A little update: since writing this, I’ve signed my contract with Unbound to crowdfund – cross everything – a book on writing that has evolved partly as a result of my coming to understand what was good for me. The Alchemy. I have also signed for a year with Jericho Writers to teach on their novel course. It is good. There are two further short books to edit and complete, but I will no longer be pushing and exhausting myself or querying articles and I am hopeful but realistic about whether my new novel places or not. I am a bookworrm: that is who I am. That is enough x
Back to the original article!
I had an epiphany earlier in Nandos. You can have an epiphany anywhere, of course. I was with my youngest, who is ten and he is a sweet soul and likes to take an interest in the old girl so he says to me, ‘So Mum. How are your books going?’ Today, that brought me up short. There is a lot going on for our family and I spent the morning with social services and outreach services. I’d taken him out for a treat because he’s such a sweet boy, never complains about anything and he often has to take a back seat because the amount of time you have to give your kids or big kids may not be equal: one or more may need you more than others.
The epiphany was that, already tired, I realised how happy I was to be there, right now, with my chirpy, caring kid and also how exhausted I was. Then – I couldn’t just have one bloody strand to this epiphany, could I? – I thought about the books and realised that I’d pushed, pushed, pushed; constantly looking for opportunities and trying to knit things up and build a profile. Articles, columns, a variety of texts. I LOVED writing all of it and I have loved the teaching and the friendships I have made and all the wonderful books I’ve discovered and then…well, the rest was too hard for too little reward. I am immensely positive and energetic about things, but I have a context and I realised I needed to honour it.
I have to scale back. I am a mother of three kids and there are some hefty SEN needs in there and while I am all about empowerment, I will need to be vigilant for some time to come. Part of the reason for this is that we have been failed – in fact entirely counter-productive action taken in some cases – by a school and various health services and as a result, strategies and aids were not put in place and things not learned. It’s always been me and it’s still me. I have had to think hard about this lately. I am also, not helped by our experience and the hyper-vigilance which it has created, finding that chronic health conditions are worse. So I have to work out what to let to go. I focus on my teaching, on which new direction news soon, my kids and health.
What does that mean in terms of writing? I had been really tough about yoking art and commerce and doing all that, but I cannot do it any more. Not at this pelt! There are things coming and things to announce, but I will do my best, for a period of well organised time and then that’s it. I cannot push to promote my work constantly if the publishers of that work are not, ultimately, terribly interested in that work or in me. Also, if my ten year old wants to make something with Lego with me, I won’t ask him to hang on because I am submitting an article to someone who will probably never acknowledge they received it. If I send a book independently and don’t hear back, or I am ghosted, or – this is the bit I didn’t know about – things are not replied to when a book goes on agency submission, then so be it.
I have been a huge bookworm all my life and I love to write and always will. I didn’t start to write books until six years ago, and it has been an adventure, but also difficult. Not the writing, but the no-replies, the work that wasn’t championed when I gave my all, that kind of thing.
So, read as much if not more, prepare the books I have scheduled to the best of my ability, enjoy spending time with other readers and writers, but as a thing of joy. I don’t think I will be submitting articles or querying anything else now; just slowly and gently what’s in hand, but with the focus on hope and enjoyment not success or even all that many expectations, really. I don’t think ambition or trying to make a career in writing has served me well, but I know that reading and developing my writing have, and teaching and looking after other people. So I am going to focus on enjoyment of writing and if a book places, with my lovely literary agency, great. If it does not, then I have Lego
And epiphanies in Nandos. The picture at top was the one my beautiful boy took of me.
And I recommend the peri-peri chips.