How personal is too personal?

My most recent blog on this page was my most popular yet by a factor of four. The words went far beyond my usual networks and they went there fast.

The blog worked because it was honest, because it was personal, and because I am not alone in thinking what it said.

So there was a payback to my honesty, not just in reach but in connection. But I was still left with the unease that maybe I had been too personal, maybe I had revealed more than I was comfortable having out in a public space.

So how much is too much? Continue reading “How personal is too personal?”

Slim Hope of Perfection

In the year before I broke down I was thinner than I am now. Noticeably so, as far as I am concerned. I have clothes from that period that I don’t throw away. They hold in my mind all that I remember as good. I was thin (people commented on it). I was carefree, professionally successful, and impressing people with my achievements.

I was also suicidal, but denied that even to myself. I would joke that I’d wanted to walk under a bus to avoid having to go to work. I never noticed that that being true was a problem. I flipped between personality states: the depressed, crying myself to sleep every night, and the party animal, drinking champagne out of the bottle on the dance floor long after midnight and being first into work the next day. Continue reading “Slim Hope of Perfection”

A Book in Search of a Cover

Meet Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Maybe you’ve heard of him. I hadn’t. He was an Expressionist painter, German, early twentieth-century. He painted the work on the cover of The Storyteller.

Readers love that cover. They keep asking how we chose it. Haphazardly, is my answer. But that haphazard was a jagged journey; it was not a success merely through chance. Here’s what I learned:

Continue reading “A Book in Search of a Cover”

The Life-Changing Miracle of Publication

November 2014: Holland House Books offered me a contract for The Storyteller. June 2015: I accepted that contract. Seven months of indecision over an offer that should have been a dream come true. One simple reason: I didn’t believe in the novel or myself.

There were other, smaller, reasons as well that I could use as an excuse for procrastination. Aspects of the book were too personal to share openly. I worried I would hurt someone else. I couldn’t explain it at work. Perhaps I should be completely rewriting the text as the Penguin editor so charmingly suggested. Continue reading “The Life-Changing Miracle of Publication”

Should we all be writing short stories?

There are so many people who want to be published writers, and who believe that to do so one must start with short stories, that short story competitions have sprung up as plentifully as the literary festivals to which they are often attached. If you’re a writer primarily of short stories, this is a good world to be in. You write the stories you would write anyway, and there’s an increased chance of recognition. If you’re a writer of novels I reckon it’s better to keep well away. Here’s why.

Continue reading “Should we all be writing short stories?”

What is worth learning anyway?

Look at my CV, and you’d think I’m well-educated. Despite a poor-performing school, I came away with a string of A*s at GCSE. I ticked off 5 As at A-level, a First in my undergraduate degree, a Distinction in my Masters, and then a doctorate. These are all things it was worth working for, and which it is worth having. Each progressively took me the step along the road to the next, and when I became seriously ill and my life fell apart, it was the benefits associated with the job I’d gained through all those qualifications that paid for the medical care that began my cure. (Now I can no longer get health insurance, it is the salary from that ‘high-flying’ job that allows me to pay my medical bills directly. The NHS does not cover long-term individual therapy; welcome to the prioritisation of the physically ill.)

Continue reading “What is worth learning anyway?”

On Brexit and Self-Harm

Next week’s New Yorker cover shows us silly-walking over a cliff. A meme is circulating of a cartoon Britain shooting itself in the foot. Remain voters are loud in their condemnation of the idiocy of Leave voters many of whom, it seems, have made a decision vote into a protest vote and damaged their own interests significantly in the process. Much of the UK has expressed a howl of pain and anger rather than making a considered decision. I’m not the first in this context to use the phrase ‘self-harm’.

I know a lot, as it happens, about self-harm. Both being deep in it and getting out of it. I’d say the term is apposite here. Self-harm generally is the last resort of those who are in unbearable pain and need somehow to express that pain. Those who cut, or starve, or punch, or burn themselves are usually those who are unable to see anywhere they can turn for help. They are those who feel they have no voice. They are often boiling with anger which they have no means of defusing. There is a strong correlation between being abused and self-harm, between unbearable stress and self-harm, between being patronised when you mention your pain and self-harm. (All of those things were true in my teenage life, and were reasons my self-harming behaviour become so secretive and lasted for so long.)

Continue reading “On Brexit and Self-Harm”