Hey there. Thanks for stopping by. If this is your first time reading a blog post of mine, rest assured they’re not always as self-involved. Mostly, I keep myself to myself. I’ve been burned in the past, so I tend to keep a low profile. That doesn’t help with the old book promo, but it does help with keeping me that little bit sane at home.
Anyway, I kinda needed an outlet for some things going on and thought what better place to shove it all than in my blog. I mean, it’s what this is here for right?
Why am I needing to chat? Well, you might know if you follow me on fb or are in my author group that I’ve been a bit poorly. About three weeks ago, my usual, regular, comes-and-goes back trouble turned into something way more painful. Sciatica. Horrid, sharp, throbbing pain from my lower back down my right leg. The first week, the pain was worse than childbirth. I shit you not. I’ve had two kids, both natural births without any pain relief. And I can say to you now, I’d do that over and not ever have this pain again. At least there’s solace in labour contractions. Until the big push that is, but that, for me, was short lived, less than five minutes, and, well, I had a cute little baby dumped in my arms after as a reward.
This pain, no reward has been given as yet.
So I’m on a cocktail of pain killers, nerve drugs, stomach lining drugs, laxatives (TMI?) just to be able to lie in bed, cause none of that is enabling me to walk very far. I’m an active person. I run daily in the mornings, my job requires me to be out and about delivering activities for disadvantaged young people, I’ve got two boys who demand things of me to the point I rarely sit down (only when writing), and I’m usually carting myself off around the country visiting the variation of friends who have been spat out around the UK (and beyond). So to be stuck in bed, horizontal, for this long has ripped me of my very being. Luckily, one of my hobbies is writing. Meaning I can at least do that until the drowsiness from the drugs kicks in and I fall asleep with my laptop on my stomach.
Yesterday, I made the decision to go private to get things going with my recovery. Love the NHS, but we all know how stretched they are at the moment. So to take the pressure off them and to give me some peace of mind, I paid upfront for an MRI scan that my GP had said would take about 4 weeks on the NHS.
That scan has led me to here.
They found a lump.
We all know we shouldn’t google our symptoms. We’re all one step away from the grave if we do. But we also can’t help it. My search has given me food for thought.
The lump could be as insignificant as a cluster of cells on my spine that just need dispersing for me to get better. It could be a benign cyst, might need an operation or an injection to burst it. It could be nothing. It could also be something serious. I won’t know the answer to that for a few days. And whilst I should sit tight (lay tight?) and wait for the expert to take a look at those scan pictures and decide what it is, I don’t have a right lot of stuff to take my mind off it.
I’m 41. Mother to two boys. One with a lifelong disability and special needs. I can’t die! I can’t leave them. I was coming to terms with the fact that I’ll be looking after Finlay for eternity. How can I possibly leave him without a mummy? What would that do to his brother? His father?
Right, so now that panic is out of the way, I’ll be more rational. It’s probably nothing. I’ll be fine. In a few weeks, I’ll be chugging Pinot at my mate’s gaff and asking Alexa to play Green Day, once again pretending the nineties never ended. But what this has done is made me reflect on things. On what I wanted to achieve. On how I’ve been going about all this stuff that is my pastime, but also my passion – writing. I hear you, finally! That’s why you’re here, to read about my writing, not my health crisis.
So, here goes…
I have wanted to write since I was a child. I wrote constantly back then. My dad used to bring exercise books home from work for me to fill up with short stories. I can still remember a few of them now (The Cave that No One Knew…). When I was about 14, we got our first computer. I don’t know the make or model, all I remember was that I had to write in green typeface! I wrote two novels on that. SEALS, about a competitive swimming club (I was a bit of a swimmer myself) and all the characters in it striving for the European Events gold (made up) whilst also growing up. Bit of a teen/kids mini drama. Then there was When Friendship Ends, a rather harrowing story considering I was 14 at the time, about an opposites-attract friendship between a poor girl and a rich boy that ends suddenly when the girl dies of a rare disease. Told in flashbacks, as the boy has to come to terms with being left behind. Rather bleak really.
I sent a synopsis and first couple of chapters off to a few publishers. At 14, rejection is hard. Way too hard. I wasn’t prepared for it. I did get a callback, from Penguin Books I believe. They wanted to read the whole MS of SEALS, but I’d gone and hidden under a rock somewhere and refused to have to read another, “thanks, but no thanks”. So I sailed through life after that…finding new hobbies, falling in and out and in of love many times, going to university, landing and leaving many, many jobs… I still wanted to write but I did far less of it. I always had ideas and thought maybe I’d work in film, television, theatre with it. I did for a spell, but never really felt like I fit in. So I started working in higher education. Kinda found my groove there. I still wrote a bit but had resigned myself to never being brave enough to actually do it.
Jump forward, I was married with a kid. Then came the second one. Finlay was a difficult baby. He was born exceptionally small for full term (just 4lb, could fit him in my palm). He didn’t feed very well. He cried, incessantly. Screamed. I knew there was something wrong but every doctor, health visitor, tom, dick and harry, would tell me that ‘babies cry’. I’d obviously had a good one first time around. It took a breakdown on my GP for him to take notice. I’d not slept for more than 45 minutes in a three month period. I was exhausted. So was my baby! My GP followed me home after I’d broken down in his office. He’d written a letter, sealed it, and told me to take it to the hospital paediatrics team. I was elated! Someone believed me! I, of course, opened that letter as I made my way there. In handwritten doctor scrawl, it simply said,
“Baby is fine. Please examine for the mother’s sake. Then reassure her best you can.”
I could have screamed. I might have done. He thought I was losing it. He thought I was mad. But I took my baby, and my stupid letter, to the paediatrics team. Low and behold, he had a heart murmur. One week in the hospital monitoring him (and me), then we’re sent to Great Ormand Street. He needs an op. To save his life! Six weeks later and I’m holding my baby as he’s put to sleep in order to have open heart surgery. Oh, and he also has a rare lifelong debilitating condition called Williams Syndrome.
That was one of the hardest times of my life. Ten days I stayed in that hospital with nothing but bleeping machines and my baby and the fear and the worry and the overwhelming feelings of uselessness. I only saw my older son once in that time, he was six and had to go to school and my husband had to work. So we can add guilt to all the other emotions stabbing through my soul like the needles in my baby’s arm. But what that moment did for me, was enable me to find an escape. To stop all the intruding feelings of inadequacy from taking hold, I started to write again. I found a way to switch off, to go live in another life for a while.
From then on, every spare moment I was given, I wrote. During the night, when Finlay wouldn’t sleep, I’d hold him in my arms with my phone in one hand, making notes and writing. I’d just got my spark back! And I wanted to do something with it this time. I wanted people to read my stuff.
I wanted to be an author.
I didn’t know MM existed when I first started. I’d had an idea about a footballer dealing with his sexuality whilst trying to make it professional for a long time – years actually. My dad used to be a referee and I’d been brought up around football all my life. I dabbled with many ideas for that story. Wrote many different versions. Once I believed my book had some merit, I started to look at what to do with it. I researched other novels dealing with similar themes. The first mm book I read was The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. First published 1974, it was a ground-breaking novel of its time and quite possibly the first MM book ever written (as in it was a love story – let’s not digest the HEA thing, it’s a love story not a romance) detailing the relationship between two men, age gap, coach/athlete, during a period when homosexuality was demonized.
As soon as I read it, I was hooked. And knew that my book had a place. It didn’t take long before I found the MM genre and devoured many, many books and realised that I wasn’t a ground breaker. That my book was one of many. But what it did do was show me that I belonged somewhere. That there was an readership ready and waiting for my stories.
Another few tweaks and my footballer book found its feet. That’s now the District Line series if you wasn’t aware.
During this time, I was also writing a more personal book: Responsible Adult. Original wattpad cover for your pleasure, cause I still think it’s cute…
I was on Wattpad and The District Line had taken off on there – featured by the staff, excerpt in Cosmopolitan Magazine, followers galore exploding out of nowhere. I sent it off to some publishers. It was rejected. So I concentrated on Responsible Adult. That won a few awards on Wattpad. After chatting to a fellow Wattpad author, I sent RA off to Totally Entwined Group. It was one whole book back then at about 150K words long and I was mid-writing the sequel to fans demands. It got accepted! I was elated! I was going to be an author!!!!! And it was my special book that had my heart and soul poured into it that did that. There was an agreement to split it into three books and they soon became, Misdemeanor, Hard Time, Reformed.
My dream had come true! I couldn’t wait. I belonged. I was worthy. This was going to be AMAZING!
In the words of Helen Fielding: “Nothing is ever as good or as bad as you think it’s going to be.”
That line stays with me, because it’s so blinking true.
I had a difficult entrance into the mm community as we call it. I wasn’t exactly met with open arms. In fact, I was met with some hostility. I won’t go into everything that happened, I don’t want to talk about the misunderstanding that went out of hand because it still hurts. I’m a big girl, I left school ages ago, I learned how to deal with bullies by putting my head down, not engaging, and just writing. I am, however, worried I’ll never get rid of feeling like an outsider in somewhere I desperately thought I could find myself. Or maybe hide from myself and my RL woes.
So, yeah, this is a long post. That lump they’ve found, maybe that’s given me a bit of courage to poke my head up and address all this. I don’t work the social media game because I’m so scared that this will all come up again. I don’t want to poke the beast. All I’ve ever wanted to do is write and the fact that there are people out there who read and like my stuff is actually quite mind blowing. So I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, if you are one of them (and a massive applause for getting this far in my epic mind dump).
Every one of my books is important to me. I put a LOT of hard work and effort into them. Not to mention cash. I pretty much work full time to pay my bills and to create my books. I have little spare time, but when I do, it’s making sure I’m putting out the best books that I can. I don’t write to market, so maybe I’ll never be bestseller. I have to come to terms with that. This lump, whatever it is, has made me re-evaluate what is important. And that’s to be proud of every book. Every word written. The way I have conducted myself even during the time my name was mud. I never bit back. I apologised directly for any wrongdoing that was born out of naivety and ignorance. I’ve never sent 1*’s to those who were part of all that, like they have to me. I’ve concentrated on my books. Cause I got a lot of other shit to contend with now rather than to pander to twats on the internet.
Don’t get me wrong though, I have met some truly amazing people during my 5 years of being published. I have a publisher and an editor who took a chance on a no-body and stood by me after the tirade, believing that I had something of worth to them. I’ve met some wonderful authors who I hope I can call my friends. I’ve gathered some awesome readers who cheer me on with their likes and comments, without them (you, maybe?), I wouldn’t keep doing this. I’ve found an epically talented narrator who is also one top gent who seems to love my stuff as much as me, and I thank him, enormously, for his generosity, his kindness, his ego-stroking, and his utter professionalism with getting things right. Cause he’s brought my characters to life, giving them a charm that my words alone couldn’t.
I achieved my goal. To be published. Everything else is added sprinkles.
So, to end, as I gotta sometime, I’ll say that I’m trying to think about my author life differently. I’m going to stop worrying that I don’t fit in. Stop muting myself through fear. Stop the imposter syndrome. Stop the crippling anxiety that makes me delete my posts in author groups and in author forums through fear people won’t like me, or worse ignore me. I’m going to stop comparing myself to those who churn out book after book and ride the wave of Amazon algorithms and ratings. Well done to you all. Congratulations. I’ll gaze in awe at you from the back, hoping that maybe one day, I’ll be considered a hidden gem.
That’s what I want on my gravestone: Here lies a hidden gem.