Why I’ll be saying bye to blogging

The problem with blogging

Thankfully I’ve not (yet) had the writer’s block that seems to plague so many bloggers. I’m a magpie and see writing inspiration everywhere, whether it be during a conversation with J, in the book I’m reading, on news sites, on Twitter, on blogs, or in the latest debate whizzing through my Facebook feed.

My problem is that I have too much I want to write about. That fire in my belly that makes me want to hide away and type all night never goes out. I have vast lists, scribbled hurriedly in notebooks and on scraps of paper, on topics I want to blog about. But working and being mummy to two energetic little boys means I’m often too busy to blog, and that lack of time has been nagging away at me recently.

Time for a break

My long summer break has just ended, which heralds the end of manageable daily life. Within the next few weeks I’ll start working an infeasible number of hours each day. I love my job, but I hate that it makes writing (and any other hobby) near impossible.

Fortunately I’m stubborn enough and smart/selfish enough to know that I have to indulge my passions or I’ll go mad. So, somehow (usually by typing away on WordPress at silly o’clock on school nights) I’ve managed to keep my blogs going. But this year is a different kettle of fish, because I’ve started to write a book, and after doing the maths I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll lose the plot if I try to juggle everything. Look, I did the maths:

1 job that keeps me working until 11pm ish each night + 1 mummy blog + 1 blog on religious and cultural misogyny + 1 book on religious misogyny + 2 children + 1 husband = *crazy eyes x infinity*

To be honest, I’m not managing to juggle everything now. With so little time I’ve become hopeless at replying to comments. I’m incapable of churning out quick replies and I hate that readers might think I’m rude or disinterested in their opinions. So, as the lack of time has already turned me into a bit of a rubbish blogger, I’ve decided to hang up my blogging hat (temporarily) while I focus on my book. I’m not sure I’ll manage to go cold turkey on posting updates about the boys, but after speaking to Amanda Jennings at Britmums Live this year I realise I need to at least give it a go. Amanda is full of great advice for budding writers, but the most pertinent thing she said to me was that once I felt ready to start my book I needed to take a break from social media. As soon as she said it I knew she was right. Twitter, blogging and Facebook are just too much of a distraction, and I’m too much of a procrastinator and (forgive me for sounding arrogant) I think my book is too important (to me at least) to write half-heartedly.

Toni Morrison "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then YOU must write it."

The book

I’ve not mentioned my book much on here, mainly because it’s an extension of my other blog rather than this space. However, a couple of weeks ago I had an email from Sophie asking if I’d like to take part in a virtual blog tour for bloggers with writing projects on the go. Sophie is living my dream. She’s an ex teacher who left work to raise her little boy and write. As well as working on her second book, a chick noir, she blogs about her family and her writing journey (which involves writing 1500 words a day!…*awestruck face*). I was so flattered when Sophie asked me to join her with the virtual blog tour. Not only am I in amazing company, but it’s a brilliant way to discover other writers, and I figured it would also be a good opportunity for me to refocus and explain why I’ll soon be disappearing from social media.

So, here’s my contribution to this virtual blog tour for writers -

What am I working on? A non fiction book about my past. As a teenager I was forced to convert to Islam and after the ‘conversion’ I experienced (and witnessed many other women experiencing) years of religiously sanctioned misogyny. After falling in love with a non-Muslim I was disowned and forced to leave my home and family. In the years since I’ve pieced together a new, autonomous, identity. My book will tell the specifics of my story but it will also reflect more widely on how the female experience can be limited by patriarchal religion.

How does my work differ from others in the genre? In researching for my book I’ve discovered lots of great writing about women who’ve escaped religious control and misogyny, but they tend to be written by or about people who were born into the religion. I’m not aware of any books about women forced into converting to Islam, as I was.

There’s a dearth of first-hand representation regarding religious misogyny. This results in a disconnect between the reality of being controlled and abused by religious patriarchy, and the stories being told. My book will offer an alternative to faceless, academic analysis of religious misogyny. It will discuss, honestly, the emotional (and sometimes physical) manipulation that occurs in the context of forced conversion, as well as the reality of living under extreme patriarchy, and with conflicting cultural identities.

It might sound an unusual story, but it’s certainly not unique. Islam attracts large numbers of converts each year and, if what I witnessed is anything to go by, there are other women (and men) who are emotionally corralled or trapped into Islam, by parents or partners.

Why do I write what I do? Initially I started to write as therapy. I spent years consumed with guilt over my decision to leave my family, but writing has allowed me sift and sort through the emotional debris of my past. Writing has taught me that I had every right to want more out of my life than being an automaton, that I have the right to feel angry about the way I was treated and about the years of lost opportunities, and most importantly that I have every right to talk about my past.

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 21 Things No One Will Tell You As a Writer (But Someone Probably Should)

I also write in the hope that I might be able to help others. And that’s not an entirely selfless act. If, all those years ago, I had come across a book like the one I’m writing, it would have started the healing process so much earlier. I would have found my voice before having my own family and it would have saved a lot of people a lot of heartache. I want to help those isolated by ‘sacred’ or cultural misogyny to feel less alone, so that they have the confidence to demand their freedom.

Lastly, I write because I know that human rights are being abused by those at the helm of organised religion (men). I passionately believe that any religious practice involving emotional or physical coercion, patriarchy, prejudice, or discrimination must be ripped apart for analysis – there can be no sacred cows. And women need to talk honestly about their experiences, because if we don’t rock the boat with truth, misogynistic attitudes and behaviours can’t be dismantled.

What is my writing process? I’m an impulsive writer and not particularly organised, but once I decided to write my book I knew I needed a more methodical approach, so I allocated time during the summer to plan my chapters, put them in order using Scrivener and fill them with notes.

In terms of writing software, I flit between the Evernote app on my phone and Scrivener. Evernote is so user-friendly, it syncs with all my other devices and I can use it whenever I have my phone to hand. Scrivener is a pretty slick programme that gives you complete control over formatting, but there’s no app so I don’t find it as practical as Evernote, especially as I tend to write in snatches – 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there – on my phone. My writing process is far from ideal and I often get frustrated at not having longer stretches of time to sit down and organise my ideas, but with two small children and a job, I’ve got to work with what I have.

The next stop on this virtual blog tour will introduce you to Naomi and Gosia…

Naomi is a good friend and blogger who has written a chick-lit book about a woman called Daisy who struggles with her weight and the way she is perceived by others. Initially Daisy lets these issues shape her life and she becomes a virtual recluse, preferring to bury her feelings under a mountain of doughnuts, rather than deal with them. It takes a new friend Pixie, a young gay girl, to show her that life is exactly what you make of it, and Daisy sets out to prove that big can be beautiful and that life is too short to spend time worrying about what others think of you. Naomi’s book is finished and has been painstakingly edited and sent to a few agents. She’s now mustering up the courage to send it out to more and to possibly self publish as an eBook.

I ‘met’ Gosia through social networking. I follow her and her beautiful boy on Instagram, and recently we got talking on Twitter about a book she’s writing. It’s about her experience of moving from Poland to the UK and finding her way in a new country, in more than just a political or economical sense. I think her perspective on the culture shift that comes with starting a family in a new country will be fascinating. Gosia and I seem to be at a similar stage in the writing process – both excited that we’ve started to write, but a little overwhelmed with juggling it alongside looking after our kids.

I’m going to end with some encouragement (verging on fantasy) to other hopeful writers out there. Take a look at these bestselling books that were initially rejected, oh and this is pretty wonderful. There’s hope for us yet, right?!

^^ The writers mind ^^

Reading Eggs update – How Little E has been getting on

We’re almost a month into using Reading Eggs and the novelty certainly hasn’t worn off for Little E! He still loves it and always asks to play his ‘special learning game’ – often at completely inappropriate times, like when I’ve told him to get up to bed or sit at the table for dinner!

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As well as the obvious benefit of improved literacy skills, we’re really enjoying the mummy-son/daddy-son time that Reading Eggs is giving us. E loves the ritual of clearing the table, sitting next to me, and chatting away as I set up the programme, and I love that it gives us the one-on-one time which is so hard to come by when juggling two littles.

Ssshhh
E has bounced his way through life thus far, and while I love (LOVE) his energy, I think it’s important he learns to enjoy quiet moments too; in this respect I think Reading Eggs has come at a good time for him. Recently he and his best friend have had to have quiet time at nursery because of their…um…exuberance. When I picked him up last week they were both sat in a corner looking sheepish while being reminded by their teacher that they need to use their ears for listening and to leave the ants in their pants at home!

I think E is a little too young (at 3 and a half) for some parts of the Reading Eggs programme but it’s proving to be a great way to encourage calm time during which he can make considered choices and talk through his thought process with us.

Mummy can work it. Phew!
The programme itself is really user-friendly, thank goodness! I must admit, when the mountain of books and stickers arrived I was a bit worried that, paired with the large interactive game, it would be a faff to navigate, but it’s isn’t at all. Your child works through the Reading Eggs programme using an interactive map. Each landmark on the map represents a set of games linked to a particular letter or sound, in turn they are linked to a book that you can work through simultaneously if you wish. Completing the games within each letter earns you gold coins and songs, and there are stickers accompanying the book sets which you can also give out.

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^^ The mountain of books you get with the mega pack ^^

Building resilience
Aside from the obvious pleasure it’s bringing E, I really like the potential Reading Eggs has to build resilience in children. Each activity involves important repetition to allow your child to become familiar with either a sound, or the form of a letter or word. But if you find your child needs a little more practice on a particular section, or if they really enjoy playing on a certain activity then you can repeat it as many times as you wish.

The activities get more challenging as your child works through each letter, and at times (particularly when he’s getting to the end of his session and is tired!) we’ve found that E gets frustrated and announces “I just can’t do it!”. As a teacher I recognise that those moments of frustration are priceless – if we respond to them in the right way now, there’s a good chance E will develop the confidence and resilience to deal with them positively and independently further on in his education.

Thumbs up
Reading Eggs is proving to be a great way of introducing E to the school culture of sit-down-learning. He loves the interactive characters (and the fact that they praise him!) as well as the music, songs and games, and I love that he can take the lead and learn at his own pace by controlling the game. So it’s a thumbs up from us so far! I’ll be back soon with a final reflection on how far E has managed to get with the programme during our trial, and my thoughts about how suitable the programme is for the pre-school age group.

Writing as resistance and why I love to blog

They do best falling from my brain right into the ink in my pen.

I was about 10 when I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a journalist. It was my destiny. I’d grow up and get paid to write for people. And I’d write books too. Lots of them. So simple. Oh, to be 10 again! As it turned out life wasn’t the smooth path to professional writing that I’d anticipated. Somewhere along the line I lost track of who I was and by the time I needed to make those all important decisions about subjects, exams, and university, my earlier career aspirations seemed painfully unrealistic.

There were a couple of reasons why my plans for international journalistic success *snort* were scuppered. I had a breakdown that spanned my A Levels; I didn’t realise this at the time, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I understand now that the panic attacks and hiding away to cry in the toilets most days weren’t just teenage angst. In being forced to convert to a very strict form of Islam I’d had my identity stripped from me, and I felt like I was suffocating. As well as this I only had a small parameter of choice with regards to subjects – Islam (of course), teaching and medicine were viewed as acceptable options by those pulling the strings in my life, but most other subjects were seen as a dangerous distraction from god. This made the year or so before going to university an emotionally fraught time. I was frightened someone would put their foot down at the last minute and forbid me from going and I knew it was my one opportunity to escape the religious control. So I did what I had to do, I manipulated my patriarchy by studying for a degree I wouldn’t have chosen had I the freedom to make choices. It was a necessary inconvenience to achieve the autonomy I so desperately needed. I did a degree in Islamic Studies, Arabic and English Literature (although I gave up the Arabic in my third year) and then a diploma in International Relations.

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I loved the English and a lot of the political and sociological modules, but the rest I found arduous. If I’d had the clarity and the freedom I would have done gender studies and journalism, or something along that vein. Writing has always given me a giddy high, and analysing gender inequalities was my coping mechanism during the years of religious misogyny. 12 years on from graduating and I’m more passionate than ever about feminism and writing, and I still harbour the rather whimsical dream of being a writer when I ‘grow up’. But at 33, with a career and two young children, I’m bound by responsibilities that make my dream a little impractical. So I blog. It kills 2 birds with one stone – it sates my burning desire to write, if only temporarily, and it allows me to learn more about feminism.

Blogging has triggered so many epiphany moments. Since I started tapping away on WordPress I’ve realised I have a voice, that I’m entitled to feel anger and that it can be a constructive emotion, that I’m not as hopelessly dim as I thought I was, and that women like me can make a difference. My experiences mean I connect with certain feminist concerns, like ‘honour’ crime and religious patriarchy, more than others. But I realise that my experience is only one in a sea of inequality suffered by women, and the beauty of blogging is how much it teaches me about others. There are so many inspiring people online (women like GlosswitchSarah DitumJasvinder SangheraRaquel SaraswatiMaha, Huma and Mona Eltahawy) who’ve opened my eyes to sexism and the potential for emancipation, and after years of questioning my own worth and the legitimacy of my pain, their words validate my anger and encourage me to believe that I can bring about change.

I hope that one day I’ll get the opportunity to write ‘properly’. I turn a bit green with envy each time I’m on Twitter – I’m pretty sure 75% of the people I follow have either written for newspapers or had a book published – but I’m also inspired and motivated by the success of other women. I have a book burning away in my mind that I’m desperate to write, but it’s only since I’ve had an online presence that I’ve felt I could make it happen. After speaking to a publisher at Britmums Live this year I’m more ready than ever to start writing about my past – the forced conversion, the religious misogyny, the disownment, and the piecing together of my new identity. It’s a story that needs to be told. It hurt me so much, but now I’m free, and I’ll be freer still when my words fill up those pages and can encourage some other poor soul who feels as trapped and hopeless as I did. But until the book really starts to come together I’ll continue to blog, because every time I write a post like this I feel like I’m chipping away at the patriarchy that took away my agency and manipulated my choices. These words are my feminist resistance.

Maya Angelou by Katie Rodgers