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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Catherine Chisnall - my story

A New Page for a New Year.
Catherine Chisnall tells us about her year in 2010

My momentous year!
by Catherine Chisnall
2010 has been a landmark year for me. It has been the year I realised my most cherished and long held ambition- to publish a novel.
I am overwhelmed by what has happened. In December 2009 I was exhausted, wondering what to do with my life and unable to see a path ahead. I thought all the fun was over, I had to be sensible and grown up from then on.
But one year later, I have had not one but two books published (three if you count the compendium). I have met lots of new friends, caught up with old ones and sorted out a lot of ‘stuff’ in my life.
I wrote ‘Descending’ in the midst of a dark, cold winter, feeling despondent and cynical while snowbound at home. It was December and I did not feel jolly and Christmassy after ten years of working in all consuming world of secondary education. The terrible problems faced by students, the endless drive towards learning targets with no room for creativity, the vast range of behaviour issues battering me in every class- all these had worn me out.
But I thought there is no point writing a book and no one reading it. I have written stories for years and only shown them to a few friends. They were generally romances/ chick lit, but I don’t know if that genre is my strong point. ‘Descending’ was different, so I uploaded it onto Authonomy.
Well, we all know what Authonomy is like. I didn’t focus on getting to Editor’s Desk, I just wanted constructive criticism and that is what I got. Very, very useful. One writer pointed out I’d written ‘doesn’t want to’ when it should have been ‘wants to’, which caused me endless amusement and gratitude. If I’d left it as ‘doesn’t want to’ the whole plot would have changed!
I also put ‘Descending’ on Slush Pile Reader, and got some good advice from them as well. Their site is much less frantic than Autho, it is lovely.
A number of people asked ‘what happened next to Emily and Jamie? Please write a sequel.’ So as I was also curious as to what happened to them, I started writing ‘Surfacing’.
I then put the first chapter of ‘Descending’ on Night Reading, thinking what a quiet site it seemed, with not much going on (how ironic!). Although ‘Descending’ was entered in the poll for May, it didn’t get chosen, so I thought ‘oh well, what shall I try next?’
Miss LA Dale, you may have heard of her, advised me to put it on Smashwords, so after wrestling with their infamous style guide, I did so, along with ‘Surfacing’. I watched the e-books spread across the world: Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple etc.
Then came the magic email, the golden trumpeting from the heights of heaven. ‘We’d really like to publish ‘Descending’ and ‘Surfacing’,’ offered Tim Roux, the lofty (in more ways than one) head of Night Publishing. I was so excited, but being a cynic, tried to restrain my excitement until I actually saw the contract and got involved in editing.
After some fits and starts, and a lot of advice from a T. Geering, the contract came and the editing started. I’d designed the covers myself and the red ‘Descending’ cover was approved, the final edits done.
Then one day soon after, our kamikaze postman, who wears shorts all year round, burst through our locked front gates bearing a parcel. In which was the magical red book, my first born of paper. I have kept it in its cardboard packing; it is only brought out on special occasions.
That was Just The Beginning. I now had to publicise the book, and went round registering on every site I could: Twitter, Facebook, Book Blogs, Shelfari, Good Reads, and Scribd. I can’t remember them all, they are so numerous.
Some reviewers liked ‘Descending’, some didn’t. I’m pleased to say, however, that most did.
I’ve learned there are two types of reviewers: Readers and Writers. Readers race through books, giving a quick review, not thinking that there is a person behind the book who may be hurt by callous comments. Writers are much more open minded and brave: they have put their own work ‘out there’ and are more considerate and constructive with comments.
When it came to ‘Surfacing’, and the compendium of both novellas, I knew the drill. Cover designing. Editing. Approving. Although Tim and I had a lot- and I mean a lot- of discussions about the covers we eventually compromised and I’m pleased to say that the covers are very striking and popular.
‘Surfacing’ and the compendium were published in November, and my portfolio was complete. All my books live in their cardboard wrapping. I suppose I should put them on display.
What a journey this year has been. That sounds like something an inspirational speaker would say, but it is true.
This year I also learnt a lot about myself, how I function, what my strengths and weaknesses are. Probably a bit late at 42, but its better than never finding out at all.
The first thing I learnt was that I am one of the 1 in 5 people born with a highly sensitive nervous system which is programmed to notice subtleties: in the environment, differences and relationships between people and/or objects. The majority of people are not like this.
I don’t like the description Highly Sensitive, I prefer Highly Aware or Highly Perceptive, but it is as it is.
Some features of being Highly Sensitive are:
• People’s moods and the ‘atmosphere’ in a room affect you
• You need time alone to process your experiences
• You have a rich inner life with a vivid imagination
• It is hard to function when you are very hungry or tired
At first I saw being Highly Sensitive as a disadvantage. I wasn’t ‘tough enough’ for the world and people could hurt me easily. But now I see it as valuable. I notice what others don’t. I can make connections between things and interpret events. I can sense what moods people are in without being told. Useful for an author!
The other thing I learnt is the reason why I can never focus on one career or interest is because I am in the minority of people whose brains are just designed differently. Therefore they have a wide range of interests and talents, and can’t narrow down to a few, let alone one.
This multi-talented approach was admired in the past, but these days we are encouraged to focus on one career or interest and do it excellently, rather than be good at lots of things.
People like me have been called Renaissance men & women, da Vinci personalities, polymaths, Jacks (& Jills) of all trades, eclectics, dilettantes or flakes. The name coined by the psychologist Barbara Sher for this type of person is Scanner (I don’t like it, but it’ll do for now).
You might be a ‘Scanner’ if people are always saying to you:
  • You’ve got too many interests. You can’t do them all.
  • When are you going to settle down and get on with your career?
  • Why don’t you finish one thing before you start another?
  • You can’t spend all your life wandering from place to place.
  • No you can’t do art & science and languages. You have to choose.
I found out that I don’t have to choose between my interests, there are ways to do them all and I’m not the only person like this.
So finding out about my HSP and Scanner traits has liberated me and stopped me believing the people who tell me I’m weird. I don’t care so much what they think of me now. I know I am not alone, I am just in the minority.
I will remember 2010 forever.
For the exciting times.  My books being published. Making so many lovely new friends who are also on the journey of writing and being published.
For the other new friends I’ve made, the HSPs and Scanners who ‘get me’ and know what I’m talking about. I’m no longer the weird one who does things differently to everyone else, I have communities I fit in with.
For the silly, funny conversations I’ve had, mainly on Facebook with Chris; Andrea; Lesley; Diane and her entourage and many more.
For the support and companionship I have received from all my friends. Hopefully you will all read this and know that I thank you and wish you the best for 2011. May the upward trend continue and everyone flourish.
You can see more of Catherine by clicking on the links below:

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