When I first started writing fiction, I was attempting to write Chick Lit. This was the early 2000s after all. However as hard as I tried to keep my sassy young women falling in and out of love and buying shoes, I always ended up going dark. Addiction, family problems and death would always appear. They say write about what you know, and I guess even against my will this is what was always happening.
When I share some of my life story with friends and new acquaintances they are often fascinated and shocked. I don’t just have one dark secret or taboo in my life, my 42 years have been stuffed full of them.
I lost a grandfather to suicide, one parent gave a child up for adoption a few years before we came along, my dad was conceived as a result of a wartime affair (the man in question was married to a famous journalist and died before my dad was born which led to my grandmother marrying a gay ballet dancer for the sake of keeping up appearances.) My father was an infamous journalist who leaked one of the first Royal tapes, went meditating in India with the Beatles and ran the first magazine to be sued by a serving Prime Minister (Scallywag and John Major, not that he was actually innocent as Edwina Currie later revealed!)
My father’s family although living in posh Hampstead was dogged with addiction problems. My dad was an alcoholic all his life, his brother is heroin addict oh and my nephews are also my cousins due to a relationship that definitely kept it in the family.
As well as the adopted brother we have never had contact with we suddenly discovered an unknown brother just over a decade ago. He was the result of a relationship my dad had in-between marriages. However, the parents didn’t approve and my dad was told that both mother and child had died. My lovely brother came back into our lives after googling us from a Wikipedia entry. He never properly met my dad although he did go to see him once but felt it wasn’t the right time for the big reveal. He is a journalist and is the spitting image of my father, all the siblings met a couple of years ago which was strange but also very special. After he had come back into our lives my brother then really tragically lost his daughter when she was murdered by her partner before she had reached adulthood.
It comes as no surprise that my life hasn’t always been easy. I have lived with pretty awful mental health problems all my life. I now run an arts and health charity and although I constantly advocate for the use of creative practice in wellbeing, until recently I never thought of myself as writing as some kind of therapy.
However, looking over all the books I have written so far, in various stages of their journey it is really clear to see that my unconscious mind is trying to make sense of it all without me really knowing. Most writers will tell you that we are just vessels. The reason I write is that I have stories and voices in my head that just need to be explored. I may sit down with a rough outline for a book but generally always my mind throws in so many curveballs that even I am shocked. It is a really exciting process. When you suddenly change the whole direction of a story or find out what really happened. It is often as much as a shock to me as I hope it is to my readers.
It is all there, trauma, mental health, death, addiction.
Writing my current book (the one about the Victorian mental asylum and the fatberg… that is how my mind works) I suddenly realised yesterday I have created a character who is basically my nephew. A teenager living with an erratic parent who is more of a carer than a child. We privately fostered my nephew from the age of 14 until he was 20. My sister died at a stupidly young age, again from alcohol and as newlyweds in our first house we were suddenly landed with a very damaged teenage boy.
The book that is almost ready to be released to the world Dead Social? Has very uncomfortable sexual assault scenes. Again, this was never in the plan, but I was compelled to write and used my own experiences. I actually cried writing some of the scenes, but it was also a relief. Writing fiction can change the narrative and give back some control when it has been taken away.
As you would expect most of my characters have some kind of mental health issue, but they are also dealing with shame, stigma and families that have been torn apart.
Thankfully for me there has been a happy ending. I have learnt to manage my mental health, I had a child through IVF after child loss and infertility nearly destroyed me. I consider myself to be successful with an incredible marriage, wonderful daughter, brilliant friends and family and a portfolio career that I love with a passion.
As with all my books, I have managed to re-write my story. I don’t believe in happily ever after, but my books always end on a positive note, I owe it to the characters after what I put them through.
I have become much more mindful of what my writing does for me. It is not just about putting words down on a page it is also my brain’s way of trying to process the hard times, I believe much more successfully than talking therapies.
It can feel very selfish being a writer. I need to lock myself away and write and since I am not yet making any kind of a living it still falls into the hobby category. My best writing sessions happen when I am away on a work trip where I hole myself up in my Travelodge room and write for hours safe in the knowledge, that I don’t need to be doing anything else at the time.
But perhaps I need to start thinking about my writing as part of my wellbeing. I make time to run, get outside, see my psychiatrist so why not prioritise this also?
I love writing but I hate editing which is why I currently have four books sitting raw and unfinished. This needs to change and this is the year I am going to give these stories the love and care they deserve and get them out there. I am already working with a great editor who is allowing me to really think about the structure rather than worrying about grammar.
So, watch this space…..