Old wounds

I’m very grateful for everything I have in life, but occasionally, things happen that trigger old wounds, and these last few days have been strange, unsettling, and at times perplexing.

I’m currently at a loose end, because I’ve had to switch to a different Masters course, and it doesn’t start until January. I’m trying to think positively though, and am hoping to fill my time with writing, as opposed to negative thoughts, which I’m struggling to keep on top of this week. I must get a handle on them though and remind myself of all the good things in my life, because ultimately, I need to rise above it all.

The reason for my self-doubt is because it was my high school reunion last weekend. I tried to go, but I just couldn’t find the courage. As it happened, with all the stuff going on with my uni course, I had a good excuse, and seeing the photos afterwards, I realised it was probably a good thing. It turns out you can block a person from Facebook, but still be bombarded by photos they’re not tagged in. Seeing those pictures made me feel sick, and it was almost as if my abuser had stolen those years from me all over again.

My high school years were fairly grim. I was bullied for the first year – quite a lot of kids got involved, most of whom probably don’t even remember. Over the years, I’ve somehow managed to come to an understanding about it, and have almost forgiven them. However, when you’re given the nickname Dull Girl, it kind of sets you up for the next few years, so even though the worst part of the bullying had dissipated by the time I moved into the second year (Year 8) and beyond, the damage was already done, and my identity never really recovered. I hovered between not wanting to draw attention to myself, and having those common adolescent feelings of wanting to be popular and memorable. I never really found any middle-ground, and remained mostly anonymous to my fellow pupils, bar the odd isolated incident of name-calling, which was enough to keep me on my toes, and helped maintain my sense of non-belonging.

The very worst thing that happened to me though was an encounter I had with a boy, a fellow pupil, when I was in the sixth-form – and who, in all honesty, I cannot understand my attraction to all these years later. But he somehow reeled me in, and managed to play me in such a way that I still struggle to understand today.

My last year of high school was tainted because of him and I’m not sure I ever touched the surface of the things I found out he’d been saying about me. I blamed myself for playing into his hands because I couldn’t keep my emotions to myself and I know this contributed to the picture he built up of me. Everybody assumed I was the villain (or so it seemed), and I lacked the confidence to stand up for myself properly – besides, by that point I knew nobody would believe me if I told the truth anyway. It also didn’t help that in those days I had no real concept of the difference between sexual consent and coercion, and I was too ashamed about the fact I’d fallen for his tricks to spill the beans. For months afterwards in school, I was trapped in a situation I couldn’t escape, ostracised further than ever from my peers. Even today I still have nightmares related to that year, forever a hostage of those depressing school corridors with the bottle green radiators.

One of the stories I’m working on is about those horrific months, and I know that one day I’ll find the right outlet for it – in a competition, or a publication of some sort. Until then, I have to trust in karma, and be thankful for the fact that I know I’m not the terrible person I once believed I was. I have my boys, my books and my writing, and the truth is that life is pretty good. In a few days I’ll be grand and back to my usual optimistic self, and I’ll be stronger and better in ways that perhaps elude me today.

And even though I wouldn’t wish the experiences I had at school on anybody else, I think the challenges I faced there shaped my life in positive ways that I’d never have thought of in terms of resilience and some of the choices I’ve made. But sometimes, just occasionally, tiny little reminders, like school reunions, bring the memories back. I’d like to think that one day I’ll conquer that fear as well, and then I’ll truly be able to claim those years back entirely.

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Confidence

Confidence seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. A couple of things happened this year that made me question what I’m doing and why. The events in themselves were both relatively minor, but somehow at the time seemed to speak volumes.

One of these was not getting long/shortlisted for the Fish Publishing Short Memoir Competition 2016. This might not seem like a bit deal in the grand scheme of things, but when you are a memoir writer, and competitions come around so scarcely (especially the ones with a decent word limit), then they take on a much bigger meaning than really they ought to, especially when you’re so close to the stories you’re writing (although I’m sure this is the case for writers of all genres).

I’d written and entered a story that meant a great deal to me. It was a story about a traumatic and scary encounter I had many years ago, a story that made me cross, disappointed and sad for the fact it happened in the first place. I hoped beyond hope I’d get placed in the competition, and I knew I’d be in a dilemma if it didn’t. I’d put so much into the story, I really didn’t feel I could edit it and improve it any further. It was a rare chance to have my voice heard and gain some recognition for my writing at the same time, and I was quietly, naïvely, hopeful.

The other important thing going on in my life was my application for a Diploma/MA in Person-Centred Counselling, and the interview was looming. Unfortunately, the results of the Fish Short Memoir Competition were announced and published online minutes before I had to leave for the hour-long interview – and I discovered my name wasn’t on either the short or the long-list. So before I’d finished reeling from the crushing disappointment that my story hadn’t made the grade, I had to get in the car to drive to an in-depth interview where I had to sell the very core of my being, and suddenly I’d lost all faith in who I was.

I knew I’d fluffed the interview as soon as I’d walked out of the building, although it’s probably a good job I didn’t know at the time that my getting on the Diploma course depended entirely on the answers I gave during the interview (which were graded), and not at all on my academic competence or my contributions in the classroom.

I carried on with life, telling myself that I’d surely be alright. I knew I ought to be in with a good chance of getting on the course. But then the interview dates were extended to give the external candidates a chance, and we discovered that there were so many candidates that they’d have to find a novel way of deciding between potential students. So the course we’d all begun believing it was a feeder course to the Diploma, if only we did the right things in the meantime, became a dead end for most of us. Then the rejection email came through, three days after we’d been promised an answer, and I discovered I’d been unsuccessful.

After that, I had to regroup, and I’ve spent the last few months figuring it out. I think I’m coming out the other side now. I’ve discovered that rejection doesn’t mean the end of the road, and that it doesn’t always mean anything personal.

I got a critique from Fish Publishing, which I was very happy with, and although they gave me a couple of pointers to think about changing (the second-person POV, and a suggestion to adjust the narrative arc slightly to focus more on the transformation aspect towards the end), the rest was all positive, and I feel more confident that I’m on the right path.

The critique renewed my faith in my writing, and I feel sure I can make the story a success. I’m editing it again now, as well as working on a couple of new stories, and hopefully one of them will find its way to publication.

And as far as my counselling career is concerned, I discovered that I was actually placed number five in my class of sixteen (only four were offered places initially), and I got a call when I was on holiday offering me a place on the Diploma course. However, by then, I’d had a rethink of my career/study options and had applied to do an MSc in Psychology instead.

I suppose the moral of the story is: don’t read too much into life’s disappointments. At the end of the day, nobody died and life carried on. All that happened was that my confidence got a little bit chipped. Then I found it again, and here I am, still smiling, still studying, still writing. Nothing’s really changed at all, apart from maybe I’m a little tougher than I thought I was.

New beginnings

I’m so glad September’s here. Although I’ve loved having the summer off with my boys, it also means that I have to put my writing on hold. And there’s always something special about this time of year. I love that back to school feeling – falling leaves, sharp new pencils, and new routines to settle into, with Halloween and Christmas on the horizon.

Here are my writing plans for the rest of the year:

  • Send off the agent submissions I’d planned to email in July, when an essay and tonsillitis got in the way, and research more agents.
  • Edit the story I plan to enter into the Fish Publishing Short Memoir Competition. I need to get the story under 4000 words and streamline it a bit more.
  • Have a look at all my material and see if I can edit something to enter into the Words and Women Prose Competition. It’s a tricky one because the word limit is 2,200 words, which is a bit short for most of my pieces without over-editing.
  • Get some words down for The Library Letters (working title), which is a comic novel I’m attempting. I’ve managed to have a think about it over the summer, but I seem to have too many minor characters and mini-plot lines at the moment. I know I’m going to have the cull quite a bit of it, but I think the only way to proceed is to get down as much of it as I can, even if I know a lot of it will go when I come to edit. If I wait for inspiration to strike, I’ll never get any further with it. Must take my own advice and allow myself to write badly, but just write. It currently stands at just over 16,000 words, so it really is only in the early stages.

I think this is achievable, although I’ll need to weave it in with the rest of my life. I start my MSc in Psychology later in the month, which will have to take priority, and obviously being a mum is fairly consuming. But writing is important too, and I must look at the bigger picture.

I’m also plucking up the courage to share my blog on my Facebook page, but I do worry about being too personal. I might test the water by creating a page for the blog first and see what happens… watch this space.

It’s nice to be back blogging again. I always worry I won’t come back to writing after a break, but I’m here. I turned up on the page, and I think blogging is a good habit for me. If nothing else, it helps me focus my mind and makes me feel like a ‘proper’ writer.

Scenes from another life

I haven’t been writing very much lately. Life is very busy, and I have many things I need to do before I can even think about spending time with just myself and my laptop. I have an essay to write for my counselling course, and it’s nearing the end of the school year, so we’re all tired from school runs and homework (and I’m partly dreading the summer holidays – all that time to fill with no lunchtime nap break, and two boys whose main aim in life is to wind each other up).

I think about writing pretty much all the time though, and I’m trying to make some notes for a new project of mine – a comedy based in a library (that sounds cringeworthy, and it could all go tits up before I finish the first draft). But also, lately, I’ve been thinking about why I don’t talk about my writing much in my daily life.

The main reason is that most people in my life don’t even know that I write. A lot of the people I socialise with are friends I’ve met through being a mum, and telling people I write also means that I have to disclose what I’m writing about. There’s no toddler play date that’s suitable for discussing alcoholism. There’s no point in proceedings between making sure your child doesn’t smear banana over your host’s new sofa, or trying to stop him chasing the pet cat’s tail, or emptying the bookshelves that you think, “Oh, now would be a good point to slip it into the conversation.”

Easier just to push it to one side, and remember this is how most ‘mum friendships’ work, and be grateful that I am lucky enough to have a group of people with who I can have a laugh and a moan with.

On the very rare occasions when I have mentioned my writing to anyone, they’ve either viewed me suspiciously and backed off, or they’ve asked lots of questions that I can’t answer. I worry people think I’m some kind of supermum who manages to juggle writing with raising a family, running a household, and work/studying – which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m definitely not a supermum, my house is a tip, and I don’t have boundless patience for children’s activities. I don’t even do as much writing as I’d like anyway. So I tend to keep quiet, because the last thing I want to do is make anyone feel like they should be doing things differently  (I feel like that much of the time myself).

The truth is, I write to survive; it’s as simple as that.

My writing is only thing that keeps me going, the one thing that keeps me sane, and is my means of bridging the gap between my past, present and future. If anything threatens that lifeline, then I can’t risk losing it. My life is all about keeping on the right side of a very fine line between maintaining a facade of coping while keeping all the plates spinning, and falling off that cliff that’s always right in front of me.

Some things are just too precious to give away. Which is why it’s just easier not to talk about it.

I’m hoping that when I get going more with my latest writing project, then telling people might become that bit easier, and less risky. But I’ll make no promises.

Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

I remembered earlier in the week when I was driving to university how a book helped to inspire me when I first started writing again. It was called ‘Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self by Joseph Galliano.

I never did write that letter, though it spurred me on to get writing again, so I’m very grateful for its existence.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to write a proper letter now, so here it is:

Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

I wish I could tell you that you’re going to have the future you always dreamed of, but the truth is that nothing in life is going to come easily to you. All I can do is warn you of the pitfalls that lie ahead, and tell you a few things about yourself and the situations you will find yourself in that nobody else is going to tell you.

Firstly, although life seems to be opening up for you right now, I want you to know that you’d have been okay if only you’d worked a bit harder at school instead of playing catch up. The trouble is you’ve got nobody championing your academic future, except yourself (and to an extent, your parents), but you really need to know that you’re capable of so much more, and I wish that you could see that and focus on your schoolwork instead of trying to snog as many boys as possible and going out smoking and drinking. You will never get the kind of encouragement you need at school, and your parents, although on your side, will never push you in the way that you need right now.

Unfortunately, you won’t find that self-belief, and the drive to satisfy your intellectual curiosity until you’re in your thirties, but I want you to know that one day you will find it, and when you do, there will be no stopping you. I’m aware this is a long way off in your future, and is probably of no concern to you now, but I want you to know that you’re not a lost cause.

I also want to reassure you about your social status. You should never have ended up at the bottom of the heap, and I’m sorry about the dreadful first year you had at high school. You never really managed to climb back up after that, and you never found a place you belonged either. That’s not your fault. You were not to blame. I can promise you that you will never find yourself in such a peculiar social setting in your life, though your experiences at high school will always follow you wherever you go, and you will always doubt whether people actually like you or not (and for the record, they always do, but you probably don’t believe me).

I’m sorry to say that you’re not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot, and your last year at high school will be the worst of your life, even worse than the last year before you got sober (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). And I really, really wish I could stop you in your tracks right now, before you fall in love with somebody dangerous, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and find yourself in a very dark situation, but I don’t think I’d be able to stop you.

I’m so sorry that nobody else saw what was happening, but that’s the nature of growing up as a female in a patriarchal society. Classic rape culture at work, to put it bluntly. (God how I wish you could look into the future to see the feminist you’ve become!) I still can’t believe that not one adult was able to read between the lines and see how you’d been scapegoated at school, and it’s the one thing I wish I could have saved you from. As for him, he’ll have to live with what he did every day of his life. Oh, and the other ‘rape’? You were totally right about that too, and I wish you’d had the strength of your convictions to pursue it with the police, instead of reverting to your fallback position of standing aside and letting the adults ride roughshod over your life again.

But you will learn from this. The injustice that you will feel, and the anger (though you are only barely aware of it right now) will spur you on in later years. It will be why you choose to study psychology, and later on, it will be why you begin to write – not necessarily about that, but it’s the reason you need to speak out, to be understood, to use your voice, to be the best person you can possibly be.

I also wish I could get you to slow down time when you eventually go away to university, that you could stop, and look around you, and see how your life is perfect in every way. Because you’re going to screw it all up, I’m afraid.

You discovered friends who didn’t know you from before, who accepted you regardless, and you started to find your way. I truly believe that you could have changed your future at this point, if only you’d valued yourself enough to begin with. If you’d just gone to more lectures, spent your money on clothes rather than booze, and tried to be a better friend, you would have had such a different life. Though, I suppose you also still had that deep hatred of yourself that meant you were always going to fuck it up.

If only you’d known – you weren’t bad. You could have been great. But you went down the slippery slope of alcoholism, and ruined everything. The best friends you’d ever have, the bright future (not that you ever believed it possible), all went down the pan, because you had no idea how to succeed at  everyday life, at taking care of yourself, or the impact your antics had on everybody else. But mostly you.

And your fashion choices? Perfect. If only you’d worn the clothes you liked with confidence, you’d have been fab (still could be – it’s not too late to make that choice). You need to know that nobody else dictates your style. Nobody gets to say what you should be wearing. Why didn’t you defy your dad when he told you to take your nose ring out? You were seventeen, old enough to stand up for yourself. It wasn’t his decision; it was yours.

And when you bought that purple tie-died top and black tasseled skirt from ‘Head in the Clouds’, you looked great (not that you’d wear it today, aged forty, and you probably wouldn’t want to). Why the hell did you listen to the lads from school who asked you what planet you were from when you wore the top to class that day? You should have told them where to go. Just because they were used to you being Dull Girl, it didn’t mean you had to be her forever.

At least nobody ever called you that after the age of sixteen, you can take comfort from that. In fact, it’s probably more of a consolation to you than my warning of some of the terrible names you’ll be called in the coming years. (By the way, you were none of those things either. Except ‘Pisshead’ perhaps. We’ll take that one on the chin.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish you’d had more faith in yourself, in your self-worth, your opinions, and in every little aspect of your personality.

So, to my sixteen-year-old-self: Nobody else is going to tell you this, but you’re amazing.

Listen to your favourite bands, wear the clothes you love, and forget about trying to be a sex goddess – the right person will think you’re one without you having to work at it. Oh, and nobody but you has the right to your body, and how dare anybody tell you otherwise.

Be kind, be funny, and be a good friend. If you have great friends, you’ll never really be alone, and if you can find something to laugh about at the end of the day then you’ll never lose. And for those times when you feel like you really are alone, have faith. This too shall pass. Nothing is ever the end.

Have faith in yourself and Just Be.

The best laid writing plans

My plan for July is simple: I aim to submit my memoir to three agents.

I started submitting for the first time last summer. I bought a copy of ‘The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2016′, and went through all the literary agents in the UK, writing down the ones that dealt with memoirs, and then finding out the name of the right agent in each agency to contact. After that, I started fine-tuning my synopsis and covering letter.

I discovered that it’s not as simple as sending out the same sample of work, the same synopsis, and the same covering letter as a job lot to a bunch of literary agents, because the agencies don’t all work in the same way.

Mostly, my synopsis has stayed intact (although it’s not unheard of for agents to want a synopsis of a different length to the one you’ve written). On the other hand, I’ve had to format three separate versions of my work to send, because although most agencies generally like you to email the first three chapters, Aitken Alexander only wanted the first two chapters, and The Blair Partnership only wanted one.

I sent off five submissions in the first batch. After I got rejections from four agents, I lost heart a bit. I kept telling myself I’d send another batch out, that I was just busy with other commitments, but the sad truth is that the whole process seemed fruitless.

I knew that rejection was to be expected in the literary world, and that it would happen more often than not. I also knew I’d get over it and eventually find the courage to try again, but there was always the worry that perhaps my work just wasn’t up to scratch, that I was foolishly trying to enter a world that wasn’t meant for me. So I kept putting off sending another batch of submissions out, while I worked on other things.

Technically, I was busy. I was in the middle of writing a couple of short stories (that ended up getting nowhere in the competitions I entered them into), and I’d started writing a comedy based in a library (which, come to think of it, I also need to look at again). Plus, I was busy with school runs, and looking after my toddler, and I also had the occasional essay to write for a postgraduate certificate in person-centred counselling that I’d been studying for.

So not much editing got done, and I kept putting off the submissions.

I’ve realised since then that it wasn’t so much the fear of rejection that prevented me from moving on, it was the expectation of rejection, which is one step removed, and means that there is no hope – which may or may not be true, but it still brought me to a standstill.

I considered the realistic odds of publication for my memoir, and the future didn’t look great. Realistically, I’m aware that I probably ought to be looking at smaller agencies, or pitching directly to publishers, but the dream of being published traditionally is not one I’m ready to give up on just yet.

I’ve  always known that I faced an uphill struggle as far as being traditionally published was concerned. The market for ‘triumph over adversity’ memoirs peaked in the 1990s, when my own story was yet to finish, with titles such as ‘Prozac Nation’ and ‘Girl, Interupted’ capturing the hearts of many readers (myself included).

These days, with physical book sales in decline, and the fact that there is just so much more choice, means that the likelihood of writing a story that’s different from what’s been said before is slim. Memoirs about addiction appear to have had their day. In the current climate, unless the subject matter of a memoir is particularly unusual, it is harder to get a publishing deal. Otherwise, to be a success, a memoirist needs now to capture something phenomenally different about a relatable experience, and give it a poignant and unusual slant (Hence why I mentioned ‘H is for Hawk’ in my last post, because it’s a story that has it all, and also has a distinguishable and extremely readable ‘voice’).

As far as my own memoir is concerned, I’m still searching for an unusual twist, which I may or may not ever find. In the meantime, all I can do is make sure my writing is as good as it can be, that my plot is as tight as possible, and that my characters are memorable.

I’ve got over my wobble now, and I’m ready to put myself out there again. So, I’m setting myself the minuscule task of submitting to three agents, and we’ll see what happens. I don’t hold out much hope, but I haven’t given up yet. As far as I’m concerned, this is only the beginning.

First year, first draft

It took me over a year to write the first draft of my memoir, It Never Rains in Wycombe. Perhaps I’d have completed it sooner if I’d had more time, but I believe the thinking time was a crucial aspect. I’m sure I wrote most of that first draft in my head, while falling asleep at night, or doing the washing up, and sometimes it spilled out onto my morning pages. Then I’d sit down and type – though not in a linear way.

My story formed haphazardly on the page, with odd scenes coming to life in no particular order. Apart from the first and last chapter, I had no plan as to how I was going to write the rest of the story. Sometimes I made lists of events, or vague suggestions for chapter titles, or if I was feeling particularly lazy, I’d jot down everything I could remember about a particular character or place I lived (I’d filter the details later). The main thing was that I needed to be in the right mood to tell certain parts of the story. When I sat down for my half-hour sessions during the day (my eldest son never napped for longer than half an hour until he was two), I’d see where the gaps were and make a snap decision as to where I would begin. The only rule was that I had to write non-stop for at least fifteen minutes.

I didn’t write during every nap time either. Often, there were chores to be done – milks to be made, bottles to be sterilised, washing up, cooking, tidying, and the odd sit down with a cup of coffee. I also tried to read as many books on writing and editing as I could, though there’s only so much you can do in a day, so I often saved the reading for bedtime, however tired I was after baby groups, weaning, nursery rhymes, board books, stacking cups and CBeebies. I always turned my bedside lamp off feeling like there was so much more I ought to have done, but I carried on regardless, making the most of those first months of motherhood, and discovering myself at the same time. Here are some of the highlights of my first year of writing:

Joining a writing group

I don’t think I’d ever have got my first draft finished if I hadn’t joined a writing group. I joined an online group called WriteWords, which was heaving with members when I first signed up. I couldn’t attend a local writing club, because I was wiped out in the evenings, after our son had gone to bed, and I really needed to be in bed with a book before nine o’clock. I knew I needed support and advice though, and WriteWords was full of writers of all levels – from complete novices through to published, well-regarded authors (some of whom I’d even heard of). I joined several of the groups on the site, and I’m still a member today, even though the number of members has declined since I first joined in 2012. Even today, I meet so few fellow writers in my everyday life, that I really value the contact with the friends I’ve made online, and we all keep each other writing, however diverse our projects and goals are.

Giving myself permission to write badly

This is probably the best advice I could give to budding writers, especially if you’re a perfectionist, like me. I always thought that when I came to write my story, I’d just write it in one sitting (!) and the words would all fall into place, as if by magic. However, if you try to let go of that desire to be instantly great, you might actually give yourself the chance to write something that’s probably fairly decent. I cringed and used the delete key so much to start with, and I cringe even more if I ever read any of that first draft. It was very rough, had so many pace problems, and was far too heavy on telling-not-showing. I learned early on to gloss over quite a lot and be a bit kinder to myself – it’s the only way.

End of maternity leave

This was the crunch time for my writing, sink or swim. I knew that if I let the muse go at that point, I’d let ‘real’ life get in the way and probably never write again. It was an emotional time in other ways too, as our little boy was going to be starting nursery, and I worried my special time with him would end. I knew I was being silly in that respect, as I only worked part-time to start with, and I always appreciated how fortunate I was, but it was a leap into the unknown nonetheless, though thankfully in retrospect, not a leap I needed to fret about. As it happened, our son loved nursery, and I enjoyed being back at the library again. It also turned out that I cared enough about my writing project to keep plugging away at it. My schedule required a little tweaking, but the passion was still there, and I held on tight.

When is enough enough?

This question kept me procrastinating for at least three months until I actually decided I’d finished the first draft, and that I ought to start thinking about taking a break before starting the editing process. It was a similar feeling to the way that I’d started writing to start with – I expected I’d just know I was finished, that I couldn’t possibly write another word. Obviously, ‘the end’ doesn’t come come completely out of the blue, but I think I’d expected some kind of sixth sense to kick in, or a fanfare, or something more marked than the kind of uncertain, fearful, anticlimactic, will that do? kind of thoughts that were going through my mind. I spent weeks not doing very much writing at all, until I finally decided that the first draft was complete.

What next?

Apart from the mind-blowing knowledge that I’d written the first draft of a memoir, the reality of pressing the last full-stop key (for the time-being) was fairly disappointing. I rewarded myself with a break from writing for a few weeks whilst I thought about how to begin editing. I had many dilemmas, such as whether to keep the story written in present tense or switch to past tense (I chose past tense in the end), whether to fictionalise the book or not (I chose not to), whether I was allowed to keep the 90s song lyrics I’d put in (not without huge expense). I also had so many questions, like how would I know if I’d got too many characters? How could I stand back far enough from my story to know what to cut? How do know if I’ve got the pace right? Is my story marketable, different enough?

I struggled with the last question, because I suspected my memoir wasn’t different enough, and I didn’t know what I could do to fix it. My dad joked recently that I need to add a hawk, like Helen Macdonald, but ultimately it was a problem I had no solution to. All I could do was to write the best second draft I could, and hope that by the end of it, I’d have more of an idea where I was going with the book. (Disclaimer: Although I have more of an idea what I’m doing with the book now, four years on, I still wish I had a story like Helen Macdonald’s.)

So, there I was with a first draft under my belt, some spare time on my hands and no idea how to begin editing. I worried that was the end of my writing career. Would I even have the courage to start writing again, after a break? It was an uncertain time, as my partner and I were talking about moving back to East Anglia again, and we were also thinking about having another baby. A move and another baby would put my postgraduate study plans back, too, although I’d always known a delay was on the cards. Again, thoughts of writing kept me going. I decided I’d learn everything I could about editing and apply it to my second draft. I was ready to start again.

Starting the second draft was almost as daunting as starting to write in the first place. But because I’d invested so much time, so much of myself into my writing life, there was no way I was ever going to stop.

I still feel the same way.