwork by the uber-talented  Claudia McGill who did a different piece of artwork for every story and which the writers get to keep (the one for their particular flash). This whole experience with Fictive Dream has been exactly that – a joyous dream. Here’s the link to both flash and artwork. https://fictivedream.com/2020/02/24/the-never-ending-story/ 

Also one of my stories was selected for Ellipsis 7 which will be out in print by the end of the month and I came 4th in Flash Frenzy, Molotov Cocktail’s most recent competition. Here’s the link to that story https://themolotovcocktail.com/vol-10/flash-frenzy/eternity-ring/

And finally, as aforementioned, I WON Flash 500 this time. Which I was soooo chuffed about. Here’s the link to both the judges comments and my story. I’m so grateful to Ingrid the judge for placing me first because the other  winning stories were just brilliant. http://www.flash500.com/index_files/winfq19.html

and http://www.flash500.com/index_files/fqfp19.html

And finally….finally… here’s a pic of the northern lights, darker than in real life but they are very hard to capture. Seeing them was truly amazingly strange and timeless. As they flickered and plumed above us in the snow-covered forest, I tnorthern lightshought of all the people who’d seen them before me, before anyone knew the science, and I felt such a strong connection. Going to write a story about it one day, but not now because after this week I’m going to stop writing flash and focus on my long-form-thing-that’s-not-a-novel. Feedback from the peeps at the Writing Retreat was that I need to get it written so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. No more flashing until I have a first draft!

And finally…finally…finally…I had some more really good writing news which I can’t share yet because I’m sworn to secrecy. Will blog about it as soon as I’m given the okay.

 

 

 

Writing Reminiscences December 18th

And so it’s almost Christmas, and what have I done writing wise?  I ask because loads of my Twitter writing pals have been summarising their writing year in terms of  submissions made and the resulting rejections and acceptances. I’m truly in awe of the productivity of some of them, many of whom where aiming to make 100 subs or more in a twelve month period. I decided to tot up my own subs this year to see how I did quantity and quality wise. I subbed (and this might not be entirely accurate as I may well have forgotten the odd one) 47 times to both mags and comps, though mostly comps. The subs were for flash fictions, short stories, a memoir-in-flash and a novel first chapter comp. I was longlisted 4 times including the Bath Short Story comp and Retreat West’s First Chapter competition, short-listed 7 times including Writers HQ and Micro Madness, came 10th once (in Molotov Flash Monster), 4th once (in Sixfold’s winter short story comp – more of that later) and came second three times, in Molotov Wild Flash Competition, Retreat West’s Water themed competition and Ellipsis Magazine’s, flash collection/novella competition. My stories were published 10 times and my memoir-in-flash will be published by Retreat West Books in 2021. I also received one nomination for best micro 2019 from Flash Flood and there are three not yet judged. Not bad I reckon. I’m obviously not prolific in terms of mag subs but what I have subbed to comps has usually done okay eventually. What the figures don’t show though is that of the 47 subs, I’ve often subbed the same story maybe three times to different places. Quite often a story that is listed in one place isn’t in another which gives me a lot of heart because it shows how very subjective reading and judging can be.

That’s why I was so very pleased to come 4th in this winter’s Sixfold competition because its not judged by the few, but the many – by all participants – who rank 6 stories at a time in order of preference and give feedback too about what they felt worked and didn’t story-wise. The highest scoring stories go into round 2. The highest in round 2,  go into the final round and the top 20 are published (subject to writer consent. You don’t have to if you don’t want, and as only the first place writer wins a cash prize, I’ve opted not to.) This time around 250 people entered and as I made it through to the final round I received loads of brilliant feedback much of which said the same thing. As a result, I’ve decided to improve the story in line with the comments received and enter it into comps next year to see how it does. This is the first time I’ve turned down an offer of publication, but the nature of this comp with its expert critiques and the positivity it made me feel about my story (which I wasn’t all that sure about before) and also that it allows you to opt in or out and to remain anonymous and/or not name your story if you choose not to, (as you can see from the results above) really makes me want to see how the story can do out in the world of more conventional comps. I’ve really enjoyed engaging with this comp. It costs $5 and is worth every penny even if you don’t win the $1000 prize. Having said that I think it would be better if the money was divvied up a bit more – so second and third at least are rewarded with cash too. Like at Retreat West. Here’s my running-up watery flash from there which was published a couple of weeks ago. https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/the-fairytale-ending-by-jan-kaneen/

I feel I had an real advantage theme-wise in this comp. The first pic in this blog is the view today from my cottage. I live on the edge of a flood plain opposite a changeable river, so water and what it’s up to is a real part of my life.

Anyhoo – another thing I’m really proud of this year is all the feedback I’ve been involved with. I’ve read 100s of stories and flashes in various different feedback groups and have learned soooo much from what I’ve read by others and also from the feedback I’ve received in return. Thanks to everyone who I’ve shared with this year – you know who you are. Also I’ve loved meeting cyber writing friends in real life this year and hope to meet more in 2020. Happy holidays peeps of cyberspace – hope you get the chance to do whatever makes you happiest with the people you love most over the seasonal break.

Thresholds and Samhain 31st October

I was up at the crack of sparrows today to finish off all my preservations for the winter. I’ve done vats of green tomato chutney due to the tomato plants blowing over in the wind last week, then popping their fecund clogs without ripening. I’ve also done vats of quince jelly which is, if I say so myself, the best I’ve  ever made. Not due to my skill, I fear, as I do everything recipes say not to. Never- the-less, perfectly clear, rose-red, tart- but-sweet jelly has resulted. Must be the magic of the day that is Samhain. I’ve also bagged up my rosemary sachets from sheaves of rosemary that I cut from the garden in summer. I bought tincture of rosemary on-line to boost the aroma but when it came to take the little blue petals off the dry stems, the smell was so intense, I didn’t need it. I love the idea of doing this wee job (making lavender bags) on Samhain, the ancient festival of thresholds.  The rosemary seems like an emblem of beginnings and ends and transformations. Once sappy and sunshiny and vibrant blue the day I picked and hung it, now it’s desiccated and more muted colour-wise, but the scent has increased tenfold at least, and it will make lovely presents now I’ve bagged it in teeny pieces of muslin. I’m going to give them as presents to friends and family come the holiday season. There we are present, past and future all in one teeny bag. Here’s photos of the lovely lavender and me with my face in a huge bowl of it. Wish this blog did aroma-vision because it smelt like heaven.

On the writing front, there are couple of my weird/scary/dark stories floating round the ether today. One at Ellipsis called Where Shadow Meets Shade here https://www.ellipsiszine.com/where-shadow-meets-shade-by-jan-kaneen/

and one at Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Monster Edition called Climate Change here https://themolotovcocktail.com/vol-10/flash-monster-2019/climate-change/

Have a read if your feeling Halloweeny. Hope everyone has as spooky a time as makes them happy on this day of fire and darkness.

30th September And so it Continues

The summer’s well and truly over if the weather and chilly couple of nights are anything to go by. Time, I think, to put the craziness of summer in a box marked the past and  start writing again. Its been the best and worst of times this summer – here are some pics of the wonderful things I did, which feel like a lifetime ago since the scary crazy Brexit-driven mayhem that’s been taking place in Westminster over recent weeks. As you can see from the hotchpotch of photos, this summer I have: greeted my new grandchild, cropped my garden veggies and preserved them for the winter,  travelled to Iceland for a jolly, travelled to Gdansk to see family, attended my youngest sons last ever school event, and been gifted a beautiful painting by uber-talented and lovely human being FE Clarke for a wee bit of feedback I gave her after signing my book deal by way of thanking the world for my good fortune.  There was loads more too for which I have no pictorial support: helping my youngest son get off to Uni, my oldest son sell his house whilst he’s making a new home in Poland, learning soooo much stuff from sooo many writers at the Flash Festival  yadder, yadder yadder. I could bang on for (p)ages. But why are you saying all this I hear you cry? What this got to do with anything writerly? My point is that there’s so much to get in the way of writing: people, places, work, the scary, scary world beyond our control, but eventually time and space always come round and there’s time/headspace to get creative.  I love writing. More than love it. Its necessary for my mental health and well-being. So it feels like coming home when I look at the rain lashing the window and the leaves turning all the colours of autumn, and the house newly empty of teenagers because they’ve all tickled off to  new adventures, till Christmas at least, and for the first time in forever I actually have real space and time to put writing into the foreground. It feels like a gift and a privilege to be able to do so…so let the writing re-commence.

PS I was lucky enough to come second in the brilliant Molotov Wild Flash comp last month. Here’s my weirdest story ever if you fancy a read.

https://themolotovcocktail.com/vol-10/wild-flash/ten-green-bottles/