The Wobbles

As a writer, I spend my time making stuff up, writing it down and sending it off. I don’t spend very long looking inward, but rather looking outward, examining what I see and not who I am or, even, who I want to be.

I have had, what I would describe, as a wobbly week.

The reason for this is the attention I have been paying to my public profile, the image I portray to the world. Not the image of me writing in my pyjamas, a piece of lego stuck to the sole of my foot and a tea stain on my t-shirt, as is so often the case. In this age of social media and instant connectivity it has become more important than ever to get out there and, well, connect. Readers, bloggers, fellow authors, publishers, agents, editors: there all online and I need to be too.

Viewing myself from the outside and analyse the image I portray, the person I am going to be seen as being is a little odd. A little scary.

I have come to a stage in my life where I am relatively happy in my own skin. I know where I want to go, what I want to do, who I want to do it with. I am, essentially, pretty happy in myself.

But… am I happy with how others may view me?

So much of my history has been spent practising the necessary skills of not caring what people think of me. I’ve mastered this pretty well. I’m happy with my style, in all senses of the word. So, when I eventually confronted the idea that other people are going to form their own ideas of who I am, I suddenly got wobbly.

It made me question everything I have spent so long practising not caring about. What a pickle. It made me look like this:

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I may not care what people think.

But I do have to be aware of it.

And it’s this awareness that gives me the wobbles.

It’s a funny business, creating a social profile, a space where anyone from the world can see you, judge you, comment as only they see fit.

The best way to solve this problem, this slight knee-weakening anxiety, is to go ahead, bite the bullet and do it. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram I’m coming for you.

So, here I am, right now, as I write this. Headphones in, feet tapping to Maroon 5 as I work, doing the thing I love doing most.

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A reminder to myself that I am who I am. No need to change, just to, perhaps, brace myself and not waver.

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Writers aren’t neurotic. Not at all. NOT AT ALL.

One of the features of this very blog that I find equally fascinating and nauseating are the visitor stats. I can see how many people have been reading and where they are in the world; this is the part I find fascinating. The nauseating part comes in when I get to see exactly which pages and blog posts they have clicked on and realise, with a gut-twisting shock, that they have been reading my archive. I have the urge to hunt them down, stand in front of their computer screens and wave my hands around shouting, “No, no! This is old, this is not my best work! I’M SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS!”

A perfectly natural response, I think you’ll agree. We all want to showcase our very best work, after all, and, no matter how pressed for time we are, this fact remains true.

It did, however, come and bite me on the ass this week.

I am currently writing to a deadline; book 2 is due with my editor in a few days. I also have a day job, a blog and two children to contend with. None of this is a problem, it is life carrying on at its normal life-paced pace.

Then, at the weekend, I was hit by a sudden desire to eat chocolate brownies. Chocolate peanut butter brownies, to be precise. These bad-boys right here.

Now, my grandmother in Germany has some very good advice for anyone who loves to bake and it is this: don’t do it unless you have the time to give it the respect it is due. If you rush, she says, you can taste the difference in the bake. She is right, of course. A 93-year-old who has lived through all she has lived through is rarely wrong. So why, pray tell, did I not take heed?

I’ll just knock up a quick batch, I said to myself. It’ll be FINE.

It would have been, too, had I not decided, in a moment of gross hubris, to share my speedily knocked together offering with two rather important people. It turned out to be more of a cake than a brownie. A somewhat overbaked cake, at that.

To make matters worse, I took said brownie/cake monstrosity to Ian’s house and put it in the fridge for later. We went to lunch and what did the kind chef at the café do?

What did he do?

Gave us a free brownie at the end of our meal, that’s what.

What a total bastard.

The brownie was perfect. I can’t fault it. It was bloody gorgeous, and I will forever hate that chef as a result because, as I sat down later to eat my own pile of dry, brown crumbs that I tried to pretend was delicious, all I could think of was that brownie. And how my brownie could have been JUST LIKE THAT had I given it the time and respect it deserved. I could have even out-brownied that chef.

And because I am totally sane, not at all neurotic and certainly not competitive (heaven forefend!) I will NOT be staying up for an extra hour tonight to prove to myself that I can indeed bake the perfect brownie.

No, I won’t.

I really, really, really won’t.

I might.

See? Writers are the archetypes of level-headed serenity.

 

Never Go There is available to order now from Amazon.

An Audible Coincidence

Recently, I listened to a fantastic programme on radio four about probability and coincidence. The show itself detangled the eeriness of coincidence and exemplified the probability arising instead.

This led to a reminiscence of my favourite bookish coincidence about Claire Fuller, audio books and writing festivals.

I have a lot to thank the kind folk at The Winchester Writer’s Festival for. It was the place I found my writing voice, the place I met my mentor and teacher, Simon Hall, who in turn introduced me to my soon-to-be-published friend, Hazel Prior. I wouldn’t have found out about the festival at all, had it not been for another author, Claire Fuller.

Fuller was the first published author to follow me on twitter. I can still recall the butterflies in my stomach when I received the notification that, for the first time, a bona fide published author had connected with me. I had already read her first novel, MY ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS, and devoured it. When she tweeted about the Winchester Writer’s Festival, I looked into it and thought, I have to go. This sounds amazing.

I attended the festival, joined Fuller’s workshop on working with an editor, and had her sign my copy of her book. It was one of those novels I loved from the very first line. I love it so much I have it in all formats; kindle, hardback, paperback and audiobook. (Yes, I know, I’m a bookseller’s dream come true)

Fast forward a couple of years to the Autumn of 2017 and my own novel, NEVER GO THERE, is on the cusp of publication. Imagine my further joy when I discover that the supremely talented Eilidh Beaton was set to narrate the audio book.

The same woman who narrated My Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller.

It is a small coincidence, one that could very easily be fobbed off with talk of probabilities and the smallness of the publishing industry, but it’s a coincidence I love and one that makes me feel as though I’ve come full circle. NEVER GO THERE is narrated by the woman who also narrated the debut of the author who, inadvertently, jolted me into publication. There is a beautiful symmetry to that.

 

Never Go There is available as an eBook and audio download and will be released as a paperback on the 28th June 2018.  You can order or pre-order here.

One-Star Company

One of the most daunting parts of publication is the wait for reviews. As with all greatly anticipated events in my life, I found the hardest part to bear was the anticipation itself. Knowing people were reading the novel I had spent four years pouring my soul into was like waiting outside the headmaster’s office at school, uncertain as to whether you’re lining up for a rap on the knuckles or a pat on the back.

The anxiety was thankfully unfounded. To date, the reviews are predominantly positive, as you can see for yourself on Amazon.  They are not, however, all positive. Oh no, no, no. My novel is exceptionally dark. Some find it too dark to be comfortable, some find it not nearly dark enough and some, gulp, hate it. One-star review hate it.

The lone-star review has become something of a badge of honour among authors. I try to take the few negative reviews I’ve received with the sanguinity of one who has, themselves, not enjoyed every book they have ever read**. The beauty of art, be it a painting, or, in this case, commercial fiction, is the fact it is open to such interpretation and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Even Crimson Petal And The White by Faber, one of the most captivating books I’ve read in a long while, has its share of haters. (Though, seriously, how you could one-star that bad boy is quite beyond me.)

My other source of comfort is that those who left me negative reviews rarely left positive reviews for anyone. The most vitriolic were left by people who are equally vitriolic about other writers. Best of all, they left awful reviews for books I absolutely adore and whose authors I greatly admire. Sarah Pinborough, Alice Feeney and Jo Spain all received one-star reviews from the people who left them for me. To be frank, I’m so overjoyed at being considered in the same league as these talented women, that the league itself completely unfazed me.

Never in a million years, as I sat waiting with bitten-down fingernails for the reviews to come in, did I think I would find such joy in a joyless soul’s one-star.

 

** This is an out an out lie, made in an effort to appear nonchalant. My journey to sanguinity has four stages. The first is an abject shame. How could I release something into the world that is so despised? That people hate? My god, does this mean they hate me? (Yes, I’m that bad. Creative types are, as a rule, excruciatingly sensitive.)

The second stage is denial. If I do not load that Amazon page, I will not see the review. If I do not see it, it does not exist. And if by accident, I do see it then it’s not real but a figment of my overly active imagination.

The third is high-and-mighty anger. This person is clearly a buffoon, who wouldn’t know a good book if it smacked them on the bottom and gave them a paper cut.

And eventually, I come around to acceptance. Hardly sanguine really, but that sounds far more impressive than a writer wrought with anxiety and neurosis.

 

Never Go There is available now as an ebook or to pre-order as a paperback (released June 28th 2018)

My two cents on the Staunch Prize

There has been a lot said about this new prize over the last week, particularly on Twitter. For those unaware of the controversy, the Staunch Book Prize promises an award for a crime novel in which no woman is beaten, raped, murdered, stalked… you get the general idea.

My work often involves the very crimes the Staunch Prize is intent on ignoring. My characters are raped, they are stalked, they are murdered. Sometimes by men, sometimes by other women. I have not included these crimes to gain a readership and however lurid or detailed my depictions may be, it has never been done with the intention of gaining attention. It is instead a reflection of the characters, the society and the plot I have created and these, I’m afraid to say, have been inspired by the real world in which I am forced to live.

Whilst living in leafy South West London in one of the statistically safest boroughs of the city I was attacked twice. A third time whilst on holiday in Greece. I have had my drink spiked and ended up in hospital. My friends have been attacked, stalked, assaulted. One forced herself to lie in bed, stock-still, with her eyes tightly closed whilst a burglar pulled back the covers of her bed and drank her body in. She countss herself lucky not to have been raped and I think how absolutely disgusting that is that she should have to count herself lucky at all.

My sisters have experienced it.

My mother had her foot molested by a fetishist whilst trying to mind her own business in a bookshop.

In short, I know of not one woman in my life, and I have many strong, wonderful women in my life, who haven’t been victim to some sort of assault or abuse. The #MeToo campaign is a classic example of how far these crimes have infiltrated society and how often they have been marginalised.

So why, at a time when so many women are coming forward with their experiences of sexual violence and assault, who are fighting for justice for themselves, for future women, for the underrepresented women, for the women who feel they have no voice, has a prize been launched that attempts to silence these voices in literature?*

There is too much violence against women in society. Is ignoring this in fiction going to make any difference to the statistics? I think not.

The writers who recognise this violence, who lay it on the page for readers to read with the unapologetic message that, yes, this happens. Yes, this could happen to you, to your sister, your daughter, your wife, your mother and yes this is wrong. Wholly wrong and something needs to be done about it. They are the writers who are going to make a difference.

Not those who hide their head in the sand and refuse to acknowledge reality in the hope that they may win a prize.

 

 

* Yes, I do believe crime fiction can be called literature.

Facing up to my procrastination

I have started and abandoned this blog four times so far, each entry not seeming quite right, quite honest enough. I could feel something growing beneath my breastbone, some truth I couldn’t quite wheedle out of myself (I am painfully aware, as I write that, how awfully pretentious that sounds) and it took that many attempts for me to realise that what it is, is this; I am using this blog, this week, as a form of procrastination.

I like to write here, I often feel the need to, but I don’t have to. What I do have to do is write my second book and that is what I am procrastinating over.

I know the plot, I know the characters, I know what needs to be done, all that is left is the doing. I am comparatively lucky; I know many writers find the second book a struggle. I am finding it a struggle in a very different way, due, strange as it may sound, to the very fact that I do know what I need to write. I know it exactly.

I have been plotting this story for two years, I’ve written a hefty chunk of the first draft already. I have got to know the characters very well. I often talk to them in my car. Not Connie, possibly the very worst conversationalist you could ever hope to meet, but definitely Selina and occasionally even Michael. I write this knowing that these names are meaningless to you; you know nothing about them. But I do. And that is where the problem lies.

My stories are not nice stories. Anyone who has read an early proof of Never Go There can vouch for that. They are not sweet, or romantic or in any way pleasant at all. They are dark, the plots move like a twisted briar; full of sharp thorns, the odd nettle thrown in to sting the reader quite on purpose. And I have reached a point in writing my second novel where one of these characters I have grown to know so very, very well is about to do something horrid, something that will change the way she lives her life and views herself forever. And, despite her being fictitious, a part of me wants to preserve her innocence, to protect her.

So, instead of forcing her hand with my pen (or, more accurately, my keyboard) I began writing and swiftly abandoned four different articles. One on the feeling of seeing my printed book for the first time. Another on the disappointment I felt in forgetting to give a copy to my chap at the earliest available opportunity. The delight in handing a copy to my mum and to a close friend. The last on the realisation that I had unwittingly been writing about someone I know. These topics I may well revisit in the near future, but they were not what had to be written today. Today, I had to face up to the truth of my procrastination, to acknowledge why I was finding it so hard to write the next chapter so that, in the morning, I can begin writing that difficult chapter unburdened.

Wish me luck.

Never go…back

I have just sent an email to my editor at Hodder, Emily Kitchin. Attached to the email was my completed, copyedited manuscript.

In other words, I have just sent back what should be the final edit. The book is, theoretically, done.

Last night, as soon as I made the last tweak to the MS and closed the Word file I whooped out loud with joy. I immediately sent a text screaming “I’m finished!” to the one person I had to tell. I sipped a G&T. I felt relief, pride, accomplishment and a huge surge of adrenaline.

What a pleasure it would be if that proud state of bliss could reign on.

But I’m a writer and, therefore, cursed/blessed with the same duality of emotions that plague most in the creative industries.

I still feel all of those wonderful things: they are coursing through me at a delightful rate but, alongside them, is another set. A visceral sadness that I have finished. A nostalgia for those characters whose lives I have made up and written down. And an abject terror that I have missed something. That if I gave it one more complete rewrite it would be so much better. If I could just have another six weeks…six months…six years it would be so amazing and oh my goodness it’s not ready. In fact, it’s awful. Just plain awful. I need to rewrite it from scratch.

The feeling is similar, actually, to how I felt when the first twinges of contractions set in before my daughter’s birth. The hallelujah this pregnancy is over and I am finally going to meet my child, blurred somewhat by the feelings of no, no, no, stay inside little one, you’re not, I’m not, the world is not ready quite just yet.

Whereas, my protective nature for my novel is not quite as fierce as that for my children, it is pretty damn close. This novel has seen me through some of the biggest changes in my recent history. Writing it gave me the courage to change my life, I got to know myself and understand myself again. I have many acquaintances who have marvelled at my ability to write a novel when so much in my life was changing. Those closest to me know that it was writing this novel that saw me through some of the toughest few years of my life. It was my crutch, my goal and my future.

And whereas, the writing will always be there, this novel will never be written again. I will be letting it go and that is rather frightening.

In times such as these, I repeat a mantra to myself. It is the same I use when I am nervous about anything. It is simple and to the point and goes something like this: all will be fine.

Take a deep breath, close your eyes and say it to yourself.

All will be fine.

Because, and trust me on this, it will be.

Forgive me, reader, for my many sins.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest: they’re all littered with a particular kind of message that never fails to turn me cold. The kind that is no doubt designed to be read aloud in a boasty sneer and declares: “Those who can’t tell they’re from their from there are disgraceful failures and should be shot.”

If these were acted upon then I would be dead by now.

Very dead.

My corpse would be a pitted cartograph of bullet holes, illustrating the many grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and typos I have made throughout my life. I have an infuriating mixture of failures: a poor eye for detail, combined with a brain that stubbornly refuses to compute grammar no matter how many times I read Lyne Truss.

Whenever the subject of grammar or spelling arises I become a little embarrassed and more than a little ashamed. I’m a writer, after all. I should know this stuff. Worse still, I read literature and linguistics at university. I studied grammar daily, I got a 2:1 for heaven’s sake. Why, oh why, does this knowledge fail to show through?

The reason for this, in my first drafts at least, is simple. This knowledge does not show through in my writing because I am a writer. I have ideas that need to be written down before they bugger off. I write quickly, without consciously thinking of the words I am using as I write them, simply because what I have to say must be written. The compulsion to write overrides the desire to be correct.

The subsequent drafts are for correcting these errors and this is when the embarrassment and shame creep in, where my brain, which can be so clever in many ways, lets me down so horribly. I remember the rules of grammar as just that: a set of rules to be remembered. At no point have these rules burrowed their way into my subconscious and made a nest in my left temporal lobe. Recalling these facts requires conscious effort and even with the greatest effort I still struggle to spot grammatical mistakes. Simply put: grammar does not come naturally to me.

It is odd for many people to discover that I am a writer not because of my grasp on grammar and spelling, but despite of it. I have lost count of the number of times I have found myself apologising for it.

So next time you like a comment that says: “those who mix up their tenses should be exiled”; or “people who say you’re instead of your clearly have no brains” please spare a thought for those like me. We do have brains, they just let us down, frequently.