Publishing as therapy

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I was going to be a young author: that was the plan. I was going to be one of those twenty-something publishing sensations, wise far beyond my years, and heartbreakingly talented. They would come, the men who decide such things (publishers? gods?), to the pub where I worked, humble but trusting in my destiny, and they would tell me. They would say it out loud, for all to hear, and I, still humble but vindicated, would take off my apron, slowly, and wash the beer off my hands, and I would follow the men out of the darkness of the pub and into the bright lights of recognition.

I was thirty-six when I published my first book. Not exactly over the hill, but I could see its top and how it sloped downwards on the other side. Young, but not in any sensational way. Nevermind that in my head I was still twenty-two and entirely bewildered when people referred to me, politely, as “that lady”; the world saw a thirty-six-year-old in Converse All Stars standing on a hill of average height, slightly out of breath, clutching a book to her chest and trying not to think about downward slopes. All around me, people were climbing mountains. The men were not impressed.

But it wasn’t my first book. The book I was clutching that made me an author at last, on the wrong side of young, wasn’t my first. I became an author at thirty-six, but I was a writer long before that, and I wrote my first book at twenty-five. It could have been my sensational debut; it could have been my passage to the lights, my recognition. It could have been, but I stumbled as I made my way up the hill, and I lost my balance, and I dropped it. And I didn’t pick it up again. And the years passed and we aged, my book and I.

Perhaps I should have been more careful where I put my feet; perhaps I should have worn better shoes. Perhaps I should have seen that the things I stumbled on I could have just stepped over. Perhaps I should have known that balance is within, not without; perhaps I could have had the strength to pick myself up when I fell, to pick up my book and hold it high above my head, for all to see. Perhaps, but I was young. So I wrote my book, my sensational debut, four hundred and fifty pages full of words and little bits of wisdom far beyond my years. I submitted part of it for my Master’s thesis and I passed; the men, the gods gave a little nod. I walked on: I finished it and called it Common People and printed it out, all four hundred and fifty pages of it, and sent it off to the men: the agents, the publishers, the gods of this realm of bright lights. The gatekeepers, but passage was denied. Thank you, they said, but no. I stumbled. My friends picked me up; they read my book and said carry on. I gave it to my boyfriend, the man who would have smiled and held me and held my hand so I didn’t stumble and fall; the man who would have devoured four hundred and fifty pages of his girlfriend’s inner world, and handled it gently, for the precious, fragile thing that it was – but no: he smashed it with his fists. For all the men and all the gods and the rejections they delivered, it was this man who dealt the fatal blow, because he took my book and never read it. Cruelly, unapologetically, inexplicably: he never read it. And I fell. And I didn’t get up for years.

Never use your writing as therapy they told us at university, and this is therapy – what I’m doing now. But I understand what they meant. We write from experience, but writers take that experience – the personal, the subjective – and turn it universal. We write from our preoccupations, we write to exorcise our demons, but we need to dress those demons in clothes that other people recognise and have them speak in words that can be understood. Self-indulgence has no place in literature: that’s what therapists are for. Write your shit out first, they told us, get it all out – only then can you write a book. I understand. But sometimes there are things that hold us back and we don’t even know it. There are demons that lurk, in disguise. An ageing girl, an ageing book, a sensational young author juggling pint glasses in her apron and looking for recognition in all the wrong places. And publishing, this time, as therapy.

I no longer need recognition; that’s one thing I learned from climbing up the hill, to recognise myself for what I am. I don’t need vindication, because there was never anything to prove. I became an author at thirty-six, but I’ve been a writer all along, and I just want to write. But I published Common People this week, my sensational debut, time-travelling to take its place in a line-up of six. I published it because I could, and because, although it has aged as I have, it’s still a book of this time, and its time has come. I didn’t publish it as therapy but I can see it now, how it was one of my demons, disguised and fooling me all these years. It didn’t sit there quietly, it didn’t sit forgotten; it was heavy and I carried it, it was a thing I stumbled on, over and over again, and it was taking up space inside of me, a space I didn’t even know was occupied. A space that’s opened up now, all of a sudden, endless and clean and inviting, a kaleidoscope of words and colours and the bright lights that were there, all along, if only I’d known where to look. I didn’t publish it as therapy but I can see it now, how it’s cured me of something, a thing that was finished but unfulfilled, the latent dreams of a young author shaping themselves into regret. But regret had no place here, on my hill; it would only obscure the view.

Publishing as therapy and it’s now that I’ve gotten all my shit out; only now can I move on. My twenty-five-year-old self is a published author. I’ve done right by her and her words; I’ve set her free, and she can make her own way in the world, into the space that’s opened up. And I can make mine, at last, without looking back, because I can see it now, from this place I’ve reached in my Converse All Stars at age thirty-eight: that over the hill are other hills, and also valleys and mountains and forests and seas, and we can go to any of those places. Or just stand still for a while and enjoy the view. Waiting for no one and with absolutely nothing to prove. Trusting in our destiny, humble but certain that we can make our own bright lights.


Common People is available on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.


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Spontaneous publishing

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This is what I did yesterday: in between feeding six cats, sweeping leaves out of the house, scooping up a dead rat from my doorstep, attempting to wind-proof my windows with squidgy insulating tape, cooking lunch, doing laundry and meeting some friends for coffee, I published a book. I didn’t even know I was going to do it when I got up in the morning; the idea occurred to me sometime in the afternoon, and then I read a couple of articles online, pulled up the Word files for four of my books, cut and pasted, formatted, proofread, created a cover and uploaded to Kindle – and by the evening, I had a new book on the Kindle store! An omnibus of all four of my books of “essays”, imaginatively titled FOUR.

And yes: sometimes I think about traditional publishing, longingly. Sometimes I think how nice it would be to have someone else take care of all of this for me – serious people; professionals – so I wouldn’t have to spend half my life squinting at a screen, lost in some crazy, nauseating vortex of margins and tabs and bookmarks, and previewing the same file over and over again only to spot that one little mistake, each time, that means I have to go back and start the whole process from scratch. Sometimes I long for publishers and editors and cover designers, professionals, fairies or elves – someone, anyone to sweep in and take over, so I can have a break.

But I would miss it. I would miss spontaneously publishing a book on a Sunday afternoon. I’d miss putting a thing out there, flawed as it may be, with all those little mistakes that make it mine. But if the fairies and the elves, the editors and the publishers want to come along and sweep up the leaves and clean the dead rats away and bring me a coffee as I sit bent over my laptop, spinning in my vortex, I wouldn’t say no.

Check out my latest offering on Amazon.

I’m on a roll!

In the last week or so, I have released not one but TWO new books on Amazon.

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The first one, collected, essays and stories on life, death and donkeys, contains published and unpublished essays and short stories written between May 2014 and April 2016, in Athens, London and Sifnos.

“If there’s a theme tying these pieces together, perhaps it’s identity, our constant quest for one that fits; that keeps fitting even as we change. We are scattered, like our stories, forever torn between people and places; we are all of us pulled this way and that by the different parts of our identities that don’t necessarily fit together, at first glance, but still come together to make a whole. Perhaps, for me, writing is the thread I use to keep it from splitting apart.

There are other themes, too: there is death and there is love (what else?), and the fear and the uncertainty that death and love both stoke and soothe. There is trust and jealousy; falling and finding your feet on ever-shifting ground. There are the negative feelings that we all succumb to, from time to time, the dark sides of our personalities, and the little sparks of joy that will eventually lead us back to where we want to be. And running through it all, that tentative thread of identity, the seams of who we are in this life, regardless of the where and the how; alone, for ourselves and for others.

Perhaps uncollected would be a fairer description of the little book you’re holding, but there is power in names, and I think the title I have chosen is more of a wish than a description; an invocation, almost a prayer. To be collected, and not scattered. To be collected, even when there are parts of you scattered all over the place. To be able to collect these parts, to bring them together in some loose, imperfect way, and make a thing that’s meaningful. A thing that fits.”

View it on Amazon, in paperback or on Kindle.

The second, Divided Kingdom: how Brexit made me an immigrant, features four essays documenting my response to the UK referendum in June, and its implications for all of us. I’m distributing this one for free! (See below for details.)

“I am not an immigrant tonight. Tonight, I am a resident of the United Kingdom. But tomorrow: what?

We are privileged, and we cannot conceive of a world where our right to live the lives we’ve built, where we’ve built them, could be challenged or taken away. But that is the world we live in, and it happens every day. Those refugees washing up on our borders and terrifying us: what do we think happened to them? They had lives, too, that they took for granted, in places they called home. They had rights that were snatched away. And here they are now, at our borders: unwanted, and wanting nothing but to be where they feel that they belong. These things happen, all over this world we live in, but not here. Not to us.

But times change and rights are revoked, and it’s happening: here, now, to us. We are exiled in the land of limbo, with the lives we’ve built in bundles on our backs, travelling in a direction entirely uncharted and we don’t know, when we reach the borders, what we will find.

It doesn’t serve us right and it isn’t fair and we don’t deserve it, but it’s humbling and perhaps a little humility is something we need. Along with the shock and the hurt and the indignation that we’re feeling, justifiably, and the strength we’ll need to muster to see us through. Along with the hope that we’ll need to summon, because it’s only hopeful voices, now, that have a chance of breaking through boundaries, of crossing the borders and being heard. That is our task, now; that is our responsibility: to find that hopeful voice, and let it be heard. Dignified but humble; understanding, at last, that we are not immune. That we are not too privileged to find ourselves outside; to be turned from us to them.”

Divided Kingdom is available on Amazon, in paperback or on Kindle, at the lowest price Amazon will allow. But I lways intended to make this one available for free, to everyone. Please email me for a free pdf copy.

Why am I doing this, again?

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It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot since I launched my second crowdfunding campaign this May, almost a month ago now. It’s a question that’s been asked silently or openly, mostly with interest, sometimes with bafflement, a few times with aggression or disapproval. It’s a valid question, applicable on many levels: why I am doing this? It’s a question I’ve asked myself, over and over, since this whole thing began.

Because I’d said I wouldn’t do it again, and then I did.

The simplest answer is because I believe that everyone deserves a chance to do what they love, and we live in a society that is geared towards doing what you can, to survive. A society that ostensibly values creativity and development and fulfilment, yet places so many conditionals on how we achieve that, and issues so many warnings against failure that we’re essentially paralysed with fear. But ask anyone, and you will find a dream in storage or on hold, an if only and a one day, buried deep or floating just below the surface, scraping away at our efforts to be content with what we have. We are not fulfilled.
    I was the same, for too many years. Until my one day exploded on me, and I decided to take a chance on myself and become what I’ve always been: a writer. And from this exciting and rewarding and terrifying process came a book, 100 days of solitude, which, in turn and completely unexpectedly, became an inspiration for other people to go after their dreams. To consider the possibility that they actually could. Everyone who’s read it has found something in there to motivate or uplift them, to turn a bad day into a slightly better one, to give them a glimpse of how things could be, if only. It’s not a self-help book, and it isn’t theoretical: it’s real. It’s what I did; it’s what I’m doing.
    So this is why:
    – Because this book needs to be out there, being read.
    – Because I need money to advertise and reach more readers, and I don’t have it.
    – Because this is what happens when these readers are reached. (These are screenshots of an ad I’ve been running. Read the comments. I’ve never met any of these people before.)

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But then comes another why, more complex, more controversial: why am I doing this, again? Why am I always in people’s faces and on their news feeds, asking for things? This is where it gets tricky; this is the part I struggle with, myself. Because all of this – the marketing, the advertising, the PR, the asking for money; anything other than the writing – makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. I am a child of this society, and I’ve been conditioned not to ask for help. I am a background person; I am a person designed to linger in the sidelines, listening, watching, not standing in the middle of everything and shouting to be heard. This does not come naturally to me but it comes, it seems, as part of what I’m doing. My boyfriend asked me recently if I was selling myself on the internet and yes, I suppose, I am. I have become an advocate for a way of life that I believe in, for a book that represents it and, I guess in part, for myself. And what sort of advocate would I be if I crawled back into my cosy little corner and let it all fizzle out?
    I cannot. I will not. I’ll just have to stand here, in the middle of everything, and shout to be heard for as long as it takes. And I hope you know that you can tune me out if you want to, and only listen if you’re interested in what I have to say.

I don’t think I’ll be doing this again. Crowdfunding has taught me some invaluable lessons about human generosity and kindness and brought some amazing people into my life; it’s challenged my beliefs and forced me to be braver and bolder than any of the things I’ve done that have been described as “brave”. It has moved me and it’s shaken me up, equally, in so many ways. But it’s a test, of strength of character and integrity and faith, and it is stressful as hell. And I look forward to the day – this Friday – when it’s over, and I can disappear off everybody’s news feeds, or just go back to posting pictures of cats, like normal people do. When I can curl up my corner and make myself little and unobtrusive and comfortable.

But I will crawl out again, if I need to. If that’s what it takes, I’d do it again.

I’ll leave you with some more screenshots. Because, for all my being “good with words”, these people can speak for what I’m doing better than I ever could. And if you’re listening, because you’re interested, there is still a little time to back the project on kickstarter, and spread the message wide.

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