My complicated relationship with influencers

My novel about Instagram mums and vloggers, Unfollow Me, is released in ebook in the UK tomorrow! I’m very excited – and equal parts terrified – so I thought I would mark the occasion by talking a little bit about what inspired me to write it.

This book was an absolute gift to write, and I’m fairly sure that I won’t get quite so lucky again (by contrast, book 3 is slowly but steadily eroding my desire to live). The idea for Unfollow Me dropped fully formed into my brain one day, and changed very little as I wrote it. It all stemmed from a question – what would you do if the influencer you follow, who shares her life with you online every day, suddenly disappeared? And deleted all her social media accounts?

I didn’t know these women or their families, but as they shared so much with me, I became quite invested in them

But it goes a little bit further back than that. When my daughter was born, I obsessively followed lots of family vloggers – both on YouTube and Instagram. There was something addictive about watching other parents doing their parenting in what felt like real-time. It was the ultimate voyeurism, I got to see exactly what sort of clothes their babies were wearing, what nappies, what food they were eating, what books they were reading and toys they were playing with… I was heavily ‘influenced’ by these parents’ choices on things like cots and buggies and general baby paraphernalia. I didn’t know these women or their families, but as they shared so much with me, I became quite invested in them. I remember when one of them said she was in labour, I was desperately checking Twitter and Instagram waiting for the birth announcement – and to find out what gender the baby would be. She felt like my friend. Someone I genuinely cared about.

But she didn’t have a clue I existed. 

On that note, the title of this post is a massive misnomer, isn’t it? Because a real relationship is a two-way thing, and this was very firmly not a two-way thing in the same way a normal relationship is. This woman didn’t care about me, not in any meaningful sense. I was just a ‘fan’. One of the many faceless fans.

Of course it’s lovely to wish strangers well, but investing emotional energy in someone who you most likely will never meet seems like a strange way to behave.

It was a realisation that kind of embarrassed me. I wasn’t angry about it, I just felt a bit stupid. Of course it’s lovely to wish strangers well, but investing emotional energy in someone who you most likely will never meet seems like a strange way to behave.

It did fascinate me though. I remember years ago someone saying that social media has legitimised stalking, and that’s exactly what it’s done. But with influencers who monetise their platforms it’s a strange symbiotic relationship, in that the person you are stalking wants you to stalk them (to some degree) because that’s how they make money. But where are the lines drawn? What if they one day they don’t want you to watch after all? Do you have a ‘right’ to their life? Especially as, by watching them, you have paid for much of it?

Of course it’s similar in many ways to mainstream celebrity, except that it’s also very different. Because normal celebrities are worshipped for their talents in music, acting, writing, whatever. That’s how they make their money. And vloggers don’t have to be good at anything in particular. They just have to be friendly, charismatic and believe that what they have to say about, well, life and stuff, is important enough to be of interest.

This probably sounds like I’m very negative about influencers. I’m not. (The journalistic side of me, of course, hates them for being smart enough to identify a huge new opportunity and making a million times more money than we journalists ever did as we stuck to our prehistoric guns and sniffed self-righteously that ‘the blogging thing will never last’). But I also see that it takes courage to put yourself out there (in the same way that it does writing novels). I can also appreciate massively the downsides with regard to your children – you’re effectively sharing their most personal, character-forming experiences with a whole load of strangers, without their permission. It’s a tough call. Part of me thinks that the notion of privacy has been so massively obliterated by the social media age that it’s foolish to imagine that you have much of it left, and that children will grow up so used to constantly being photographed that it won’t affect them in the same way as it might affect us. Human beings evolve to cope with cultural shifts. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t survive. 

But part of me also thinks god, we should be protecting our children. The world is scary and big enough, let’s not hold them up to constant scrutiny from unnamed strangers too. Let’s not orchestrate every private family moment so that it becomes shareable and has monetary value. Even if the children involved don’t know what’s going on, even if they’re not old enough to understand. There’s a social media hashtag ‘#letthembelittle’ – the irony is overwhelming. Let them be little indeed! Leave them alone! Don’t make them pose and posture! Don’t upload a film of them crying at their third birthday party because they didn’t get the unicorn cake they wanted, even if it is ‘cute’!

I say this, but as a massive hypocrite. Because I am also very guilty of oversharing much of my daughter’s life. I blogged throughout my pregnancy, and then did monthly baby updates until Daphne turned about 18 months. Those posts are still live on this blog today, and get tons of hits - and I still get emails from random people who’ve read them asking me for advice on things like colic, which she suffered with. I really, really enjoyed writing those posts - it was such a strange time in my life and it was actually lovely to be sharing my experiences. If I had had the chance to monetise them more, and if I had no other viable career path (and if I’d been a bit more photogenic - ha!), I might easily have ended up becoming a mummy influencer myself.

As their audience grows, so does their wealth – it’s a self-fulfilling cycle

In the novel, I also wanted to focus on the other inevitable part of the strange partnership between influencer and influencee – the jealousy. After all, many of these influencers are earning an absolute fortune through their online presence these days, and thus their lives – which once might have seemed not too dissimilar to those of their viewers – are spiralling further and further away from that of Ms Joanna Bloggs. Some of the most successful influencers are the ones with huge houses and dozens of designer handbags, and it seems that people do enjoy watching those the most. As their audience grows, so does their wealth – it’s a self-fulfilling cycle. Which also fascinates me. Do people secretly enjoy being jealous? Do they find it inspiring? Motivating?

recently I have noticed that I’ve started to feel a bit inadequate, and pissed off with my own lot (and my own lot isn’t exactly bad)

I think for me, I found watching them all of those things. As well as completely fascinating. I stopped watching the Youtube vloggers as my daughter grew (not least because of the time commitment – many of them upload 15 minute videos every day, and I could never keep up!), but I still follow a lot of them on Instagram and recently I have noticed that I’ve started to feel a bit inadequate, and pissed off with my own lot (and my own lot isn’t exactly bad). And that’s when I realised again that it’s not healthy, to be investing so much time and energy – and comparing yourself non-stop – to people who are not showing all the bad stuff. Or even if they are showing the bad stuff, it’s totally filtered and manipulated for the audience.

Anyway, it was my hugely ambivalent feeling towards these brave women and their families that lead me to write Unfollow Me. Most of all, I wanted to write it from the perspective of the people following these women, to document their highs and lows as they try desperately to hunt down their idol. In some ways it was also a way for me to explore my own messy feelings towards influencers – and particularly mummy influencers, who are basically trying to create a career that allows them to be at home with their children as much as possible, which is something I genuinely really, really respect. I also really believe in making the most of opportunities, and if this is the best way for some people to make a living, then my God, they should go for it.

Like I said, I’m conflicted!

So Unfollow Me is told from the perspective of the fans (and the trolls) – two in particular, as they go to somewhat shocking lengths to discover just what has happened to their supermum Violet Young.

I loved writing this book. It’s something I have a genuine interest in – it’s something that feels very ‘of our time’ and I hope this comes across in the reading of it. 

Unfollow Me is out tomorrow in ebook for the bargain price of £1.99. It would make my day if you bought it. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on this increasingly bewildering new world too.

How I deal with professional jealousy as a writer

THERE’S ENOUGH CAKE FOR ALL! HONEST

THERE’S ENOUGH CAKE FOR ALL! HONEST

I just want to put something out there, in the full knowledge that it might make me seem like a spoilt brat. But being a writer is hard. Really. It is.

Let's take away the never-ending financial insecurity (which most people would find incredibly stressful), the loneliness, the fact that so much of your success is completely out of your control, the long hours, the late nights, the backache, the lack of exercise and consumption of too many snacks. And let's focus on the hardest thing of all: professional jealousy.

I've always thought that I was quite lucky, as I seem to be missing the jealousy gene. As a general rule, I don't get jealous of other people. Or their success. I suspect that the reason for this is that I am far too self-absorbed to really care what other people are doing (this is probably not a good thing!). I'm too focused on my own life, my own success, my own happiness. I don't really notice what other people are up to in anything more than a perfunctory way, and I usually just think 'good for them' and move on.

no matter how well you write, how well your book ‘performs’ in the marketplace, there will always be someone else out there with a ‘bigger’ book

However, when it comes to writing, I think even the most self-absorbed person struggles just a little bit with professional jealousy. Because no matter how well you write, how well your book 'performs' in the marketplace, there will always be someone else out there with a 'bigger' book. A 'better' book. And you will sit back and wonder why it isn't you. And you will be pleased for them, but then you'll also start to panic that your book is going to get lost, because surely there's only so much room for big books out there, and what if yours isn't one of them? What does that make you? Who wants to be second rate? Who wants to 'nearly make it'? Who wants to be the one that people look at and think 'Oh dear, guess it didn't work out for her then'?

The reason I write this post is because recently I've had to remind myself of the most useful tool you have for defeating this green-eyed disease: abundance mentality. I have noticed my bouts of professional jealousy come and go in waves. Usually, it's when things are quiet, when I'm just sat at home doing the part of writing that people ignore when they see it as a 'dream' career: the actual bloody writing. Sat at home alone day after day, struggling with my characters and the ever-present imposter syndrome that seems to be just an inevitable part of this job, and I start to look at other writers with 300 five star Amazon reviews and tons of praise on social media and I think, why am I doing this again? The world doesn't need my books. I’ll never be as successful as them. What do they have that I don’t? Why are they so brilliant/lucky/talented?

I read about abundance mentality a few years ago in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and it’s probably one of the most helpful concepts I’ve ever come across. I'm not usually one for self-help books, but this particular concept really struck a chord with me. Put simply, people who believe in abundance - that there is enough happiness, success, love and joy for all of us, are much happier than those who believe in scarcity - that if you're eating the cake then I can't eat it too.

I'm no philosopher, and I am terrible at explaining things like this so here’s a diagram that really neatly sums up this way of thinking:

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just because a reader likes someone else’s book, that doesn’t mean they won’t like your book too!

If you see success as something scarce, that can't be shared, all you do is make yourself miserable. Because the truth is there IS enough space for everyone. To be specific about writing, just because a reader likes someone else's book, that doesn't mean they won't like your book too! Just because an agent has sold someone else’s book for six figures, doesn’t mean they can’t do the same for the next book you write. There's no limit to the amount of books or writers that readers can admire and enjoy. 

putting a bit of positivity into the world is the best thing you can do when you’re feeling negative

It's easy to write this down as a theory - something that's nice on paper, but it's more difficult to change your mindset. So on the days when I'm really struggling with self-esteem and find myself slipping into a scarcity mindset, I have one trick that really works for me. Fake it til you feel it. And the best way to do this is to support others. On the days I'm feeling really down about myself and my writing, I make sure I praise other writers, share their posts on social media, am supportive and helpful to them in any way that I can. Sometimes I have to force myself to do it, sometimes I really just feel like locking myself away and eating a whole packet of Maryland cookies and simmering with envy, but I always feel better afterwards. I really believe that putting a bit of positivity into the world is the best thing you can do when you're feeling negative. It's the ultimate mood lifter.

I also try to go back to the writing and remember what I love about it - because for me, it really is the best bit about being a writer. When I’m writing and it’s going well, I find I don’t care at all about how successful or not the book might be. Instead, I’m completely focused and absorbed in my own little created world.

Of course, you can also choose to avoid social media, and lots of people I know do that, but it’s quite hard to do that completely (especially if you have your own book to promote). It’s also tough if lots of people you know are writers too, as you’ll inevitably hear about their success one way or another. So really, I think supporting them as best you can is the healthiest thing to do. Because they will, of course, have felt the same way you are feeling at some point in their writing career - it’s par for the course. Are you even a writer at all if you haven’t felt like a massive failure at some point?!

I hope this doesn't sound super preachy. I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live their life - everyone has their own ways of coping with things. But I thought it was worth a blog post, because it is something that helps me, and if there's any chance it might help you too when the green-eyed monster comes to call, then that's gotta be good, right?

And if you have any other tips for coping with professional jealousy, please do share them in a comment below!

You can order my debut, THE RIVAL, hereUNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

How losing my job while pregnant inspired my debut novel

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It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t really talked about the inspiration behind my debut, The Rival, on my blog. So, I thought it’d be good to remedy that! Let me start by saying The Rival is a work of fiction. However, the seed of the idea came from my own experience of new motherhood. One of my friends once told me that giving birth was like being in a car crash, both physically and mentally. It stuck with me before I gave birth, and it proved to be surprisingly accurate.

I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point

I was 33 when I got pregnant, and although my daughter was very much longed for, I was shockingly naïve and had no idea what to expect. I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point – I was a successful journalist and PR consultant and knew nothing about babies, or how to care for them. Once the first few months as a new mum were behind me, I was amazed not to be able to find any novels on this subject, given all the women I knew who were also struggling to forge a new identity as a mum after so long in the world of work. And so I decided to write about them – a story for women who have struggled with this transition, in the face of a working world that is still so stacked against us.

I didn’t suffer from postnatal depression but like many women, my sleep deprivation in those early days reached the point where I started hallucinating at night, imagining the baby was in bed with me when she was actually asleep in her cot, and my moods swung from euphoric to desperate with exhausting frequency.

To add to my stress, I unexpectedly found myself on maternity leave without a job to return to. Sadly, this is an all-too-common situation. It was utterly terrifying: this open-ended new ‘life’ that was completely alien to everything I had ever known, and that I was woefully underprepared for. And when I did secure some freelance work when my baby was only four months old, I was averaging three hours’ sleep a night, none of my ‘work’ clothes fitted me, and I felt exactly as Helena does in the book: a misplaced lump between two stools. Not yet confident as a mother, no longer a career woman.  

... despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become.

It was the strangest time of my life. I had been the old me for 34 years by then, but a mother for only a handful of months, and despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become. I’d never really realised how much my identity was tied up in my work and independence.

Not working was very strange, and in the middle of the night I’d panic that I should be doing something with this time ‘off’. I read on someone’s blog that when you have a baby, it’s OK for you just to be looking after the baby. You don’t have to be trying to hold down a part-time job too, or finishing a long-neglected novel (!), or doing charity work, or whatever it is that you think is necessary to justify your existence as a stay-at-home-mum. That helped, a little. But it was still hard to give myself permission to do ‘nothing’. Even though I was exhausted and probably working harder than I had done in ages – just in a very different way.

I feel like I really lost myself in those early months. In fact, I would say it took a year for my confidence to return. Thankfully, Oli is super supportive and, thanks to the nature of his career, is around a lot more than most fathers. I genuinely believe my situation might have been very different were it not for the fact that I had him by my side every day during those life-changing early months.

Because this is what it boils down to, in my opinion. Support. New mothers need support. They deserve support. It can make a crucial difference - can truly determine whether they sink or swim.

Since The Rival was released last September, it’s been fascinating seeing how readers have responded to it. Many mothers have written to tell me that the feelings Helena experiences in the story echo those they experienced too. Many more people have said it made them cry. Other people have complained that it’s not a thriller, and despite my frustration that no one ever said it was (!), it actually just makes me sad that my message was completely lost on them.

I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world

It’s strange, your debut novel. You pour everything into it - it feels intensely personal, in a way that your second and third novels don’t. I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world, even if it was through a character who isn’t me (I promise!). Those feelings seem so far away now - my whole personality has changed over the past three and a half years, as my daughter has grown, and I’m more than happy in my own skin these days. In many ways then, I’m grateful that I managed to capture those feelings - the raw emotion, the little kernel of truth that was so painful to admit to at the time.

The Rival will always be a special book to me, a marking of time that reminds me how far I’ve come.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Things about publishing that make me cry (and things that don’t)

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Before I got my book deal, I was sure that hearing those magic words from my agent – ‘we’ve got an offer’ – would make me burst into tears, or make my heart explode with euphoria, or fill my gaping chasm of self-doubt with confidence and validation and turn me into a New, Shiny, Better Author Person.

So it was a bit disconcerting, really, when it did none of these things.

I remember feeling a little rush of excitement, but my overwhelming feeling was relief. I just thought – thank GOD. I’m not a deluded idiot – I can actually write after all! Also, I was worried about money at the time, and being told I was going to get some actual cash for my six months’ of risky work was a huge weight off my mind.

But I didn’t cry. The whole thing – and this feels like a terrible confession but I like to be honest because if we’re not honest about these things then really, we’re just cheating the world – felt a tiny bit anticlimactic.

I didn’t run around the garden screaming, or sob down the phone to my agent or call my friends and relations and declare that I’d made it, finally, or… do anything really. I was very calm and businesslike about it all. It made me wonder if I was, in fact, dead inside. I was disappointed with myself. In comparison with the weeks when my book was on submission, and I was going crazy with nerves and anxiety, it was all rather… flat. 

What was wrong with me? Did I not really want to be an author? Had I been fooling myself all along?

After the dust had settled a bit and the deal was done, I remember feeling a little worried that I hadn’t had one of those ‘OHMYGOD MY LIFE’S AMBITION HAS COME TRUE’ moments. What was wrong with me? Did I not really want to be an author? Had I been fooling myself all along?

I tried to tell myself it was fine. I’m a pretty chilled person anyway, usually on a relatively even keel (unless I haven’t had enough sleep, or my book is on submission, and then I go a bit insane).

But months later something strange happened. I received my contract in the post, and I had to sign two copies and return them. As I read it over (understanding about 13% of it, but that’s what agents are for), I found myself welling up. And suddenly I was sobbing. Maybe it was the fact it was finally official. But there you are. It hit me in the end, months later, when I was home alone trying to decipher legal jargon and nobody knew what I was doing. 

I’ve come to accept over the past year and a half that my writer-joy-tears will come when I least expect them. It’s completely unpredictable. When I first saw the cover for The Rival, my eyes filled up, and my whole body was covered in goosebumps. But I weirdly didn’t cry when my proof copies arrived, or even when my finished hardback of The Rival arrived. I was pleased to see them, and it was wonderful to hold a proper book in my hand, but I didn’t burst into tears as I opened the box. (More than anything I remember thinking, argh all those bloody words, thank god I don’t have to read them ever again…).

Anyway the point of this embarrassingly verbose post is to share with you the fact that the writer-joy-tears did visit me again recently. They popped back up when my proof pages for Unfollow Me arrived earlier this week.  

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Proof pages aren’t that exciting to look at – just a massive pile of A4 sheets that need to be read carefully one last time – but there’s something about seeing my words so beautifully typeset that moistened the old eyeballs yet again. I suppose it’s similar to the contract – it’s the moment when it suddenly feels official, as though it’s a baby that’s grown up and got a degree all on its own. That’s a shit metaphor, but it’s the best I can come up with at the moment.

So yes, it was nice to feel the writer-joy-tears again. I wonder when they’ll next visit? Perhaps half the fun is in not knowing.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.


How I make a living as a writer

Trust me, this is much better than a picture of my bank account…

Trust me, this is much better than a picture of my bank account…

Well, this is a scary post to write. I want to write it though, because people in creative industries never talk about money. There seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that you just… don’t. And I don’t think this helps the problem of creative work not being valued enough financially. My partner is a professional singer – he’s constantly being asked to sing at people’s parties or weddings for free, as though this would be ‘fun’ or ‘nice’ for him. People don’t seem to understand that no, this is his job, it is how he earns a living. It’s no more ‘fun’ for him to sing at your wedding than it is for a teacher to give a lesson for free, or a lawyer to look over a contract for you for free, or a writer to give your first draft a read for free. 

So yes. Money. We all need it. Let’s talk more about it. Or, more specifically since this is my blog, let’s talk about how I make a living from writing.

It is definitely not the case with writing that reward automatically follows effort. Reward follows luck, effort and talent in equal measure.

It still astonishes me that some people might think that writing books is an easy way to make money, but apparently the myth persists. I'm not going to go all doom and gloom on you, but it really, really isn't. There are a handful of people who make a lot of money from writing, but they work really hard to do so, and there are thousands more who do not, and they also work really hard. It is definitely not the case with writing that reward automatically follows effort. Reward follows luck, effort and talent in equal measure.

So, first of all, I have been freelance for nearly ten years. That's ten years of unreliable income, so I am pretty used to it now. I am also very fearsome to anyone who pays me late, and I don't hesitate to issue a late payment demand and/or solicitor's letter to any company that hasn't met my invoice terms. I think this is essential. It's too easy to get caught up in 'wanting to be nice' or feeling grateful to have the gig (I read recently someone saying that in media you always feel you should be grateful for 'being in the room' and it makes me furious - you are talented, they wouldn't give you the work otherwise, they're not doing you a favour, they NEED you - stick these mantras up above your computer if you are ever in any doubt). The most important thing, I think, is not to continue working for people who have proved themselves to be unreliable payers. The situation will not magically get any better. Don't throw good time and money after bad. (To bastardise a metaphor). Move on, spend your energies getting work elsewhere. 

Rant over…

I’m a trained journalist and my freelance work used to be mainly from sub-editing shifts in-house at design magazines, but then I started to get more writing and digital work, and then I moved across to doing work for interiors brands rather than media outlets (this pays much better!). Mostly editorial work - writing blogs and articles, but also consulting on brands’ marketing, their PR, helping them with their brand identity, identifying their audience etc. I've done social media too (although I don't enjoy it as much and think I'm slightly too old to be as naturally good at it as people who grew up with the internet). I've done proofreading and even some web design. I like the variety. I currently work two days a week on a freelance basis doing content marketing for a software company - which is very out of my original remit of interiors and design, but pays a lot better and is the stuff of freelance dreams. A regular, part-time gig which affords some level of security. I take on other freelance work as and when it comes in. 

I also have a flat I rent out, and this gives me an additional monthly income too (although it's pretty unreliable as maintenance issues and fees eat into my rent a lot). I'd like to caveat this by saying I know how very, very fortunate I am to be in this position. I owned my flat separately before I met my partner. We deliberately decided to keep it as a rental property when we bought our current home, rather than sell it and buy a more expensive family home, because we are both self-employed and neither of us have pensions. So, we live in a smaller house than we might do if we both had ‘normal’ jobs. I feel a bit uncomfortable about being a private landlord for several reasons but I have made peace with this by trying to be the best landlord I can! I’ve just spent £10k having the loft boarded and the whole place redecorated for my new tenants and I always fix maintenance issues immediately and without question. It would be a struggle for me to be able to write two days a week if it wasn’t for my rental income, so I am very grateful to have it.

But now we come to the books. As you may or may not know, if you receive a traditional publishing deal with a big publisher, you will usually be offered an 'advance'. Which is exactly what it says it is - an advance on the money that the publisher hopes your book will make. However, if your book doesn't make a penny, you don't have to pay the advance back - so the publishers take all the risk. Advances vary massively, but the six-figure splashy deals that many people associate with getting published are so rare (I did not get a six-figure splashy deal). And advances are split over several payments - usually three, or four, correlating with the dates you sign your contract, submit your completed manuscript, and the day it's finally published. This can often mean money is stretched out across a couple of years. In my case, the advance payments for my debut will stretch out over three tax years! Also, if you have an agent, they will take 15% of this. Plus then, of course, there’s tax.

So, if you get a £10k advance (which would be considered a really decent deal for a debut author) it’s not like you’re just given ten grand to go off and spend. It’s more like £8,500 split into three payments over at least a year, of which you need to reserve at least 20% for tax. 

Yes, that’s £8,500 before tax for a book that probably took a year to write.  

This is why most writers are poor.

Only once your book has 'paid back' your advance (sold enough copies to make this money back for the publisher) do you start to receive royalties. Most books don't earn out their advances. And the percentage an author receives for each book sold is so tiny it’s almost painful to write about (plus maths makes my brain ache, so if you want to know the specifics, there’s loads more info on this just a Google away). The upshot of all this is that for most writers with a trad deal, your advance is the only income you will receive for that book. For a long time, at least.

For me, the advances I have received for my books do not make up my core income. Instead, they are 'bonuses' that I put towards various things – savings, stuff for the house etc. I hope one day that the majority of my core income will come from writing novels, but at the moment my living wage comes from my freelance work, and a little from my rental property too. 

To throw all your financial eggs in the ‘being a full time author’ basket before your career is really established is a risky strategy.

I know very few debut writers who write full-time and have given up their day jobs. Many work part time, but most do something else as well as write. For one thing, unless your book is an instant bestseller there is the constant uncertainty of not getting another publishing deal. To throw all your financial eggs in the ‘being a full time author’ basket before your career is really established is a risky strategy.

Plus writing full time is quite lonely – but that’s a post for another day. As for me, I have the epitome of a ‘portfolio’ career. I’m also a mum of course, and Oli and I split the childcare between us and nursery. I work a lot in the evenings. Oli takes Daphne out on Sunday mornings for a couple of hours so I work on my novels then too. It’s tricky juggling being a mum, writing novels, and freelance work but I think I have a good balance at the moment, and I know I’m really lucky. I wrote my first three novels years ago while working full time in-house, and that was definitely more tiring (although I didn’t have a child then so…!).

Though authors often bemoan their lot (there was a lot of talk recently of author-incomes being at an all-time low), I do understand that publishing is a business and publishers have to make money, and publishing an unknown author is a risky and expensive business. For me, getting published has given me the validation that I really, really wanted, and has allowed me to take my creative writing seriously. I feel incredibly grateful to be doing something I love, and I intend to work really hard at it so that one day, my income from writing exceeds my other revenue streams.

Fingers crossed!

On the subject of money, THE RIVAL is currently in the Kindle Spring Sale for the bargainous price of 99p! So if you want to send some pennies my way, now would be a good time to do so. Thank you :) UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Why every writer should have a dolls house*

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*Or a dog. Or a kitchen garden. Or an obsession with knitting. Or jigsaw puzzles. Or any hobby that doesn’t involve computers

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter might have noticed that I have lately become completely obsessed with a dolls house. I have to apologise in advance here – because this post, is going to be about the dolls house. Now, I have had mostly good reactions to my social media #dollshousediaries pictures, with lots of DMs from people saying they’re loving it but I am also slightly terrified there are an equal number of people watching my Insta stories rolling their eyes going ‘shut up about the bloody dolls house woman’.

So sorry. If you hate dolls houses then… well, for a start I think you’re a bit weird because how could you possibly not love them, perfect miniature things of joy… but also, sorry, cos this post is about my dolls house.

My Dad in his workshop

My Dad in his workshop

My dad made me my dolls house from scratch when I was 9 or 10. My dad is a bit of a modelling geek. He’s a frustrated engineer who ended up working in software and his way of relaxing has always been to make things with his hands. He’s built model aircraft, model ships and a full-size car and a working, full-size German WW1 biplane in his garage (yes really). He told me that he wished he’d been a carpenter, but he followed the money and ended up working in IT instead, which makes me a bit sad but not too sad as he is always going on nice holidays and has a good pension.

Anyway, this post is not about my dad. It’s about my dolls house. So, as a young teenager I collected bits and pieces for my dolls house, and I loved it, but of course I then discovered boys and the dolls house fell out of favour. Then when I was about 21, my parents moved house and it ended up being put in their garage, boxed in by tons of other Garage Stuff. 

But last year I begged him to unearth it, and he did (reluctantly and a little complainingly). And it is now squeezed into my tiny home office and it is my Favourite Thing (after my partner and my daughter. And the cat, although that’s a close call. Sorry Percy).  

I am potentially renovating it more painstakingly than I did our actual house last year.

I am slowly renovating it. I am potentially renovating it more painstakingly than I did our actual house last year. It’s quite a big (for a dolls house) Georgian house, and while it was in storage unfortunately some mice took up residence in it, and so some bits of it are a little nibbled and worse for wear. Like any house that’s lain empty for over a decade, it has a few issues. The wallpaper is peeling in some rooms, the carpets are stained. I’m slowly redoing each room, one by one. I’ve started with the dining room, and next up I’m going to do the music room. Each room needs a different amount of work – some rooms need re-wallpapering and new flooring, others just need more furniture and accessories. And this is the best bit – the stuff.

The stuff! There are so many amazing miniature craftsmen out there, making teeny tiny and amazing things. I went to a dolls house fair recently (median age of attendees: 65) and spent £47 on a tiny porcelain vase. I spent the same on a chair that had been hand-carved. I love both pieces equally, they bring me great joy, but they also serve as a reminder that this dolls house is going to bankrupt me.

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One of the things my father never got around to doing when he first built it was put lighting in. So I have also been gradually adding lights to the rooms – and oh, my – the effect is amazing. But let’s be honest, with this kind of thing, it’s all about the pictures isn’t it? SO here are a few more…

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I have become so obsessed, that I also ordered some tiny kit furniture from Germany, and with my own hands made a new sideboard for the dining room, plus a dining table, side table and grandfather clock. I sanded and stained and varnished and glued them together. It’s the most crafty thing I have ever done. I am also currently working on a mini Georgian sampler, meticulously cross-stitching teeny tiny stitches on the smallest canvas known to womankind (and swearing about it a lot). 

I was telling one of my oldest friends about the dolls house (let’s be honest, I’m telling anyone and everyone) and she said she thought the reason I loved it so much was because I was in complete control of it. Because as a writer, she said, I had so little control. Of course, writers have control over their output, but whether or not the book will be published, whether or not it will sell more than a handful of copies, whether or not it will be well received… all these things are completely out of our hands. Whereas in my teeny tiny perfect miniature world, I am God, and what I say goes.

the thing I have loved so much is making things with my hands. And – most importantly of all – being away from a screen.

She may be right. I am sure there’s an element of that in it. But also, for me, the thing I have loved so much is making things with my hands. And – most importantly of all – being away from a screen. I have spent my working life staring at a computer screen, and it’s horrible – the most unhealthy, lonely, lethargic way to spend your time. But at 7pm each night, once Daphne is in bed, I sit down at the dining room table (much to Oli’s consternation – he objected a LOT to the smell of wood stain in the kitchen) and I fiddle with my teeny bits of wood, and I (sometimes) drink a gin and tonic and I forget everything else. And it’s pure heaven.

You can find out more about THE RIVAL here, and order here if you want to make my day. UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

On being a mother of one

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Facebook just told me that four years ago today I stuck up a picture of this badge to tell my friends I was pregnant.

I can’t actually believe it was four years ago but it’s thrown into sharp relief the fact that most women in my situation would have had another baby by now. Or at least be pregnant.

Take my NCT class – of the six of us, all five of the others have had a second baby. I am the only one with only one. Just like I was the only one who didn’t manage to breastfeed, but that’s probably beside the point.

Or is it? Can we all find ways in which we feel like we don’t fit in, that we’ve wandered off the expected track, if we try hard enough? I don’t know if that’s the case, or if it’s just me overanalysing everything as usual, but I have always felt a little bit ‘different’ from my peers. And motherhood is just one of the ways in which I seem to have inadvertently not fitted in with the norm.

When my NCT friends started getting pregnant with their second children, I remember thinking ‘Shit, I better get on with it.’ Around this time people started asking if we wanted another, or, more rudely, ‘when are you going to have another?’ And I would sit there and stare at them and struggle to find a coherent answer. It wasn’t that I was against having another child, it was just that I wasn’t sure. The question felt huge, too big for me to find the answer.

The decision to have a first baby, in my opinion, is pretty easy, because you have no idea what you’re letting yourself in for.

Oli and I spoke about it a lot. Perhaps it would have been easier if he felt strongly either way, but like me, he was on the fence. We love being parents – we worship our daughter – but at the same time, neither of us feels any burning desire to have another child. If I had fallen pregnant unexpectedly we would have been scared but I’m sure we would have been delighted too. But making the conscious decision to have another child was another matter.

The decision to have a first baby, in my opinion, is pretty easy, because you have no idea what you’re letting yourself in for. But having a second is a whole different ballgame, because you know exactly what it will entail. And you have another small person to consider, who’s your whole world, and you know that whatever you do will impact them enormously.

So I did what I always do when faced with a question I don’t know the answer to: I researched it. Were only children really unhappy spoilt weirdos? Were children with siblings really much better adjusted? Was it really terribly lonely for children without siblings when they were older? How did it really affect relationships when you have two young children to look after? How much did siblings really play together and how much did they fight?

The results were fascinating, and (of course) subjective. But the overall message was that the perfect family size is the number of children you have, because if you love them they will be happy. That siblings are definitely not a guarantee of happiness, that (of course) nothing in life or relationships is as simple or clear cut as this, and that the most important thing is that your child grows up happy and well-adjusted with loving parents. No amount of brothers or sisters can compensate.

Oli and I are different parents in other ways too, of course. We are both self-employed, with unreliable and irregular incomes. Neither of us knows how our work lives will pan out. We are getting on a bit. Although I’m not too old to have a baby at 38, I’m not exactly a spring chicken. We have a comfortable, lovely life in a house that’s big enough for the three of us, but would be a bit of a squash if we had another. I’d like to be able to afford for Daphne to have piano lessons when she’s older, for us to go abroad once a year. Maybe I am wrong to be thinking of the practical considerations, but when practical things go awry it causes great stress, and stress affects everything.

A lot of people told me that they grew up with a very fixed idea of how big a family they wanted. They always wanted two kids. Or three. I never had that. I was never really that sure I even wanted one. I didn’t grow up dreaming of motherhood. Now that I am a mother, I feel unbelievably blessed, but I never had a fixed picture of what size and kind of family I wanted to be the matriarch of.

I love our little family. I love it so much that I wake up in the night sometimes terrified that it’s all going to go wrong.

And that’s the other thing. I feel unbelievably blessed. I’m risk averse. I love our little family. I love it so much that I wake up in the night sometimes terrified that it’s all going to go wrong. I’m so grateful to have our daughter. I feel like I’m tempting fate just writing this. What if we had a second child, and that second child had health problems, or my pregnancy went wrong? Or my inevitable exhaustion at having a young baby to care for affected my relationship with Daphne? Made me snappy and irritable with her? I had health issues with my first pregnancy and the stress was unimaginable. I just don’t want to put myself through that again. Which probably makes me a coward and a massive pessimist. I’m not sure, I’m just so grateful to have what I have, and there’s a voice in my head that continually shouts ‘don’t push your luck.’

So, we are probably not going to have another child. I have kept all Daphne’s baby things just in case I wake up one morning feeling desperate to procreate again, but my gut tells me it’s unlikely to happen. The thing that really clarified it was one of my friends asking me: ‘If it was normal to have one child, rather than two, would you be thinking of having another at all?’ And the answer was a resounding no. Which leads me to believe it’s the pressure to conform that’s the strongest voice in me contemplating having another baby. And that’s the worst reason of all.

It’s lonely though, being a mother of an only. Even though it’s becoming increasingly common, most of my friends with kids have two (at least). I feel like there should be some kind of support group for the ‘one and dones’. I find I am increasingly fascinated by modern motherhood and all its iterations. My novels focus on parenting in our contemporary world – my work in progress centres on a stay-at-home dad, and my upcoming book Unfollow Me is about an Instagram mum. I think the myriad different ways in which people parent in the 21st century are something to celebrate, not judge.

I hope this post doesn’t sound spoilt. There are, of course, no guarantees that I would fall pregnant again anyway. And as I said, I know how lucky I am. I really do. But I wanted to post this as an answer to all those people who keep asking me when we’re going to have another.

I also wanted to share my thoughts on this intensely personal and loaded subject, just in case there’s anyone else out there feeling a bit alone, as they go through the same thing.

You can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and order here if you want to make my day. UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Me, on the internet

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Happy 2019! It's been so long since I blogged that I've come to Wordpress only to find the CMS has completely changed. Hopefully this will work out alright...

So, since I last posted, quite a lot has happened. Most significantly, of course, is the fact that my book was finally published. It is officially out there. And the experience has been mildly debilitating, euphoric and plain weird all at once. I am so grateful that it's been pretty well-received. The reviews have been, on the whole, really lovely. It's not a conventional thriller (it's not really a thriller at all, but I've ranted about that before), so it's been really heartening to see most readers have enjoyed it and been surprised by it.

I'm currently knee-deep in book 3, which has been such a different experience from book 2. Book 2, by the way, will be out later this year! It has a title now: Unfollow Me, and you can find out more about it on my website. I really really enjoyed writing Unfollow Me - it was one of those rare experiences when the plot came to me pretty much fully formed, so I just had to write it all down. Book 3, on the other hand, has been a nightmare from the very first paragraph. But I had a break from actual writing (or typing, anyway) over Christmas and spent a long time thinking about it, and I'm hoping that I can wrestle it into some kind of shape in the second draft.

But I digress. The point of this post was really to do a little round up of places I've been featured on t'internet since The Rival was published, in case you want to find out a little bit more about it/me/my writing journey. So, without further waffle, here we go:

Why I wrote my debut novel The Rival - The Early Hour

My top 5 books about rivalry - The Big Issue

Best thrillers roundup - The Guardian

Beginners Pluck - The Irish Examiner

My journey to publication - Women Writers

Dark undercurrents of everyday life with Charlotte Duckworth - BritLit Podcast

My top 5 scariest reads - Crime Files

How the Faber Academy course helped renew my faith in writing - We Heart Writing

How I lost and found myself after having a baby - Female First

Three Pics to Publication - Amanda Reynolds blog

Phew! I am sure I have missed some but that will do for now. Before I go though, could I just ask a tiny favour? If you have read The Rival and didn't hate it, please would you pop a review on Amazon for me? It doesn't have to be long, but all ratings are so helpful, and I'd really appreciate it. If you have read it and didn't enjoy it however, I'd really appreciate you, er, not writing one. Cheers. ;)

You can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and order here if you want to make my day.

What it really feels like to get a bad review

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It's happened! I have popped my bad-review cherry. Ugh, I apologise. That's the worst analogy/metpahor/whatever of all time. But anyway, I have had my first (and second) bad review. They weren't even that bad, but even so, it was a discombobulating experience. So discombobulating in fact that I thought I might blog about it and share my findings. Because being a writer, writing about stuff helps me deal with it. Obvious but true.

I consider myself relatively thick-skinned - but there is nothing quite like the sensation of someone you've never met before telling the world that something you've worked really hard on disappointed them. It hurts! It's also really weird. It feels a little like you're going along with your day, living your life, and then suddenly a stranger springs out of the bushes and slaps you round the face, and then disappears, leaving you with a sore cheek and a confused frown. It's a bit like an ambush.

After that first sense of shock and the stinging aftermath, comes your own sense of pride, riding out on a horse called Anger. Your pride then tells you that this person is an idiot, that they're wrong, that they know nothing etc etc. Your fingers twitch with desperation to type some clever, well-thought-out retort to show them who's boss. You want to ask them how many books they've bloody well written. You want to tell them that the twist was not a twist it was a sodding REVEAL so who cares if they guessed it - they were meant to and it was meant to be satisfying. You want to say that it wasn't meant to be highbrow literature, so if the prose was workaday then that's because it's commercial not literary fiction, and don't they know anything about the publishing market and genre-expectations?

You would also REALLY like to point out that you wrote and FINISHED your book before The Replacement aired on TV and that you were majorly pissed off when you saw the trailer and realised that if the book got published everyone would think you had nicked the idea.

Then you realise that would make you look like a dick.

(Well, maybe not that last bit about The Replacement. That last bit I would quite like to add to my writing bio. But I will resist and take comfort in this rant instead.)

So you decide to rise above it and get on with your day. But every now and then those choice phrases of criticism (my current favourite is 'the prose is merely workmanlike' - how bloody insulting to workmen) creep into your head and slap you round the face again. And you feel a bit sad.

You resolve never to look at your reviews again.

But then... your editor congratulates you on a new 5 star one. So of course you have to go and look. So you do. And you read their lovely feedback and it's like a warm drink heating you up from inside. And you wish you could reach out through your computer screen and hug the person who loved your book, and tell them how much their kind words mean to you.

And then you remember what your wise novelist friend told you. That a bad review just means the book wasn't for them. You imagine yourself whispering it to this faceless username who took such great offence at your work that they felt the need to warn others off it.

'It wasn't for you and that's OK. There are plenty of other books out there for you and plenty of other readers out there for me.'

And you go away and write this blog post. And that helps a bit too.

And then when the next bad review comes through, you read it with a better understanding. It still hurts, but a little less.

It wasn't for you. And that's OK.

If you're a fan of 'workmanlike prose' you can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and pre-order here if you want to make my day.

The joy of limbo

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A bit of a weird post, this one, but please bear with me!

I wanted to write a post as a kind of virtual 'bookmark' to myself. To remind myself of this stage of my 'story' (sorry, terrible bookish puns will dry up eventually). It's struck me lately that this period in my life - the run up to the publication of my first novel - is quite unlike any other time, and is possibly going to be the best bit of the whole thing. I wonder if other authors feel like this?

Allow me to explain, in case you think I'm bonkers. At the moment, The Rival has been signed off editorially, which means it requires no more work from me. Now I'm very proud of the book, but I'm also a bit sick to death of it, having read it approximately 8000 times, and worked on it for the best part of a year. All that hard slog is over now, and it's ready to be 'born'. It's been edited and preened and pruned to perfection, and now all I have to do is wait for it to be unleashed on the world. And in that respect, I'm kind of in limbo.

But it's the best type of limbo, as I've signed a contract, received some actual money for it (which by the way is no less of a thrill than I had hoped it'd be - someone paying you cold hard cash for something you created from nothing is absolutely awesome) and I know it will be published, which has given me a wonderful sense of validation I've never had before. But - and this is the critical bit - I've yet to bear the agony of a reviewer telling me it's shit, or reading a GoodReads review that tells me the reader couldn't be bothered to finish it, or find out that no one outside my family has bought a single copy.

Hopefully none of those things will happen. Or at least not all of them. But they are all possible, and have happened to much greater and more talented writers than me.

I am terrified of reviews. I wish I had the self-discipline not to read them, but of course I will. I'll be checking every damn morning as soon as I wake up. Writing a book is so bloody achingly personal, and there's something so painful in people telling you that something that you poured your soul into is a load of old crap. Or that your characters are unlikeable when you love them. Or that they guessed the twist (oh how reviewers love to tell you that they've guessed the twists! Clever old you!). I am DREADING it.

I've had my fair share of rejections - after all, getting a book deal is 99% about overcoming rejection and I like to think I have a pretty thick skin. As a journalist I've had my work edited until it's unrecognisable and brushed off the bruises. But even though reviews are just rejections too, they're so public, it's somehow a different kettle of fish entirely. I am currently trying to develop tactics to stay sane when I read my first one-star review. I hope I won't fall to pieces.

As for the book being a total flop, that's another legitimate and massive fear. And as a control freak, it's so hard to deal with the fact that the book's success is not within my control at all. It's about so many factors - timing, the market, whether or not particular retail buyers want to stock it, how the PR/marketing campaigns go...

A lot of authors have said that having your first book published can really impact your ability to write another one - as it's so distracting and all-consuming, and confidence-knocking when you hear people tell you what you've written is crap. I suspect huge success is equally distracting - that immense pressure to live up to expectations with your next book. I was so conscious of this that I was determined to finish my second book before the first was published, and I have done, thankfully. But now I'm wondering if there's time to squeeze out a third? Or how about I just push my publication date further and further into the future? Or how about it just never gets published at all, but someone just pays me to sit at home and write books? Would that be OK?

I hope this doesn't sound too negative. It's not meant to. I'm actually just celebrating the present moment, which really is a time of pure joy. My book is being published. I've achieved something I have wanted to do since I first learnt to read. And I haven't had to deal with any of the hard stuff yet. I want to always remember how this feels - the pride of seeing my proof looking like a real book, the excitement of knowing a team of people love it and are 100% behind it. It's a magical time, this joyful limbo. It feels a bit like being at the top of a rollercoaster, that split-second of peace before you hurtle downwards (and hopefully back up again!).

You can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and pre-order here if you want to make my day.