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A tribute to the beta readers

I have recently completed beta version 2.0 of my debut novel: the Unexpected Adventures of Ammerella Twigg.

In the summer of 2017 the first beta version of the book was as ready as it could be.  I wanted to get some distance from the story as well as some objective feedback before the next rewrite.

I printed 100 hard copies of the book, ready to deliver to shared book cases and leave them around in a book fairy fashion.  There was a note included on the cover:  PICK ME UP / READ ME / PASS ME ON.

I mentioned this on my personal Facebook page, to see if any of my friends might like to read it.  Unbelievably, I received 100 requests within a matter of hours.  I busily distributed the books with no expectations.

I also prepared some electronic versions of sample chapters from the book and delved into the wonderful world of #bookstagram.  I contacted the people of Instagram who adore books and whose profiles looked fantastic to ask if they would mind possibly reading a few chapters if they had time.  To my astonishment, these amazing humans from all over the world were not only happy to help but some thanked me for the opportunity.

My friends have dutifully shared beta version 1 and I continue to receive helpful feedback via email.

 

Importantly, I received some hugely useful information about characters, storyline and typos.

This is a tribute to those beta readers. Beta version 2.0 is a re-write that hopefully clarifies any confusions … and typos.

If you would be interested in being a beta reader for Beta Version 2.0, please email ammerellatwigg@gmail.com and I will get a copy to you as soon as possible.

Ammerella has her own Instagram account on @ammerellatwigg and is on Facebook.

Thanks, once more.

Em x

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Lake Taupo

Taupo:  the land of black swans where people give you beaming smiles as you go running.  A rare event indeed.  (And yes, I went running).

I’m told that the lake is the size of Singapore and was created 25 million years ago via an earthquake/volcanic activity.  I arrived here yesterday and was greeted with glorious weather.  This place has my favourite combination:  rugged hills, open water and green trees.

Last night was a wonderful boat tour of the lake where we caught the sunset.  The boat batteries ran out on the way back so the trip was a little longer than planned, as we had to sail back.  Nice though.

I am travelling with the Kiwi Experience which is a bus tour where you can hop on and off at various destinations.  They also take you to see some good geological spots along the way: waterfalls and bubbling geysers.

The experience has been as expected in lots of ways.  I am definitely a relative oldie.  The key revelations have been:

(a) I feel like David Attenborough watching the mating rituals of the 20 somethings; and

(b) my sense of humour is based on cultural references that are not relevant to anyone born after 1989 (e.g. nobody knew who Des Lynam was).

It’s been great to see lots, but I’m happy to be staying here at Taupo for two nights.  The weather’s been pretty torrential in the days before yesterday.  Quite unexpected.  This did not affect my enjoyment in Waitomo, where I took a boat tour of a glowworm cave.  No photos were allowed, sadly, but it was truly mesmerising to look up as the boat was gently pulled through the cave.  This mode of seeing the glowworms was described by the bus driver as the “geriatric option”.  Most went on a zip-line infused active rush through the caves.  Give me the geriatric option any day, thanks.

I have been recording music but am stuck with vocals.  This morning I have made several attempts to do some recording quietly in the hostel dorm but I have been interrupted both by housekeeping and hostel roomies with comic timing.  The songs will have to brew in my head for a bit longer, but happy to have kicked off with some songwriting.

Thanks for reading!

Em x

Auckland

“So are we upside-down now?” asked a little girl with intrigue and excitement.


Happy New Year from Auckland: it’s tomorrow already. My body is confused by this. It has no idea what day it is or what it wants me to feed it.

I landed yesterday, when Auckland, like the rest of the world, was sleeping off its hangover. The streets were quiet as I had a little walk through the warm rain and managed to keep myself awake until the grand old time of 6:30 pm. I slept through until 8:30 this morning.

Today the conditions are much better for exploring and I want to find the nature near the city.

The tall EY and Deloitte buildings rest empty in the nearby sky as they wait for the bank holiday to be over. They remind me that my mind still moves at London’s pace. My brain keeps scanning itself for to-do lists and unanswered emails. I remind myself that this is one of the big reasons why I’m here. One of the many answers that I gave my exhausted thoughts on the plane yesterday as they asked with a convincing doubt: “what the hell are you doing?”

I had great expectations of yesterday’s flight thinking it would be all champagne and repeated “Happy New Year”s. In fact, we managed to miss midnight completely on our trip around the spinning world. I wasn’t upset by this.  As Jamie T says: “New Year’s Eve is always shit”. Happily, I missed the hangover too.

I have found a writing buddy already and we are sitting in Starbucks for a while. I have a cold centimetre of my flat white left and will nurse it until I am ready to walk and explore again.

Hopefully there will be more to report in my next post.

Em x

P.s. I’m trying to find my writing voice for this blog. Let’s see…

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The fear of stage fright

People who say they never have stage fright make me feel the same way as people who say they don’t get hangovers:  confused, envious and I don’t believe them.

I was the girl who mimed in the choir.  I looked with awe at those who were designated as “singers”.  The celebrated ones.  By the age of 9 I was apparently so convinced that I was not one of them that I announced in a school project entitled My Life So Far: “I love singing, I’m just not very good at it”.  When I found and read this safely stored project a couple of years ago, my twenty something self was flabbergasted.  It remained my “party line” and occasionally falls out of my mouth even now.  Have I seriously been telling myself this for 20 years?
It is no wonder then, when I get up to sing, I am overwhelmed.  This is a serious hinderance for a songwriter who needs to sing her songs.
It’s all very Coyote Ugly.
I have now found ways to sing my songs in public without falling to bits or crying (… yes this has happened).  Despite the mixed results of these performances I have always had the same response afterwards.  I’ve delighted with myself for trying and I’ve learned something.
The fear has been known, in the past, to get the better of me.  It has been, however, more than the stage fright itself, but a fear that stage fright may rear it’s horribly ugly head.  Concern that I might get stage fright can lead to nothing but a downwards spiral.
Some traditional strategies have not gone far to reduce my despair.  For example, “just imagine everyone in the room is naked“.  I cannot imagine anything worse than performing to a room of fully naked people.
I have explored some of the science around stage fright and developed some of my own strategies for dealing with it over the years.  Here are a few things that I need to constantly remind myself of.
1.  Understand what’s going on and know it’s nasty but normal
It’s normal to be scared.  Standing up and singing or reading something you have written in front of a room full of people is a scary and abnormal prospect for anyone.  It can be difficult to convince oneself that our reactions are normal, particularly when the full rooms include people who have performed a million times and appear to be taking it all in their stride.  They say “you’ll be fine” in an attempt to be supportive but actually kinda making you feel even more ridiculous for being concerned… cue more concern.
I was going to research and produce a succinctly digestible explanation of the science of stage fright but TedEd, Mikael Cho and and Robertino Zambrano have already done this for me:
So, the flight of fight response to a threat that evolution hasn’t quite fixed for us:
“When you think about negative consequences, a part of your brain, the hypothalamus, activates and triggers the pituitary gland to secrete the hormone ACTH.  This hormone stimulates the Adrenal Glands in your kidneys and results in the release of adrenaline into your blood […]. Your neck and back muscles contract (forcing your head down and your spine to curve) moving your posture into a slouch. This results in a Low-Power Position as your body tries to force itself into the fetal position.
 
If you try to resist this position by pulling your shoulders back and lifting your head up, your legs and hands shake as the muscles in your body instinctively prepare for an impending attack.  Your blood pressure increases and your digestive system shuts down to maximize efficient delivery of even more nutrients and oxygen to your vital organs. When your digestive system shuts down, this is what leads to the feeling of dry mouth or butterflies” – Mikael Cho
The results:
Bad posture + dry mouth and throat + short breath as oxygen is taken to the vital organs + shaking extremities (when playing a musical instrument) = disastrous for singing and speaking performance.
As Mikael Cho says – it’s “natural and inevitable”.  Don’t let your hypothalamus hide the best of you.
2.  Get in the same boat or build a new boat
Find a place where you are in the same boat as other people trying to sing is really helpful.  This can be anything from a beginners’ singing course or series of courses where you will get the opportunity to sing solo.  Then take that opportunity.  The fact that everyone is so vulnerable should make for a supportive and nurturing group.
I even started Ladies’ Set, a safe stage for women doing something for the first time (including performing for the very first time).  We are all terrified but we all do it… PLUS it’s for charity, which is helpful for ego removal.
I think it’s healthy for a person to be nervous. It means you care – that you work hard and want to give a great performance. You just have to channel that nervous energy into the show” – Beyonce Knowles
3.  Create muscle memory
We know practice makes progress.  Repetition is key.  When you’re worried about the stage fright the last thing you want to be worried about is that you haven’t practiced enough.  But it’s more than that.  If your body is used to its shape when singing or playing, and if we can let our hands move around the instrument on automatic pilot, this will assist the body in moving when the nerves attack.
4.  Breathe
Focus on the breath allows us to be mindful and remind our bodies that the threat of attack is minimal.  I will write more about the power of mindfulness on another day.
5.  Practice being uncomfortable
 
Practice performing and being in a position recognise and interact with evolution’s triggers and responses to threats.  Become a choir slut, going around as many choirs as you can and perform with them all.  Take every public speaking opportunity you can at work.  Karaoke constantly.  Know your body in that state.  Then, after going through all that, find a friendly open mic somewhere you can be anonymous, then another, then another:
In my opinion, the only way to conquer stage fright is to get up on stage and play. Every time you play another show, it gets better and better.” – Taylor Swift
6.  Acknowledge the fear
I’ve been known to talk myself around: “what’s the worst that can happen”.  My attempts to suppress my reactions may convince my intellect but my body will react,  almost saving up all the fear for the final performance.   It’s not fine and it’s normal not to be.
See how Joe Kowan acknowledges fear:
In honour of acknowledging this fear, I entitled my EP: Fighting and Flying.
7.  Power pose
7.  Power Pose
I hope everyone has seen Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk.  It’s time to get big; stand like Wonderwoman.  Before a performance or rehearsal, trick your hippocampus.  Find a corner stage or a toilet cubical or dressing room and open your body up:
Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes. So, this is two minutes. Two minutes, two minutes, two minutes. Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation, for two minutes, try doing this, in the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors. That’s what you want to do. Configure your brain to cope the best in that situation. Get your testosterone up. Get your cortisol down. Don’t leave that situation feeling like, oh, I didn’t show them who I am. Leave that situation feeling like, I really feel like I got to say who I am and show who I am” – Amy Cuddy
8.  Don’t drink
I used to think it made sense to have a few drinks before I performed.  This is 100% not the case.  When I stopped drinking before performances, I found it so much easier to interact with my fears and realise what was going on.  No crying.  Even a cheeky glass of wine can push you slightly off kilter.  Now I wait until I have finished to have a drink.  I have not cried on stage from fear since making this decision.
9.  Letting butterflies fly
Remember the metamorphosis: caterpillar to butterfly.  Working with and through the butterflies will hopefully lead us to our own.
So it’s ok, it happens to the best of us.  Let’s find the magic in it:
If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But then I wonder: is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?” – Stevie Nicks
I’d love to hear your stories and strategies around stage fright and ways in which you’ve managed to control it.
Em x

London Called


As the train pulls away from Paddington Station, it dawns on me that I am no longer a London resident.

After 7 years of living and working as a lawyer in the City, I am moving away.

I would be lying if I said I’d enjoyed every moment.  However, without London, I wonder if I would have the courage, skills or determination to embark upon my new adventure.

All being well, on 1 January 2018, I will land in New Zealand and pursue my dream to:

MAKE MUSIC / TRAVEL / WRITE ABOUT IT

I must be grateful to London for putting me here.

London has thickened my skin with a tough love that I have cherished and resented.

It has provided me with a whole host of courses to develop my skills in writing, music production and singing.

It has led me to friends and communities to encourage my creativity and provided me with stages that I could never have imagined performing on.

I look forward to sharing my tales here in my blog. I will be as honest here as I am prepared to be with myself.

But for now… thank you London.  You’ve been real.

Em x