Publishing as therapy


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.


Go back to where you came from


(From Common People)

I thought, by now, I understood something about the New Country. I had gathered things, small trinkets of familiarity that I’d picked up, as instructed, along the way; I collected them, like other people collect butterflies or shells, pressed flowers and unusual stamps. But the similarity ended there: there are only so many butterflies in the world; so many countries, so many stamps; there are only so many spaces in a house that you can cram a hobby into. But I don’t know how you can quantify understanding; how a collection such as mine could ever be complete. How many things, how many days, how many moments of clarity. How many touches does it take before you know the feel of someone’s skin? How many times do you have to look at them before you can reconstruct their face in memory? What I longed for was a little indifference: a time when I could shrug my shoulders at all this, dismiss it with a flick of the wrist. ‘Oh, London,’ I’d say. ‘Yeah, sure.’ With affection, yes, but not with awe.
    The list grew as I ticked items off it. Vinegar on chips; lager shandy; small change; steak and kidney pies; fry-ups. Tick. Pubs; punters; post office queues; the BBC. Tick. I could ride the tube to most places without getting lost. I could buy a ticket without help. I could do my shopping in Tesco; I had a Clubcard. New friendships: tick. Handshakes, instead of kisses on the cheek: tick. Sex in a different language: yes, and tick. Mince pies, dog and bone, butcher’s hook, bubble and squeak. Glasgow Rangers: strangers. Cheers mate! Tick.
    And football: the Premiership, and the FA Cup. Divisions one, two and three. The Sunday League doesn’t count. Friendlies and internationals. London derbies. The Gunners and the Hammers and the Spurs. And the season was over now. I understood that. Tick. I had seen chairs flying and tables knocked over and glasses smashed. I had seen men explode, go all twisted like hurricanes. I had seen blood and bruises, and I understood that football had a hold over these people. A 1-0 changed them, a 0-0 draw made them sigh and shake theirs heads. Losing made them angry, and victory put fire inside them, and it singed those around. And on match days, they drank a lot of spirits, and that inflamed them even further. And then I’d seen thousands march in honour of their team, and sing and laugh and hold children high over their heads, and I’d taken that to be the closing of a circle. Tick. I shrugged my shoulders at it. And then, suddenly, the World Cup was upon us. And everything started all over again.

On my way to work one day, I received some education. I noticed the man as soon as I got on the tube: he was sitting alone at the end of the carriage, and he seemed very agitated.
    ‘Bastards!’ he said to his feet. ‘Fucking bastards, all of them.’
    I smiled a little to myself, the way you do when you come across crazy people and judge them to be harmless; not with malice, but for something to do. I looked around, expecting to catch someone’s eye and share the smile, but nobody looked up. Their eyes were glued to their books and newspapers or fixed on the floor. Their bodies were rigid, in forced imitation of aloofness. It was very odd.
    The man continued his one-sided argument. ‘Yes mate,’ he affirmed. ‘Bastards.’
    About a minute into our journey, the train came to a halt. The speakers crackled and the driver said something about King’s Cross; from the sighs of the other passengers, I discerned it to be bad news. I looked around for someone to ask, when the agitated man stood up.
    ‘Cunts,’ he announced. He staggered towards the centre of the carriage, then stopped abruptly. ‘Immigrants,’ he added, and nodded his head manically. ‘Yes mate, I’m telling you mate. Fucking immigrants. Cunts.’ Collective intake of breath followed this, and the passengers stiffened even more: a monologue of “bastards” was normal, but “cunts” was something else entirely. Newspapers rustled.
    The man waved his arms in the air, for emphasis, but entirely out of synch with his speech. ‘Send ‘em all back, is what I say.’ He nodded again, then had a change of heart. ‘No!’ he cried. ‘Line ‘em up and shoot ‘em. One by one, mate, like dogs. And good fucking riddance.’ He attempted a wave, lost his balance, and nearly toppled over. Somebody coughed.
    The man took another couple of steps and leaned forward a little. ‘Innit, mate?’ he said; he seemed to be addressing a middle-aged man who was trying to hide behind the Evening Standard. ‘We understand each other, you an’ me. Yeah. We’re British, mate. British.’ And having established that, he straightened up and moved on. He was wearing a red football shirt, I noticed, but it didn’t look like Arsenal. I squinted, trying to make out the writing on the badge, as the man stopped again, a couple of metres away from me. I looked down at my hands, but not fast enough.
    ‘Cunt,’ he said. Ominous switch to singular. ‘Fucking immigrant cunt. You fuck off, yeah, you fuck right off back to wherever you came from.’ He took another step forward. ‘Oi! I said fuck off. Do you understand? You speak English?’
    He was looking straight at me; I felt it even before I lifted my eyes to see. His finger was pointed in my direction, unwavering. I looked around, and then up at my accuser.
    ‘Excuse me?’ I said politely. ‘Are you talking to me?’
    This seemed to infuriate him. ‘You fucking cunt,’ he said. ‘Who the fuck do you think you are? Fucking immigrant bitch! Can’t even speak fucking English.’ With that, he lurched forward; his face came so close to mine that I could smell the alcohol in his breath. I leaned back in my seat, and then I made out the name on his badge: England. He was wearing an England shirt.
    ‘Cunt! Fucking bitch! Go back to where you came from, yeah? You don’t belong here, nobody wants you here. Fucking immigrant.’ My face was covered in spittle. I felt sick. The people next to me shifted uncomfortably; one girl got up and took another seat, at the far end of the carriage. Nobody was going to defend me.
    ‘I’m sorry that you’re upset,’ I heard myself say. ‘I had no intention of upsetting you.’
    ‘You – fucking – what? How fucking dare you talk back at me? I am the voice of Britain. Yes mate. And Britain is telling you to fuck off.’ He pushed his face even closer to mine, and his voice lowered to a growl. ‘Do you understand? Fuck off.’
    He straightened up, called me an immigrant bitch once more, and spat; phlegm landed on my shoes and slowly trickled to the floor. I didn’t move.
    Over the speakers, the driver’s voice apologised for the delay and informed us that we were now ready to go. The train jolted, and set off again, and the man walked away and stood by the door. He resumed his mumbling.
    I got off at Highbury and Islington. As the train doors shut, the voice of Britain bestowed his last piece of wisdom on me.
    ‘And learn to speak fucking English. Cunt.’
    I stood at the platform, shaking. People pushed past me in all directions. Someone touched me on the shoulder: a woman.
    ‘Are you alright?’
    I shook my head.
    ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. She gave my shoulder a squeeze, and turned to leave. I stopped her.
    ‘Why?’ I said.
    ‘I don’t know love. I honestly don’t know.’ She paused. ‘Maybe it’s the World Cup; it seems to bring out the worst in people. You know, nationalism.’ She had noticed the shirt too. ‘Don’t take it personally.’
    ‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t mean that. I mean why did nobody help me?’
    ‘Oh.’ She looked very uncomfortable. ‘I suppose… I suppose it’s just London. You don’t get involved. It’s just how it is.’
    ‘But. That’s not right.’
    ‘No. Of course.’ She seemed to think about it. ‘It isn’t.’ She put her hand on my shoulder again, then pulled it away. ‘I’ve gotta go, love. I’m late for picking up the kids. Are you going to be alright?’
    ‘I’m sorry.’
    I nodded. She gave me a sad smile, and walked away towards the exit.
    I stood where she left me for a little longer. Then, mechanically, I walked up the stairs and out of the station and into the pub, and down to the office. I sat down in Toni’s swivel chair and lit a cigarette. Upstairs, there were songs and cheers. England was playing.
    I sobbed. This was not the kind of indifference I had in mind. This, no: I couldn’t shrug it off.

This is an excerpt from my latest novel, Common People. Set in late 90s London, in a reality ever so slightly removed from our own, Common People explores issues of immigration, integration and adaptation, racism and xenophonia, the preconceptions and stereotypes that hold us back – whether we’re aware of it or not – and the ever-present quest for identity and belonging, wherever we choose to make our home. It is available to buy on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.

Sage-picking, sages and healing


From 100 days of solitude, Day 96 (December 18, 2014)

The weatherman lied about today: he had predicted sunshine and clear skies but there was rain. Thursday was marked with a big yellow sun and the morning delivered. I got up and the sky was wide open and the yellow sun was climbing higher towards the peak of 17 degrees that had been promised, urging me to match it with a promise of my own, made for the next such day of yellow sun. So I got dressed, grabbed a large plastic bag and a pair of secateurs, strapped my rucksack to my back, and set off to pick sage.

Sage loves this island. It grows out of the hard, dry soil; it grows out of the rock faces, alongside oregano and spiky wild thyme. It grows on the edges of the fields and on the side of the road. The air is scented with it, a heavy, heady smell, sweet but earthy, uplifting and calming at the same time, with a hint of the medicinal and the meditative. To snap a branch off a bush and rub the leaves between your fingers is to know why this common herb is considered so powerful, why it’s been used for healing and cleansing for thousands of years, at every place in the world where it grows. Celtic druids and Native American shamans have traditionally used it to ward off evil and cleanse the spirit, and new age shops sell sage smudge sticks to hopeful Westerners, to wave about their homes. Its name, salvia officinalis, stems from the Latin salvere, which means to save, to heal, and a sage is a person of wisdom. And it’s all there, between your fingers, as it releases its scent.

Salvia officinalis, common sage. There is nothing common about it, but the fact that it grows everywhere makes me smile: according to English folklore, sage grows best where the wife is dominant. It doesn’t surprise me, its abundance on this island. There’s something feminine about it, in its subtle but consistent presence in this rough, rugged land, how it stands quiet and fragrant, always in the margins, with its soft leaves and its strong scent. How it doesn’t advertise its power and yet everybody knows. It reminds me of the women I’ve met in the last few months, ruling from the sidelines, from where they can watch everyone who goes past.

I had been meaning to pick some sage and then I promised: next sunny day I would walk down to the port, and fill a bag along the way. This is the best time for it, Margarita told me, after the first heavy rains have rinsed it clean. There’s something incredibly rewarding in picking herbs growing wild out of the rocks. Just walking along and bending down and picking. Growing your own vegetables is close, but not the same. That takes some planning and some work and it’s a good feeling when salad leaves appear in your garden and then on your plate, but you’re still the one who put them there. Wild things grow wild regardless of your intentions, and it’s almost like they were put there for you. It’s like a gift; it’s like the way the world was put together making sense, for a moment, when you walk along the road and fill your arms with sage. And you don’t even have to rinse it because it’s been washed by the rain.

It rained this afternoon, but the day delivered half its promise and the sun shone as I walked towards the port. I came back as the clouds began to gather, with a bagful of sage and my own promise kept. I laid the sage out in the spare bedroom, on towels, to dry, and then I laid myself in bed, in that eerie glow of cloud-filtered light, and listened to the patter of the rain against my window. It didn’t patter for long: it soon began to pound, and the shutters rattled as the wind picked up and threw sheets of rain, hard, against the glass. I got up to close the shutters and lay in darkness now, listening to the thunder and the wind, with the lingering smell of sage on my fingers. I lay in darkness and thought about power and wisdom and sages and sage, healing and being saved, and how I would make bundles and give them as gifts, and pass the gift on, once the sage had dried.

I lay in my bed as the unpredicted storm raged outside and washed the herbs and the plants and the roads and houses clean, as the scent of sage, subtle but powerful, drifted through the house and, for a moment, it was like I had wisdom, like I’d been washed clean by the rain. Like the way the world is put together made sense.

This is Day 96 from my book 100 days of solitude, documenting my experience of living alone on the island of Sifnos during the autumn and winter of 2014. I’m back on Sifnos now; I went sage-picking this morning, and it reminded me of this – the first time. If you’d like to read more of 100 days of solitude, you can buy it on Amazon, or email me for a free preview of the first 15 days.

Spontaneous publishing


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.


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.

Are you from Bradford?


This is an excerpt from my upcoming novel Common People. Set in London in the late 90s, it explores issues of immigration, culture shock, racism, diversity and adaptation through the eyes of Eleni, a recent Greek immigrant struggling to find her identity in the UK. I thought, in the current climate, it was appropriate: none of this is new.

That day, I was accused of being from Bradford. I didn’t know it was an accusation until Luke interfered. He bounded up behind me, out of nowhere, and said: ‘Oi!’
     I was on the twelve to six shift, which was, as usual, a quiet one; on Sundays, people preferred other pubs, bigger ones that served food. I’d spent the hours between twelve and four perched on a stool at the end of the bar, smoking and looking through a copy of The Mirror that somebody had left behind. Luke was in the office, doing paperwork; he came up every now and again, to check on me. Pete and John were there, of the regulars, and two couples, who drank pitchers of Vodka and Red Bull, and laughed loudly. I was glad when the two men arrived. The one who spoke was short, pale, shaped like a beer barrel; he was young, despite his lack of hair. He’d asked his question in a knowing way, with a hint of mocking aggression.
     Judging from Luke’s reaction, I assumed Bradford must be something like Bristol, and I looked about my person for treacherous body parts, sticking out where they shouldn’t. Nothing seemed out of place.
     ‘He was just asking,’ I said in the man’s defence.
     ‘No,’ said Luke, in a voice of stainless steel: polished and purposeful. ‘He. Wasn’t. Just. Asking.’ He directed this not to me, but to the man.
     I turned around, and was baffled by what I saw: not the Luke I expected, but someone else; a man, tall, and solid; not simply angry, but indignant. His arms were crossed over his chest, and the expression on his face was anything but accidental; in fact, it gave the impression of something meticulously planned. Of someone who knew what he was doing and, more, knew he wouldn’t fail. He was a warning.
     The man, however, wasn’t paying enough attention; he persisted. ‘She hasn’t answered my question,’ he said.
     I was about to speak when Luke cut in again. ‘The lady,’ he said, ‘will not be answering any of your questions.’ He moved closer, so close I could feel the heat of his body on my back. And then I recognised it, this behaviour. It was chivalry. It was a man protecting a woman; it was Luke protecting me.
     The second man picked up on it, too, though I didn’t know this at the time; most of what he said sounded, to me, like another language. ‘’E’s pissed off,’ was his contribution, ‘cause you’ve dissed ‘is bird.’
     The first man seemed to agree, and added his own wisdom: ‘He’s pissed off cause his bird’s a Paki.’
     ‘That’s enough,’ said Luke. ‘I want you to leave.’ With another step, he was next to me; he unfolded his right arm across my body and held it there, like a barrier. A shield. The sudden movement surprised the two men, who took a step back each, realising, as they did it, that they had lost. Which, as I learned much later, is exactly the point where things might get dangerous. But not this time.
     The first man made a final attempt to pull his pride out of the situation intact.
     ‘Oh yeah?’ he said, with malice. ‘And whatcha gonna do about it?’
     Luke didn’t speak; he stood where he was, very still, one arm stretched out in front of me, the other balanced on his hip, and stared at both men, hard.
     The second one was first to look down. ‘Mate,’ he said, ‘leave it. ‘E’s not worth it.’
     ‘Yeah,’ said his friend, seizing the opportunity. ‘His big man act don’t convince me. He’s a wuss.’
     ‘E’s a wanker, that’s what ‘e is.’
     And with that they left, but not before they spat – big fat lumps of phlegm – on the floor.
     It was a while before Luke moved. Eventually, he let both arms drop, and sighed so deeply his whole body shook with it. He poured himself a coke and I noticed his hands were trembling. I had an urge to hug him and run my hands over his hair and press my face into his chest and say soothing, muffled words, and cry; I kept myself busy with dirty glasses until it had passed, and then I spoke.
     ‘I’ll get the mop,’ I said.

Bradford, Luke explained later, was known for having a large population of Asians: people from India, from Pakistan, from Bangladesh. It was synonymous, he said, with being from one of those places. I thought about it for a while.
     ‘OK,’ I said. ‘But what does it have to do with me?’
     ‘He probably thought you were from there too.’
     ‘No: India. Or Pakistan. Or someplace.’
     ‘Maybe because of your colouring,’ Luke said. ‘Your skin, your hair. Your eyes.’
     A memory floated to the surface. ‘At school,’ I said, ‘they used to call me a gypsy. Because I was dark. It was meant as an insult, but I don’t know why. I always thought gypsies were very pretty. I used to say thank you.’
     Luke laughed. ‘That must have confused the hell out of them.’
     ‘I suppose it must have; I was too young to notice.’ I paused. ‘Is that what that guy meant by Paki? From Pakistan?’
     He nodded.
     ‘I don’t understand. What’s wrong with being from Pakistan?’
     ‘Nothing,’ said Luke, shaking his head.
     ‘But he said it in such a horrible way. With spite.’
     Luke sighed; he spoke calmly, but his voice shook a little. ‘That’s got nothing to do with Pakistanis. Or Indians, or anybody else. It’s nothing to do with you. It’s just because he’s ignorant.’
     I liked that word: ignorant; I knew it, but I’d never used it before. I tried it now: ‘Ignorant.’
     ‘Just like those kids in your school. Those people, they don’t know any better. It’s racism of the lowest form: they’re just parroting. They don’t even know why.’
     I took a moment to be impressed by what he’d said. ‘Next time, I’ll say thank you,’ I declared.
     ‘Good,’ he said, smiling. ‘I’m sorry if I scared you before. Just didn’t think it was fair, you know… I won’t have anyone talking to my staff that way,’ he added, firmly.
     ‘I know. It’s OK.’
     A customer came in and nodded at me, yes please; I headed towards him.
     ‘Bubble,’ said Luke. I turned. ‘You’re right: gypsies are very pretty.’
     ‘Thank you.’

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Why am I doing this, again?

Photo on 12-06-2016 at 22.33

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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