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.

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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.)

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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.)

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Short fiction: The Line

Standing. Eyes on the rough yellow-painted line that runs down the platform from the far end which slopes up at thirty degrees out of rubble and grass and this end that slopes back down again just as the tunnel begins. The demarcation between smooth, pale, cold, grey tarmac and the blistered strip that signals the abrupt fall to the rails. Wednesday. Just after eleven in the morning. Sunny.

Why are you here?

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Writing a novel is all about reading

This week ‘The Storyteller’ will be out in the world. Not only is it my first book, but it is also almost the first piece I have ever published. There were a couple of academic articles ten years ago (in my maiden name, so good luck finding those). There’s this blog, and my Facebook page. But that’s it. This week will be the first time my name will be out there in proper print. Here are five (big) things I’ve learned along the way: Continue reading “Writing a novel is all about reading”