Untitled, because this post did its own thing entirely, but at least there’s a poem?*

*This post did not turn out the way I’d intended it to. It was supposed to be a summary of what I’ve been up to, and some useful links I’ve come across, along with some pretty pictures of my cat and my hourglass. I’ll have to save those for a later post though, because this is what came out of me tonight, and I need to get to bed before I revert back to my natural zombie state!

It’s been a while since I posted anything and there are a few reasons (be warned, I was struck with verbosity during this post, so continue at your peril):

  1. I’m pretty lousy at sticking to a schedule in terms of blogging. When life gets busy, I have a tendency to avoid the internet like the proverbial plague. It’s a way of keeping my sanity intact.
  2. Work was draining the life out of me. Although my colleagues were great, and I could work from home – I was expected to be on social media, reading mainstream news articles, and writing my own. I hated it. While it may be the lifeblood of people who thrive on political debate, and journalists with predatory instincts for a good story, I just couldn’t convince myself to enjoy it. I tried, I really did. But it was making me miserable, and for someone who has depression, that’s not the greatest space to be in. So I quit. I cannot begin to describe the relief I feel at not having to plug into that every day. It feels like I can breathe again. Having said that, working from home for an online company, with deadlines and targets, forced me to sit down and write, even when I didn’t feel like it. It’s given me a level of discipline and focus I didn’t have before, and taught me some really valuable lessons about what I do (and don’t) want in a writing career.
  3. Ghostwriting – Oh yes! Quitting my job meant I needed to find another source of income. Ghostwriting fiction gives me that income and allows me to focus on what I’m passionate about – telling stories. The best thing about it is that the pressure is off to deliver a perfect first draft, because it’s not being published under my name. And ironically, because of that, I’ve been able to create and share some of my best stories and characters in the short space of a month, compared to the last 15 years of writing! I will always be a perfectionist when it comes to telling a good story, but ghostwriting has given me the confidence to tackle my own ideas with a bit more leeway for mistakes.

Because life got so crazy for a while, I needed to step back and figure out what my priorities were. Depression was kicking my butt, and I nearly messed up some really important relationships because of it. Motivation and energy were so hard to come by – and part of the problem was that I didn’t want to acknowledge I was actually depressed. I had some weird idea that acknowledgement meant it had won, and that I would never be okay again. I thought that pretending everything was okay, and ignoring reality would, in fact, make everything okay. It didn’t. It made things worse. Much worse.

No one who hasn’t had depression will ever be able to fully understand what it’s like to have no reason to feel absolutely and thoroughly de-motivated. I think the thing that comes closest to describing it for me personally, is this:

I live a thousand lies,
To hide a single truth;
That everything’s pretense,
Every smile a mask –
A deceit to give you peace of mind.

I live a thousand lies,
Each morning when I wake
To greet you for the day;
You do not know that deep within,
In dreams I’d choose to stay.

I live a thousand lies,
Every time I say I’m well;
And no one ever seems to see,
The truth behind the ‘me’.

Yet still, I’ll live the lies,
A thousand every day
And the single truth of what I want,
Well hidden it will stay.

(Keep reading for the rest of the poem)

One of the biggest realisations I’ve had in the last month, is that depression is not an excuse to check out of taking responsibility for my life. At the end of the day, this is my life, and while I may sometimes struggle to function on a very basic level (can I just stay in bed forever?), that’s not a reason to give up. There is never any reason to give up.

I am fortunate in that I’ve got an incredible support system in my friends. They are the ones who’ve encouraged me to talk about how I feel, acknowledge when I have bad days, and celebrate the good ones. I am so incredibly grateful to them for not allowing me to use depression as an excuse to check out; for letting me talk and vent and cry without judgement; and for offering me practical help (like driving me to the clinic so I could get some homeopathic remedies for support).

And they are the reason for this poem continuing:

Until the day will come,
When I’ll remove the mask
Certain you’ll turn away,
Disgusted by my lies.

Then the hope that I’ve been seeking
Will suddenly shine bright,
For you have seen my deepest lie
And still embraced my light.

One by one my thousand lies,
Will slowly fall away,
And in their place I’ll hold the truth:
That I was born to live!

The only time I ever take selfies is when it’s the only way to get a photo of one of my animals being adorable. Meet Paladin, who was formerly Stray Cat, and is now just a smooshy bundle of love:

Paladin
Paladin demanding loves while I attempt to write.

Camp NaNoWriMo,Writing Goals and “Big Magic”

The beginning of April brings with it several thoughts.

One, it’s April Fool’s, which means I could technically end this blog here and leave you all wondering about the title and what I’m thinking…

Except, you probably won’t wonder for long, and I’ve never been a fan of April Fool’s, given that I completely stink at pranking people. Aren’t you lucky?

little brother prank GIF-source
(This GIF made me laugh so much, I nearly wet myself.)

Moving on: the second thought is that Camp NaNoWriMo kicks off today, and I’m participating this month with a word goal of 25 000. I’m so excited, because the project I’m working on is the Beinn Draken series, which you may have read about here, here, and here.

Just in case you don’t want to hop back to those other posts (I don’t know why you wouldn’t, cos Beinn Draken is AWESOME! and there’s a really long excerpt in the last one), here’s the synopsis as created for my Camp Project:

The Thabulayi have been at war for generations when scientist Micara, creates a weapon that could have unforeseen catastrophic results. Before she can decide what to do with it, Micara is forced to flee her country, along with other rebel Thabulayi.

Aboard a merchant Misyer ship, a storm runs them aground and the Thabulayi and Misyers find themselves trapped on an island that is home to the Clachers.
Full of folklore, and superstition, and with the “dragon” about to emerge from his mountain, the Clachers want nothing to do with the strangers.

Except for Ceither, a young girl whose insatiable curiosity leads her to a friendship with Micara as they try to find a way to save the island from the imminent volcanic eruption.

The “novel” is made up of a series of short stories, spanning several generations from Micara and Ceither’s time, to the island’s present. It combines South African culture with Scottish, and I’m just so excited about it, that I might actually burst and shower you all with sparkly rainbow goo!

Excited

Which brings me to the third topic: writing goals and Big Magic. For those of you who don’t know, Big Magic is the title of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book for creatives.

For those who don’t know who Elizabeth Gilbert is, think Eat, Pray, Love. Or watch her give a TED talk on some of the ideas that she shares in Big Magic. Go ahead, I’ll wait

That’s pretty powerful stuff, right?

For those who don’t know, I’ve been struggling with depression since the beginning of 2017. I didn’t realise it though, because it’s a silent little bugger that sort of snuck up on me, and (in my case at least), it’s not a constant all-encompassing feeling of wanting to die.

That feeling sort of comes and goes, and it was only when I nearly drove myself casually off a bridge last year, that I realised I couldn’t do this alone. I reached out to friends, and I got help. Because the thing is, I don’t want to die. I have a lot of plans, and a lot of living still to do, and I am doing it. I’m doing what I love to do.

The latter half of 2017 was a recovery period. A time of reevaluating where I was in life, what I wanted to do, and just figuring out how to look after me. It ended with me accepting a writing job at the end of December, and now I get paid to write.

But the problem with that, was I started unconsciously buying into the tortured artist, martyred-for-my-art belief system that so many creatives have. Because I wasn’t being paid to write what I wanted to write. I felt like I wasn’t making a difference with my writing. 

While 2018 started off well, it slowly spiralled back into that pit of despair. The feeling of suffering to be able to do what I claimed to love was overwhelming. I lost myself to fatigue, and sadness and constant, draining complaints.

And then, last week, my very best friend who knows me well enough to know what I need, gifted me with a copy of Big Magic. I had goosebumps the entire time I was reading it, because not only was Gilbert telling me what I’d been doing, she made sense of why I was doing it.

Now, obviously, it’s not the only reason. I have some underlying physical health issues that I need to look at, and fix. But a large part of it was exactly that: buying into the stereotype of needing to suffer for my art. And losing my inspiration because of it. Losing my motivation, and the ability to do what I needed to do in order to succeed as an author. Which is to write every day and put myself out there.

At the beginning of 2018, I had a daily goal of writing my own stories for an hour each day. I haven’t been able to keep up with that because of the above mentioned fatigue and issues, but I have at least managed about five to ten minutes each day, even if it’s just the odd one-liner or scribbled thought. I’ve now revised that goal to be five minutes of writing daily. I don’t want to add guilt to my already overwhelmed emotional jar of feelings, so if I manage more, great! If not, well, at least I got a sentence or paragraph out of it.

On the other hand, Jozi Flash 2018 is underway and will be published in January 2019! At this point, assuming that all goes well with all the contributing authors, the final anthology will have 108 stories! Oh my gawd! We also have a theme (but I’m not saying what it is just yet, because surprise!), and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone!

Overall, 2018 has been a productive year so far. I’ve set myself certain goals and deadlines (something I’ve never done before), and that’s really helped keep me focused on the end goal of making a success of my writing, and of Chasing Dreams Publishing.

What does that success mean to me? At this point in time, it just means finishing my stories and getting them published; helping others to showcase their work through Jozi Flash; and various other projects. Big Magic also reminded me that it also means having enough time and energy to focus on myself, because no one else can do what I do (well, they could but it wouldn’t have my special touch), and I deserve to be happy and excited doing what I love.

So do you.

 

 

 

Beinn Draken – An Introduction to the Language + First Excerpt

The Beinn Draken series, which is supposed to be a mix of South African and Scottish cultures, required the creation of hybrid language.

South Africa has eleven official languages: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Northern Sotho, Venda, Tsonga, Swati and Ndebele.

Unfortunately, I only speak Afrikaans and English, although I’m currently attempting to learn Tswana from a friend. However, I didn’t want to use a South African language for the Thabulayi. I wanted to create a unique mix of the eleven official languages, and particularly the sounds that are common here.

The languages spoken by the African tribes are visceral, and there is often no direct translation into English. A good example of this is when I asked my friend how to say “You’re full of shit” in Tswana.

In Afrikaans, it’s; “Jy’s vol kak,” which is a literal translation and often a term of exasperated endearment.

In Tswana, however, it’s “uBowa nyoka,” which directly translated is the equivalent of: “you’re vomiting.” I absolutely love this (mostly because it makes me laugh every time I say it), but also because it’s so literal. There’s no room for misunderstanding here as there is in English or Afrikaans.

I really wanted that same effect when I was reading about the Thabulayi, and although the language is still a work in progress, I think the first story in the series, which is told from the Thabulayi perspective, really succeeds at portraying the language.

Here’s the first part of the story, which deals with the escape of Micara from her homeland of Tilawi, and the subsequent arrival of the Thabulayi on the unknown island:

I knew it was a mistake the moment I fitted the final piece into place. I stared at the machine in front of me.

Tilawi had been in the midst of civil war for three generations, neither side close to ending the stalemate which had ravaged our small country for close on four centuries. This machine, this weapon, would ensure a victory for the Thabulayi. It would also leave unthinkable devastation in its wake.

I glanced around the dimly lit laboratory. Though the equipment was state-of-the-art, the lights were kept to a minimum. Lighting drew power, creating a pocket of energy that the enemy, the Shaylawi, would pick up instantaneously despite shielding. It was close to the twelfth cycle, the lab was deserted except for myself. I rubbed tired eyes, wracking my brain for a solution.

Though the Shaylawi were the enemy, they were of Tilawi. Once, we had been one people. The Thabulayi – scientists and academics, and the Shaylawi – noblemen farmers and merchants. Peaceful and fertile, our coastal country had prospered, offering trade and education to all who sought it. Our ports brought wealth and prestige for the Shaylawi, advancements in technology and information for the Thabulayi.

But the Shaylawi grew greedy, seeking to expand our country’s reach. At first, the Thabulayi agreed that we should explore other lands. With the knowledge of the academics behind them, the Shaylawi spread inland, conquering one small piece of land at a time, until a vast empire was under their rule.

I rose, stretching limbs stiffened by hours of sitting on a hard stool. Leaving the weapon on the workbench, I made my way across the room to pour a drink of bitter koffie. Shuddering at the taste, I stared unseeingly at the tactical map pinned to the wall behind the counter.

Four centuries ago, the first of the Thabulayi realised that the Shaylawi had taken things too far. They refused to aid them any further, and when threats of retribution were followed by execution for treason, the Thabulayi had gone into hiding. Not all of them, of course not. Some of them wanted power without thought of the consequences. Those who had, formed a resistance group, made up of Thabulayi, a few rebel Shaylawi, and dissidents from the conquered lands who desired independence once more.

Civil war started in the time of my great-great-grandfather’s life, with strategic strikes against Shaylawi strongholds. They were taken by surprise at first, but surprise quickly turned to rage and they hit back with all the force of their new military might behind them.

They were skilled in warfare, having conquered lands for a few generations before, aided by Thabulayi strategists, and we were outnumbered. Still, what the rebels lacked in numbers, we made up for with determination and a skill that the Shaylawi had never developed. Invention.

Our knowledge and resources were turned towards their most heinous task yet. The creation of weapons.

I blinked, realising I’d finished my drink while reflecting on our history. I placed the empty cup in the sink, turning to stare across the room at the weapon. It appeared so innocuous, the small cylindrical handle sticking out of a black box. It reminded me of a toy my niece would play with, a box with a spring-loaded animal inside that jumped out when the handle was turned.

It was the toy which had given me the idea. Two years ago, I’d returned home after a long shift in the lab, only to find that home was nothing more than a pile of stone and shattered ceramic tiles. My entire family had been buried in the blast which had killed them: my parents, sister and niece. My brother-by-marriage had been killed four years prior to that.

I’d picked my way through the rubble, horror rendering me numb. My foot knocked the toy as I passed it, and the animal inside had sprung free as it fell from the tiny hand which had been clutching it. My niece, five years old, full of life and laughter, would never play with her beloved toy again. Rage had replaced the numbness and I’d welcomed it, embraced the cold determination that obliterated all traces of grief. I’d picked up the toy and left the ruins of my life behind, moving to the lab where I’d previously worked only on medical research.

A meeting with my superiors convinced them to allow me to follow my own path of research. They asked no questions, I offered no answers. Only the toy, placed carefully on the shelf above my workbench, reminded me of the promise I’d made. The promise to avenge the death of an innocent child. A child I’d loved as if she were my own.

A child whose life reminded me that the weapon – a biological plague – would destroy not only those who’d taken her from me, but the innocents as well. Abruptly, I made my decision. I’d just reached the workbench when the door to the lab crashed open and five armed rebels stormed in.

“Thabulayi Micara! You need to come with us!”

“What? What is the meaning of this?” I grabbed the weapon as two of them seized me by my arms. The other three moved from one end of the lab to the other, shoving equipment and carefully sealed chemicals into crates. “Be careful with those! They’re hazardous!”

“Your life is in danger. We have orders to take you to a safe place. To keep you alive at all costs.” I felt the blood drain from my face as I stared at the man who’d spoken. I shook his hand from my arm.

“I’ll get my bags.”

“Be quick.” I didn’t bother to answer him, hurrying into an adjoining office which had been converted to my living quarters. I stared at the weapon in my hands, a frantic war raging in my mind. I could take it with me, risk it falling into the wrong hands, the hands of those who would use it… or I could hide it.

For the second time in as many cycles, I made a difficult decision. When I left the room with a large bag slung over my shoulder, it bulged with the shape of the box.

“I’m ready. Let’s go.”

A frantic chase ensued through the streets of Palabow, the port town where the Thabulayi resistance had its headquarters. I’d known for a while that the Shaylawi knew who I was. I was one of the few female Thabulayi to work in the alchemical laboratories of the resistance, and I would have had to be stupid not to realise they would be watching me.

I’d known for two years, since my family had died because of my work. I wasn’t foolish enough to think it was me they were after. Dead or alive, I wasn’t essential anymore. The weapon was complete.

I checked my bag for the hundredth time as the enclosed vehicle I was hidden in lumbered towards its destination.

“Where are we going?” I spoke to the man who’d led the operation. He was dark-skinned, pleasant to look at perhaps, if I’d been inclined to do so in the midst of the chaos. His eyes chilled me to the core. Icy blue, they were frigid and calculating.

“We have allies who will take you and some of your… colleagues,” he spit the word like it was a curse, “to a safe place.”

“Oh.” I couldn’t think of anything more to say. My whole life, restless though it had always been, had nonetheless been reasonably comfortable. War had seldom affected us first hand, though the rebels were always present and the drills against attack sometimes became reality. Now I was fleeing for my life, reliant on a man whose very presence terrified me into silence. I fingered the cube within my bag again.

Two hours later, I stood on the deck of a ship, clutching my bag and surrounded by a dozen other Thabulayi, some of whom I’d only briefly met at the labs. We watched the land recede, not knowing when we would be able to return, not knowing where we were going. All we knew was that the ship we sought refuge on belonged to Misyers, a merchant race of people who had allied with us against the Shaylawi when their homeland was enslaved.

Short and stocky, the captain was garrulous as he guided us to berths below the deck, showing us where he’d stored our equipment and inviting us to join him for meals in the galley. I sat on my berth, oblivious to the curious gazes my kinsmen shot me, though they were too polite to intrude on my thoughts.

The ship hit a wave as we left the shelter of the harbour, and nausea welled in my stomach. I groaned and lay back on the hard mattress. Another wave and the seasickness washed over me. I knew no more.

Bellowing and shouting brought me out of my semi-comatose state. The sickness had gripped me for days, possibly weeks. I couldn’t tell. On calm days, I was able to sip some of the broth that Vreshni brought me; only to have it rise again when the next swells hit. There were no cures on board the ship, and no way to create any. Vreshni tried to get some ginger from the galley, but there were no fresh supplies of food, only dried staples and tins of fruit.

The yelling grew louder, and I became aware that we were in the midst of an eerie calm. Weak and shaken, I tried to rise, succeeding only in collapsing back into my berth. I couldn’t make out the words that were being blasted across the deck above, but the tone was terrified enough to have me reaching for my bag in a sudden panic. Vreshni, bless her, had kept it next to my bunk, and it was untouched.

The familiar, comforting shape of the cube was still inside it. I clutched it to me as a sudden jerk launched me backward. I hit the wall, the impact knocking the air out of me. A sharp splintering sound caught my attention and I struggled upright again.

Water was gushing through a hole that had been punched in the keel of the ship, a jagged rock spearing through into the cabin. I stumbled out of bed, my legs threatening to collapse under me. I gritted my teeth, forcing myself to stay upright as I made my way to the stairs that led up to the deck. I had to get out.

I’d barely made it across the cabin when Vreshni pelted down the stairs.

“Micara! Quickly! The ship is breached. We must make for the island.”

“Island?” My voice was hoarse. I cleared my throat. “What island?”

“There’s no time to explain! Hurry!” She gripped my arm, hauling me after her as she climbed the stairs again. I pulled back.

“The equipment!”

“Leave it! We’re in a bay. It will wash up on the shore in the next tide!” I puzzled this over for a few precious moments, brought back to the present by a sickening crunch of wooden planks splitting. The deck tilted ominously and I staggered into Vreshni who caught and held me until I got my legs under me again.

She led the way to the side of the deck.

“You can swim?” I nodded. I wasn’t fond of it, but I could. Baba had insisted I learn. Now I was glad he had.

“Go!” Vreshni shoved my shoulder, and I obeyed as the ship groaned underfoot. The whole crew of Misyers and the other Thabulayi were already swimming, making for the dark mountainous shape of land ahead. Vreshni had come back for me. Buoyed by the thought, I struck out for shore, the wet weight of my bag slowing me down, though I refused to release it.

Vreshni was beside me as we made it to the beach. Crawling up to dry sand, we collapsed next to each other, gasping with hysterical laughter as we realised we’d survived. I smiled at her, turned onto my side and was promptly sick.

By the time the sun rose, the ship had sunk below the waves and the tide had begun to wash our crates of equipment up onto the beach. We didn’t speak as Misyers and Thabulayi alike pulled the crates above the high-tide line, panting at the effort after our ordeal.

Finally, when it seemed they were all accounted for, the captain turned to address us.

“We’ve made it! We lost two crew and one passenger, but we’re here and we’re alive!” Silence greeted his words but he ignored the tension ringing through the remaining survivors. “I suggest we make camp, try to find some fresh water and then we can start to consider options for getting off this hunk of rock. Whaddya say?” He emphasised the question with a stamp of his foot and a deep rumble echoed through the land in response.

I looked up at the mountain that loomed over the beach and swore.

“Fricket! It’s a volcano!”

The Island of Beinn Draken – Rough Sketch

After a day spent writing eight articles for work, I couldn’t really face anymore time in front of the computer.
But, an hour of fiction is needed, so here’s today’s contribution to the Beinn Draken Series: the start of a sketch of the Island, Beinn Draken.
The stories are set entirely on this island, which is where two groups of people form a rather unusual society.
The Clachers, native to Beinn Draken; and the Thabulayi: displaced from their homes, they settled on the Island centuries before.
The first story in the series deals with the arrival of the Thabulayi to the island, their first meeting with the Clachers, and a significant crisis which results in their permanent settlement on Beinn Draken.

This is an A4 sketch of the windward side of the Island, which is the only area of island with a beach. The bay, which hasn’t been fully sketched yet, is where the Thabulayi landed.