Reading & Reviewing: The Handmaid’s Tale

Oh, hi.

You may have noticed that the title of this isn’t about my writing journey. And, sadly, it turns out that taking a writing course doesn’t leave that much time for it. As of now I’ve not got any deals offered to me, but will get on it as soon as I have more time.

Given the time constraints, why did I think that now would be a good time to write a blog post? My friends, I have absolutely no idea why I do what I do, and I think the sooner you remember that, the better. (OK, so technically, there was some planning to the timing of this but I’ll get onto that at the end…)

We’re back with another book review, and here I’ll be reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the book I read before the one I’m currently slogging through. Why am I slogging through it? Again, timing. It is in itself an enjoyable read, but y’know…

But what about the one I’m reviewing today? Is it any good? Well, yes. It is. But that conclusion took a while to come to even as I was reading.

The book, or at least its concept, doesn’t need that much introduction. It sort of established itself to me as one the ‘Big Three’ of dystopian fiction that really defined the genre in its modern form, along with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – high praise indeed, given how much these books I hadn’t read cemented themselves as defining points in the genre. As of the time of writing this, I still haven’t read the other two, which has probably earned me a little booing from the non-existent crowd of onlookers.

For those not familiar with it, or at least want a more definitive overview, the book’s premise is essentially this:

Set at an undisclosed point in the near future, the United States government has been overthrown in a coup by ‘The Sons of Jacob’, a group of totalitarian Christian fundamentalists, who manage to keep a low profile to begin with, allowing them to slowly chip away at human rights until we enter the world we see at the beginning of the novel. In the newly formed Republic of Gilead, sex is ruthlessly controlled, particularly for women, who are assigned very particular roles in life, denoted by colour-coded dresses. The Handmaids are the caste given the most focus, and is the group our protagonist belongs to, coded by now iconic red dresses. Fertility is apparently a huge problem in this future, and the official policy of The Sons of Jacob is that male infertility does not exist – all fertility problems are the fault of barren wives. To get over this, the Sons have allowed the caste of Handmaids to engage in ritualistic sex with married men (though always with the wives present) in order to produce children that will legally belong to married couple and not the Handmaid – they provide Biblical justification for this as well, with the cases of Abraham and his wife’s handmaid Hagar (Genesis 16:2) and Jacob and both of his wives’ handmaids (Genesis 30:3, 9). I say handmaids, but to be honest, slave is a more accurate term. As is the case with the Handmaids in this story. Our protagonist goes by the name of Offred, although that is not her real name, as her Handmaid status means she’s only designated a name based on the man she’s assigned to (Offred=Of Fred, you see?) We get to see the world of Gilead through her eyes and her thoughts of the world that came before it.

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things about this book is the nature of our protagonist, who’s birth name is never revealed. She manages to be both incredibly dull, boring, and irritating, and intriguing, engaging and worth reflection at the same time. I say this with the recognition that she is meant to be – and the book’s epilogue backs up this interpretation – something of an unreliable narrator. Not that she’s lying about the situation she’s in, but rather her perspective is limited, self-centred, and to be honest, feels kind of suppressed. The situation she’s in certainly does elicit sympathy, but not much else. You increasingly get the feeling there’s many more characters in this piece you’d much rather hear about – take Moira, Offred’s best friend, who’s story is mostly told in flashbacks. She’s openly gay and was active in feminism before Gilead asserted itself, and that in itself is enough to engage a great deal of interest, and an opportunity for a window into the lives of queer people, feminists (and indeed queer feminists) in countries that suppress women and the LGBT community wholesale, theocracies being no slouch on that front. But instead, we spend most of our time with this rather unassertive straight woman. It’s enough to frustrate you, but then you realise it may well be the point. I mean, this is a frustrating situation, and not everyone has the means, capability or motivation to resist when the need arises, so it’s possible that you were meant to feel that hopelessness too – it’s not as if the hopeless tone isn’t felt throughout the book. In case Gilead thinks you have too much hope, they suppress that too by displaying the hanged corpses of political/religious dissidents, or just those they deem too sinful, in public, changing them daily so you don’t get too used to it.

The fact is, there a lot of characters in this book who’s stories we don’t hear, and that’s because Offred never heard them herself. Once again, the book is driving home the limits of one life and the frustrations that can result when you’re in, to put it mildly, a bit of a pinch.

And the way this was executed actually led to me to repeatedly question how well it was executed. Several times, I changed my mind on how much we’re supposed to like Offred, or how much of an ideal figure she was meant to represent. My final answer is that – she’s not meant to be an ideal at all. She’s meant to represent helplessness and be the victim of her circumstances. What makes me so sure about this? Well, the most obvious answer is that she simply never does anything.

I’ve seen ineffective protagonists before, and sometimes they’ll end up doing a lot of passive things in the time you spend with them (which, given they are the protagonist, is not surprising), but they’ll never make any active contributions to the plot. They’ll almost always have things done for them rather than take initiative themselves. Offred is this in spades. One of the biggest frustrations she offered to me was how many times her thoughts wandered to her bloody ex-husband. Hey, what gives? I thought this was supposed to be a definitive piece of feminist fiction, and all she’s doing is thinking in adoartion about the men who have dictated her life? (Not an entirely inaccurate description the more you read about their past together.) As for having things done for her, it has to be said that it’s not just the men of the story who do that, although they definitely do. Indeed, another one of the biggest frustrations this story had to me was, trying not to give too much away, was when another female character offered a very significant olive branch to Offred and she REFUSED, partially because of the sex she was at that moment having and the weird emotions that resulted from it. I made me want to holler at Offred and tell her how ridiculous she was being, but then again, she’s only human, and sometimes humans will go with their gut instinct in situations, something she readily admits herself. Worth noting is how the women who step beyond their boundaries for Offred (or around her, at least) never get away with it, being condemned either by Offred’s narrative, or by the ruthless powers in control of Gilead. The men who do the same, on the other hand? Nothing. They get away with it more or less perfectly. Again, deliberate? I can’t help but feel so. The story’s epilogue takes place at the end of the 22nd century, where a male historian is giving his opinion of Offred’s life as described in the book, and spends a great deal time speculating on the motivations of the men involved rather than trying to empathize with her.

This book’s frustrations may well be the best thing about it. The fact that I can read a work of feminist fiction and feel that the protagonist is entirely unhelpful, and above all, fails to consistently empathize with many of the women around her (not all the time, but enough) is really telling, and perhaps showcases a condemnation of totalitarian moralizing and thought control far better than descriptions of hanging corpses can, horrific as that is. This book I think was always meant to be a cautionary tale, but one that runs deeper just than the outset of a misogynist dictatorship, right into the veins of our unreliable narrator. This is a metafictional approach I have to salute in how well it was executed. Is it one I’ll keep going back to? It’s unclear – it’s certainly not a feel-good read, but definitely one which will probably light up the mind upon a reread, and, for those into books that challenge your thoughts in different ways with each turn of the page, it’s definitely one I’d recommend.

How accurately have I interpreted it? It’s really difficult to be sure. I want to bear in mind that my maleness may give me something of a blind spot when it comes to determining the aspects of feminist themes throughout, and I have to admit there were a few areas where I feel that my own personal tastes got in the way. For example – we have a heterosexual woman as our protagonist, which will inevitably make me pull faces at various points at the narrative trying and failing to make men attractive. (Spoilers: They’re not.) Not a failing of the book, just an issue of personal taste. And then there’s the whole smoking thing…yeah…I know this was published in 1985, when smoking was a more mainstream thing, but seriously, these characters treat cigarettes like fucking gold dust, using them as almost impervious bribes and reliefs. I utterly detest the smell of cigarette smoke, and am way too traumatized by graphic anti-smoking PIFs I saw as a child to take it up now. Obviously, I’m aware that nicotine addiction is no small thing to overcome, but it would appear as though I’d be difficult to bribe in Gilead.

OK, this brings me the reason for the timing of this post – something of a Real Talk time. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, but I fear its political talking points are very relevant at the moment.

Those who have been following the news know that Alabama has recently passed immensely restrictive anti-abortion laws. The bill in question seeks to prohibit abortion in nearly all cases, including rape and incest, and only makes an exception, as far as I can tell, for when both the survival of the mother and foetus are in question. This bill was inevitably passed by a group of cisgender men, people who’d never have to consider the consequences of this themselves. Ominously, the supporters are even anticipating the bill to be blocked in court (running counter to Roe v. Wade, 1973), but they are wanting to have it pushed to the Supreme Court so a big stink is made about it, and the possibility the newly and highly conservative judges overturning this landmark civil rights case. This possibility sets a worrying precedent that’s already present in the Supreme Court, given Brett Kavanaugh’s dangerous, authoritarian views on presidential power. No wonder Trump fought his corner.

OK, obviously I have my own opinions on the right to an abortion, but for those of you who do consider themselves pro-life, bear in mind that no law, even of this caliber, is going to prevent abortions from happening. All it will do is stop safe abortions from happening, and the kind of backstreet abortions I’m talking about used to be done all the time before people sat up and realized how ridiculously unsafe it was. That’s what we risk returning to if these kind of bills become commonplace – it already happens in countries were abortion is illegal. A 2006 report by the World Health Organization determined that at least 22,800 deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortions annually. Anyone who calls themselves pro-life should definitely take that into account. Also, if you think abortion is akin to murder, does that mean you should investigate every miscarriage that ever took place? Be aware of what you’re agreeing to…

I can’t do a great deal about this where I am, and I know I don’t have a particularly big readership. I don’t even know if any of them reside in the States, but those of you who are reading this, please spread the word, let everyone know that action needs to be taken. Voting in candidates who aren’t awful would be a good start. And for those who are anti-abortion – please consider your position carefully, what it means, and why you hold it. Take the time to learn a little bit more, don’t just react instinctively to the emotive language sold to you – or indeed, Trump’s ridiculous and bare-faced lies on the whole procedure.

Until next time (whenever that might be) everyone stay safe, and remember to fight for your rights.

 

 

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The (Other) Unveiling

Oh, look, I still exist.

OK, so I know I’ve been neglecting this blog like nobody’s business, but in my defence, it’s been pretty busy. Even outside of the everyday goings-on of Real Life, there are many difficulties a writer must shoulder – trying to make a living, dealing with the omnipresent bane of plot holes, and dealing with the fact that postmodernists want us dead. Worse is going through the many checks and preparations and self-doubts that precede trying to find a literary agent that might get you in connection with a publishing deal. But, and this is a rather ominous and harrowing thing to confess, after many weeks of such agonizing, I’ve finally sent a sample of Private Tuition to a literary agent.

So, now it’s out there. And this is when things change…kind of. I mean, I know this is only the beginning, the agent in question actually needs to like my stuff, and I need to get to work in contacting several more as well, but for now it definitely feels like something has shifted. This is the next big phase, and it’s probably worth commentating on.

And on top of the nerves and palm-sweating, I’ve constantly been paranoid that every single formatting blunder I make is going to be an issue raised by anyone who receives my manuscript or its chapter samples and they’ll scream blue murder at me (I mean, probably not directly at me, they’ll just do it to themselves imagining my gormless face is in front of them so they get a kick out of it) about how awful I am and as if anyone would publish your garbage!

And it gets worse when I acknowledge that, yes, when disclosing my contact information, I seem to have made a slight blunder…but hopefully that won’t register and the agent will just be content in contacting via the email they got the manuscript from…

I have no idea how long I’ll have to wait, or whether any next phases are going to be successful, but until then, it does feel like an achievement. Have I ever published a book? No, not yet. But I’ve got closer than I’ve ever been before.

And at the end of the day, that’s really the most transformative thing. I have written, shared and finished stories before, but actually taking important steps to putting them out into the world is something utterly new and highly pivotal. I have no idea what will come of it (and I’m certainly not ruling out abject failure all around as a possibility because my anxiety won’t let me), but this moment won’t easily be forgotten. I should celebrate with a glass of champagne and a ceremonial cigarette. But as I value my liver and lungs, I think I’ll content myself with…orange juice and QI? Eh, why not?

I will hopefully post a little more regularly (though I’ve said that before), starting with a review for a book I finished yesterday, and I also have a new author website, courtesy of my university which I’ve been working on which includes details of my plans for future works and will be updated with news as soon as I get it.

Until next time (whether that’s tomorrow or nearer the Heat Death of the Universe), take care!

O Christmas Work…

Oh, look, I reused a featured image. Sue me.

So, yeah. This is that obligatory post about Christmas for that time of the year that Christmas tends to come about. It’s usually December. In fact, I can’t remember a single year that it wasn’t in December. Imagine that.

In my previous post, I talked about how I’d started my postgraduate degree in Creative Writing & Publishing, and had started drafting my new novel. So far, that’s been going alright – I’ve now got nearly 10,000 words, and hopefully with plenty more to come along, but there have definitely been delays and issues with the process of getting it together in a swift, organic progression, and you can partially blame my course for that.

It’s not as though I’ve not had my creative work scrutinized before, it’s just that I have to remember that in this case, it’s often the person who’ll be marking me who’ll be making suggestions of what I can change. I can imagine, whatever other difficulties may be associated with the job, that’s one you can be quite self-satisfied with.

“That’s right, just write me the stories I want to read…oh, you don’t want to? Well, that’s fine…as long as you don’t mind a mark reduction…”

OK, I’m pretty sure it’s not actually like that, but I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had that image cross their mind – or else this is mighty awkward.

On top of that, in having to submit a prose piece for an assignment due in January, 3,000 words is the limit. That’s fine – I’ve already got a lot more than that. The problem is, the way I write tends to involve a lot of establishing. If you’re waiting for an inciting incident, you’re probably not going to get it until the second chapter. If that bores you, well, pffft! You might as well watch a film! Or read a book with an inciting incident in the first chapter…

Look, I’m sure I’ll post some other time about why I choose to open a story the way I do. I’m sure I can find justifications for it, but actually my experience with this course has made me doubt how I write blogs too. We had a published author do a workshop talk this one time, and it was all very nice, pleasant and interesting, but when I raised the subject of keeping up a blog online, she advised me that it probably wasn’t a good idea to write for free, because she feels that it robs from people like her who make a living through writing. Well, as you can imagine, that wasn’t easy to hear. Writing is my oxygen, and is anyone really going to pay me for it at this stage…? Nobody’s reading this blog and offering me cash to splurge some random nonsense on a webpage! I just do it for personal reasons, and honestly, isn’t that why most people go into writing for pay in the first place? It’s a bit of a minefield. So, if you do hear of writers starving to death anytime soon, you can probably blame losers like me for it. Or, alternatively, lobby your pathetic government for a decent minimum living wage, rather than having them focus on building a wall or wasting parliamentary resources on trying to lip-read someone who might have muttered something mildly insulting under his breath whilst you were turning legislative processes into a literal pantomime to hide that you’re making a massive cock-up of Brexit…not that you can really get that right.

Oh yeah, this post was supposed to be about Christmas. I guess it’s just way easier to throw political shade than it used to be.

The weird thing is, unlike so much else, Christmas is just the same as it ever was. Still the same old agonizing over not knowing what to buy people, the same old disasters that are inevitable when you’re wrapping presents with dyspraxia and the same old making sure your cat doesn’t wreck your decorations once she’s discovered how much fun they are. And in the midst of that, some genuinely nice moments of just kicking back and having fun, overindulging in Shloer (PRODUCT PLACEMENT) and chocolate and slowly watching your weight go up in preparation for the big day.

I guess that’s what Christmas has done for me this year. Looking back, this might have been the most dynamic year for me since…well, my birth. Graduating, starting a master’s, being on the verge of sending my Private Tuition manuscript and synopsis off to whichever publishers seem likely to have me (which I’m going to get on with as soon as I can)…and all this has been interspersed with some rather fun outings, including spending two days in Brighton with one of my best friends in time for Pride and managing to miss Rose and Rosie in the parade despite them being feet from us (NOTICE ME SENPAIs…), and attending a talk in my own crappy little hometown where I got to see and hear A.C. Grayling and Femi Oluwole talk about how much Brexit sucks. OK, sorry, I’m going to try and keep this as apolitical as possible…

But as well as these very obvious external events, there’s all sorts of dynamics internally as well, and I don’t mean that I’ve had organ transplants. Perhaps it’s an effect of my course or the current political climate, but my desperation to know everything, or at least be well-read in multiple areas of philosophy, sociology, biology, physics, political theory, economics, global issues, ethics, epistemology, culture, literary criticism and just simply having a much wider repertoire when it comes to creative artifacts and art has reached the point where I’m genuinely getting frustrated at how much I still don’t know, and my bookshelf is already overflowing, which isn’t exactly going to get better come Christmas…

But at least Christmas is something that is normal and standard and familiar. Midwinter celebrations have their origins in trying to keep things fine and dandy during blistering cold and bleak darkness, so perhaps it’s fitting that Christmas will hopefully serve as a break from the rather rapid changes going around. That’s not to say all these changes are bad – I’m rather looking forward to what 2019 brings. Well, unless it brings me failure in my assignments, in which case, perhaps I’ll prefer this year…

Hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year.

 

 

 

The Unmoving

[NOTE 1: I’m aware the title of this isn’t a real word, but I can do what I want.]

[NOTE 2: Sorry, this isn’t a Halloween related post. If you want to be scared, just look at Trump’s cabinet.]

So, here’s the real question – how do you know when you’ve finished a book?

I don’t mean reading one – obviously final pages do the job of signifying the end very well, unless you’ve got a vandalized copy where the last few pages are missing, and you have to go on a intrepid search – I mean when you’re in the process of crafting one. You may have picked an ending for your narrative and that’s all fine and good, but then you’ve got to get into drafting, and how do you know when you’ve finished that? It’s an enigma, a mystery, a riddle that I have wondered about and now I have to think carefully about.

So, hi, everyone. I’ve been editing Private Tuition for a while now, and I’ve discovered several things. Firstly, how you take to a scene is going to be different depending on a whole host of contexts. One day when looking at a scene or a conversation I wrote, I might have come back from a conversation myself, being quite elated and fairly distracted and consider it a work of art. Another time I might look at the same scene and find a whole host of problems, because perhaps I’m agitated and eager to get things done and have spent too much time in just my own company. And these thoughts can be cyclic, and they can be combined with the fact that you’re trying to focus on other works of fiction…

Yeah, since I last posted, I’ve started my postgraduate course in Creative Writing and Publishing. Seems very fitting, and it is – there have been a few teething problems which I can’t throw shade about now, but generally I’ve liked it. However, part of the course requires us to prepare a new creative work to work on throughout it. (so more or less the whole course…)

This is fine with me. I already had several different ideas in mind to work on after Private Tuition was done, and I selected one of these as part of my course.

But here lies the problem – I intended to work on these ideas after Private Tuition was done, and it’s still in its editing phase. Not only does this leave me more confused as to when the editing is done, it also leaves my next project feel somewhat premature. I’d barely made it out of the planning phase before I was required to write a scene from it. Oh, the mess that it caused…here’s to hoping I’ll get my head on straight soon enough to work on both these things separately.

Recently, I have been hoping that my editing of Private Tuition will be done soon. That’s not always easy to tell, because sometimes you think you’re done, and then discover you’re not…but I am going to shift to the formatting stage of my manuscript soon, and then work out how this whole publishing thing goes. This stage has, so far, been much harder than the writing phase, so, realistically, I should be looking forward to just getting a draft ready of my next work. It should be child’s play!

Well, let’s see…

Reading & Reviewing: We Are Okay

It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these – I know I was meant to produce a lengthy series of reviews for books I had been reading en masse for the past however long, but then things happened, including my own writing taking me over. That’s still going on, and I hope to keep you updated on whether I’m nearing the stage of getting my work out there, or, on the other end of the spectrum, am nearing the stage of denouncing it from the rooftops.

Either way, I feel it’s worth writing a particular review for my most recent read. Firstly, because of just how exceptional it is, and secondly, because I was recommending it on Twitter, and after corresponding with the author herself, feel I owe her to actually do this thing properly. So…hi, Nina, if you’re reading…hope you like this review. The pressure’s on a little bit more than with previous reviews, what with the author watching, but hey, it’s still my blog – and it’s not as if I’ve got much negative to comment on.

So – We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. Not my first exposure to her work. I had previously read You Know Me Well, a collaborative novel between her and David Levithan, and Hold Still, her debut novel. Both I enjoyed, but my appreciation for her writing and recognition of it’s consistent good points reached their zenith in this particular work, and has probably now earned its place as one of my favourite books outright, although given how long my reading list still is, who knows how many favourites I’ll end up having…

So, what’s the story? Well, to be honest, it’s kind of difficult to summarize, and I felt that the blurb, when I first read it, didn’t reveal too much either. The story is narrated by Marin, a young woman who has recently started attending college (or uni, as we Brits might facetiously say) in New York, about as far away from her home in California as you can get. And this is quite deliberate – she feels the need to distance herself from what went on in the days leading up to her departure, to the point that she’s not contacted anyone from her old life for ages. Eventually, her best friend Mabel (who has recently been a bit more than a friend to her), comes to visit, admittedly upon invitation, to spend a few days with her during the Christmas holidays, whilst Mabel is otherwise completely alone at the college dormitories, and upon arriving, is, as you’ll imagine, quite curious to know what exactly happened, which slowly gets revealed to the reader via backstory.

One of the most immediately noticeable strengths about this book (and in fact, a consistent factor in all of LaCour’s books) is how well realized the characters are. I have rambled at length about how much I love characters before, and tend to get annoyed when they seem more like stereotypes, archetypes or tools rather than actual human beings. The author manages to avoid this trap however – even though a good chunk of the consists of just Marin and Mabel interacting with each other, every second of it speaks volumes about them, feels so organic, genuinely makes me think that these are two existing people with a convoluted and not fully worked out relationship to each other. One scene that really makes this stand out is near the beginning, where the two of them are having a conversation in an elevator (or, lift, as we boring Brits say), where the topic of discussion is naturally drawn to Marin’s disappearing act. Both characters manage to convey several emotions at once during this discussion – Marin manages to be both defensive of her decision, whilst simultaneously being guilty and trying to avoid upsetting Mabel even more. Mable, which for her part is even more impressive by not being a POV character, manages to display a subtle anger and hurt and Marin’s decision and radio silence, whilst also feeling joyous at their reunion, and I’m possibly detecting a bit of guilt there too, due to recent events in her life which makes the brewing romance she and Marin had previously now not possible. All of this just a few pages – that is some top quality character-crafting there. This kind of attention to detail can also be seen in LaCour’s minor characters. This is probably shown more in her other books, with a lot more characters to work with, but even here, it can detected. You don’t just know the names of background characters, you know their dog’s name too, their family life, their hobbies. No character is neglected, whether you like them or not, and in this book, I’m sure I do.

The degree by which the major characters’ focus is developed is immensely impressive too –  the reminiscing done by Marin and Mabel is just delightful, for lack of a better word. You simply don’t need to be told how close they are, because it’s evident, not just in Mabel flying 3,000 odd miles to reunite with Marin, but simply by how their conversations flowed in spite of the awkwardness that grew between them. Dissections of literary techniques, existential musings, all of these come naturally to the two of them, and it’s just perfect. These are definitely conversations I can see myself wanting to read frequently.

The connection gets even more personal for me, when I reflect on that I decided, halfway through reading, that Marin probably has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, having recognised a lot of her habits and thought processes in myself, particularly in how her concerns and worries tend to develop and worsen until death is considered a likely outcome, and also how later the worries become darker, and more closely related to her doubting the commitment the people important to her actually have, particularly her grandfather. Oh yeah, probably should have mentioned him…well, keep an eye on him, because he’s pivotal. Perhaps what hit closest to home though was how Marin manages to keep her anxieties under control by having the familiar and mundane recited or presented to her – when her roommate Hannah was there, it was the discussion of her biology course that gave her some comfort. With Mabel, it’s talking about her life, no doubt playing into the nostalgia factor, something that I know I find comforting. Rewatching episodes of TV shows or films that I’ve watched plenty of times before is a key way I relieve my anxiety, to the point that’s it become part of the process.

If I’m allowed to interpret, I’d argue that the main themes of this book are loneliness and the fear of simply not belonging, which becomes more apparent in Marin the more you read on, and seems quite cemented as its central theme by the end. And again, it’s something I know all too well, everything from avoiding the unknown and emotionally painful, to undue guilty, to unrequited love, and something that can be eased with just some of the simplest actions from people you care about which you nevertheless realize was quite an undertaking on their part, done simply for you. Many of us will feel lonely, anxious about our place in the world, and sometimes betrayed very often, and recovery is not always straightforward. But if you have a Mabel in your life, definitely hold onto them.

Do I have any criticisms? Honestly, very little stood out to me as worth criticizing. Even though a good half of the book is told in flashback, explaining how Marin got to where she did, a narrative technique I can easily get tired of, it’s perfectly easy to follow and serves the story well. It helps, I guess, that neither story, either the flashback one, or the one of Marin and Mabel in New York, is boring. In a less talented author’s hands, they could easily have been.

If I were to pick one thing, I’d say the ending seems a little off compared to the rest of the book. Endings are difficult, I know, and for spoiler-related reasons, I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’ll summarize in saying certain things about it seem a little abrupt, and somewhat different in tone to everything else, and perhaps I’m just saying that because I would have been happy for the book to be many times longer, but who knows.

Point is, this is a brilliant book – I’d highly recommend it to anyone, and it has encouraged me to read LaCour’s other books that I haven’t yet. Nina, I’m quite jealous of your talents, but you do deserve this praise.

The Unveiling

Oh gawd, it’s been a while…

So, I’ve been going through several drafts of Private Tuition over the last several weeks/months/years, and when I got to the point that I felt that it was vaguely presentable, or at least, there was nothing more I could edit without outside opinions, I decide to send these drafts to some beta readers.

However, it occurred to me quite quickly that I wasn’t entirely sure who would count. Bear in mind this is completely new territory for me. When it used to come to posting stories such as fanfiction and their conspiratorial ilk online, I never checked the damn things, just went with what I had. This is perhaps not an admission that fills many with confidence about my abilities when they hear it, so, be assured in that it’s not a habit I partake in any more.

Point is, I wanted to get a diverse range of opinions in for my novel to get a better picture of how different people would react, but I was also reluctant to include strangers in that list. Suddenly, the problem became apparent. How many people did I actually know who would be willing to read this garbage proto-novel? Furthermore, as with many things in the process of making your writing an actual book, a lot of those who assist you may want paying for their work. Understandable, of course – they need to eat. But with my impoverished financial concerns, you can imagine this’ll make me reluctant too.

As it happens, I have now actually received feedback from a few people, and it’s mostly been very positive, with some question marks, nuanced suggestions for improvement and a whole host of other things that have been welcome. But my gut instinct tells me that I need more, and whilst I’m at it, as has been suggested, I really need to work out who my audience is meant to be.

This is not something I thought with give me that much strife, but it seems to be the most debilitating thorn in my side at this stage in the writing process. Well, that and the omnipresent doubts about whether the story is actually decent or just a terrible work of art that should be regarded with scorn in the centuries to come.

The traditional genres of fiction have never really been solidly defined. They are fluid, and sometimes fitting midway categories that would be better deserving of their own, new category. An example of such uncertainty is the line between science fiction and fantasy. What defines the difference? Well, science fiction tends to focus on the potential of future technologies or future developments on the impact of society, whereas fantasy is more steeped in mythology and supernatural elements, right? Well, maybe. So, where does Star Wars fit in? I mean, it’s not about the future. The famous tagline even describes it as taking place a long time ago. The technologies in it are not the most realistic even for future projections and it is steeped in mysticism, complete with warrior knights and magic swords.

Can’t wait people to tell me I just don’t get Star Wars

And whereas science fiction can contain fictional or (probably) impossible technologies, such as easy to use time travel devices, teleportation that doesn’t kill you and faster-than-light travel, the magic elements in certain fantasy works can sometimes feel a lot more down-to-earth and mundane than the fantastical technologies in certain science fiction, with what’s known as functional magic, or, for the innuendo-happy, HARD magic, and indeed, applying actual zoology to fictional fantasy creatures.

It was a bit of a tangent, but I feel that the same can be said for the genres of adult, new adult, and young adult. Whilst the audience they’re aimed at naturally determines what genre they belong too, what in the substance of the novel determines who they’re aimed at?

Given how young adult, especially in recent years, has fitted itself into genres as diverse as contemporary, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic dystopian, semi-autobiographical and so on, what features and tropes do we have to look for to classify and story as young adult, as opposed to new adult or adult?

Perhaps the most fitting definition of YA fiction I’ve heard is that a consistent theme of it is that it relates to what it’s like to be an adolescent. But even that isn’t particularly clear cut – Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire features three teenage as the main characters, with two as POV characters, and yet the book is aimed at adults. And if even if this seemingly clear-cut example isn’t so clear-cut, I don’t know what help my book’s got.

The protagonist is 28 years old. Adult, surely? And hey, a fairly important supporting character, a work colleague of hers, is also an adult! But wait, most of the other major characters are in their late teens, still at school, and the a good chunk of the plot moves forward based on their character arcs. So, is it actually young adult? But what about things detailed within the pages that the moral guardians might get antsy about? There’s no shortage of swearing, and it practically thrives on talking about sex. Someone gets fellatio in a cupboard – is that going to be a problem? And what about the fact that it constantly goes on about contemporary philosophy and ethical debates? If John Green has proved anything, then there’s no issue with YA being full of philosophical musings. But is there a line to draw?

For now, I’ve settled on the idea that it might fit best as New Adult. This genre’s supposed to be aimed at the 18-30 age bracket, which not only are most of the main characters in, but also me too. According to Wikipedia, that ever so reliable guide, this genre generally deals with issues related to leaving home (not really, but the characters tend to thrive on independence and many in standing apart from their parents’ expectations), developing sexuality (yeah, apparently…) and negotiating education and career choices (also seems to fit). So, have I found the appropriate thing to label it as? Well, again, the doubts come back. The publishing industry is not hugely fond of this genre, and it does seem to exist as a sort of nowhere-land label. It’s not a category you find in most bookshops, and apparently the readership isn’t there, although I know plenty of 18-30-year-olds who read books, so…

If anyone on this site, or Twitter or Facebook is willing to beta read this, feel free to contact me to talk about the possibility, because I definitely want to expand the potential room for opinions, but I want to know who I’m sending it to first.

There are still a few other people lined up, but the specific opinions are looking for explicitly include those of:

LGBTQ people – The novel contains quite a few characters who are LGBTQ, but as I’m not, I think it’s important and I know what you think, because representation is important, but good representation is probably even more so.

People around the sixth form age or slightly older – Might be worth it. As there are many characters who fall into this age bracket, I might want to see if it has the appeal to people of that age bracket. If not, that might give me a clearer idea of which age demographic to market to.

People interested in philosophy and ethics – Pretty much a given.

So, there it is – a slightly reluctant call for more beta readers. Maybe my anxiety will strike again, and I’ll decide not to be so open about opening up the market for betas, and just keep it among people I know. But hey, maybe something will come of it.

If anyone who reads this is interested, contact me and we’ll take it from there. And if anyone just generally wants to talk about the novel, contact me also, I’ll be happy to talk about it.

The Undying

Just a short one, but here’s something to think about – isn’t it amazing how your perceptions of things can change?

If my last post was anything to go by, I was experiencing too many doubts at once about my writing, and wondering whether it was even worth producing a single novel if I couldn’t do it in a professional, grown-up way. Now, those thoughts are definitely still there, but yesterday, I felt a random stroke of inspiration about a nice addition that could be made. Sure, it bumps up the word count quite a bit, but, pfft, thinking how it looked before, it was practically naked without that!

I guess it’s something that just happens the more you go through your prose – you discover more about your characters, connect the dots that you probably laid out but didn’t notice, until eventually you’ve got a clearer picture. Here you have a character that’s somehow transcended their creator, and as evolved quite considerably from where they originally were. The character you originally conceived way back then isn’t quite the same as before, but somehow it feels absolutely right.

Or maybe you’re actually being subject to a hostile takeover of fictional characters, I don’t know. However, if the world does come to a premature end, a fictional character apocalypse would definitely be the best way to go. It’s a question of who’d be the most likely to bring down the final blow…

Thus, a general update about my writing has turned into me speculating in the world as we know it coming to an end thanks to fictional characters, which is always nice…

Speculations (though perhaps not those ones…) are great though, because they are providing plenty more inspiration for me, not just with this novel, but ones hopefully to come.

So, that’s about it for now. Any insights into drafting, editing, publishing and marketing that anyone else would be greatly appreciated at this stage.

The Unravelling

You know, this editing process is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I mean, sure, it’s pretty vital when you’re working on a novel, but if the mindset is right (or wrong, as the case may be) it does suck a good chunk of joy out of the crafting process.

So, updating from my last post, I have indeed being giving my first draft a read-through and making notes of what I think needs changing about it. Depending on the chapter, those lists have been quite short and vague, or long and self-deprecating. Any writer will be familiar with the process. When you’re actually doing the writing, the sparks are flying, the scenes are playing through your head in delicious detail and you’re convinced that the masterpiece is on its way. Then you read through it and you decide you were lying to yourself and you’re just the worst. THE WORST, I TELL YA.

For me, as noted, it does sort of depend on the chapter itself, and the mind-frame I’m in at the time. Right now, I’m very curious to see what it is about some chapters that I wrote in a way that I consider more bearable, and what it is about others than I’m convinced are the biggest problems ever encountered by anyone EVER. There doesn’t seem to be any consistent pattern.

One thing I have noticed is the nature of the issues I find myself agonizing over – the story itself and its main themes I still have a lot of faith in. It’s the way I tell it that’s the problem. Every writer has the bring their own tools and experience to a story, and when there’s just one person’s direct experience telling the experiences of a diverse range of people, and, indeed, the universe in general, you definitely get some translation errors. Here are just some of the thoughts that have been harrowing me as I’ve gone through this process.

“The way you portray your protagonist is racist, sexist and biphobic and you know it.”
“Nobody talks like that! Well, except you, of course. You have to use these words to make up for the fact that you can’t write.”
“Now it looks like you’re subtly pushing an agenda. Maybe you are.”
“You can’t rectify this! Now everyone’s going to think your heroes are total shits, and you are too, by extension.”
“Get out more. You don’t know what it’s like to be a normal person with an actual life.”
“Raisins are nice.”

Yeah, they’re not bad, actually. But back to the point.

I’m well aware that these concerns are normal, and, to a degree, they’re healthy. If I’m aware of the problems that might arise, I’m in a better position to avoid them as best I can, and I’m also willing to take points where I feel they’re relevant. Maybe all of this is just paranoia, maybe it isn’t. Either way, I’m confident that any mistakes I’ve made, I can rectify. So far, I’ve already dealt with a glaring continuity error, so hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. I’m still enormously looking forward to hearing other people give their thoughts on this work, regardless of what they are. It’ll to be great to hear an outsider’s take on what I can produce. As someone who feels I can rarely express myself in real life, this’ll be an unveiling. I hope I have an audience for it.

I guess my final point is – even if you have a firm and important story to tell, don’t be afraid to make a few changes. They may even tell your story better than you thought possible. There’s a fine line being making a few improvements, and compromising your story. The difference will become clearer the more you go on.

Anyway, should probably get back to it.

The Awakening

I might have chosen to pick a less ominous title, but to be honest, I think any more words than necessary in it would cause a lot of problems. Overly wordy titles can often seem quite corny and irritating the more they’re said, which can be an even bigger problem if the substance is anything but corny and irritating. As an example, my favourite anime series of all time, that is honestly so damn beautiful and well-crafted, with animation, storylines, music and characters that might possibly be greater than any other work of fiction I’ve ever seen, has an incredibly stupid title, which I probably don’t even pronounce properly.

But I digress. The point is, I’m here to announce something big, impressive and slightly important that will probably dominate the rest of the blog posts I make for a little while. The vast majority of the things I’ve posted on here relate to me as a writer, and so I feel it was necessary to make a post to announce…

…that after many months of blood, sweat, toil, tears and eating too much chocolate, I have finally completed the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on.

WHOO, YAY, AWESOME ETC.

Yeah, it took, it’s time, but now it’s done, I honestly feel like the most enjoyable stage has passed. Clocking in at around 110,000 words, I now need to go through that and decide if any changes should be made. And looking back over what you’ve written isn’t usually fun, as any writer will know. Even if you’ve polished off the first draft that, in your head at least, gleams like the all the great works of art that will go down in history, and there can’t possibly be that many changes to make. Then you look back through it a little later and discover that actually, you could have done a hell of a lot better there. And there. And actually, when it comes down to it, why did you even write this in the first place?

Then there comes the doubt, the attempt to fend off plotholes and problems, only to create more of them, then the overwhelming feeling of despair of disappointment, you go and cry in the corner of your room playing an unnecessarily aggressive rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata before thinking you may as well give up and go and live in an orange tent in Bulgaria selling fidget spinners and second-hand novelty condoms.

OK, well, maybe don’t go that far. Nobody buys fidget spinners anymore.

Have gone through the process of re-reading, I definitely know how it feels, but I’m determined that the general crux of my story this time round is worth maintaining, even if some details need to be changed.

Of course, once you’ve developed a final draft you’re happy with, however long that might take, then there comes to process of getting it published and sold. Yes, I’m going there. And I’m kind of bricking it.

I mean, what do I know about marketing? I have the charisma of a road accident, and a sex appeal to match. Obviously, I’ll have to rely on making sure the story can be explained in a succinct and an interesting way, which is proving difficult every time I try, but maybe I can improve on it later, I don’t know. Of course, publishing is even more difficult. How do you ensure a manuscript gets accepted? Pfft, I don’t know, it just seems to be one of those mysteries that only publishers know.

Of course, I could always go the self-publishing route, although that would require I have some editing and graphic designing skills I currently lack. Well, I guess this decision can wait for now, probably…

OK, so even though I feel the author within me has been properly awakened, there’s still a lot of work to do. Fortunately, I’ve managed to surround myself with people who know about these things and can help. And maybe that will include you, dear reader, giving advice on how to make this dream a reality. And, in case this is the sort of novel you’d be interested in, I’m going to try and summarize it as best as I can now.

The working title is ‘Private Tuition,’ but may be subject to change later, depending how I feel. We follow Sasha Knight, a Religious Studies/Philosophy and Ethics teacher in her late twenties, starting a new job at a seemingly inoffensive school whilst trying to put some trickier areas of her past behind her, where she was, largely by choice, under the thumbs of other people. Many students in her A level tutor group, however, pique her interest in elements of their intrigue and cryptic behaviours, shielding a great deal of personal problems they have. Determined to help them anyway she can, she finds that the easiest way she can get them to open up to her is if she opens up to them first – sexually. Eventually, she finds herself have intimate encounters with many of her students as part of her duty of care.

OK, so for those among you are teachers or know teachers, clearly this is a massive professional faux pas, and I’m not trying to glorify adults in positions of trust having inappropriate encounters with children. But the situation being painted here is more nuanced than that. Everyone’s of age, these encounters are all mutual, and they’re something that I, as the author, am not trying to make too many heavy judgement calls either way, because certain meta-ethical matters are worth discussing, and that’s what I want this novel to do.

Sasha’s academic subject is chosen very deliberately. The meta-ethical considerations of deontology, consequentialism, virtue, cognitive vs non-cognitive and so on tend to be left to the navel-gazing philosophers, even though we draw from their ideas when it comes to important matters everyday. Studying philosophy and ethics at A level is one of the things from my time at school that I’m probably going to remember most vividly, and I guess I wanted to recreate that experience in perhaps a less conventional setting. Very good teachers, which are mostly woefully underpaid, can make a difference in such a pivotal period in one’s life, and I think a school-based setting when considered in that regard isn’t always appreciated.

In merely presenting the reader with a situation of someone who chooses to bend the rules in order to do what she thinks help, I’m leaving them to immerse themselves in the characters and plot and make decisions about who and what they really are.

Oh, and I promise it’s not all entirely navel-gazing – I’m rather pleased with the characters I’ve crafted and I know other people are too. I’ve tried to include a diverse cast, plenty of scenes of just people being people and I hope those parts of the plot are enjoyable too.

So, if you’re interested, feel free to follow my process of crafting this story, which I should hopefully be posting about regularly, and I’ll be sure to let everyone know if and when it’s finally found its way to book form.

I sincerely hope that day will come.

 

Undue Fear

Imagine you’ve found yourself in a Dark Room. Whilst you recognise it as a somewhere you’ve been before, the sheer size of it and the lack of light means you only have a passing acquaintance with its dimensions. You don’t know just how big it is, or whether a single step beyond what you’re used to will send you plummeting to your death, or whether something in the corner is lying in wait for you. You have every reason to suspect that there might be. After all, there are other people in this Dark Room, people whose faces are obscured, people who make unfriendly noises and whisper threats every single time you make a step. It’s not often they carry out their threats, but sometimes if you take a step too far, they’ll push you, shove you, hit you, just enough to give you an impression of their strength, not something you want to push to the limits judging by how it feels.

And each time they’ll sneer and mutter derisively about how you brought this upon yourself.

They could well be right – after all, you never planned to be here. But every so often you find yourself back here, through no planning and no foresight, with no expectation to arrive. You don’t even know you got back here, but back here you are, and it’s your fault. Surely, you have to find a way out?

Well, you are aware of a way out, and it’s the way you’ve used when you’ve been here before. A panelled door, with the slightest of lights from the outside world finding its way in. The door is not often in the same place, and often you’ll have to take drastic steps to find it, but it’s there. And you can see much friendlier faces on the other side, assuring you that stepping through the door is all you need to do.

It should be so inviting, so pleasant. But you fear the door almost as much as you fear the Dark Room.

Because the door is unpredictable, not only in its location, but also in its mechanism. Sometimes it will be harder to open than others, sometimes the process of allowing you through it will be marked with booby traps and hidden dangers that only allow you to leave once you are bleeding and shell-shocked. Sometimes it will be easy to open and you leave feeling rather foolish by how much it concerned you. But one day, you’re sure, based on what you’ve heard, that the door will just refuse to open, and the message will be clear: you have to stay in this Dark Room forever. Never again will you be on the other side in the light and with those you care about. In that situation, why not take many drastic steps you’re not used to, and allow the Dark Room to take you to your death?

For whatever reason, the people on the other side of the door don’t understand why you can’t just open it and join them, and still others scoff at the way you fear the Dark Room, thinking you’re just a coward. Generally speaking, this is from those who’ve never been in the Dark Room themselves. So far, you have left the Dark Room consistently, and among the pleasant warmth of the light and the friendlier faces, you have often begun to feel ashamed with the way you felt before. But of course, you’re fully aware you’ll be back in the Dark Room one day, possibly when you least expect it, and then you have to go through it all over again.

*

That passage above is my current best attempt at illustrating what it’s like to live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. I’m fully aware that my experience might not be exactly the same as everyone else’s, and yes, there were a few mixed metaphors in the description above, what with actual worry being used to illustrate worry, but you know, I’m still hoping that one day my writing will actually be better.

In light of Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, I think it’s important that I share my experiences, just in case there are other people who need this kind of thing to help them through whatever they are currently experiencing. Whilst this is a fairly recent diagnosis, it doesn’t seem to be a recent incursion. These symptoms have been familiar to me for years.

So, what is GAD? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s characterised primarily by worry – and I know that everyone worries to some degree, but what makes GAD distinct is the nature of excessive worry, worry that comes to you virtually all the time, so much that you often can’t think of a single action taken even in the ordinariness of everyday life without worrying about something, even something tiny. Furthermore, there’s the nature of uncontrollable worry, that you often can’t dismiss the concerns outright without extensive research, or even just taking the plunge and doing the damn thing. Even worse is when you find yourself worrying about that which you have no control over, like the possibility of catching something contagious, or the ramifications of hawkish geopolitics on the other side of the world (thanks Trump, you fucking half-witted tool). And you’ll always get those people who’ll say, ‘Well, you can’t do anything about it, so you don’t need to worry.’

Ha.

Ha ha!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

OK, come on, guys. I know you mean well, but this as about as helpful as saying to someone who has injured themselves rather badly, ‘you don’t need to bleed.’ Not needing to worry doesn’t stop us from doing it. Telling us to stop worrying is also about as helpful as telling an injured person to stop bleeding. If we had any control over it, we would have stopped by now.

Another notable point about GAD is the notion of irrational worry. We are fully aware that many of the things we worry about are so unlikely to happen that it would be reasonable to call them impossible, but we have those uncertain voices in our ears, the proverbial unfriendly people in the Dark Room whispering to us, ‘but what if…?’ ‘But you never know…’ ‘There’s always a first time…’ And this is often enough to stop me, at least, in my tracks.

So, if GAD causes, essentially, worrying all the time, then what’s the deal with this Dark Room? Surely a fitting analogy would be someone stuck in that room all the time? Well, not quite. Again, just talking about my own experiences here, but whilst I do worry all the time, there are often cases where I can sedate it with a ‘well, I’ll be able to sort it by doing this,’ in that the worry seems so distant, or hypothetical enough at the given time, that I can put it to the back of my mind in some situations, so it’s not directly affecting everything I do. However, this is equivalent, I would say, to constantly being in trepidation of being back in the Dark Room, because I always know it’s there, waiting, often catching me unawares, usually as the result of something unexpected happening to complicate my concerns. And that’s when everything begins, because when I lose all sense of rational thought. This unexpected something is insurmountable. It’s the my worst fears confirmed all in one event, because it can or will lead to this, and then this, and then this, and I can’t do anything about it, because this, and this, and no, I do need to worry about it, because this, and this, and no there’s no point in carrying because this, and this, and oh my fucking god, it’s over, what the fuck am I going to do?

This is when I become insufferable. My nearest and dearest are probably very familiar with that particular mindset, when I act as though the world is ending because of something that you’d probably dismiss as trivial, or problematic, but not hugely. Or at least, you wonder why I don’t just do the thing you suggest about it. Well, I’d love to. But then this might happen, and then this. Or my fears will go from hypothetical to absolutely certain, and I’ll be well and truly fucked. In the bizarre, masochistic tango I have with GAD, sometimes the uncertainty is helpful, because if I haven’t examined that glimmer of hope to discover it’s just an illusion, and maybe, just for a moment, I can entertain the possibility that everything still might be OK.

For those who have to deal with me in those cases, I want to apologise and thank those who are patient with me and recognise that these are things beyond my control.

So, what do I worry about? Well, as I said before, everything. But I’d say the two biggest things to steer me to the edge are the worries about my academic work (concerns I’m sure everyone gets), and probably the most severe, worries that the friends I care about and depend on are going to leave me.

Ridiculous, you might say. And yeah – I’m sure you’re right. My very closest friends would never do that, surely? They care about me too much. But still the doubts whisper, still any signs of no-contact for a certain number of days make me speculate on what could have happened, and I end up disgusted with myself for even daring to think like this. How can I doubt people who have been nothing but kind and loving to me? What have they done to deserve this treacherous mindset? Of course, it might not be their fault. Maybe they’ve died. Or maybe my messages to them haven’t got through. But if that’s the case, how will I stop them from thinking I’ve abandoned them? How else will I contact them? And what if my computer crashes and contact becomes impossible, even when I need them for next time I have a little breakdown?

And so it goes on. Sometimes, it’s even smaller things than that. The amount of times I’ve lost sleep over a noise in the house which means there’s an intruder, or that strange smell I came across before I went to bed means that there’s a noxious gas leak, or that the unfamiliar aches I’m feeling means my heart has failed. Or what about the time I was convinced that an incorrectly ordered reference in a bibliography essay meant I was going to fail my course? Or the many, many times when a strange blip happened on my PC meant that I could never do XYZ with it again? If I haven’t showed up to something I was invited to, chances are it’s not a reflection on you, it’s because I’ve been too worried about what might happen if I do. (Or I generally am just busy…)

If anyone’s reading this who hasn’t been diagnosed with GAD but recognises the major symptoms within themselves, I’d advise going making a doctor’s appointment, or potentially an appointment with a therapist who specialises in mental health. Knowing what it is that’s causing you so many problems is the first step on the road to making things better.

How has it worked with me? To be honest – not all that well. First, I went to a private therapist who most of the time ended up making me feel worse, not least because of the hefty prices I had to dish out following each session. Secondly, I went to an NHS service dealing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which managed to provide me with my diagnosis, and give me a few pointers on how to dissect the kind of worries I had, but otherwise didn’t seem to alleviate my particular concerns completely. With them of course I still had lingering worries, such as the concern that if I were late to a session for whatever reason, often by no fault of my own, they’d discontinue the sessions, and because I couldn’t contact them properly to let them know if I’d be late, I do remember one occasion being gripped by an anxiety attack, thanks to those who were supposed to be helping me relieve my anxiety.

Following that, my doctor prescribed me SSRIs, which, due to, yet again, worries I had (this time about the potential for long-lasting side-effects of the medication) prevented me from taking them for a while. Once I did, I didn’t experience any side-effects, but didn’t really experience much of anything. They certainly didn’t suppress my worries, just maybe occasionally dulled my reactions to them, which, whilst definitely helpful, didn’t leave me feeling much achieved.

The current situation is this – my doctor prescribed me some different SSRIs, which I’m currently too worried about the consequences of side effects to take, and I’ve been suggested looking for a slightly different CBT session to help me, but I’m too concerned about not finding that and not being able to do the dates they suggest to even take that step. And so, as is often the case, I’m avoiding the door to the Dark Room for fear of being let down by it, whilst simultaneously cursing myself for my cowardice.

You may be detecting a lot of resentment here, and it’s true. I hate the fact that I have to worry all the time, that there’s not a day that I can just take off from my worries. I hate the fact that all my attempts to keep them at bay have not worked, and in some cases have led to more worries. I hate the fact that I often can’t express why I feel so worried to people that might otherwise be able to help. I hate the fact that my family don’t always seem to recognise it as an illness and just dismiss it as something stupid I occasionally do. I hate the fact that I can’t always have the people who care about me and understand me the most by my side whenever I break down and need them the most. And, as pathetic as it sounds, I hate the fact that I don’t have a partner, i.e., someone whom I won’t feel guilty or invasive about sharing my innermost and deepest concerns with constantly, someone who can ensure me that even with my anxiety I’m still worth loving. And I seem to be incapable of getting one. What does that tell you?

Just so we’re clear, this isn’t to downplay the role my friends have played in making me feel important and consoling me when I need it, because you are so important in that and I love you more than can be accurately said. This is, I guess, one of the reasons I feel so guilty about off-loading everything onto you.
Virtually everyone, from my therapist, to my doctor, to many friends I’ve shared this with have told me that they’re sure I’ll defeat this some day. As grateful as I am for the optimism, I’m not sure I agree. Maybe it’s just that I can’t remember a time where I haven’t been a worrier, and so I can’t conceive of a time where that won’t be the case. So far, nothing seems to have helped, and my worries have just continued getting stronger. It may very well being the case that I’ll be like this for the rest of my life, going through a constant cycle or worry, panic, relief, then back to worry again. It’s a pretty bleak image, and yet the fact that it isn’t exclusively so does make me wonder. If amidst all this pain there are still times that I can feel calm, cared for, happy, even, then I don’t think it’s worth giving up. Not yet, anyway.

For all those who are struggling with mental health issues, please know that you’re not alone. I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep about it necessarily getting better in the way you want, but I can tell you, without hesitation, that you’re not alone, and there are people out there who care for you, and will try and help you in every way you can.

That thought alone should be enough to make the Dark Room seem a little bit brighter.