How do you define home?

I have lived in two countries, in at least sixteen different buildings and had over ten different postcodes. I have used the term home casually to refer to the dwelling I currently reside in or the grand overarching area in which I grew up. When I moved from America to England sixteen years ago I can remember feeling a twinge of excitement about starting a new adventure but mostly I felt as though my heart and soul was being ripped from me and being put through a meat grinder. I felt tethered to my home area as if the mountain, the countryside, the hill towns people… my people, my land, were woven into my very genetic makeup. Years later my heart still aches for them, my homesickness fully kicks in around September when it’s apple picking season and usually dies down when my friends start posting pictures of large snowstorms on their social media. Thank goodness I hate winters.

When I moved here I felt as if I no longer was at home. I was an alien, a foreigner, a loose end. Slowly over the years I started making mummy friends, coworker friends and established local connections, I started to recognise certain landmarks in the area I lived with a particular fondness in their familiarness as if they were new beacons signalling I was nearly home as I would pass them and so over time I began to tether myself to a new home that I began to feel part of. I think about six years after my arrival when I stopped being known to the locals where I lived as “that American girl” and just simply referred to as Billie, I felt fully accepted and therefore also accepted that area as home.

This past October I went through a very difficult time. The house that I had rented for quite a long time in the area I had adopted as my second home was being put up for sale and my landlord served me notice that I had to move by Christmas. This was a heartbreaking moment for me. I had become settled, I had brilliant neighbours and friends around that made me feel safe and secure. My children were happy and had their own friends nearby. I struggled to find a new and suitable place for us in the immediate area. As I packed up more and more of our belongings I grew bitter. I felt like the universe was deliberately out to get me. Through a work colleague and a friend I finally found a house a mile away to rent. It was smaller than what we needed and I had to sleep in the living room so the children could have the bedrooms upstairs but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make to stay relatively close to “home” and my people.

The most brilliant thing happened when I moved. I acquired more people to love and who supported me. My bitterness washed away and I began to see the so to speak silver linings in the situation. This was also brilliant because it helped me step out of my comfort zone and apply for a new job that was in an area I would have previously considered too far to travel to. I got that job and am very happy there. My coworkers are a fabulous team of individuals who also have supported me tremendously. Which is also brilliant because in May after only living in the new house For six months I once again had to move because my new landlord needed to move back in the property. This time I could not find any properties that were suitable in my home area and I had to search further away. I luckily found a gorgeous property that was large and spacious and loaded with period features just two and a half weeks before my family was to become homeless. It was not in the area though. The proximity to the bus station in town and the fact that it was in town close to all the shops were the biggest consolations.

The second move in six months left me questioning what makes a home. Is it an area or a building? Is it just the people you live with or also the ones who are supportive and live nearby? Home, I now believe is a feeling of belonging, security, familiarity. It’s where your family either biological or made up of people you have chosen resides. It is also the extension of that. It’s your community and your tribe and your area. I honestly believe I was lucky enough to have two homes at once. The place I grew up in and the area that I adopted in my new country both equally held my heart.

This leaves me now feeling a bit untethered again. I am no longer in the area where my friends and support network are, I’m surrounded by the not so familiar and I’ve only briefly met two of my neighbours. Although I love the house I am in and my children who are my world are with me in it, it does not yet feel completely like home. It feels like something is still missing.

I recently made the difficult decision to move my youngest daughter to the school just two blocks behind where we currently live starting in September. This means that in a way my last tie to the area I claimed as home will no longer be there when she finishes school in our old neighbourhood at the end of July.

I guess now that leaves me starting yet another new phase in my life. New job, new house, new area. It’s scary but it’s also an adventure. I hope that this new journey also leads me to a new and wonderful sense of home.

In 2006 just after my second child was born I wrote this poem and it reflects a bit on what home was to me then:

Home is full of chaos and continuous CBeebies noise.

It smells of strawberry yoghurt, dog food and that last dirty nappy wafting through the air.

A sea of plastic rainbow toys litter the floor and have claimed my chair.

I can taste the tuna from my lunch, I’ve never liked fish but for all this I am willing to sacrifice much.

Because none of the rest matters as I hold you two close, one drooling on my chest and the other on my leg as we have a much deserved rest. My body is so very tired but my heart is so full.

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I met pensioner Spider-Man on the bus today…

So this morning was just a normal rinse and repeat type of morning in my house. Sometime after wishing I didn’t have to get out of bed, doing the autopilot morning routine and dropping my youngest daughter off at school I found myself on the bus heading into town making a mental list of all the chores I had to accomplish today. The bus stopped outside the train station and didn’t pull away straight away. This lack of motion snapped me out of my thoughts and I looked forward to see what to me was a very intriguing sight. A gentleman had boarded the bus and was counting out change to pay for the journey upon learning he couldn’t use his pension age bus pass until after 9 am. This activity in and of itself was rather ordinary and mundane. However, this gentleman captured my attention. Upon his head was a Spider-Man hat, on the floor next to his feet was a Spider-Man lunchbox and a Spider-Man rucksack complete with matching water bottle. The area between his head and feet was dressed rather dapperly with a nice pin striped suit which certainly contrasted the bright red of his Spider-Man regalia. He finished paying for his ticket, collected his bags and made his way to the seat in front of me. He was not oblivious to the looks he was getting from the other passengers and he smiled at those with the sternest expressions on their faces. His sky blue eyes almost twinkled with mischief as he sat down and said, “Have no fear Spider-Man is here.”

I heard some of the other passengers whisper the words autistic, dementia, crazy to each other. Most exhibited defensive body language, crossing their arms and leaning away. I couldn’t stop staring at him. I was captivated by him. He turned to me and said, “I know I must look strange.”

I replied, “no, I think it’s fabulous.”

I am so glad that I did because in that moment he lifted his pant leg up to show me that he had a full Spider-Man suit on underneath that pin striped suit. He then explained that he wears the suit for charity events. Just the week before he did an abseiling event dressed as Spider-Man for a charity that supports one of the children’s hospitals. He had once been an educator and still enjoyed doing work for children.

The conversation then turned to his efforts as an environmentalist. He spoke of the awareness events, the peaceful protests and the lobbying he does for the sake of our environment. His passion was infectious. The journey came to an end, we exchanged names (I will protect his secret identity), I then help direct him to his destination and after him bestowing a gentleman like kiss on my cheek we parted ways.

For the rest of the day I started to question my own life. I turned 44 last week and have been reflecting on things a lot since then. I’m younger than this man and yet somewhere along the way I stopped having the same level of passion and drive and enthusiasm that he has for the causes that he cares about. One of my passions has always been writing. My novels have become dusty, my short stories covered in cobwebs and my passions limited to a few paragraphs scratched out in notebooks, unexplored ideas typed into the notes app on my phone and a blog sitting untouched for nine months. I’m not sure I have much value in my voice at the moment but I feel like I need to try to explore my words again. I am hoping this is my first step to rekindle just one of my passions.

I met pensioner Spider-Man on the bus today and he may never know this but he inspired me in a way I’ve not been inspired for a very long time.

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The parent that picked me…

It’s no secret that my mom is my biological mother but my dad is not my biological father. I met my dad only a few days after my mom did. They were set up on a blind date and after their initial date my mom made it clear that I was to be part of the equation and therefore I was brought on their second date. I was only a toddler at the time. It didn’t take long before we became a family. They married quickly after meeting. I was eventually legally adopted by my dad when I was very young.

My biological father and my mom were married young and divorced when I was an infant. Growing up my parents were honest with me. I knew I had “another father” out there in the world but I did not see him or his family. My parents answered questions as I had them and my close relationship with my dad made it so that I didn’t really think much about meeting them.

When I was sixteen fate intervened and I was working my first proper job at a little local grocery shop when a lady came to my line and asked if she could write a check to pay for her items. I looked down at the check and she shared my birth last name. I was usually quite shy but for some reason I felt the urge to say, “that used to be my last name.” The woman’s eyes began to fill with tears and she asked if I was Billie. I confirmed that as my first name and she told me that she was my biological aunt. She was only six years old when I was born but she remembered holding me and playing with me as a baby. A few weeks later she returned with a tall man who looked similar to herself. She brought him up to me and said, “do you know who this is?” My heart raced, was I ready to meet my birth father? I wasn’t sure. I shook my head no. She then said, “this is your uncle.” I felt great relief in that moment. I discovered most of my biological family lived nearby but my biological father had moved away. I established a relationship with my aunt after that second interaction. I had mixed emotions about it. In some ways I felt I was betraying my dad and the family that had chosen to love me and accepted me as their own but I also had so many questions I never knew I had before that moment that I really wanted answered. I had an aunt, an uncle and new cousins who had spoken my name many times, who had missed me, who loved me despite not really even knowing me.

My parents were supportive of my journey. I reassured my dad that he would never be replaced in my heart. I adored him. We were close. He was there for me whenever I needed a daddy growing up and that bond could not be broken.

When the time came for me to finally meet my biological father I was ready. I studied him closely. I wanted to see part of me in him but I didn’t. Aside from perhaps my hair colour I did not look too much like him. I definitely resembled my mother’s family and looked more like my adopted family than my biological family. I remember feeling extremely grateful that this man gave me life and then gave me my life when he allowed another man to become my dad. Those two things are the things I still love the most about my biological father. He remarried not too long after meeting him again and when I was in my early twenties he and his wife gave me two things that I had always wanted…a baby sister and a baby brother.

In my late twenties I moved to another country but over the years I have remained in contact with my biological father’s family just as much as my mom and my dad’s families that I grew up with.

For me family is about love. Family can be made of people with great biological ties or formed from a group of people who have no genetic connections. And for me and many people out there in the world there is no greater gift than realising that your family became your family not just because they created you but because they chose you.

I recognise not everyone has the same wonderful reunion stories or adoption views as I have but not everyone has positive experiences with their biological families either.

If you feel like sharing your own adoption story in the comments, please do.

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Built in Betas

So, when I first started getting used to the idea of potentially marketing myself and my writing I began to scramble for betas to read some of my novels. The lovely blogging friends I had made at the time proved to be valuable betas. They critiqued my work honestly and made fabulous suggestions to improve on the pieces I had them reading. But…they were not my target audience.

I write young adult novels and needed some young adult betas to get a more accurate feel of the appeal of my work. I had friends and relatives with bookworm children living in their houses who were willing to help out. I seized up though, cold feet got the better of me. I never passed anything on for them to read because I couldn’t bare the thought of someone who knew me or knew of me personally reading and hating my work.

Flash forward many years. I have in my own house two of my own children who have over the years watched me write with great curiosity but never were old enough to read my work, until now. Tonight I passed my laptop first to my son and then to my eldest daughter and asked them to read just the first five pages. Why? Because that is what the agent I am getting ready to send my query off to requires. I wanted their impression. Did it hold their interest? Did it flow? What is good/bad about it?

My son gave it a thumbs up and asked if he could read more. I took that as a good sign as he is hit or miss with what books hold his attention. He is very diplomatic though and would not give any negative comments.

My daughter is always very direct and does not share her brother’s diplomatic filter. She immediately told me which parts she liked, what part she found confusing and what she wants to know more about. 

I feel quite pleased about sharing my work with them and will be less hesitant in the future.

Who do you use as your betas (if anyone)? Do you try to use different types of betas to gain different insights?

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Genre Decisions 

I have written many novels now over the years and although they all fit into the young adult market they are not all in the same genre. I have a range including science fiction, dystopian, high fantasy, ordinary fantasy and even one plain old fiction. It’s only recently that I’ve decided that I may need to start to focus on one style and hone my skills in that one area. Obviously, when and if I present one of my novels to an agent/publisher and they enjoy it, they would reasonably expect to see the other novels I have written or will write be similar to the one they are buying into. That is just common branding and increases overall marketability. The tough part for me now is choosing. Writing in the young adult market was not a choice, it just is the area that comes most natural to me so I never have to even consider my target audience. My genre focus is not as easy. I guess I will have to spend time looking back at all the things I’ve written including my novels, short stories and poems to see if there is an overall theme that I am not aware of. I will keep you all posted as to how I get on.

How did you choose your main genre? What are your thoughts on focusing on just one genre or do you prefer to be eclectic in your writing?

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Resurrection Day

So here I am couple months into the year 2017 and so far it is proving to be an okay year for me. I have come out of the woods so to speak and am ready to once again walk in the sun. I am eating healthy, exercising regularly, I have started a gratitude journal, I am feeding my brain novels again and slowly my muse has started to return so I am trying to recommit to writing regularly. For me, trying to resurrect my blog is one way to do that.

I have not got a game plan. I’m not sure if I will relaunch any regular themed posts, post short stories or just babble but I am at least going to try to recommit to blogging regularly. I look forward to reconnecting with old blogger friends and gain some new ones along the way. So stay tuned and see how well I fair this time.

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Metamorphosis

A plump dose of being insecure,

devouring everything,

anything but still left wanting more.

 

The sting of the world leaves you to weep,

you end up smothering yourself,

all you do is sleep.

 

Your first new steps are tentative and demure,

still you stand a little taller,

you are feeling much more sure.

 

Drips of life start filling up your well,

your soul becomes aware,

it is perfect in any shell.

 

Springing off the edge,

time to take flight,

leave behind the night and learn to bask in the light.

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