Mutterings and utterings of a budding novelist

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International Women’s Day and my League of Badass Females

Given today is International Women’s Day, the slew of articles and posts across social media shows that this is still bizarrely a controversial event.
On one end of the scale overly sexist men venomously spit out derogatory comments, whilst the other end is full of ultra feminists using the day as an excuse to once again stereotype men as power-hungry, sex-obsessed evil fiends.
In between of course are the usual memes and pictures, strongly supporting this meaningful day. In my opinion women do have a tougher ride than men generally, in all parts of the world. Some more than others (I watched an eye-opening documentary on the women in Afghanistan last week!).

To me, the day has reminded me to get on with my writing and illustrations. Purely because pretty much all my protagonists are strong females. The character I’ve written the most about is from Tapestry of Fates – Ella Bland. Although her name is based on a close friend, her persona is much different (my friend is way cooler than anything I could write). As I near the end of the third book I’ve penned her transforming from a wide-eyed, sensitive art student, to full on planet destroying badass warrior.

I don’t think I write women more than men because I identify with them, or that I even understand them, but more so because I can sort of empathise with them. Growing up with a very strong-willed older sister (my sister Kelly still is one of the strongest people I have ever have the fortune to know. I swear she was Zenobia in a previous life!) has undoubtedly influenced much of my outlook on life. It’s no secret I was a very introverted teenager and only came out of my shell once I started college and started working in a pub.
So most of my time at home was spent around my sister and her friends, hearing their day to day lives, which has impacted much of my mindset. Had I grown up with an older brother, my life may be very different.
I do remember one incident from my school years (which my sister has probably forgotten), where she came home crying she’d broken up with a boyfriend. I remember her saying ‘Don’t you ever do this to a girl’. This has stuck with me for years and is probably the reason I’m friends with pretty much all of my exes, and why most of my pals are females!

So if anyone asks why I write about strong female characters, this is probably why. It’s also probably why I always choose to be female fighters in games (Taki in Soul Calibur or Sarah Bryant in Virtua Fighter for example)  And I know I say I don’t identify with women, but I guess I do try to in a way. The character Angel I put in all my writings is pretty much me. I have her act and speak as I would in that situation, despite her being a robot.

So there you go. If anyone ever wondered why most of my characters are female – my sister is the reason. She’s the reason I have a young artist trying desperately to save life itself, a young sorcerer who attempts to rally her country into a union against evil, and why a small little pink assassin droid has more humanity in her than most people in the same tale.

Happy International Women’s Day to the true stronger sex! x

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Site Redesign

Let’s face it, it was about time. It’s been a fair few years since I started this.
I still need to amend a lot, but like when it comes to typing out blog posts – I have little time these days.
That is about to change though 😉

‘So you’re here to stop us entering Hell?!’ shouted Darcie, holding her sword up at the demon. ‘Good luck with that!’

Fallen Tears Chapter Header Chapter 10

Back on track with this tale now.
And time to get things seriously messed up as the vampiric twins prepare to enter Hell.

Part 13 (Chapter 10) can be downloaded here!

DISCLAIMER: As always this tale is a first draft. It’s unchecked, unedited, and is pretty much as raw as I can type. Hence why it’s free. So no pointing out mistakes please!  Cheers!

Death as a Lesson

It’s been quite a while since my last post, mainly because of my hectic work life. A poor excuse I know, but it’s the truth.
I had planned on writing a very different post in the near future but the events of this week have pushed me to type out some more thoughts.

For as you will you know if you’ve glimpsed even a shred of the news that it’s been a week filled with death; some events arguably more tragic than others. The scenes and images from the earthquake in Nepal which has claimed over five and a half thousand lives (and counting) as well as the many thousands more that have lost everything have made for difficult viewing, and my thoughts and prayers go out to them.

But strangely, it was the much publicised executions of the death row prisoners in Indonesia that included two members of the Australian drug smuggling nonet – the Bali Nine has probably affected me more than it should have done. Regardless of your stance surrounding these two and your probable disapproval of me for mentioning this in regard to the tragedy at Nepal (5500+ innocent deaths against the demise of 2 drug smugglers), the execution has left me reflecting on my own life a great deal.
I guess the reason for this is because the Bali Nine were arrested at a time when I was holiday in Turkey in 2005. Having followed the case for years, read the books, watched the interviews with them etc, I tend to think about my time in Turkey and how it would feel to still be there now if I’d done something stupid like be a heroin carrying mule, imprisoned, having never returned from my holiday. And now as two of them were shot to death I found myself a bit shaken having put myself in their positions.

It’s reminded me to enjoy the life and freedom bestowed on me, not to work so hard and be more aware of the passing of time.
To be in the moment is a tough thing to do, but it’s something we must do in order to remember our experiences later in life.
To really be aware of every sight, smell and sound.
To put away the mobile phone and not view the world through a five inch screen.
To say yes to as many opportunities offered to us.
To explore new places and meet new people.
To truly embrace this world and our short time upon it.
And to do all this with a heart full of wonder and gratitude, and with a smile adorning our faces.

It’s a sad fact that terrible tragedies and disasters like Nepal will continue to happen throughout our history. But if we can extract any kind of lesson from them, it is a solemn one to the living left behind, reminding people not to take life itself for granted, for it could quite easily end in a single heartbeat.

Keep smiling, and never let life pass you by.

x

Life after Death

Surviving – Year One as a Freelancer.

Every morning, without fail, my phone bleeps all manner of notifications – most annoyingly of course are the numerous alarms in place to get me out of my pit. But one particular chime is for that app ‘Timehop’ with the funny looking dinosaur. And before I get up, I usually have a quick scan through it – and it usually drags up memories of this time last year when I had just been made redundant and was frantically job searching.

And yes, that was a scary time. Applying for job after job and watching my bank balance slowly dwindle away. All my years of reinforcing my strong beliefs of Law of Attraction and Positivity was being put to the ultimate test, and my god was it a lifeline!

As I’ve said before I decided finally in February this year to give up looking for employment and employ myself. And why not! I had basically the same pc I had at my old work (modded slightly better) and people were already asking me for work.

So I threw the application forms and CVs from my sight and started putting together my own company. And Phoenix Designs was born! Named after a storyline I’d had outlined for years (19 books in total!!). I sat down and wrote out a plan for self-employment.

Year One was simple – ‘Survive.’
Somehow I knew I would be ok if I worked my ass to the bone and kept a positive outlook, and looking back now I can be proud of myself for getting this far. From working out Daily routines which constantly changed and evolved, to trying out new programs that would aid productivity, to enlisting the help of friends – old and new to get me through. There are far too many to list here who have helped me, but my family know how supportive they’ve been, and how grateful I am. My friends too – driving me around when I needed it (Kev), showing me the ropes (Dan), as well as countless others supporting me have been invaluable. Even my little flat mate Wendy has been amazing, not only for helping me out with rent on the odd occasion I wasn’t paid on time (and never complaining once!), to simply giving me the human interaction that is lacking from a job you do from home. I don’t think her or her boyfriend Steve know how much it means just to say hello to them and break the cabin fever.

Also my fantastic pal Annette – giving me personal coaching and calming my fears etc has been incredible. Reiki healing, EFT, meditation, hypnotism. as well as simply being an amazing friend has proven invaluable and I’m not sure I would have made it through the year without her help.

Those closest to me know how hard I’ve work this year, often easily putting in 20hr days across a week. But I never seem to have any problems sleeping from the second my head hits the pillow. I never seem to need much sleep which is always a bonus.

So I guess now, it’s time to figure out the journey from here for the next year. Obviously my own projects have taken a hit this year, I’ve barely written or illustrated anything. Even my reading has been completely pushed to almost nil (Sharon Van Orman! I promise I’m still on with your book!!! :D). So next year I’ll be dedicating a portion of each day to these tasks as they are still part of my dream and should be nurtured accordingly.

Could I go back to working in an office or studio? Probably not now. It used to take me two hours to get to work and another two home. Now my workplace is roughly three feet from my bed. I also love making up my own rules and systems, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and knowing full well that I have full responsibility when it comes to customer satisfaction.

And so, what can I tell you I’ve learned? What tips can I give to help anyone else starting out this way? I guess I should be careful what I say, as some veteran designers may disagree with me. But you know what? Screw them. This is my blog and I’ll tap out these tips as I see fit.

1. Think in terms of ‘Time’ not ‘Money’.
This is something that took me quite a while to figure out. Time is now your currency. So instead of thinking you’ll charge £x for a project, think how long it will take of (uninterrupted (I’ll get to this) work to complete and charge accordingly to a set (immovable) rate of something like £15 or £20 per hour. If you work for a company who pay a set amount for a piece of work, then make sure that this also fits into the time/pay system.
One other thing to be aware of too – now you work at home, many people will assume to do jack shit all day except watch Jeremy Kyle and thus are ok to pick them up, wait for a package, relieve their boredom on their day off etc. Now I’m not saying not to do these things; after all, you’re a freelancer and can work when you please! Just be aware that doing these things cost you time, and in essence money. Give your time with care.

2. Forget your website at the start, get work first.
This may sound like a catch-22, because you need people to know who are in order to get work. But this was advice I was given when I was starting out and it was true! You can spend forever perfecting and crafting the ultimate website to draw customers, only to wait…..and wait……for nothing. Even in today’s world of online dominated culture, nothing does more for advertising than word-of-mouth. Your freelance might cough and splutter for a while whilst you get started, but once you’re rolling then you can spend time on your online presence. If you must, a quick Twitter and Facebook account at the start will be just as effective. In fact! These are probably a must as you connect them to your personal profile letting all your friends and family know what you do. There’s an awesome book for mastering social media called Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook which I insist you get! 😀

3. Find your own Routine and Systems,
To date now I have had three revised daily routines stuck to the side of my pc, which I continue to change as time goes by. An 8 hour day is a short amount of time to cram in emailing, ordering, calling, messaging, invoicing, eating, financing, and of course – actually working! So getting a routine sorted is paramount in succeeding.

4. Using to-do lists and programs to aid productivity.
It took a while to find a program or combination of programs to feel right in helping to get things done. I’d say Evernote is great but I found myself barely using it. And the same story is with a lot of other programs. In the end I settled on using a combination of Asana for all my main to-do lists and Wunderlist for everything else (money owed, money earned, amends received etc). Asana is great and I have it running constantly on my laptop at the side. If a project comes in you can log it into the site and work out what day you can do it. Then when that day arrives it automatically populates the day’s tasks with the project. Simple yet awesome.

5. Exercise to maintain energy.
Again this comes as almost a paradox as how can you burn energy to get more of it? Bizarrely it’s true though. Now I’m no gym freak or anything like that, but I do have my kinect set up in the living room and do my best to do an hour’s exercise a day. I notice on days I don’t do any exercise I get lethargic a lot earlier. So get out of the chair and do a little exercise.

6. Get out.
Since my desk in my home it’s easy to be stuck in all day and not get some fresh air. I’m fortunate to live beside the sea and a lake which makes my lunchtime breaks a lot more peaceful. Of course if it’s hammering down with rain I won’t go out at all! Ha!

7. Clearing your mind.
This seems to be the biggest cause of procrastination ever, and it’s made even worse when such vast amounts of information is at our fingertips. All day your mind could be buzzing with a million thoughts – I wonder what I’ll have for tea? Who was the lead role in Flash Gordon? I wonder how Aunt Bertha’s 90th party went on. How were the pyramids built? Does Kim Kardashian’s arse have it’s own Twitter account? Before you know it, google is opened, searches are made, Facebook is delved into, 15 things you never knew about Made in Chelsea is read, leading into an endless line of humourous Youtube videos, and shit!! Four hours have passed! What the hell happened?! Even worse, you can barely remember a thing you’ve just looked at?!
Then of course you begin kicking yourself over it, promising tomorrow you’ll do better. Then the cycle repeats.
So the key is to remove this chatter from your mind so you can focus on more important things – like earning a living. But how do you do it?
Well personally I use the first hour of my day to quickly scan what I need to – get out my social network cravings before my brower locks out Facebook for the day (using a Firefox add-on called Leechblock). Then before I exercise I’ll do fifteen minutes of meditation. If you’ve never done it you’ll be surprised how just fifteen minutes of sitting in silence can calm the mind. Try to remove all distractions too. Having an xbox or tv in the room is just asking for trouble.
This is now where I’ll sound like a hypocrite! Sometimes if I’m doing a mundane piece of work, I’ll put on a film (one that I’ve either already seen, or one I don’t have to pay much attention to (so something action packed is out!) as I find the ‘moving wallpaper’ easier to work to.
Also something minimalistic to listen to works wonders too. Spotify has plenty of focus related playlists.

8. Communication.
I think this is one area I excelled at from the start. I guess in today’s society, online scamming and corporate cold-heartedness have made many customers wary. If you can talk to them as a real person and get your emails and phone calls clear and upbeat, then client’s will realise you’re an actual human being, rather than a faceless set of templated responses. I’ve realised that a informal email to a client works better than a stiff multi-syllable worded one. You’ll come across as far more trustworthy and have their interests rather than their payment as the main priority.
Obviously don’t go overboard with this as some clients will see you as a walkover. Keep a level of professionalism and dignity. It helps if you get across you’ve been doing this for years – subconsciously people believe if you’ve been around a while, you obviously know exactly what you’re doing and will be thus less likely to be played like a buffoon.

9. Get your finances in order.
It’s hard to get this right after a long time of having a set wage paid directly into your account. But you’re in the thick of it now. Invoices, chasing payments, dealing with clients who refuse to pay, working out taxes and self-assessments – it’s a complete pain in the arse, and also very rewarding. I’m no expert in this area so I can’t give out any real advice – except this. Log and note down absolutely everything. Receipts, invoices and expenditure. You’ll be glad you did in the long run.

10……….you know……screw it! Ignore everything I said.
Take what you will from what I said above, but everyone’s situation is different. I think the best advice I can give is to dive in head first and make your own systems and way of working. If it doesn’t seem to work, then change it until it does. There will be a lot of trial and error but that’s how we grow and evolve. If you’re struggling for work, hammer everywhere you can online and offline. I was doing facebook cover photos on FiveSquids and contests on Freelancer. It all helps. And if you only put out work you’d be happy using yourself – you can’t fail to have clients drawn to you.

11. Never Give Up!
This goes without saying. Some days you may be riding the highest clouds, the next you may be wondering if you’ll even make it through the day. Nobody said it’d be easy, but once you’ve made it you’ll be so happy you did. Just remember, bad times come and go. And if in that particular moment of strife you’re still alive, then you’re able to change the future. Just focus on the present, and do what you need to. Be the inspiration to others and show the haters you won’t ever back down.

And so, on that note, I’ll get back to my day’s task at hand. 😀
Here’s to 2015!
And if you’re still reading this, thank you so much. It’s very much appreciated. Have a fantastic New Year!

Much love!

 

Ken xx

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A Year Later & Life Coaching

It’s almost one year since I got that phone call on holiday telling me that I was one of several people up for redundancy for a job I’d held for ten years. Back then it came as a massive shock – especially after I’d just been made ‘Employee of the Year’ several months previously.

Initially terrified at not knowing what the hell I was gonna do (as evident from my previous posts) I can now say it was the best things that has ever happened to me. One thing I am proud about myself is that I have a sickening work ethic and unshakable self-discipline. I can quite happily work my ass for 20+ hours straight and be happy for it. So I guess if I’m gonna work as hard as possible, I might as well do it chasing my own dreams. 

One year later, and I like to think I’ve finally made a success of things. My little companies are finding their feet. When you see work piling up, whilst debts start coming down, then I like to think all the ridiculously long work days and moments of sheer “huge bill coming out tomorrow – no money in bank” panic and terror have been worth it.

I’ve always been a big believer in not sending out any work that I myself wouldn’t use, and that being friendly and informal with every client helps build rapport. Anyone that’s had an email off me with usually find it littered with smileys. I believe this has been a key in getting to where I want to be. Being friendly and kind has helped build up so many opportunities and I’m grateful for everything that has come my way.

The other key I think, is belief. Belief in my own work, my own self-worth, and belief that the client will love what I send. And I’ll admit in the past year I’ve struggled with all three. During the months following my redundancy and sending my CV and portfolio to various agencies I received a bit of feedback that actually halted my applications for a few days. One recruitment agency told me they’d sent my portfolio to one Manchester design studio, Their reply – ‘”Is this some sort of joke?” Yep, that sort of comment will batter anyone’s confidence!

Thankfully though, things have gotten better, much better since then.

I owe a massive amount of thanks to a wonderful life coach who got my beliefs back on track, whilst providing me with all sorts of helpful affirmations, exercises, visualisations and even hypnotherapy. I can say I’ve never felt so happy in myself in all my life. I’ve been doing visualisations for years, but the first time I did one with Annette my mind was actually blown. Within one week, all manner of synchronicities began occuring and I had the most profitable week of this year! And now things just keep getting better and better!

An amazing life coach and an even better person you can find her here. http://youniquetransformation.co.uk/

She’s also has book coming out very soon so keep an eye out for that. 🙂

Final Digital Logo

So if I could speak to myself a year ago I think I’d utter my favourite phrase repeatedly. 🙂

“Never Give Up” 😀

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The Wings are Built, it’s now Time to Fly – 2014 So Far.

I always knew I’d be a published writer.

I always knew I’d be a published illustrator.

I always knew one day I’d be my own boss.

Looking back now I’m proud to say I’ve accomplished all three. Even if I reach the end of my days without achieving anything else I’ll still be proud I chased these dreams tenaciously. My close friends and family have watched me work my ass off to reach my goals.

And now I’ve done reached my sixth month running Phoenix Designs and Creative Covers in self-employment. Has it been hard? Shit yea. Has it been scary? Too bloody right it has. There have been some terrifying moments of wondering whether I could actually afford my bills, and then times when I’ve earned two or three times what I did in my previous job.

It’s something I’m still getting used to, taking the rough with the smooth and the hard times with the easy times. I’ve noticed that as I go on, systems and procedures seem to have set themselves up. From organising my work load to corresponding with clients. It’s a learning curve, and I’ve had to fend for myself (apart from the helpful words of friends who have walked this road before me) to get things ticking along.

I now can feel the tide shifting once more. Things are feeling easier, more settled. I worry less about where fate is taking me, and completely trust what the universe has in store for me. I’ve never been busier in my life, and sometimes work 20 hour days – every day of the week. But I know I can cope with these things, and feel empowered with each completed project. Receiving great feedback from elated customers makes me so happy.

Over the past six months I’ve made some truly amazing friends and contacts, and the long time pals of mine have supported me no end.

I know things will continue to grow and strengthen. I’ll set bigger and more ambitious goals and hunt them down relentlessly.

To anyone who feels they can’t make their own dreams come true – quit the worry, quit the negativeness, and have faith in yourself. You’re amazing, and amazing people accomplish great things.

😀 x

Let the good times continue.

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