Helpful Thoughts

So mindfulness is really having a moment, huh? It’s a word that, for better or worse (probably worse), I sort of zone out. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea, it just always seems to come from the lips of women who spend their time talking about “toxins” and making sweet potato brownies, which by the way, are a MASSIVE HEARTBREAKING LIE. Awesome if you’re into it, but I struggle to see it becoming a part of my world. It seems like it’d be a lot easier to be mindful strolling down a beach at sunrise, freshly picked coconut in hand than it is standing at your sink at 10pm, chiselling cereal off the bowl that you didn’t soak this morning and trying to summon the fortitude to wash your damn hair.

I don’t live an especially glamorous or zen life. But one thing that I do believe in in a big way is happiness.

affirmations self care

Happiness is, at base, the thing we’re all striving for. It is the very definition of everyday magic. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, if you are bringing joy to yourself and others, you are succeeding (within reason guys, not condoning flagrant selfishness). One of the most important things I learned during my CBT was that happiness isn’t something that just happens. It’s something you choose. And sometimes, it’s really bloody hard to choose. I’m a pretty positive person overall but sweet jesus, I can sulk. Ask Niall. There’s something wonderfully maudlin about nursing a good grudge, even if it’s actually making you miserable. I’m not sure why this tendency is so strong because given the choice, who wouldn’t want to be happy over being miserable? I think it stems from that old chestnut where we’d all rather be right than happy. Everybody loves playing the martyr. But actually, the more I think about it, the more I feel like that’s a huge waste of time. The number of brilliant days I’ve wasted stroppily waiting for someone to recognise their perceived slight and apologise doesn’t even bear thinking about.

affirmations self care

Me being livid that Sophie is attempting to feed me a kumquat.

So whatever is to be done? Well, I’ve collected a bunch of principles that help me to live a happier life. I call them my helpful thoughts. Again, this is probably a throwback from my CBT, which focuses on getting rid of unhelpful thoughts and self talk. They’re basically affirmations for people who don’t do affirmations. And I promise, they’re just as relevant when your face is squashed against an oily rush hour bus window as they are on top of a mountain doing sun salutations. They’re specific enough to be helpful (to me anyway) but vague enough that they can be applied in a bunch of big and small ways to lots of different situations. I hope they help bring you some happiness.

“There’s no rush.”

affirmations self care

Little meaning: I sometimes feel like I’m in a hurry to get everywhere, all the time. I walk at an uncomfortable pace, even if I don’t have anywhere to be, driven by the innate feeling that I should be really busy. Sometimes tiny, insignificant things can happen to slow me down and this has an actual physical impact on me. A webpage takes more than a second to load. Someone walks slowly in front of me when I can’t overtake them. My kettle takes too long to boil. My phone charger gets tangled around the leg of my bed. When stuff like this happens, I can feel myself getting physically angry. I get hot. My heart starts thumping. My skin itches. And for what? For the loss of a couple of seconds. When I feel like this, it’s easy to see that too much stress is probably gonna kill us all. Every so often, I force myself to slow down and take my time. Whether that means taking a deep breath as the woman in front takes forty years to get her suitcase off the tube, consciously walking slowly or taking an afternoon to make an apple pie.

Big meaning: I am a huge worrier. “What, you? Fiona, surely not!”, I hear you cry. Alas, it is true. I am constantly measuring myself up against every arbitrary standard I can find and finding myself wanting. 30 things to do before you’re 30? Oh god, only seven years until I haven’t done these and am a TOTAL FAILURE. That girl has a book deal, so why have I been stuck on 5000 words of my novel for about a million years? Maybe I should buy a house. Maybe I should become an investment banker. Maybe I should get a sensible haircut. Maybe I should have a five year plan. Goals are awesome, and seeking inspiration from the people around you is awesome. Working yourself into a frenzy because you feel like your life is a failure at 23? Not awesome. I constantly have to remind myself that not only is my life not a failure, I barely even have a life yet. In most people’s eyes, I’m still pretty much a child. I’ve got so much time, and I’m wasting it by worrying that I’m not using it effectively enough. How utterly dull it would be if all the good stuff happened in the first 25 years. What on earth would you do with the rest? There’s no rush. Good things are coming, and they’ll get here in time.

“Let it go.”

affirmations self care

The little meaning and the big meaning for this one are pretty much the same, just on different scales. Remember the aforementioned sulking? This often means that a single, tiny bad experience can ruin my day. But here’s the thing: sulking about it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, it means that I’m letting a bad past ruin a potentially happy present. Take a deep breath, make like Elsa and just let it go.

Bus running late? Let it go. Stand on your favourite makeup palette? Mourn, and then let it go. Friend made a mean comment? Confront them or let it go. Boyfriend didn’t do the dishes? Confront him or let it go. Embarrass yourself at work five years ago? Everyone but you has forgotten, so let it go. Forgive others, forgive yourself. I stopped keeping a diary because reading my old rants was helping me hang onto grudges that would otherwise be completely forgotten.

Obviously I’m not saying that you should be a pushover. If someone is treating you badly, you absolutely should not let that go. But I think all of us waste so much time being angry about things that really don’t matter that much. Take your time, process your feelings but don’t hold onto them after that. None of us are strong enough to carry all the baggage we’re dragging around. Ditch that old unhappiness. Travel light.

“Be here, right now.”

affirmations self care

This one really came to the forefront when Niall and I were long distance. Every time I saw him, I would ruin the last day by spending the entire time with one eye on the clock, becoming increasingly miserable that we’d be apart again soon. And the truth is, that deadline was coming, whether I had an eye on the clock or not. Being gloomy didn’t stave it off, it just wasted time that could have been spent making memories. I spend a lot of time with my eye on the next amazing thing. And a lot of the time I really have to stop and look around and remind myself that actually, this moment, right here, could be amazing if I let it. You know those awful people who talk to you at parties while constantly searching the room for someone better? I’m doing that, but with my life. And that is uncool because my life is lovely and excellent and fun and complicated and wonderful just as it is.

“What are you waiting for?”

affirmations self careLittle meaning: Stop saving your best stuff for later. I mean, don’t totally blow your load and spend all your money and burn yourself out or anything. But wear your pretty dress, even if all you’re doing today is cleaning out the fridge. Use that fancy, expensive candle your aunt gave you. Dance like a mad person when that song comes on, even if it’s in the background of a car advert. Sing in the shower. Make the cake. Ask them out. Book the holiday. If you’re gonna be living in the moment, why the hell not make the moment as wonderful as it can possibly be? Some of my best decisions have come from asking myself “why the hell not?”. This includes organising Take Back the Beach, going on holiday to Iceland, writing a book and bullying Niall into getting back together with me after he casually made the worst decision of his life. What have you got to lose? As someone very clever once said, none of us are getting out of here alive, so you might as well live while you’re here.

Big meaning: Again, the big meaning is really just an extension of the little one. Stop waiting for someone to give you permission. I’m like a labrador when it comes to desiring approval. I want someone to come along every so often, take a look at my life and say “Yes, well done, this is correct”. When really, correct is a great big massive lie. Not everyone is going to understand you and the decisions that you make. The only correct life is the one that makes you happy. Don’t try to find the textbook in the choose-your-own-adventure book. Do what feels good. Your life is yours and everyone else can just deal with it. Unless you’re Donald Trump, in which case, you should probably take a long, hard look at yourself.

I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect and live in a constant state of peace and serenity using these statements. They’re guidelines, not magic spells. But they’re a handy little map for the kind of person that I want to be and the kind of life I want to live. So take them, use them if you like. And have a ridiculously, beautifully happy life.

Into The Belly of the Beast: Shane Hegarty’s Darkmouth

Anyone who has known me for a long time will know that I am most likely to be found with my nose in a book. As a kid, I could go missing for hours and be found squashed in a corner somewhere, book in hand. As an adult, I often complain that my bag is too heavy, only to open it and find a tiny library inside. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that I found out what kind of person I wanted to be in the pages of hundreds upon hundreds of books. As someone who puts a lot of pressure on herself, I collect heroes and heroines who struggle with who they want to be, whether they can really be the person that they’re expected to be. Of course, I’ve never had to brandish a sword or cross vast, strange lands on a mystical quest, but nonetheless, I found friends in characters that I recognised myself in. And I found another in Finn, the hero of Shane Hegarty’s young adult series, Darkmouth.

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Finn probably regretting some of his decisions here. Illustration by the amazing James de la Rue.

Full disclosure here: Shane is a friend of the family. I know a lot of really brilliant people, so it was only a matter of time before one of them did something really brilliant. And my god, this is really brilliant. I read the entire first book in one evening. The series takes place in a small Irish town called Darkmouth, which is strikingly similar to Shane’s hometown of Skerries. But Darkmouth is different. Because in Darkmouth, there be monsters. In ancient times, the world was filled with portals, through which enormous mythical monsters, called Legends, escaped into our world. Darkmouth holds the last one. Fortunately, the world is protected by Hugo, a fearsome Legend hunter, and Finn, his young son. Finn is being trained to take up the family business. Except that he’d really rather just be a vet. I shan’t spoil it for you but this is a gorgeous, hilarious portrait of a young boy struggling to live up to his legendary father, all while fending off literal demons left, right and centre. I caught up with Shane and his talented illustrator James de la Rue to find out more about the men behind the Legends.

Shane, what first gave you the idea for the Darkmouth series?

I’d always wanted to write fun, adventurous, fantastical fiction but took years to build up the confidence to actually give it a go. The irony is that I was writing for years before that – as a journalist and as the author of two books of popular history. In the end, I came up with this not particularly original idea – a boy fights monsters that invade his town – but knew it offered a great starting point to explore two worlds. And for jokes. Lots of jokes.

If you were a Legend, what kind of Legend do you think you’d be?

I’d like to be one with seven heads and fourteen arms so I could write these books quicker, without having to interrupt the all-important coffee-drinking. In the books I choose from existing myths because a) I’m lazy and b) it’s fun to imagine what would be the practical, day-to-day reality of having, like an Orthrus, a dog’s body but a snake for a tail.

shane hegarty darkmouth

Illustration by James de la Rue.

 

You take a lot of inspiration from your hometown…ever seen any monsters or mythical creatures lurking?

I’m not allowed say, for fear of libelling someone! But writing is often a game of “what ifs”. What if my town had been invaded by monsters of myth for a thousand years? What if you had to fight off invading minotaurs and then go back to school? Again, I’m lazy. This approach works for me.

(Note from Fiona: I wish my laziness was this productive. When I’m lazy, I tend to binge watch Pretty Little Liars, rather than casually penning a bestselling book series)

The latest instalment of the series, Worlds Explode, has just hit bookshelves, what should we expect from Finn and the gang this time around?

The first book is about Finn living in the shadow of his dad, but the second is about how he has to cope when his dad isn’t around. It’s also a glimpse into the world of the monsters, which was always the plan from the very beginning, but also turns out to be just what the readers were asking for. As it’s only just out, the reviews are only coming in. I met one boy who said it was the best book he had ever read. That boy happens to be my son, and I was buying him ice-cream at the time, but still…

What is it like to have kids sharing your stories and loving them so much?

(Note from Fiona: Can you hear the innate jealousy in this question?)

I’ve four kids, but only my 10-year-old son is old enough to read and enjoy the stories. The best bit of the whole adventure for me was the night he wouldn’t turn his light out because he needed to read on and see what happened. That was a relief. I’ve to write four of these books and if my own son didn’t enjoy them it was going to be a long few years.

James, I am completely obsessed with your illustrations. Where do you get your inspiration from?

My main inspiration is from the writing! There is of course a mixture of influences from favourite illustrators such as EH Shepard, Chris Riddell, Edward Gorey, Mervyn Peake, Helen Oxenbury, John Burningham, plus any number of movies, TV shows, etc., but the more vivid the writing, the more vivid the images are in my head, same with any reader. I just go one step further and draw what I see.

Do you have a favourite illustration from the Darkmouth series? Why?

I’m quite keen on one from Darkmouth: Worlds Explode in which Finn is inside a room made entirely from the bones of demonic beasts (being careful with spoilers here because spoilers). It’s a tense moment in the story and the effect of the starched, whiteness of the remains comes over reasonably well. Essentially it’s one of those rare illustrations of mine I don’t mind looking at for more than five seconds.

shane hegarty darkmouth

Five seconds? Hands up who could look at this for hours.

If you could be a Legend, what kind of Legend do you think you’d be?

My kids think I’m a legend already so I know how that feels. Not going to last forever probably. Although if you pushed me I’d have to say something with wings. Who’d want to be a Legend if you were stuck on the ground, especially if it was infested?

What drew you to the Darkmouth series?

The concept, as it was initially described, was simple and I just thought “I’d draw that”. Then by the time I’d read a couple of excerpts (I was requested to do a couple of character sketches) the dialogue in particular showed me this was going to be good. Finn was instantly likeable, and I think that’s a difficult trick to pull off so quickly. Even though I had a worryingly full schedule at the time (always a good problem) I didn’t want to let this one slip away.

Where can we find more of your work?

I’ve done plenty of Spy Dog books which are widely available; I’ve done some Terry Deary World War Tales recently and have lots of covers to do for him over the next few weeks; Archie Greene is a magical series with book #1 already out there; also Myth Raiders, a series whose concept is not totally dissimilar to Darkmouth, but with a different tenor; there are other things scattered around too, and the list is building nicely. I remember thinking none of this would ever be possible.

You can find Shane on Twitter @ShaneHegarty and James @PencilsMcDraw.