Tag Archives: mslexia

To keep going…

 

I am crying a little bit here. But read on. It’s fine, really.

Do you know, I am nominated several times for ‘The Guardian’ Not the Booker prize, I am entered for the Goldsmith’s Prize, the new Republic of Consciousness Prize and The Wellcome Book Prize. I also put in a poetry pamphlet for ‘Mslexia”s annual competition.

Do I have a shot? Naaah, not really.

Well, frankly, only a tiny one, at best.

I’m small fry; I’m a newbie and pretty unrefined, still. I blundered into this in the same naive way I have blundered into most things in my life! I sort of…had a go when theoretically it wasn’t supposed to be possible with all my other commitments. I’m a hard worker because, I think, I have had so much experience compromised by mental health problems, illness and bereavement that it has made me more imaginative and keen to seize the day in case we are hit by an asteroid or I go bonkers again (which I am not planning to, obviously). If this is you too, be collected; be encouraged: you would be amazed what is possible and at the way which can be made from no way and from despair.

AND SOMEHOW

In two years, I have written and published a novel, a poetry pamphlet, guest blogged, authored ten articles or so and at this point I am approximately two thirds of the way through a second novel and have poetry and short story publication this autumn and in the spring. So HOLY F*** three kids and a day job and the volunteer stuff. I have to keep going now, don’t I?

On, blunder on. xxx

Anna Vaught's photo.
Advertisements

WRITING…READING…BIBLIOGRAPHY

WRITING

So, my manuscript has gone back and I have a little time (ha!) to work on the chapter book I’m submitting for both Bath Children’s Novel award and Chicken House/The Times competition. I have also discussed writing a YA novel with someone rather wonderful I met through discussions of all sorts (including writing books) on twitter. I also, chancing my arm, submitted feature pitches to ‘Mslexia’ and ‘The Atlantic’ – both were about mental health and writing.

READING

I read – as I tweeted to him – the whole of James Dawson’s This Book is Gay in one chomp. As an exploration of sexuality FULL STOP this is an excellent book. It’s comprehensive, funny and wise; I hope it will get used in PSHE in schools – and I say this with my day job hat on: as an English teacher and one who used, like James, to teach PSHE. PSHE is the starting point, I think, for teachers: do it well and students may come and find you at other times to talk things over. For the digital natives, there is a great deal of LGTB* support online – but this book is an essential for bookshelves: for young people, for their teachers and for their parents. I have already looked at the book with one of my boys: with my almost twelve year old because he saw the cover and was, of course, intrigued (my fourteen year old saw it and ran away. Make that two copies for this household  – I’ll leave it by his bedroom door).

Other reading…I’ve almost finished John Carey’s The Violent Effigy, his fine exploration of themes, images and symbols in the work of Charles Dickens, just started Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, which I think I will stay up late reading tonight as I am already, as you could predict, hooked by its first characters; I want to know what the dilemmas are; I want to know about the first protagonist and her husband and what the consequence will be of his so unapolagetically announcing an affair with Melanie who wears heavy amber beads…I want to know about the legal papers in a fan on the floor and about the title of the book and whether I am to read ‘act’ as both noun and verb.

And it has been the morning of the em dash, of writing to Catherine Camus, daughter of Albert, for literary permissions and of doing the draft bibliography of my debut novel, Killing Hapless Ally. Why the bibliography? The book is about, shall we say, unusual methods of staying sane; of being less alone; of not being terrified in a home of desolate proportions. Bound up with that is reading and the novel does refer to and quote a good number of books. Some are in the acknowledgements section, which houses Kavanagh, Camus, Larkin, Plath, Auden and Dorothy Rowe. Here are the (draft) others!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I have referred to, used very brief paraphrase, or quoted where the text is out of copyright from the following and I hope my book has piqued your interest in some of those which follow. I have listed the editions I own, but where these are out of print, I have given an obtainable alternative. Albert Camus: The Outsider, (Penguin, 2000, translated by Joseph Laredo), The Myth of Sisyphus‘ (Penguin, 1975, 2000, translated by Justin O’ Brien); Louis MacNeice: ‘Thalassa’, ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’ and ‘Autumn Journal’ from Collected Poems Louis MacNeice (Faber and Faber, 1966, 1987), Simone de Beauvoir: Force of Circumstance (Penguin, 1987, translated by Richard Howard); Jean Paul Sartre: Nausea (Penguin,1966, 1986, translated by Robert Baldick) and Annie Cohen-Solal: Sartre. A Life (Heinemann, 1987); Sylvia Plath: ‘Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit’ from Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (Faber and Faber, 2001) and the poems ‘Lady Lazarus’,‘Cut,’ ‘Daddy’ from Sylvia Plath Collected Poems (Faber and Faber, 2002); Dylan Thomas: A Child’s Christmas in Wales (New Directions, 2009); T. S. Eliot:‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ from T. S. Eliot Collected Poems 1909-1962 (Faber and Faber, 2009), Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient (Bloomsbury, 1992, 2009); Samuel Beckett’s ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Waiting for Godot’ from The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett (Faber and Faber, 2006); and his Collected Poems (Grove/Atlantic, 2015); W. B Yeats: ‘The Circus Animals’ Desertion’ from The Collected Poems of W. B Yeats (Wordworth Poetry Library 2000); Andre Gide: Fruits of the Earth (Penguin 1970, translated by D. Bussy); Dolly Parton: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, (Harper Collins, 1995); Peter Hogan: Shirley Bassey. Diamond Diva (ReadHowYouWant.com LTD, 2013); definitions of disorders are as given on the NHS website on its mental health and associated medication information pages and from the DSM-5. [An abbreviation of] The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (Various. Published by the American Psychiatric Association, 2013); Robert D. Hare: Without Conscience: The Disurbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us (The Guildford Press, 1993) and his site, www.hare.org, which is devoted to the study of psychopathy; Charles Dickens: Great Expectations and David Copperfield, (Gerald Duckworth and Co Ltd, 2005; this is the Nonesuch Dickens six volume collection); Frances Hodgson Burnett The Secret Garden (Vintage Children’s Classics, 2012); Helen Bush Mary Anning’s Treasures (Puffin, 1976); Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories (Dover Publications, 1997); John Skelton: ‘On the Death of the Noble Prince King Edward the Fourth’ from John Skelton. The Complete English Poems edited by John Scattergood (Penguin, 1992); Walt Whitman; ‘Song of Myself’ from ‘Leaves of Grass’ (Penguin, 1986); Andrew Marvell: ‘A Horation Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’, from The Complete Poems of Andrew Marvell (Penguin Classics edition, Penguin, 2014); D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers (United Holdings Group, 1922); William Empson: Seven Types of Ambiguity (Pimlico, 2004), John Keats: ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ from Collected Poems of John Keats (William Ralph Press, 2014) and John Keats. Selected Letters (Penguin, 2014), Kenneth Graham: The Wind in the Willows; Robert Browning:The Pied Piper of Hamlin’ from Selected Poems of Robert Browning (Penguin, 2004); Matthew Arnold:Sohrab and Rustum’ from The Poems of Matthew Arnold (Oxford University Press, 1922); Moliere:Tartuffe’ – the title of which is sometimes translated as ‘The Hypocrite’ (NHB Drama Classics, 2002, translated by Martin Sorrell); Duncan C. Blanchard: The Snowflake Man. A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley (Ohio, 1998); W. A. Bentley and W.J. Humphreys: Snow Crystals (New York, 1931); Father Ted: Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan for Hat Trick Productions and Channel 4. The poem (my own) you find in chapter one contains the first line of Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Althea. From Prison’ from The Poems of Richard Lovelace (Clarendon Press, 1963) and the rest of the poem is a pastiche of its form, with a hint of its theme of confinement. The story about Eric Newby’s A Book of Travellers’ Tales (Picador, 1986) being found in Kolkata, as signed by the author, is true and the book is on my shelves at home. The story of meeting Johnny Cash in a lift is also true and happened to my husband; as with the Newby incident, I took it for the book. Signposts you see.

Slight change to the book’s title and other things!

This is a bits and pieces post. The next one will be a review.

Guidance from my publisher has resulted in a change to the book’s title and to that of its protagonist. The novel is now called Hapless Ally and its protagonist is Alison. This is partly a stylistic issue – that is, Hapless Annie doesn’t sit so well with Anna on the cover – but it is also important for me, as author, because the new title helps to make it clear that this is literary fiction and not memoir. It is also helpful from the point of view of clear genre and, moreover, because the book does describe and entertain real people in the public domain – Shirley Bassey, for one – I’m emphasising that any conversation with her is imaginary and had in the head of an imaginary character. Well, actually, it’s all a bit more complicated than that, but enough on the subject. And I hope you like the disclaimer which runs,

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction and, while real authors and musicians are characters in the book, they are in the role of imaginary friends and are the author’s interpretations only; any celebrity or individual in the public domain who features in the text in no way endorses it or is associated with it; any dialogue is an invention of the author and resemblances to anyone else living, dead or undead but still quite lively, are drawn as literary creations only. I did, however, write regularly to Tony Benn and once sent him some rock cakes.

WARNING: this book contains bad language, graphic accounts of suicide attempts, self-harming, sex, funerals, deaths and some brutal culinary episodes.

What else happened this week? Well, somehow, I managed to work through all the editor’s comments and requests for changes. There has only been one big change and, oh my, was she right. But I won’t say what happened!  Also, I got permissions back for quotations from Kavanagh and MacNeice and I completed requests for Johnny Cash, Dorothy Rowe, Larkin, Plath and Auden, which latter preceded a very nice email from Faber and Faber correcting me: Curtis Brown NY office holds the Auden rights. Oops. Now, should you ever be seeking literary permissions, there is one very quick way to check who holds the key:

http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/watch//

This site lists writers, artists and their copyright holders, so you know to whom you should write. Don’t assume it’s the publisher (which I had, with Auden) and don’t assume it’s the first publisher of a text – as I had been advised for Albert Camus, hence my applying to Gallimard (I now know it is his daughter, Catherine, I shall be writing to). Then there’s the issue of whether or not I use my own translations….We’ve got round the issue of translation from Dante’s ‘Inferno’ because my wonderful, bilingual publisher did the translation for me; easy to attribute that!

And, finally, I have drafted a plan of Life of Almost  (that’s the Next One) and written the first chapter. It’s a YA novel based on Great Expectations. I’ve enjoyed corresponding with various writers and spoken to someone about working on a collaborative YA piece (clue: genetics; off-world colonies, replicants: I realise that all sounds rather ‘Blade Runner’…) There is a great supportive community out there. Also, because I’ve had, shall we say, a bit of a dip, I’ve had some great exchanges with Mind and with the extraordinary MH survivors I have made contact with through social media. Some of them were contributors to Dear Stranger (Penguin/Mind) – which I will review in the next post. It’s brilliant. Here are some links to it; one from Mind and one from the Penguin blog. I have asked one of its contributors to write the foreword to my own book.

http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/dear-stranger-is-published-today-in-aid-of-mind/#.Vb0IwflViko

http://penguinblog.co.uk/2015/07/02/dear-stranger-a-letter-from-rowan-coleman/

And, I was pondering: in my book there is a GP called ‘Dr Krank-Werden’, who is ‘possibly the best loved doctor in Albion.’ I was thinking about this earlier. I have talked to a lot of people about the kind of care they have received, over the years. Some have had no continuity of care at all; not all have a GP they find supportive. But I have been lucky. Together we have been down various routes: some things have worked; some have failed. Sometimes, somebody else lost the paperwork or support came to an end without any explanation at all: I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But she never gives up on me. So, while my book might be fiction, Dr Krank-Werden has some elements of my GP in her – and I thought that, if Dear Stranger could ever gain a second volume, I’d like to write a letter to her. It is partly for her that on the acknowledgements page of Killing Hapless Ally there is a thank you, ‘to the kind and determined people in our NHS which on many occasions has made me cry with pride, gratefulness and not a small amount of embarrassment…

Night night.

An interview with Joanna Barnard, author of Precocious (Ebury, 2015) and winner of the 2014 Bath Novel Award

                       AN INTERVIEW WITH JOANNA BARNARD

Write the book you have to write, the story that keeps you awake at night.’

Joanna Barnard won The Bath Novel competition in 2014 with her novel, Precocious. The literary agent Juliet Mushens went on to represent her and Precocious was subsequently bid for in a four way publishing auction – with Ebury Books taking it on. Exciting stuff! The book will be out this July and Joanna is working away on her second novel. I have taken the synopsis and comment below from The Bath Novel page – with thanks.

NOVEL SYNOPSIS:  As a schoolgirl, Precocious’s Fiona Palmer has an intense crush on Mr Morgan, her English teacher. She writes stories, poems and plays for him; he praises her talent and offers a glimpse of what life might have to offer beyond her council estate. The crush develops into a relationship which ends badly.

The novel opens with a chance meeting between the two fifteen years on. Morgan seems once again to offer a form of escape and they quickly begin an affair. A young woman visits Fiona, seeking her help in prosecuting Morgan who she claims abused her at school and Fiona finds she must re-visit her own version of the past.

Gillian Green, Ebury Fiction publishing director told The Bookseller: “Joanna’s debut is an utterly compelling, clever and controversial novel which the fiction team has become hooked by. It’s that Holy Grail in fiction: quality writing but with a commercial heart and a subject matter ripped straight from the headlines.”

I went to hear Joanna, the literary agent, Juliet Mushens, Caroline Ambrose, Chair of The Bath Novel Award and Dionne Pemberton, one of The Bath Novel Award‘s readers, speak at the Bath Literary festival. If you are a writer – however tentative your efforts so far – I would really recommend going to such events for the insights you will gain. It is as if you are saying to yourself, ‘Right. I am taking my writing seriously.’ And go even if you don’t enter the competition!

For me, it was the talk at this event, my manuscript review at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and the day I said to myself, ‘I have a story I so want to get out there’ that changed things. Because I decided I wouldn’t give up or fall so early in the process. I’m a rookie, don’t you know? The quotation at the top of this article is from my interview with Joanna: that just about sums it up for me: ‘Write the book you have to write, the story that keeps you awake at night.’ It’s a great maxim, isn’t it? And, as Robert Frost had it in ‘The Road Less Taken’, ‘way leads on to way’, because through Cornerstones I  found sterling encouragement in the novelist, Alison Taft; because of The Bath Novel talk I read Joanna Barnard’s blog – and the exchanges we subsequently had were so encouraging; she’s generous with her time and hers is a great story – that she almost put the ms away before giving it one last shot. Finally, after The Bath Novel talk, I went for coffee and a chat with some recent graduates of the Bath Spa MA in Creative Writing, which was how I came to notice profiles on independent publishers in Mslexia magazine – and how I found someone who wanted to publish my novel.
So KEEP GOING and here’s the interview with Joanna!
1. Why did you start writing?
Well, that’s a tough one because I started writing stories at the age of six or seven years old, so I can’t really remember! Like most little girls I had loads of career ambitions growing up, from ballerina to teacher to nun (!), but I always said I was going to write books as well “at the weekends”. I just loved books so much it seemed natural to want to write them myself.
2. Do you have any particular sources of inspiration you could comment on? Events, conversations? I imagine that, as a teacher, I could not have got away with writing a book that tackles a pupil teacher crush and the dark events that ensue over a considerable time, so I am fascinated to see how you handle them. But back to the sources of inspiration!
There were certainly rumours at our school (as with every school) and instances where I would say the pupil-teacher relationship seemed inappropriate. It’s funny because at the time it doesn’t seem that big a deal, in fact you feel jealous of the girl getting the ‘special attention’ – it’s only as you get older that you look back and think, hmm, maybe that was actually a bit off. I’ve known of at least one teacher who was taken to court, but it resulted in him being acquitted, so I can’t really comment on that.
It’s a topic that’s always in the news though, isn’t it – from the Jeremy Forrest case a couple of years ago [when a teacher and his student ran away to France together] to the more recent case of Stuart Kerner [who was excused a jail sentence because the judge felt it was the student who did the ‘grooming’]. It’s an interesting and complex issue to write about.
3. How did you keep going when the going got tough? For instance, after rejections from agents?
Being part of a writing group really helped. Their feedback was so useful and they encouraged me to keep going after rejections. I’ve said before that the Bath Novel Award felt like a bit of a last chance, but for some reason I felt strongly that Precocious would find an audience – if I didn’t get anywhere in the competition, I planned to self-publish it on Kindle. I was determined to get it out there somehow.
4. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? 
Read widely. Write the book you have to write, the story that keeps you awake at night. Write every day if you can, even if it’s just a few sentences. If you get stuck, stop and write something else: a later chapter of your book, or a short story, or a poem. And if you are seeking representation and publication, present yourself and your work as well and as professionally as you can: follow the agent’s guidelines or competition rules, get someone else to proof-read for spelling and grammar, and polish, polish, polish.
5. Do you have a routine for writing? I have read that you like to write in longhand first, with a big cup of tea alongside and on the sofa or in bed (as I wrote in my blog, sometimes I hide in the shed, with earplugs in – and we’re not even talking a posh shed…). Anything else to add?
I always write in longhand first, it’s true. There’s nothing more terrifying to me than a blank screen, but an empty notebook – that’s exciting! I think the physical act of writing must unlock the creative part of my brain. I write quickly and type up slowly, making edits as I go.
I don’t have much of a daily routine, in fact I find frequent changes of surrounding very helpful. At the moment I find I’m writing a lot on trains.
6. Joanna, I already know your favourite book is Nabokov’s Lolita. Do you have any other favourite books to mention – and perhaps some comments to make on what makes them special to you?
Lolita is extraordinary for so many reasons: the voice, the language, the black humour, the pathos. I first read it as a teenager and it was the first time I was aware that an author was playing games with me, but I was powerless to do anything about it. Some of the sentences were so beautiful I had to keep re-reading them. I was blown away.
Other favourites include The World According to Garp (in fact most of John Irving’s novels) – he draws amazing, quirky characters that live long in the memory.
I came relatively late to Donna Tartt and adored The Secret History and The Goldfinch.
7. My own first novel is coming out with an indie and, as is not uncommon with indies, I don’t have a literary agent. (Note to any puzzled readers: authors published by smaller publishers – the ‘indies’ – independents – may not also be working with an agent.) I’d been wondering: you are represented by Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group. Would you be happy to comment on what you’ve learned from the process of working with an agent? Perhaps about editing, the market, presenting yourself – fire away! I think this would be interesting for writers aiming at such a target.
Working with Juliet has been brilliant. She’s warm and supportive but also honest and direct with feedback – if something’s not working, I know she’ll just tell me. There’s obviously a huge advantage to having someone ‘in your corner’ who really understands the market, too.
One thing I’ve learned is that there’s no reason to be intimidated when approaching agents – yes, it’s tough out there, but every agent genuinely wants to find that next book they are passionate about. It might be yours!
The following two questions came from two of my upper sixth students:
8. How does writing make you feel?
When it’s going well, or when it’s going badly?! To be honest above everything else it just feels natural – it feels like this is what I *should* be doing. It’s not always easy, but it always feels right.
And
9. How do you know, when you’re writing, if it’s any good? Do you think you ever really know?
I think most writers are naturally self-critical. I don’t go around high-fiving myself and saying “Wow! That’s an awesome sentence!” Most of the time I’m thinking it’s pretty terrible, but I keep going anyway. Distance is key. I think if you can finish what you’re doing, put it away for a few weeks, then come to it fresh, you can tell then if it’s any good.
10. You’re currently also training as a psychotherapeutic counsellor. In my own life and work I am passionate about how appropriate counselling routes can transform self, how we connect with the world and what we are able to do. I’m wondering why, alongside your literary success, you chose to train in this area and what its link might be, for you, with literature and with your own writing?
I previously worked in sales and I wanted a career change, but never imagined I would make any sort of living from writing. I wanted to learn and I wanted to help people (I still do), so I chose to re-train as a therapist. Like you, I think good counselling can be transformative. I do think my interest in this area comes from the same place as the writing: it stems from an intense curiosity about people, what makes them tick, why they feel how they feel, how they change and are influenced. Funnily enough, that was the same reason I enjoyed Sales.
11. Finally, what’s happening now in the last weeks before Precocious is out? And might you give us the first sentence of your book as a teaser?
Well, I’m going on holiday! I get back the night before the launch, which is quite a good thing as it will (hopefully) take my mind off my nerves. In the meantime, Ebury are contacting press and sending out copies for review.
The first sentence of Precocious is the fairly pedestrian,
We meet again in the supermarket.’
As for the new book…can I have 2 sentences?! With the caveat that this is early draft and may well change, here you go:
As soon as we got him home, it started. I obsessed about him dying.
Thank you so much, Joanna. I am really looking forward to reading your new book….and the next one!

Keeping going!

I thought I might write about how I got to this point. Where someone actually said they would publish my novel.

I know, from talking to lots of people, that so many want to write or feel they have a book in them. I know a number of people who have tried many times to get the attention of an agent. Here’s how it went for me. I’m mostly an English teacher and I read all the time. Three books a week sometimes. Does this confer on me the ability to write a fine novel? Well, ummm, no. (I will return to this in future posts.)

A year ago, on days when I had some childcare and when I had some gaps between lessons (as GCSE and A level classes fell away in exam season), I started to write. I’d written as a freelance journalist before and I’d written a couple of self published texts; one was a kitchen diary (that ran out of steam!) and the other the result of a sponsored short story marathon. Good practice, I suppose. But this new project was different. It held me in a a hot fury: I had this story I wanted to tell. It was based on my own life and experiences. Not that I thought I was a particularly interesting individual, but I did have a notion that the story of how an individual, Annie, manages adversity and mental illness with a host of imaginary friends (including Albert Camus, Dolly Parton and Frieda – the brunette one from Abba) and creates an alter ego, Hapless Annie, whom she later has to squish…..might provide an intriguing tale. I also wondered if a number of experiences I could delineate might be, shall we say, unusual.

So I wrote. In a great big splurge. Between lessons; when everyone had gone to bed: sometimes I hid in the shed and sometimes I wore earplugs and bribed the kids with refined sugar. After a few months I had 60,000 words. I edited. I thought I was writing a memoir at this stage, so I entered it for ‘Mslexia”s memoir competition and wasn’t placed. I cried a lot. Told myself the book was rubbish and put it away. Then I decided that there was fire in this Celt, so sat up straight and re-wrote. I began to see its flaws more clearly. Re-wrote. Read the many words of all those who had been repeatedly rejected by agents; of those famous and not so: folks who sat on slush piles for years. I sent my work to three agents. One wrote back. I cried again.

I heard about Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and decided this was a good place to start. They looked at a sample of the ms and told me there was a lot to like, so I approached this discussion as if it were the beginning of an editing or creative writing course and went for a full ms review. It was to be part of study, for me. My work with them provided the turning point and my editor was the wonderful, warm and supportive ‘Chick Noir’, creative writing, non fiction and editing specialist, Alison Taft. She was clever, insightful and so kind to me, but she was also teaching me, being frank about what perhaps didn’t work  – the bits which were so complex as to be befuddling; where it was not entirely clear who the protagonist was; those sections where there was too much  that was passive when it should be active – and what might.

I went on to combine what I was learning from Alison with the self editing material Cornerstones gave me. Within a few weeks, I’d had a substantial ms report, a long conversation and a sense that I was getting somewhere. I did a big re-write and also tweaked it to fiction (which had been a thought since my earliest conversation with Cornerstones) because it gave me a little more artistic licence, allowed me to make more of the most intriguing situations in the book and, to be blunt, gave me a more marketable book: memoirs are extremely hard to sell as an unknown.

I considered my next move.

I got a subscription to ‘Mslexia‘ magazine; saw the lovely Joanna Barnard talk at the Bath Literary festival (then read words of encouragement on her blog), listened to the agent Juliet Mushens at the same event, read this by Juliet…

http://www.torbooks.co.uk/blog/2014/05/27/juliet-mushens-on-how-to-approach-an-agent-dos-and-donts

….and thought, ‘I think I am really learning things now.’

I entered the Bath novel competition. I wasn’t placed. First thought was, ‘That’s because my book is rubbish.’ I was sitting in a car wash at the time. As you often are. I also reflected on how I’d been told so often, growing up, that I was rubbish and that this was part of my internal narrative. But frankly, I’d had enough of it (by now, the NHS had given me permission to have had enough of it) and I thought, ‘By the time I get out from under the blower, I’m going to have changed my mood. And I’m not going to give up. This is only the beginning. And if I can’t place this book, I will write another one.’ It was a bit like CBT (not that this had worked on me – actually: you can see that through Annie in the book), but for nascent authors. In a car wash. Then, I was laughing, the sky hadn’t fallen in and I’d decided I needed to have another go. The car looked pretty good, though the back wiper had now been torn off by the bristles. This might have been a metaphor. I see metaphor in everything.

I had read that Jessie Burton’s stunning debut, The Miniaturist, had sat on slush piles. I knew from Joanna Barnard’s blog that many a year had passed between the beginning of Precocious and publication – that she had considered whether entering the Bath Novel competition might be a last move before putting away the ms. Hmmmm. I wasn’t aiming to be a big author. But I felt – in a truly passionate way – that there were stories I absolutely had to tell. Just had to tell. I couldn’t not. Reading elsewhere, this seemed to be a good sign. Anthony Horowitz said so!

I went home and read Francine’s Prose’s Reading like a Writer. It was an extraordinary book. Here, said she, are your teachers. She introduced me to or reacquainted me with a myriad fine authors. Look in these books – this is how you learn. I rewrote some more.

I went home and read my new copy of ‘Mslexia’ magazine and I decided to try something new, which was to contact an independent press. The magazine was my starting point for information about this; it was full of encouragement and ideas: here was one now. Try contacting an Independent press. I had been learning about such a thing: a small publisher. That something is small, I had concurred, does not necessarily mean it is endowed with less. I looked around and did some finding out and discovered something and somebody I really liked. But would they like me?

I wrote to Patrician Press, a small and vibrant publisher, which produces fine books that are also (does this sound old fashioned?) the most beautiful objects. I had written a funny, quirky book; a black comedy, with some stark and potentially shocking content. I wanted to entertain, but I also had a sense of vocation tied up with this book: I thought, ‘I survived. It was unorthodox, but I’ve done it. How would it be if others could read this book and feel encouraged? Is it even possible that this book could be useful for someone who is a health professional, with its accounts of therapy and response? As a sort of book a bibliotherapist  might mention: “Look, here is an example of how someone has been comforted and restored by reading – by words?”‘ Patrician Press responded warmly to the book, even seeing immediately that an important part of it was, as I said, ‘..as a paean to the NHS!’ And I suppose my book didn’t sit so comfortably in a genre: it was important, as Alison Taft had counselled me, to find the right person for this one.

And so here I am. Now, I work about twenty five hours a week. I have a lot of other commitments. I’ve three boys, aged four to thirteen – and I’ve spent big chunks of my of my life at least partially scuppered by mental illness. It isn’t theoretically possible that I should have time, energy – or perhaps even faith enough to write a book. Except I just did. And It’s coming out in 2016. I’ve even asked two people prominent in mental health journalism and in psychiatry to write the foreword. I gather I might be a bit naive, because apparently that doesn’t usually happen if you’re, you know, a rookie like me.

And so if you have a story you must, absolutely must tell, start writing and when you feel discouraged, get back up and scribe. xxxx