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?
It’s partly a question of intent. I do not wish to be personal for the sake of gaining attention. I do, importantly, live lives other than my writing life. I am a colleague, a boss, a wife, a friend. I have responsibilities to other people whose lives have the potential to be affected by what I say. I do not take those responsibilities lightly.
Equally, I am busy; and in that busyness I don’t have the time write carefully sugar-coated supremely palatable half-truths. Nor do I wish to do so. What would be the point? I have, to misquote Lear, ‘seen such things’, – both hellish and wonderful – and those are the things that have created who I most uniquely am, and they are what I am most fitted to write about.
Sometimes the blog is the place for that. It has an immediacy of connection with other people that a novel with a three-year lead time can never have. It is a place to hone a voice which is mine and not that of a character. It can, it appears, be of direct help to others. It is certainly of direct help to me as I practise saying aloud things I have been too frightened or ashamed to say in public for over twenty years. (It is, in that narrow, deliberate sense, therapy.)
But it is not the space for everything. Many of the things I want to write about are so deeply personal I can only bring them out in fiction. Many of them are so complex that they can only come out in fiction, with all the opportunities for viewpoints, irony, juxtaposition, irrationality that fiction offers.
The Storyteller is not an autobiographical book, but it does not soften the reality it sets out to depict. Mental ill-health is a type of hell, as observers of asylums have always known. A person who loses their mind is not a pretty sight.
I wrote things in The Storyteller that I shuddered to write, and I wrote them with a deliberate unconcern for how they would be read. Some people have found it a horrid book. Others have been touched by its beauty. I would not have had it any other way. My new novel will be similarly truthful, and it will cause pain to some who read it as a result.
The truth I want to show in my fiction is not a gratuitous truth. But it does draw heavily on who I am and who I have been, and so it can be deeply personal, even when it is not about me.
The parallels between book and blog are deliberate. Yes, the blog is intended to give a flavour of the book, by touching on the same topics and touching on them from a position of, to use an overused word, authenticity. Yes, there is an element of vulnerability to the blog, as there always is when we share what is really going on. But as the book aims to be more than a splurge of feeling, so I would like the blog not just to gain its readers through shock value.
So here is what I’m aiming for: personal but not sensationalist; honest, but not gratuitously so; supportive of who I am without saying things that harm others; true, because that’s where my best writing comes from.
Sometimes, inevitably, I’m going to get it wrong. When that happens, please know that the intentions are true. And if I’m getting it right, please keep reading, and point friends who might be interested in this direction.