Update: I mentioned in passing at the bottom of my previous post that I’ve declared victory over the first draft of the memoir I’m writing about grief, collapse, recovery and big mountains.

Not only did I mention it here in passing, I also realised it in passing, and, as is my wont, I then moved straight on to the next task. It’s a big task, the next one, substantial revision. But actually I’m not going to move straight onto it. Instead I’m going to pause for a moment, and celebrate. Finishing this first draft is a really big deal. Here’s why.

(I’m going to be honest.)

This draft – this 155k word monster of a draft – is a careful book, a painstakingly constructed book, a book that mines and reconstructs and reflects on and, hopefully, understands and creates wider meaning from, a series of enormous events over a ten-year time frame. It’s not dressed up therapeutic or diary writing. It’s more ambitious than that.

I wrote the first 65k words in the year-and-a-bit after Matthew’s death, through deep deep grief, massive ill health, work, and the first waves of a pandemic. I don’t know whether my supervisor and fellow students ever knew this, but I did most of the first term of my MFA while actually in hospital – leaving the ward for a few hours every Tuesday evening to get the Tube to Birkbeck and participate in the workshops and seminars, and then returning to the ward and the nurses’ care.

In the second year of writing, in which I produced the next 70k words, I was in hospital again and then in a trauma clinic. In the former, I attended a supervision online actually from the ward. In the latter, after the first couple of months in which I was unable to think straight and therefore to write at all, I got special permission to use my laptop for an hour a day (laptops and phones were otherwise banned), and I sat in a shed in a meadow from eight o’clock most mornings to tap out words. Steady progress, steady progress.

I got home from the trauma clinic nearly four months ago and since then have been building resilience and finding my bearings. In that time my writing pace has picked up – from a weekly average of 1,570 words in the clinic to one of 3,806 since I’ve been out. (The weekly rate through 2020 – grief, work, pandemic, hospital etc – was 1,726, in case anyone’s interested.)

All those days of one word, and then the next, and then the next. All those days of keeping faith in this book regardless of how the rest of my life seemed to be going.

I have a first draft. It’s hugely imperfect. For a start, it’s about 40% longer than I need it to be. Much of the first half is lumpen and will need complete rewriting. Much of the second half is really good.

There is, I think, about six months of work to do before it will be ready to be read by the people to whom I will send it to be read. That’s six months of work as painstaking, emotionally difficult, and dedicated as the work I’ve done on it over the last two-and-a-half years. I’m ready for that. (I’m excited about it.)

And, yes, it’s two-and-a-half years I’ve been working on this book, at an average of about an hour a day, for those who are interested in time. It’s also two-and-a-half years since Matthew died. (I started both the book and the MFA a month after he died, as a way to give myself purpose when I could not see any way forward or any reason to live.) Matthew would be so proud of how I’ve got through those times, and I’m going to make this book something he would have been so proud of as well.

That’s it. I’m sorry I don’t provide internet kittens, but you do know me better than to expect that.

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