Archive for April, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

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Metamorphosis

I am fascinated by amazing transformations. This spring, me and my boys have been growing caterpillars and watching their incredible life cycle. We now have four butterflies. Their journey from caterpillar to butterfly is something most adults take for granted, but seeing it happen right in front of us has given me the chance to reflect on the process.

IMG_6571I was talking to my six year old about it this morning, about how incredible it is and musing on what the tiny creatures know and understand about their existence. A female butterfly lays her eggs and flies away, she doesn’t stick around to nurture her young. When the tiny caterpillar hatches from its egg, all it knows is its current form. It has no idea, I presume, of where it came from. It sees the butterflies in the hedgerow, but does it comprehend that they are the same species? Does it have any clue what lies in store? When it diligently enters¬†its chrysalis phase, does it have the slightest idea why it is doing it or what will happen?

IMG_9164Inside the little shell, the caterpillar decomposes and is rebuilt from the liquid, becoming, arguably, an entirely new life form, with nothing in common with the caterpillar that came before it. When the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, is it in awe of its own transformation? Or does it simply accept itself?

I can well imagine it confused by its new body. They don’t fly immediately, they crawl around their habitat, adjusting to the enormous wings on their backs. They are also very still for the better part of a day. It must be hard work, totally breaking down and then rebuilding itself in the short space of a couple of weeks! They seem to be resting on emergence, with no interest in food or exploration. They cling close to their shed chrysalis and wait for their wings to harden.

IMG_9174The butterfly is the ultimate example of a creature fulfilling its potential. Whether the caterpillar knows it or not, it is destined to transform from tiny crawling eating machine, to glorious, colourful nectar gatherer! Nature is packed with these examples, of course, but how often do we stop to consider them with child-like wonder?

Humans don’t undergo anything quite so dramatic, but then, am I just taking our own life cycle for granted? I have sometimes wondered what it might be like for a human foetus. All they know is the uterus, for all they know, birth is death. The point at which they must be expelled from their mother’s body may seem like the end, when to those of us waiting eagerly skin-side, it is just the beginning.

As a maternity care campaigner and birth trauma peer supporter, I have dedicated countless hours to researching birth, and literally held women who have been crushed by their birth experiences. My own traumatic birth was over six years ago now and I am finally coming to appreciate that it was my metamorphosis. Before it I was just potential. If I had the amazing and empowering birth experience that I dreamed of, and was able to have the second time around, then I would not have been on the incredible journey that I was led on as a result of that first birth.

Would I take a life without trauma? Probably, yes! But given that I cannot undo what happened, I have to frame it in a way that I can live with. As a result of that experience, I have become so much more educated, I have made some incredible friends, and I have been a part of making birth better for other women. It also meant that I had a truly incredible second birth, that paved the way for some serious improvements for others. I’m a totally different person to the one who went into labour 6 years ago, and a vastly better one!

Do caterpillars/butterflies find their metamorphosis traumatic, I wonder?

Echoes of the Past is about shape shifters, who often live as normal humans until their radical transformation. My beloved Stalker is totally unprepared for what happens to her and she is certainly left shocked by the change when it happens. Seeds of Autumn explores this metamorphosis and the emotional aftermath. Ariana/Stalker must try to work out how to integrate her new life into her old one, something she doesn’t master in the one book, even by the end of the third book this is an ongoing struggle for her. No longer able to live a human life, she now knows that lurking beneath her skin is a terrifying beast, and that everything prior to her first change was just potential, she was always meant to be a shifter.

I don’t expect anyone reading this to have discovered such a literal inner demon, but if you have undergone a transformative life event, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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My Love-Hate Relationship With Healthy Living

HEALTHY-LIVINGI have a bizarre relationship with fitness. Or maybe it’s actually more common than I think! But it seems bizarre to me, totally illogical.

I’m a total nerd, I research stuff. A lot. When I develop an interest in something I tend to go for total immersion and try and take in as much information on it as I can find. So when I started hearing about paleo eating (I won’t use the word diet, too many connotations) I devoured information on it. It all makes total sense! I’m well versed in all the dos and don’ts, foods that break the rules, foods that bend them etc. A massive part of me wants to go for it, and at times I do start down the path of cutting things out with a view to easing into it. I’m generally dairy free anyway, due to wee one’s intolerance, but I’ll dabble with cutting down on bread and sweet things, though am yet to pass the three week mark.

These times are very often paired with a surge of enthusiasm for working out. I absolutely love getting hot and sweaty, pushing my body to do more than it normally does. I don’t do vanity work outs. When I come out of the gym you can tell I’ve worked hard; messed up hair, a sheen of sweat, face the colour of rhubarb. So what? I don’t go there to impress anyone, I go to improve my body. For years I was a steadfast treadmill runner, and I still am. But two years ago I discovered intervals.

Again with the immersion, I did my research and discovered that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is far more efficient than spending long tedious hours doing the same thing. While doing steady-rate cardio does burn more calories during the workout than HIIT, the latter produces more of the hormone that triggers your metabolic rate to pick up, meaning that in the 24 hours after the workout, you burn more calories.

I only get three hours a week to exercise. That’s it. Between my kids and my writing, and a little R&R, I get just three hours a week to work on my fitness. So I can’t afford to end up in a situation where I have to run for an hour and a half, or two hours solid, three times a week in order to see the results I want. I have to make those three hours count, make them as efficient as possible.

Plus, intervals make running on a treadmill more interesting! It’s a greater challenge, to push myself really hard for 90 seconds, then bring it down for a minute, then sprint the hell out of that machine for 20 seconds. Mixing it up takes away the monotony. I never really liked running on a treadmill before, I just did it because the other machines in the gym intimidated me. But now I actually enjoy it. I still hate running outdoors, especially in cold weather. It makes my throat and lungs really sore and is just sheer misery. Exercise shouldn’t be torture! It should be challenging, but fun. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing it? Doing something that makes you miserable will only make it harder to stick at it.

The other exercise that I discovered I liked, just a year ago, was lifting with free weights. I refused to even contemplate the free weights for years. I didn’t want to set foot in the room with all the big blokes, watching me, judging me, laughing at me. I thought that women who lifted ended up looking like beefcakes, which might be fine for them, but that wasn’t a look I was going for.

My ex-husband got really into lifting, he even bought his own rack to lift in the garage, and started competing. He immersed himself in it and made some attempts to get me to give it a try. But I refused. I held out for a long time…. until I couldn’t any more! Not because of his nagging (he didn’t nag), but because I wasn’t going to the gym, and I couldn’t keep pretending that the weight wasn’t creeping on. So, having soaked up an awful lot of information from him talking at me at some length over the previous year and a half, I decided to step up to the bar.

What I really like about lifting is the measurable progress. It might not show in the number on the scales particularly quickly, or in the waistline at first, but by increasing the amount of weight you lift a little at regular intervals, you can see how much stronger you’re getting.

When I first started I struggled to even unrack the empty, 20kg bar on my shoulders, never mind squat with it. But within 5 weeks I had doubled my work weight on squats to 40kg. I saw slower but still measurable progress with my benchpress, and it gave me such a buzz to post my stats to my fitness-minded friends on social media.

It turns out that female powerlifters look like this:

Staci @ Nerd Fitness

Staci @ Nerd Fitness

Not this:

female-bodybuilder

When my ex moved out he took his weights with him and I allowed several months to slip by without exercise. But now I’m back at the gym and have even taken to deadlifting, which I hadn’t tried before. I walk into the weights room with my head up and crack on, ignoring the posers doing bicep curls in front of the mirror (pur-lease). It’s rare that I see another woman in there, but I don’t let that intimidate me. A few sessions with a personal trainer ensured that I was confident in using the equipment. I’m still running intervals too.

But here comes the bizarre part…. despite knowing what I want to do, despite enjoying a good workout and wanting to eat clean, despite talking the talk on social media all the time when friends ask food and fitness questions, I find it really, really hard to actually walk the walk. I bitch and moan. I complain that I have so little child-free time, I really should spend it all doing something that has a hope of one day resulting in me earning a living! I would rather write than cook, or work out. Ugh, cooking. Why did that thought have to intrude? I don’t want to cook. I hate cooking. I am actually perfectly able to convince myself that ordering a take away would be the healthy option!! Afterall, a chicken burger comes loaded with fresh salad from my favourite place to order from. If I cooked the food I have in I wouldn’t end up eating anything green!

But when I get off my backside, and go to the gym I always come away feeling good. Always. Even if I find myself with no energy and unable to stick it out for more than ten minutes, I’m always glad I turned up and tried. I haven’t got there with food yet, that’s a more tricky aspect, and probably deserves its own post. On which note, I leave you, in order to go forage for grub.

I love hearing from you, so leave a comment with your diet and fitness woes, or success stories. Did you hate cooking but found a way to conquer the kitchen? Please leave me your tips!

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Shifting Gear

gearsI wear several hats; writer, mother, political campaigner. There are others, but right now those three are the most important in my life. Juggling those hats is quite a circus act. Whenever I switch from one to another, it’s rather like changing gears. It takes a little time to adjust, sometimes hours. Not that it takes me hours to change gear when driving, that would be worrying.

It’s especially difficult going from one of my child-free guises to mother mode. I have two boys, aged six and three. They are pretty full on, as most small children are. So walking into a room, fresh from a morning immersed in the Echoes universe, to be hit full force by two bundles of chaos, both pretending to be groaning, shambling zombies, intent upon biting me, requires a bit of an adjustment.

I’m gradually learning to embrace the noise and mayhem that accompanies my children, though I wish someone had better prepared me for it. I always knew that parenting would be challenging, but it’s the relentlessness of it that I was ill prepared for. Once I realised that writing was my calling and that it was what I was going to strive to earn a living doing, it became apparent that I would need support to make it happen.

Fortunately my family have been nothing but supportive, and I have lots of help with the kids. When the house goes quiet, it’s time for me to turn my attention away from jig saw puzzles, Lego and Harry Potter, just some of the current favourites, and towards shifters, demons and beautiful fae.

Again, there is that period of adjustment. There is the requirement to check up on my social media accounts, respond to emails, and do any ad hoc tasks connected with my work. I have to get these things out of the way before I can tune in to writing, or editing. My mind requires retuning, like an analogue radio.

should be writingI don’t always manage to be very efficient at this stage! Certain websites are very distracting and I am prone to procrastination. I can often be found chuntering to myself that I really should be shutting down my web browser now…. twenty minutes later I’m still “just checking Facebook”.

What doesn’t help is that most of my campaigning goes on online too, so there is always the temptation to delve into that world with my time. An extra few groups, forums and instant messages need to be checked or sent, which turns into getting engrossed in a debate.

But usually, once I’ve got a few things out of the way and am settled down into calm, creative mode, I’m away. Once I’m in my writing world, its very difficult for me to tear myself away. I’ve been working out how many words an hour I need to type in order to meet my deadlines, and how many hours per week. It’s no mean feet. As a self-publishing author, my deadlines are self-imposed. But I think it’s important for me personally, to have those targets and to do my best to meet them.

It’s especially important right now, because I’m preparing to run a crowdfunder to pay for getting Tides of Spring finished and published. So I have tasks to complete on a timeline in order for it to all run smoothly. I have my editor booked already, even though I have only just finished the first draft, because great editors tend to be booked up for months. So I know that my revisions need to be done by a certain date, and the crowdfunder needs to complete before my editor finishes the job, so that I can pay her!

I’ve never worked like this before, not since I was studying for my degree anyway, and had assignment deadlines. So it’s an exciting development. This new sense of professionalism is driving me forward in a new way and I’m optimistic that this marks a new chapter in my career.

I really look forward to sharing Tides of Spring with so many readers who I know are looking forward to the next instalment in the Echoes of the Past saga. My crowdfunder needs to be a success in order for me to get this book out to people, so I urge readers and supporters to subscribe to my mailing list and keep an eye on the blog and social media for announcements. More will be revealed very soon!

Thanks for reading and supporting me on this journey.