As another year draws to a close I look back and realise I’ve measured the last few years based on how long it’s taken to write my book.
I can now understand why writers get so obsessed with their work. I am now one of those writers – eeek! Yes, I have been a hermit, yes, I’ve neglected my friends and indeed yes, I even turned into a deranged, tortured monster at times. But I’ve achieved something I thought a simpleton like me could never do – write a whole novel! (This is me popping out of a box to celebrate.)
So my Christmas message to all is this: Never give up, even when the road is littered with discarded traffic cones that break every single toe bone each step of the way. You WILL get there in the end – a bit battered, but extremely smug.
Ok, so writing my book was full on, but I also had to use up a load of annual leave in my day job – so what did I do? Plan my dream trip to Japan of course!
My sister and I had wanted to go for absolutely yonks and it was now or never. We had the dough, the time and just enough energy. Timings weren’t hot as I was trying to finish 125 illustrations for the book, but I was feeling burned out so a change of scene was needed.
And what a trip! The flight with ANA set the pace for the rest of the holiday. We boarded what turned out to be the Star Wars R2-D2 jet and took our seats with the theme tune playing and an announcement of ‘May the force be with you’- brilliant!
As soon as we landed everything was super exciting: getting on the train, walking down the street, buying stuff from the supermarket, even going to the loo! We spent the first week based in Tokyo experiencing the scramble crossings, arcades, bullet trains, food items on our list (Sushi, ramen, udon, takoyaki, yakitori…), food items not on our list, and 2 days in Kyoto to see old Japan: pagodas, zen gardens and geishas. It was so incredibly different to what I’m used to that everything was a massive wow.
But it’s the creativity of the Japanese that I was in awe of the most. Everywhere you turned something strikes you: cute anime characters on billboards, TV, metro ads, vehicles. Massive digital screens on the sides of buildings alongside coloured neons lighting up the main strips. And the food was a feast for the eyes, presented with thoughtful composition, colour, texture and form – Oishi! (Delicious!)
The second week was a welcome breather from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo (which is not for the faint hearted BTW!). We flew 3 hrs south to Ishigaki to sample laid back tropical island life and stayed in a traditional Japanese house by the beach. We scuba dived with manta rays and turtles and basically chilled the heck out.
That holiday hit the spot and I was refreshed and ready to finish the book when I got back home. So if you’re ever in doubt, give yourself a break and reboot!
3yrs, 63,931words, 2 massive eye bags and 0 friends later, I have finally FINISHED my first teen novel!
So, how do I feel?
Well there’s no fanfares or parties or even any whooping or air punching. The creative process of book writing is a slow burner. It doesn’t end here. The manuscript is now with a copy editor, who will look at the more technical (and tedious) aspects, so that it’s tidy and legible and makes enough sense to present to the public. It will then come back to me for final edits, before it’s laid out and marked up for illustrations. My next job will be to get those done – all 90 of them!
The illustration deadline has been set for January 2019, so I’m going to have to get my drawing hat on PDQ. Initial copies will go to print then to be honest, I’m not sure what happens after that as I only have enough headspace to focus on the next few months, and obviously want to enjoy that time without thinking about other stuff.
Right now I’m happy to say I’ve already completed front and back cover art and the first 5 illustrations. For the first time since starting this project, I can see it coming together – it’s looking excellent and I am VERY excited!
Loads of enthusiasm from the group at Parkstone – well done! Kids love the mindfulness effect – teaching them how to be in control of their emotions at a young age gives them a valuable tool for coping with stress throughout their entire lives.
This is Michael looking at an illustration of the main character Jake, who refuses to go to bed and will make any number of excuses to stay up – a familiar scenario in many households with young children! He can relate to this, and by reading Chill with Lil can learn how to make bedtime less of a drama.
This is me demonstrating how easy it is to ‘Chill with Lil’ at Broadstone library, which believe it or not is on Story Lane! How amazing is that? I asked if the library or lane came first – it was the lane.
The group I had followed the guided meditation really well and the grown-ups always join in, which is brilliant. My favourite part is when I ask everyone to slowly ‘come back’ into the room. They honestly look like they’ve just woken up from good night’s sleep, with lots of yawning and rubbing of eyes!
The book was written to help calm kids before bedtime, but it can be read whenever you feel like chilling out. People have asked if it can be used as a bedtime story and I say yes, because even if the child isn’t actually doing the exercise, at least they’re learning how it’s done by observing and learning the steps.
While I was up in Newcastle visiting my son, I squeezed in a cheeky visit to a place I’d always wanted to see: Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s books.
This former granary building has been converted into a museum and visitor centre completely dedicated to children’s books – whoopee! The founders wanted somewhere to house Britain’s collection of original manuscripts and illustrations, put on exhibitions and invite writers and artists to come and speak. Since it was opened in 2005 by Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt, it has hosted lots of famous names and won numerous awards.
I was on my own, so had all the time in the world to explore all seven floors – what a treat! I especially loved the magical exhibition ‘Where your wings were’ by North-East author David Almond, and the interactive ‘Aliens Love Underpants!’ room.
If you’re ever in the area, take your kids for some fun – or if you’re a big kid like me, then just take yourself. There’s something for everyone!
This was the ultimate challenge – helping my friend’s son go from a state of frenzied hyperactivity to total tranquility!
I’m pleased to say that it happened in less than ten minutes, while reading Chill with Lil. As soon as you have the child lying supine with a blanket to aid stillness, they start relaxing straight away.
Read the book with a soothing voice and you’ll soon notice your calm energy transferring over to them. The breathing and body awareness exercise has been especially designed for kids, as they find the instructions fun and easy to follow.
I honestly can’t tell you how much it’s like magic happening before your eyes when you see the instant transformation. Please try it for yourself sometime, and enjoy the peace it brings!
I read Chill with Lil to this group of adults and kids at the Bournemouth Buddhist Centre. They responded amazingly to the breathing exercises and body awareness meditation, which of course they would, as we all have the ability to switch our brain waves when we focus in silence. The result was that everyone was much calmer, happier and ‘blissed out’.
This is the aim of my book – to bridge the gap between awake state and bedtime. So many parents I know have trouble getting their kids off to sleep, and it’s because they’ve missed out the slowing down process. The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be done anytime, anywhere, not just before bedtime. I want more people to experience the benefits, and that’s why I wrote Chill with Lil.
Chill with Lil has been officially released. Let’s hope she spreads the word of mindfulness far and wide!
If you’ve never meditated before, I highly recommend you start with the simple body awareness exercise inside this book. You’ll wonder why you’ve never tried it before. And the beauty of it is, you only need one minute – yes, that’s all it takes to sample a smidgen of blissful, calming silence.
Did you know we have about 60,000 thoughts a day and 90% of them are either repetitive or just a load of negative twaddle? Also, when the mind slows, the body follows? You can learn to feel chilled in seconds – what an impressive and useful skill to have!
I hope this book helps to improve our busy, noisy lives in some way – Enjoy!