About, Mindset, Parenting

Menstrual Cup Mayhem

Using less plastic and creating less waste is something that many of us are very conscious of, and in my own personal quest towards combatting climate change, I have started using a menstrual cup. Oh yes. In this post, I am going to talk about menstrual cups. And periods. Yep. Periods. PERIODS. PERIODS! If thats too much, then I recommend you leave now, and rejoin for my next post, when I go back to talking about mental health or parenting.

Still with me? Well, here we go!

So I have been menstrual cupping for a few months now. I actually bought said menstrual cup about a year ago, but was too scared to use it. Then, after Christmas I bought myself some exceedingly pretty washable pads from Bloom and Nora, and made the decision to go fully cycle-sustainable. Go me!

Now, as we all know, change can be a tricky business. And any lifestyle change takes a little practise, perseverance and usually a few tears. Three periods in (I have a short cycle) and I thought I would message a very dear friend who I haven’t seen or spoken to for several months to tell her my observations. This readers, is a true account of our conversation:

I feel there is not much to add at this point. If you made it to the end without crossing your legs, you have my upmost respect!

And why did I share this conversation? Well, once again we find ourselves not being open and feeling like we shouldn’t talk about the less than glamorous sides of life. Talking about how flippin’ tricky the menstrual cup is, is important and none of the nice eco-packaging or motorway-service-station toilets mention these potential blunders!

The menstrual cup is amazing, but knowing that there are organic, non-plastic tampons from TOM, out there in the world is a happy thing to learn and I wouldn’t have found that out, had I not bared all to my dear, dear friend … Also, my husband is very patient when I tell him of my menstrual cup mis-adventures, but there’s not really that much he can empathise with in these instances.

And finally, I hope if you do use a menstrual cup, or are thinking about using one, this post has some handy-what-not-to-do tips for you! Happy cycles everyone xx

About, Mindset, Parenting

Awesome Amethyst and Brilliant Breathing

As many of you will know, managing and overcoming anxiety is something that is an ongoing project of mine. Last year I took to journalling in a big way, which you can read about in my post, The journals of my mind, and I also completed a course of one-to-one CBT thanks to our wonderful NHS.

Through both of these things, I made progress that has changed my outlook on life. The journalling has taught me to put daily focus on things I am thankful for, things that have made me really happy and also my goals.

Through the course of CBT I unpicked a lifetime of fairly low self-esteem and self-deprecation, and rebuild myself into someone who believes that they are a good mum, and a talented book designer, author and illustrator, and also someone who is allowed to be proud of their achievements. That last one was the biggy.

Although these things had made me emotionally feel much stronger, unfortunately my stresses and anxieties were still there and so instead of attacking my emotional stability, they began to give me strange physical side-affects. Reynauds is one. Reynauds is where your fingers and toes can get very cold, and go whitish yellow in colour. It is painful, and you have to work quite hard to get them back to normal again. I now have to make sure I keep myself very warm all the time.

Another side effect has been a monthly, let’s call it, ‘period poo’. I won’t go into the details, but if you are a member of one half of the population you will probably know what I’m talking about. My gut had started reacting to stress and anxiety that I was taking on board.

After doing some research and seeing that both these symptoms could be caused by stress, I made an appointment with a good friend who is an osteopath. My friend couldn’t have been more wonderful. She showed me some breathing techniques so that I breathe from my stomach rather than my diaphragm, and also recommended that amethyst is a crystal known for its protective powers and that some people wear amethyst jewellery as a protective aid against negativity.

After my appointment I got straight onto Etsy, and ordered myself a really pretty amethyst necklace – you can find the one I bought here – and started practising the mindful stomach breathing that my friend had shown me whenever I could. I have also joined a lovely meditative and restorative yoga class, which is absolutely perfect.

Since that appointment the way I feel is markedly different. The me that was constantly rushing and nervous has calmed down a lot. I don’t seem to rush anywhere now, and that has not affected our punctuality at all. In fact, yesterday morning we were all ready for the school-run five minutes early, so I had time to calmly put a wash on!

When the children rile me, I don’t rise up as much and feel het-up for ages afterwards. I either don’t get cross, or I shout and then I’m peaceful again. Inside I feel more comfortable. The combination of amethyst and breathing so far seems to be working. I still get the cold fingers and toes, and I am careful about what I am eating, but I feel physically calmer.

How do those things work? Amethyst is meant to have a very calming energy, which I will be reacting to. And the breathing? Well, in breathing from my stomach, I am dispelling the stress that is being held around my gut through my breathing. And the yoga is just plain relaxing.

When I was younger I used to cry about everything. I think that was my body’s way of releasing stress. Since having children, crying seemed a little self-indulgent, and it is something I had stopped allowing myself to do. I realise now that crying for me is incredibly therapeutic and important, and I am letting myself do this more.

I guess the lesson I am learning through all this, is once again that it is so important that we are open about the ways that we are feeling. We must validate those feelings by dealing with them, whatever they are, because if we don’t there they find new ways to manifest themselves. I am thankful that I have such a wonderful friend to be helping me, I am thankful that I am feeling better – I hope I can keep it up. And I am also thankful that my lovely amethyst necklace looks just about perfect with all of my clothes.

Illustration, Projects, Publishing

Audience participation

Today I spent the morning engaging with my audience, something that I haven’t done for a while. I spent the morning with children in school, reading my book to them, talking to them and showing them original artwork. It was great fun.

When I am concentrating on my work, at my desk in our spare room, focussing on deadlines and which editor or author needs what cover or book interior next I often forget that there are actual children out in the world who are the true focus of my work.

Getting out into the world and talking about myself is not something I love to do. I am quite introverted like that, so I find an outfit that will make feel confident and warm, and get me out of Imposter mode. I also put on my amethyst necklace, which helps me to feel peaceful and protected. With these tools, I can go out and meet my audience.

Today, four classes of children listened beautifully as I read them Reynard the Fox. We talked about the story, and why I wrote it. We discussed how long it can take to make a book, and how long it can take to make the pictures and how I made them.

Children ask the most wonderful questions. Some of my favourites today were around whether my book made me happy, and which pictures made me most happy. Another child asked me which artist inspired me, Eric Ravilious – look him up – his artwork is beautiful.

One of the things that I really love to do when I meet classes of children, is get the original illustrations out for them to see. The illustrations in Reynard the Fox are all A2 monoprints – so they are large and they are colourful. Each illustration is in a protective plastic sleeve, and I get them out and pass them round or put them on tables to look at. You might think I am mad letting a whole class full of children free on a set of original artworks. I probably am, but I think the interaction for all of us with real, tangible objects is vital. This is an opportunity for children to hold and examine pieces of genuine art.

When I decided to make children’s books, one of the biggest draws for me, was that picture books are a child’s first step into the world of literature and fine art – works of art that they can keep and hold and love. I wanted to be a person who introduces that appreciation too – a world of colour and texture and rhythm – just as other authors and illustrators introduced that world to me.

As I get the illustrations out, I can see the children engaging with these great big papers filled with colours and shapes. The more they see, the more they wish to see. How amazing is that! A story that they have just listened to has come to life in their fingertips. They are asking me which ones they can look at and how many more there are.

It is a lovely feeling, and makes me very proud. Thank you children, today you reminded me why it is so good to take some time away from my desk, and to really look and appreciate the art in the world around us.

About, Parenting

When the sh*t hits the fan (or gets on your shoe)

Anyone reading this not in the UK might not be aware of our upcoming election and what feels like a really pivotal moment in our political and community sphere. Please don’t think that I am about to bombard you with my political opinions, I’m not. But, I do have some comments on how things feel as a working mum, and mostly those comments rotate around the word, community.

Community is a word I am aware of more and more at the moment. It is in the semantics all around us: in the words of politicians, in the need to be more climate-aware, the move to shop more locally, and even how we need to be a community in social media too – we all have a duty to care and support – not troll and bully.

As a mum herding two children on the school-run, I am ever frustrated by the lack of community-spirit when it comes to picking up after one’s dog. I am a dog-person through and through, and believe you me, a dog has been on my personal life goal list for my entire adult life. But. Every walk to and from school has become fraught with me trying to keep my children out of dog poo! I can’t understand why people don’t pick up. What I do think is that lack of respect for others, and that thinking from a position of ‘self’ sums up a lot of the problems facing our society at the moment.

When you only think in terms of ‘self’ that disregard for others, which at first may seem harmless, and just a bit lazy, actually has a ripple effect. That one person who doesn’t pick up after their dog creates a series of hazards for everyone else using that path. It means that each mum has to try and develop x-ray poo vision and seriously, at the moment, I think I must sound like a crazy lady the amount of times I am yelling and grabbing my two to keep out of the poo!

That disregard also shows to others that it’s ok not to pick up after your dog, and therefore it’s ok not to care about the other people using that path. So a couple more people stop picking up. And soon, there is literally sh*t everywhere!

Apart from the dog poo, there are pockets of working-mum-hood that are pretty flippin’ fantastic. One of those, is Bizmums, which truly is the epitome of community. It began as a series of networking groups aimed at self-employed mums, the main aim being that you can network with other self-employed mums, at child-friendly venues. I have been a Bizmum for two years now, and truly I have never felt so supported. We are all women who work hard, juggle running a business around our families, and through online and face-to-face I have found a community where we all work to help each other. It is not competitive, it is nurturing and collaborative and open-minded. It shows me that the true spirit of community is a powerful and amazing thing.

Without Bizmums, I probably wouldn’t have created DesignerMum, I certainly wouldn’t have published Reynard, and I would feel a lot less secure and settled where I live.

And how does all this relate to our election? Well. When we operate from a position of ‘self’, we are choosing not to care or support those around us. For me, here we have a problem. If we all remembered that as human beings we have a duty of care to those people and the world around us, I believe our world would be a happier place. It would also be a richer place. A society which places community at its heart is surely somewhere where everyone can benefit, in all sorts of ways. I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t strive for our own goals, of course we should. But instead of only caring about ourselves, we can choose to pick up after our dogs, and make other people’s walks more fun. We can choose to get milk delivered in bottles and keep a local farmer going, whilst also reducing our plastic consumption. We can choose to support those working around us, and improve our local economy directly.

This election feels to me like a choice between self and community. From the bottom of my heart I hope that we can choose community, because I am tired of all the sh*t.

Design tips, Publishing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a self-published book is difficult to get into a bookstore

I love making children’s books. It is something I wanted to do since I was very little, and through a good mix of luck, determination, stubbornness and maybe even some talent too, I can say with confidence, that this is my job.

You name it, I have worked on it. From picture books and novelty books, to magazines and annuals, fact books and activity books, e-books and lots and lots of primary school learning content! Mostly these are books that I create for other authors and publishers, but I also have a head bubbling with ideas for books that I intend to write, design and illustrate myself.

One of the big discussions that often comes up for me at networking and mastermind groups, is, why don’t you just self-publish? I have done this successfully (incidentally you can find my first picture book, Reynard the Fox here). Or, do I go down the traditional route of hopefully finding a publisher to get on board.

Self-publishing is definitely a more dependable option. Once the decision to publish has been made, it is simply down to me to make that happen. I could publish a book next week if I wanted to. However. I have decided against this, for several reasons:

Fresh eyes, Many hands, Light work
I want the fresh eyes of editors and publishers to give me their opinions and feedback. I want to take in their comments and resend the book in its updated and improved form. I want designers and art-directors to look and tell me if the colours are working ok, and whether the point-size of the font is too big or too bold. And then I want to rejig those things and send it again, feeling confident that it is revised and perfected a little more. I also want the marketing team of the publishing house to guide me with how best to advertise and sell my book.

Production Quality vs. Mass availability
One of the reasons I decided not to publish Reynard the Fox with any print-on-demand services, such as Blurb or Amazon’s KDP, is because the quality of the printed books is not good enough for me. I don’t feel that their stock options print books that can sit on a shelf next to traditionally printed books. Their quality can work for a novel I think, but for a children’s picture book, which is meant to be read, and re-read many, many, many times over, needs to be something stronger. And the paper needs to be able to show the colour of the artwork at its vivid best.
I must say here that I did achieve excellent production quality with Reynard, as I did much research and chose UK book printers, Biddles. I couldn’t have been more pleased, and I am so proud that my book looks and feels as lovely as any traditionally published title.
The downside of this though, is that my book is not widely available. I have to rely on traffic to my site here, and doing an awful lot of promotion, which I don’t spend enough time on, therefore my sales figures are not what they could be if my book was more readily available through Amazon for example.

Bookstores don’t often like self-published books
This is the big one. Any author who has self-published will know how tricky it can be to get a physical bookstore to stock your title. Unfortunately as self-published books are an unregulated entity, anything and everything can be turned into a book. This means that books worthy of the Booker prize may be self-published, but also books that are of much lesser quality.
And as a self-published title may also lack the production quality of its traditionally published counterpart, most bookstores simply won’t consider your self-published work.
Again, I must say here, that because I was so determined for my book to be ‘the real deal’, my local bookstore has taken copies of Reynard. For me, this was an incredible achievement. And one of my proudest moments as a creator of children’s books, to see my title sitting proudly alongside some incredible names in children’s publishing.
But one can easily understand why this is not the norm though. Physical shops have to work hard to keep their place on the high street, and stocking titles that are lacking in content or production quality would not be a sound business move.

I feel that I must now explain the purpose of this blog post a little. I have nothing against self-publishing at all. It is a method that works – especially as a way of getting an author’s work into the public domain. Many authors now begin by self-publishing, and then secure book deals later on. And for me, self-publishing was a great option for Reynard the Fox. I knew from previous feedback that it was never going to be suitable for the mass market, but there was still a market for it. So a traditional publisher would be unlikely to go for it.

What I will offer up is this: When you are self-publishing, work with as many publishing professionals as you can. Get editors to sub-edit and proof-read. Get designers to storyboard your artwork and style the covers. Commission illustrators to bring your text to life. And above all, listen to their suggestions. All the publishing professionals that I know, love their craft. Our collective goal is to make every book that we work on, the best book it can be. So work with us. Yes, that means we cost money, but know that we are experienced and are here to help.

For me, my next career goal is to find a traditional publisher. This is something that I want very much, for the reasons stated above, but also it is my dream.

For you, if you are an author and looking at your self-publishing options, do get in touch. My specialism is children’s publishing, and I can assist you personally there. But I also know talented people who work on grown-up stuff too. We can help you create a book that will be worth its place on your favourite bookstore’s cool book shelf.

About

A head full of Coldplay

I discovered this week that Coldplay are releasing a new album very soon. Hooray! The 16yr old me just did a little squeak and a swoon.

I have been a Coldplay girl since their first album, Parachutes, and saw them perform twice during the first few years. Both shows are still very vivid in my mind, and some fab memories.

During the last 10 years, I dropped off the fan-boat a little – mostly because I had other stuff going on. Met a beardy guy, moved house a few times, married that beardy guy, had a couple of children and got my freelance business off the ground! But, I am still a Coldplay girl. I can pin-point particular songs and albums to very specific points in my life.

The wonderful thing about music is that it has an incredible ability to infiltrate our lives that way. Music is like something that can inhabit us. So when we are reminded of a particular piece, it can magically transport us to moments, or people, or places in time. For me, Coldplay have been with me since my teens – so they have been with me through some stuff.

So, I hope you will humour me whilst I indulge myself a little (actually, a lot) and share three really clear times that Coldplay evoke in my mind. Thank you for indulging me, reader.

Yellow vividly reminds me of finishing my GCSE’s, and the summer of 2000

First up, Yellow, from Parachutes. I can still remember when this song was Jo Whiley’s Record of The Week on Radio 1, and this would have been when I heard it. I was on revision leave from school, to finish my GCSEs. And the more I heard it, the more I fell in love with it: the words, the guitars and the sound. Then I saw the video. Way back in tender 2000, when my sisters and I were all teenagers, and the music video channels were what we used to bicker over, I remember seeing this slightly geeky guy singing along the beach about how he wrote a song and it was called Yellow.

When I watched this video this morning, to put in the link for you, I was totally transported to my parent’s old living room, and I just completely smiled. This song is magic to me. It makes me smile from my head to my toes. And although I probably wouldn’t say that I loved being 16 that much, this song reminds me of how I would listen to it and be absolutely hopeful that someone like that would love me that much one day. (And if that person happened to be Chris Martin, even better!)

Fix You takes me back to summer 2015, living in London whilst doing my BA in Illustration

I’m not going to dwell on this one too much. Weirdly I’d never seen this video until I posted in the link, and it seems strangely serendipitous that Chris Martin is walking and singing again, but this time in London.

During 2015 I had completed my second year at Camberwell College, and was living with my art school friends in our big old house share in London. That summer I was working in a lovely shop in Covent Garden, and also starting to prepare for my final year at college. It was the first summer I didn’t go home, and I was ridiculously homesick. The words in Fix You married with how I felt exactly, and all I wanted, was to be at home in Shropshire. Even though I had a lovely job, great friends and lots of fun in London. I have a very embarrassing memory of listening to this on my headphones, completely balling my eyes out on a tube train, whilst sitting opposite a family who were quite clearly on holiday. What they must have been thinking, Lord only knows!

A Sky Full Of Stars sums up my learning how to be a mum to my new baby Sidney

This last one happily makes me smile top to bottom again. My memory of this song is linked to my maternity leave with Sidney, and how I felt about him. To me he was My Sky Full of Stars. After a totally normal pregnancy, his birth was a bit scary, and he then gave us another scare at two weeks old, so to say that I found becoming a mum easy, is about as far from the truth as you can get. But I think that is probably fair to say of most mums.

Anyway, once things had settled down, I used to take him for walks each day around where we lived, and this song resonated so much. Its uplifting and beautiful and brings tears to my eyes when I hear it. So much love in such simple words. Now, I often hear this song when I’m washing up in the kitchen when it comes on the radio and it just makes me so happy.

With their new album coming, I am really hoping that Coldplay will tour soon. I have been telling Noel for quite some time that next time they tour, I want to go. By writing this post, I’m definitely putting it out to the universe and declaring my Coldplay fan status! Please tour, please!

About, Mindset, Parenting

A rainbow of mental health

As I write this, today is World Mental Health Day. This post was actually going to be called, “School Day, Short Day”, and be about how short the school day is, and how I now seem to spend all of my time clock-watching now, and the stress that ensues from that, when you are trying to get work done, or anything done for that matter. Instead, I am going to tell you about my week.

Some women will say that they don’t really get affected by the change in their hormones every month. I am not one of those women. My hormones have the ability to increase my core body temperature, undue my ability to think rationally, and they can also create torrents and torrents of tears. They also do other things too when I am particularly stressed, but you get the picture.

One of my favourite mummy friends put it perfectly last week, “It affects your ability to cope”. She couldn’t be more right. For the last week I have waded through a quagmire of worrying, tears and also a snotty nose. Anyway, yesterday it came to a head when I literally felt consumed with a familiar feeling of panic, which I haven’t felt in several months. The same old panic, which I now understand is essentially, “I won’t be able to cope if this happens” – whatever “this” it may be.

I also understand now, that panic of “I won’t be able to cope” is actually rooted to my self-esteem. I don’t believe that I will be able to cope if something beyond the normal, everyday happens, or, things might happen that are beyond my control. On a subconscious level, what I am essentially telling myself is “I am not good enough”.

So, what do you do when you feel like this? You reach out. Definitely reach out. Please, always reach out. Yesterday, I chose my dad. Over the weekend, when everything was too much, I reached out to my sister. Of course, the conversations that I had with them didn’t really alter anything physically, but in sharing how I was feeling, I could attempt to stop internalising. I was still feeling teary and anxious , but I didn’t feel so isolated by my feelings.

What I really wanted to tell you though, was this. As I was gathering in the washing after tea yesterday evening, still feeling panicky and worried, I saw a rainbow. A very clear, lovely, beautiful rainbow.

Now, when Sidney was about 2, he went through a tricky phase of crying every time he went to nursery. I used to tell him, that if he was ever worried, or sad, if he saw a rainbow in the sky it meant that everything is ok. He got that he would remember this, and if we ever saw a rainbow, we would talk about it and remind ourselves that everything is ok. When I told him this, I was thinking of the story of Noah and the rainbow, and the promise that God makes to Noah.

Now, I’m not overtly religious, and I spend my time focussing more on an attitude of gratitude and believing in the universe than going to church these days. But yesterday, God, or the universe, or someone powerful somewhere, had my back. Seeing that rainbow totally grounded me. It said, everything is ok. And I smiled. All the panic feelings, and lack of control pretty much melted away in that moment, and I went back inside the house feeling like my steadier, positive self again.

Today has been much more normal. Thank goodness. Thanks to that rainbow. All day today, I have thanked whoever sent me that beautiful, perfect, magical band of colours.