Posted on March 6, 2021
At the end of last year, I bought an AncestryDNA kit when, on the off chance, I saw that they were doing a sale. I’ve always wanted to know more about my history and where my family comes from so I bought the Genetic Ethnicity Test (at this point in my life, I don’t really want to know how at risk I am for various health problems – I’m dealing with enough medical stuff as it is), spat in the tube, and sent it off. And then, while I waited for the results to come back, I started building my family tree.
While my primary interest was in my genetic ethnicity, I was interested in what I could discover about my family tree. My Mum’s side of the family is already well researched and well documented in my Grandfather’s memoir so I wasn’t too focussed on finding those relatives as the information is all right there but I know practically nothing about my Dad’s family so that’s where I’ve been really dedicating my time and energy in this search.
I’m not sure what I expected to find when I started looking but very quickly, I built up a picture of my Dad’s family, all the way back to the 1800s. And some of the information I found was really interesting. For example, one of the women multiple generations back worked as a stenographer, interesting not only because it’s a job I find intriguing but also because she had a job, something that would’ve been very unusual considering the times. There was also somewhat of a family scandal involving one woman who disappeared, leaving her husband and children to start another family with a new partner; however she then all but combined the families, introducing certain family members so that the children never realised that they were half siblings. There were clearly some pretty strong personalities and I get the feeling that the women weren’t to be messed with.
A number of the people I found myself related to linked to other public family trees, including one run by a man who has extensively researched the extended family and made a family tree that’s more like a family database: there’s over twenty thousand names in there. It’s incredible. I think that, in theory, we all know that we come from somewhere, that we’re descended from real people with full lives but it’s kind of amazing when you start to learn who those people were/are. It has a way of making you feel so… connected. It gives you this sense of being a part of something so much bigger, in a way that the theoretical knowledge just can’t manage.
This is roughly what my family tree looks like at this point. I wanted to show some sort of visual but felt it was safer for me and everyone named if I blurred out the details.
All of that was relatively easy. The hard part has been my Dad’s generation, the generation I’m most interested and invested in. The only thing I knew about my Dad is that he had a brother who is still alive and a sister who isn’t, both older. I found the older brother, discovered another older brother, but found nothing on the sister or, in fact, my Dad himself. I’ve tried searching with every variation of known information, tried super specific searches, tried vague searches… but I can’t find anything more than what I found in my first search. I’m not sure what to do at this point.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this searching, the DNA results came back. Unsurprisingly, the results showed that most of my ancestors are from the United Kingdom; I’d expected as much. But there was a nice, more interesting surprise buried in there: I have some Swedish DNA. That was not something I’d predicted. Where that comes from, I’m not sure – I haven’t found a Swedish relative as of yet – but there have already been a handful of jokes about how that must be where the songwriting spark comes from (given how many successful songwriters have come out of Sweden). I don’t mind. There are definitely worse jokes.
Even though the results were pretty much what I’d expected, it’s cool to actually know. But it’s also kind of weird, an odd juxtaposition to what I guess you could call my ‘cultural DNA.’ Multiple members of my family – of my closest family – aren’t actually related to me so while I don’t genetically carry the DNA of their home countries, I was raised by them and the cultures they grew up with (to a degree, at least). So, while I may genetically be of the UK and Sweden, I’ve always felt strongly connected to my parents’ homes of England, Australia, and the Netherlands.
So it’s been an interesting journey up to this point, with fascinating discoveries and unforeseen frustrations. It’s definitely been a rewarding experience but I’m not done. Not by a mile. There are still so many things I don’t know, things that I need to know. So I’m not giving up yet.
I’m still investigating but I’m not sure how much further I can get with the limited amount of information I have. There are a couple of people – friends of my Dad’s – that I’ve reached out to but no one’s responded to me. I’m not sure what my next steps are, to be honest. Unless I pay someone to conduct a more thorough investigation (something that is very expensive, much more than I can afford at this point in my life), I’m not sure what more I can find out.
Posted on March 1, 2021
So today, one of my best friends, Richard Marc, has just released his debut single, ‘Put It In A Postcard,’ and on his birthday no less! I will always share his music on all of my social media but I wanted to share this on here because, while it is completely Richard’s song, I did help with the writing of it and I’m proud of my part in that. It’s a super cool, catchy song. Please go and check it out!
Posted on March 1, 2021
So, every February for the last several years, I have been attempting FAWM or February Album Writing Month, an annual songwriting challenge where participants try to write 14 songs in the 28 days of February. And it’s definitely a challenge. If you have a job, are in some form of education, or have time consuming responsibilities (such as looking after family, handling health issues, etc), you likely have limited time to write. But having a time based challenge like FAWM – with a Twitter spitting out prompts and forums full of people sharing ideas and tips – can be a really great way to help carve out some time and boost motivation. I’ve always found it to be a great experience, one that has produces really interesting songs, whether I actually manage to complete the challenge or not.
I completed it last year and wrote some songs I’m really proud of it, plus I had so much fun, so I was really excited to do it again this year. I was collecting ideas and come 1st February, I was raring to go but then a lot of difficult medical stuff came up, hitting me like a ton of bricks. All of that really messed with my head and it suddenly felt a lot harder to manage everything: my physical health, my mental health, my uni work, writing at all, let alone extra writing. I felt like I was constantly on the edge of burning out. But then, as time passed and I worked my way out of the fog, I was able to focus on songwriting again and, for the second year in a row, I managed to complete the challenge of writing 14 songs in 28 days.
These are the songs I wrote:
- One More Time – Coming out of a really tough time, I think I wrote this song kind of to myself, encouraging and reminding myself to get up ‘one more time’ because that’s the only way to get through. It was hard to write but I knew the moment I hit the right chorus and I just fell in love with it. It’s definitely one I’d like to release at some point; hopefully it can can do the same thing for someone else as it did for me.
- Astronaut – Having always been fascinated with space and the stars, I was always going to end up writing at least one song about being an astronaut (funnily enough, the FAWM Twitter’s prompt the next day was about being an astronaut). I’m not sure it’s quite there yet but I feel like it’s a really solid foundation and I do love some of the lyrics and melodies, so it’s just about really tightening it up, I think.
- Half of the Conversation – This song started as a cowriting exercise in a uni seminar and we all liked what we came up with so much that we kept booking sessions together until we finished a first draft. One of the group wants to use it, which the rest of us are totally happy with. So I’m currently trying to arrange a session with him to redraft and make sure he’s happy with it.
- Taking Care of Me – This one is another cowrite with a friend/coursemate. We’ve been meaning to write together for ages and we finally managed to make it work (with plans for another session to redraft and make the song the best it can be). We had a really fun session that started on one idea and ended up on a completely different one, about practicing setting boundaries and making time for yourself and putting yourself first when you feel that it’s best for you. I really like what we came up with, plus it has one of the oddest lyrics I’ve ever strung together in it.
- Prison (Redraft) – I first wrote ‘Prison’ during FAWM last year and was really proud of it as a first draft but with the pandemic and then going back to uni, I haven’t managed to work on it again until now. I’m really pleased with the new and improved version and I feel like the metaphor is even stronger.
- Keep The Memories – I wrote this song with a friend/coursemate, about a person who screwed me over and really messed me up (although I should’ve seen it coming). We have quite different styles but we ended up with something really cool, something that I definitely wouldn’t have done on my own. I’m still tidying it up and refining it but it was a really fun experiment and I’m pleased with it as a first draft.
- Roots (Redraft) – I cowrote this with a friend/coursemate just before FAWM began and then, during FAWM, we had another session where we worked on it. We both really loved the first draft but we experimented with some sections and refined others and hopefully made it better. I think it’s one of my favourite cowrites to have been a part of.
- Father’s Eyes – I wrote this song with the same person I cowrote ‘Roots’ with and while it was hard to write – writing about my Dad always is – I feel good about what we’ve come up with. It’s not exactly comfortable but it’s honest and special and I’m grateful to have had someone I felt safe with to explore the idea and write the song with. I’m looking forward to working on it more and getting it just right. That will feel really good.
- Last One Standing – Since the pandemic, I’ve been experimenting with writing stories based on fictional stories and characters. This particular one is about Daisy Johnson from Agents of Shield, possibly my all time favourite show, about her owning how truly powerful she is and how important SHIELD and what SHIELD stands for are to her. I love this song so much. I’ve already edited the lyrics a few times to make sure it’s as clear and impactful as possible and I think it’s really close to being done.
- Soul – Another fiction-based song, this one is from the perspective of Emily Byrne from Absentia, another of my favourite shows. It covers some of her emotional processing at the end of Season 1, after her trauma, after being on the run, after the mystery is (apparently) solved. It’s not my favourite song I’ve written but the idea and the melody just wouldn’t let me go. Maybe I’ll come back to it at some point and find a better way to do what I was trying to do.
- Ashes – This one is another Daisy Johnson inspired song, inspired by the end of Season 3 where *SPOILER ALERT* she abandons SHIELD to go after the Watchdogs (as we later find out in Season 4). We don’t see her make that decision in the show and I’ve always been intrigued by the various ways it might’ve played out. I wrote this from her perspective, when she’s still very much drowning in her guilt and pushing away all the people that care about her.
- Hurricane – I already have a song called ‘Hurricane’ but when it comes to this song, not only is ‘Hurricane’ a working title but I highly doubt I’ll ever release this song. It was another experiment, another Absentia inspired song based on the early interactions between Emily and Cal and how their traumatic experiences give them a deep understanding of each other, something that they haven’t received from anyone else. I always really liked that about their relationship, that even though their experiences were different, there was a level of understanding unique to the two of them, something that strengthens both of them. So I tried to write a song about it. Again, I’m not sure I’ve gotten it right yet but there are parts of it that I really like.
- Monster – My third and final Absentia inspired song revolved around how various people and circumstances tried to turn Emily into a killer, into a monster. And when I started writing it, I intended for this version of Emily to embrace that, like, ‘Okay, you want a monster? I’ll give you a monster.’ And while that’s how the narrative played out, it became more complex. Almost of her own accord, she embraced what they’d given her (the skills, the emotional compartmentalisation, and yet this unrelenting rage, etc) and turned it back on them. She flipped the script: ‘You wanted me to be a monster? Well, here I am and this is what I’m capable of. Are you scared yet?’ It was probably the most interesting writing process during FAWM; I felt more like I was along for the ride than I had with any of the other songs. It’s not perfect yet – it needs some redrafting – but it feels like a really solid song.
- Even Me – I wrote this song with a good friend/coursemate about how, after a break up, all the things and places that were made special by the relationship feel ruined. We had such a great session: it was really productive but we also had so much fun and I’m really happy with how it’s turned out. It needs some refining but I feel like it’s a really solid first draft.
- Redraft of a friend/coursemate’s song – I didn’t cowrite this song so I don’t think it’s fair to share too much about it but a friend from my course asked if I’d help her redraft and refine a song she’d written and we had a really productive session. We did some restructuring to improve the flow of the narrative and the narrator’s journey; we switched out some lines to add emotional impact; we rewrote a section to add another layer to the situation described. The song was good already but I feel like we really tightened it up. It felt really collaborative and I had a really good time. Bringing a new idea to life is magical but there’s also something deeply satisfying about honing an idea to, hopefully, be the best it can be.
I actually worked on several more songs but didn’t manage to finish them or couldn’t arrange the cowriting sessions within the time period to finish them. And while most of these songs are still first drafts, I feel really good about a lot of them and where they’re headed. So I’m pretty proud of myself, especially considering how much I was struggling earlier in the month.
Although it’s called February ALBUM Writing Month, I don’t tend to think about writing a cohesive album, more an album’s worth of material. Creating a really good body of work takes so much thought and planning and usually a lot more than 14 songs to get a really good, cohesive body of work. But the challenge gets me so excited and energised when it comes to my songwriting that that’s the real benefit for me. I’m not going to be able to keep writing at this pace with all my uni work and health stuff going on, but I’ve really enjoyed this time to really dedicate to my writing and obviously I’m going to keep writing as much as I can around everything else I’m balancing.
I’d love to include links to these songs so that you guys could hear them (recording, production, and uploading is part of the challenge but I don’t want to put them out there when I don’t know what’s going to happen with them). I haven’t had time but, as I said, I don’t know if I’m going to release them or not and I wouldn’t want to spoil that. Because some of these songs are definitely headed for release…