I’m looking at my diary from April last year. I was preparing to go to India and was nervous as well as excited. It seems a wise friend said this to me: ‘You’re going to go and have the experience of a lifetime and you’re going to come back and tell the tale, whatever it is.’

After a year of disaster and grief, and now with fear of what the future might bring, there are worse approaches to 2020 than a simple commitment to telling the tale ‘whatever it is’.

(Picture is of Changuch, first climbed by Martin Moran in 2009, viewed from just below Longstaff’s Col on Nanda Devi East.)

Who wants to be a writer?


Did I want to be a writer? I don’t remember.

Until I was eighteen I didn’t know anyone who’d written anything beyond what they’d had to at school. Writing essays was certainly easy for me, which was reason enough for me to be content to do it. But school essays were a superficial intellectual exercise. That is not what writing is; not as I understand it now. So I suppose I’m talking about creative writing, wanting to be a creative writer.

At school we had to write fiction as well. When I did that my hand moved over the paper and I went into a trance. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy anything. But when I did it something different happened in my brain. I went deeply into myself. Writing fiction, even while sitting in the classroom with my peers, wasn’t about the cleverness of an essay, wasn’t about how to get the top marks. It was something that came from inside. I had no idea what inside was. Often I didn’t hear the bell go at the end of the lesson.

Continue reading “Who wants to be a writer?”

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?”

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?”

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”

Four weeks to go…

It is just less than a month until ‘The Storyteller’ is published. Four weeks from today I will be relaxing with friends post-launch. (If you haven’t had an invitation and you’re in London and you want one, then let me know. The more the merrier: Daunt, 31st May, 6.30pm.)

There’s still a chance of some reviews in major publications; we sent the book in; it’s on the piles on their desks. I’m still oddly hopeful and excited that this will happen. ‘Oddly’ because the probability is low. Once the new books by major authors, and the major books from big publishing houses have been reviewed, there remains little space for the debut literary novelist at an independent press.

In this context small personal activities matter, and my head is swimming with things I should do.

Continue reading “Four weeks to go…”

The Problem of the Trite, of the Feminine, Self

There’s one issue I’m facing again and again as I try to become whatever sort of writer is the right writer for me to be: my first book is a coming of age novel, its central character is a young woman, and depression and recovery are writ large. Told that, people assume it is autobiographical, and I assume they will assume that and so I’m embarrassed to talk about its content at all. Here’s one for the record: it’s a novel – it’s a work of fiction.

This blog, on the other hand, is not fiction. Here I’ve been experimenting with different postures towards the writing world, sure, but I’ve been ‘honest at the time’ in the way I’ve tried each of them. The blog is autobiographical not primarily in the sense that it tells you what happened (though sometimes it does that too) but instead in its attempted true reflection of what I’m learning about myself, my writing, and where that writing might fit in. It’s an attempt to tie down my current thoughts, to translate fluctuating neural networks that are at times disabling onto the relative stability of the page. (Many of you have said that exploration has benefited you. Thank you for telling me that.)

So: blog autobiographical, if inevitably faultily so. Fiction not. Why does it matter?

Continue reading “The Problem of the Trite, of the Feminine, Self”

But am I really a writer?

My first blog asked ‘Am I now a Writer?’ Readers charmingly chimed in saying I write so by definition am A Writer. I didn’t quite believe them.

The question has continued to haunt me. My Facebook and Twitter profiles have picked up followers who are undoubtedly Writers. Every time I’ve used ‘writer’ of myself, or (worse) ‘author’, I’ve felt unworthy. Truth told, I’ve waited for Real Writers to point and laugh.

As I’ve waited, here’s what I’ve wanted to say:

Continue reading “But am I really a writer?”