In sickness and in health

I know, I know. Long time no write. Some of you might be thinking I’ve given this author business up, and instead run away with the circus while travelling, abandoning responsibilities for a more exciting life. Not quite. I did spend 12 months backpacking around the globe with my partner, living in the back of a van for some of it (we dubbed it “The Marriage Tester”). We worked in bakeries in the French alps and taught English in the middle of Poland’s Black Forest. We hiked the Inca trail and swam with sea lions in the Galapagos Island and paddleboarded in Canada where the mountains meet the sea. And oh, the cheese I ate.

It all sounds quite idyllic, doesn’t it? That’s the thing about travel; or life in general, really. When you’re telling the story, you can make it sound as wonderful as you like. And while many of my 365 days overseas were pretty wonderful, there was a good chunk of it spent in utter despair. I spent some days sobbing in bathrooms while throwing-up endlessly, while my husband made frantic phone calls to English-speaking doctors, trying to see if any hospitals would admit me. See, it turns out I have a chronic illness called cyclical vomiting syndrome, and it’s basically as shitty as it sounds. It’s something I’ve probably had for many years, but it decided to really dial up a notch when I started travelling, and by the time I arrived back in Brisbane and settled back in to full time work, I was averaging an attack every 10 days. When I say attack I mean endless vomiting only interrupted by me a) blacking out from pain or b) hyperventilating my way into such a panic attack that I black out. It’s not the most productive way to live, and getting a diagnosis and treatment plan ended up taking months of my life and thousands of dollars and a considerable amount of my mental energy. Which didn’t leave much energy left for writing, or really doing anything other than existing.

A selection of beautiful places I've puked above...

I’ve found a treatment plan and I’m working to rebuild my spoons so I can invest some energy in fiction writing again (the non-fiction has been ticking along nicely, more on that soon).  Seeking help for a chronic condition is time-consuming and expensive and it’s something that is going to impact me forever – this is just a reality I have to adjust to. In theory it doesn’t sound like a big deal and I feel bad complaining about it: lots of people deal with much more significant problems. But it really does touch on so many aspects of my life – fear that I’ll have an attack has stopped me attending events and celebrations, means I’ve refused to visit places where I’m not comfortable suddenly spewing (not as many places as you’d think, my standards have really lowered). Part of managing it includes sleeping certain hours and only expending so much social energy (because anxiety and panic attacks are part of the condition) and so my social life and basic ability to be a good friend has diminished. I get nervous on long drives (where will I spew? Will I be able to pull over in time? What if I black out?) and even more nervous on public transport (what if I spew in front of all these people? What if I spew ON all these people? What if I’m so disorientated from pain that I miss my stop? What if someone takes advantage of me while I’m disorientated?). My biggest fear during my studies this year was that I’d have an attack during an exam, and while I managed to avoid that, I did get an attack every time I had an assessment due – stress can be a trigger for some people, but for myself it’s more a case of perpetually poor timing. I have to carry around a small pharmacy and a card to show doctors if I end up in hospitals. And medication to treat attacks, and ongoing treatment and assessment and preventative medication – it all adds up. Emotionally and financially. Which is why I started writing this post. Because, miracle of all miracles, every now and then I get a royalty cheque. A ROYALTY CHEQUE! My little book, two years after its release, is still being bought and borrowed and recommended. Which means every now and then I get some sweet, sweet cash (which promptly goes on medical bills, or food, but sometimes goes on pointless fun stuff like silly earrings and MORE BOOKS), but I also get some beautiful validation; a glorious self-esteem boost that reminds me that while my book might not be changing the world, it’s out there making people smile, or think, or helping them to sleep because they find it boring (still good!). So thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who picked-up a copy, or recommended it to a friend, or got it from the library, or reviewed it online. It means a lot.

 Was too excited at getting another royalty statement to get a non-blurry photo.

Was too excited at getting another royalty statement to get a non-blurry photo.

Putting my words where they work best – and why I probably won’t be blogging while travelling.

You might have noticed some radio silence around here lately. That’s because I never like to do anything at 10 per cent, oh no. I like to dial it up to 420 per cent, frantically juggling 500 balls and then being stunned as I inevitably drop a few. Blogging, obviously, was a dropped ball.

I’ve got a lot of exciting projects on at the moment, and that’s where I’ve been focusing my time. There are lots people who run brilliant, witty, inspiration blogs about writing and reading – there’s no need for me to add my two cents just for the sake of you know, adding my two cents. I like to blog when I have something to contribute, but not just to make noise. Instead, I’d rather put my words into books. That’s what I’m better at.

I have a non-fiction book, due out 2018, and a solid-ish novel that just needs a bit more foundation shoved into it to make it really sturdy. I’ve been bitten by the story bug for another novel, and I plot it in my head as I drive and run and clean, aching to find time to get it down. Around all the fun stuff is the less-interesting life glue that takes up most of my time. You know, the full-time job, the studying, the basic things like cooking and cleaning and re-watching all Doctor Who. Essential stuff.

Oh, and planning for a year of backpacking. That’s right – my husband and I are about to spend 12 months travelling around the world, living out of our bags. We’ll be seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, working in a bakery in the French Alps, hiking the Inca Trail, getting lost in New York, and being gardeners in Canada. This trip has taken a lot of planning and saving and organising, and I can’t wait to take a year off from the day job and see the world.

 Looks like a lot of luggage until you remember that we travel through snow and summer and hiking and ice and... why can't I just grow a thicker coat to get through seasonal changes, like my dogs?

Looks like a lot of luggage until you remember that we travel through snow and summer and hiking and ice and... why can't I just grow a thicker coat to get through seasonal changes, like my dogs?

A lot have people have asked me if I’ll be blogging about my adventures. You know what? Maybe, but probably not. I have a strange relationship with blogs. For starters, they often require talking about yourself, which is something I am very uncomfortable with. Also, I think as soon as you set out on an adventure with an agenda of documenting it for an audience later, it changes how you experience things. You go into each event with this lens of “How will I tell this story? What will my audience think about this?”. You go from enjoying the moment to thinking about how you’re going to tell other people about the moment. And then, it’s just one more step to start thinking “I need to have the most fun! I need to do this thing the best/ most craziest/ most attractively etc. because I’m going to share it with everyone later!”. And pretty soon, your adventure becomes a performance.

I know it’s not like this for everyone, but I see this happen a lot. And I don’t want my life turning into a competition for likes or clicks or shares. I often write about my travels anyway; someone needs to provide my mother with a blow-by-blow description of my whereabouts and safety level, or she’ll freak out. If I feel like it, I might share some of stories here. But I’m not going to commit to anything, and if I don’t feel like it, I won’t. There are hundreds of fabulous blogs out there that are much more elegant, interesting and exciting than mine  - go have a read and celebrate those blogger’s amazing work! Meanwhile, I might drop by to write a 5000 word homage to all the cheese I eat in France, but I might not. We’ll see.

If you do want to keep up to date with what I’m up to, I will always post writing news here. And you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter, which is a constant stream of rambling that gives a terrifying glimpse into my convoluted mind (much like this sentence).

And if you know of a great writing, reading, or travel blog, share it in the comments below.

 Dear Australian beach and beautiful Aussie coffee, I will miss you so.

Dear Australian beach and beautiful Aussie coffee, I will miss you so.

Unicorns versus dragons

The fabulous Alice & Arnna & Co (I’m pretty sure the Co is Arnna’s adorable dog that I took 500 selfies with) are doing a feature on me on their blog.

 This puppy can sense my desperation for its love, and rejects me the more I love it.

This puppy can sense my desperation for its love, and rejects me the more I love it.

They ask me the important questions like “unicorns or dragons?” and “Who would voice the Front Page News audiobook?”. And it was extra nice because Alice and Arnna are old friends so I could swear as much as I liked.

I’ve done a few interviews about Front Page News, but this was the first that included baked goods, so obviously it’s my favourite.

Check out the blog here.

We join our hero a month on...

So. Today marks a month since Front Page News “officially” hit shelves (it was out at a few books stores earlier). What have I been up to since then? Aside from panicking, quietly, in a corner?

I had a book launch – the Front Page News Booze-Up – which involved chicken wings and beer and me trying to get out of a question and answer session that my cousin dragged me in to.

I gave a guest talk at my old uni, QUT, and gleefully reminded the staff and students that I nearly failed the one creative writing class I took there.

I appeared on 612 ABC breakfast – the biggest breakfast show in Brisbane – and threatened the host with bodily harm for making me do my first live reading.

I wrote about four books that changed me for the Sydney Morning Herald.

And I got to talk to the wonderful Kimberly Foster for the Your Creative Life podcast.

Oh. And I did a lot of assignments.

 

 

Come on baby, let’s do that self-promotion*

So it’s May. Not only a great month, because we can all make that N*Sync joke and use wonderful memes like the below, but also a great month because my debut novel, Front Page News, is hitting shelves. It’s going to be out there in the wild, like a real book. Which I guess means I should start telling people about it.

 It's important that we never let Justin Timberlake forget this.

It's important that we never let Justin Timberlake forget this.

I know, I know. I have this whole website where all I do is talk about the book. I mention it in my twitter bio. One might assume, looking at these two pieces of evidence, I prattle about my book non-stop.

I do not.

I do not. Here’s how bad I am at telling people I have a book coming out – I spent four days volunteering at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival last September, and managed to only tell one person there I had written a book. I started my Masters in Writing, Editing and Publishing this year and so far only one of my classmates knows I’m a writer. And she found out via twitter. A colleague outed me to another colleague in the lunch room the other day and I threatened to throw-up if they kept talking about my book. This book, Front Page News, was my first ever attempt at writing a novel – I never actually thought anyone would read it! I haven’t mentally prepared for this. Even on social media, I’m hesitant to share the news, as evidenced below.

This is exceptionally hard for people to believe, especially once they’ve met me in real life, but I’m actually very shy. Oh, I’m happy to talk to anyone, and I’m overly friendly, and don’t care if I come off looking like an idiot due to my enthusiasm about just about everything (Dinosaurs! Science! Music! Cooking! Snakes! EVERYTHING!). But when it comes to talking about myself, I just clam up. Part of it probably comes from my religious upbringing – generations of humble missionaries run through my blood and while my family is very loud about singing the praises of one another, we don’t praise ourselves very much. I think going through a pretty torturous time in high school didn’t help either; being six-foot tall with glasses and a penchant for taking your pet chook to school in your backpack tends to attract a few bullies. And I’ve spent my entire adult life promoting others, as a journalist and as a communications officer. When you’ve spent years meeting and interviewing prime ministers, hero pilots, scientists that are curing cancer… well, writing a book doesn’t seem that impressive.

But it is impressive (well, at least to my mother), and I’m doing a huge disservice to myself and the lovely team at Penguin who’ve put so much effort in if I keep hiding this book away. So. You’ve been warned. Prepare for a few more social media posts, and a bit more big-noting of myself, and possibly even some kind of launch event…

Front Page News – go pre-order it now. It’s pretty great: http://bit.ly/1XhFrLU

*Title best sung to the tune of Kylie Minogue’s Locomotion.