Learning To Read Again

I’ve always wanted to be an author. Well, since I was about 8-years-old, anyway. I spent the majority of my teenage years holed up in my bedroom writing boyband fan fiction and by the age of 22 I had completed a – fairly cringey – novel which no-one wanted to publish. And then nothing. For six years. I took too long a break after finishing the first novel and couldn’t find my way back into it. The kinds of things that had inspired me to write in the past still ignited that urge in me, but I didn’t know where to start. I could have produced so much in those years when I had nothing much to do with my time. And I wasted all of it.

So when I found myself looking after a baby every hour of the day (and night) and there was an actual real barrier to being able to write, of course the ideas came flooding through. And, in November last year, once I’d got the baby sleeping through the night, I made a start. I dug out a long, rambling fanfic that I’d been proud of as a teenager, and I decided I was going to finally finish it, 13 years after I originally started it. Just for me. Just as something to get me writing. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t any good. I already knew the characters inside out so didn’t have to suffer that boring character development stage, and I always hated that it had been left unfinished so that was my main motivation. Tidying up the loose ends of my teenage years.

I was incredibly rusty to start with. I immediately wanted to give up on the whole idea and go and do something easier (like eating). But I made myself sit in front of my laptop regardless. Some evenings I only managed to squeeze out a couple of sentences. Other times it was whole pages. I thought about it on long walks with the baby, car journeys and before I fell asleep. I scribbled down extracts and ideas on whatever was to hand, and mapped out key moments on my phone while I sat in car parks waiting for the baby to wake up. And I loved having all that in my head again. I felt like I’d righted one of the great wrongs in my life. Because I’d always thought of myself as a writer; defined myself by it. And in those years when I wasn’t writing there always felt like something was missing. In the end I added more than 30,000 words to it over a couple of months, and I finished it. It’s badly written and melodramatic and horribly teenage-y, but before I’d even got to the end an idea for a proper book had started to grow in my head, and all of a sudden I was a writer once more.

So I’m writing my proper book now. I’ve got all my characters thoroughly developed and the outline of a plot. I’ve got themes and narrative questions. I’m pretty sure I know what I’m trying to say. I’ve got a title and – already – the closing paragraph. I want to get it right; I want this to be something I’m so proud of that I make everyone I’ve ever met read it. But right now I’m eight chapters in and it’s all gone a bit wrong. It’s meandering. The characters aren’t doing what I need them to do to push the story along. I can’t work out whether what I’ve written so far is too drawn out or whether I’m skipping through it too fast. The whole thing has me a bit confused and I feel like I’m going to need to make a lot of lists to sort it out. And I think one of the main problems is that it’s been so long since I’ve read anything other than a badly written boyband autobiography that I no longer have an idea in my head of what good writing looks like. I can’t remember how proper authors write conversation, or portray relationships, or build sub-plots. Reading is just not something I do any more. I fear I don’t have the patience for it. I can’t even sit through a 40-minute TV programme without checking Twitter on my phone. My attention span is somewhere very close to zero.

I’ve forgotten how to read.

I’m sure that part of my dissatisfaction with everything and everyone at the moment stems from the fact that I’m not writing. I’ve just spent six months with these characters I’ve invented and now we’re not talking any more. I got used to having them around. Once more, something is missing. One of the reasons I started this blog was to give me a reason to write something. And I have to say that – much to my surprise – it’s doing a fairly good job in improving my general mood. But I eventually need to get back to my book, and I think the key to that is spending more time reading. I’ve got shelves and shelves of books in the house. I’ve read most of them more than once, but there are more than a handful that I feel a bit ashamed to say I’ve never even opened. So when I’ve finished writing this I’m not going to spend the next hour loitering on social media or watching Netflix. I’m going to bed. With a book. And I’m going to concentrate on what I’m reading. I’m kind of excited by this prospect; of the places these books might take me. I’m going to admit that the book I’m currently half way through is another badly written boyband autobiography, but after that I promise to read something entirely made up. Fingers crossed it jump starts my imagination and gets me writing again.


An Unlikely Nemesis

Pop music and boybands were a big part of my teenage years. Sometimes they’re a bigger part of my adult years than I like to admit. I love how, thanks to things like Twitter and Instagram, celebrities in general are so accessible to us ordinary people. There’s no longer any need to rely on teen music magazines for new interviews and pictures – what they had for breakfast and what they’re currently watching on TV is now just a click away. I often wonder what my teenage years would have been like with this kind of information at my fingertips. I suspect there’d have been considerably more boyband stalking. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that all this didn’t exist back then. But anyway. I enjoy virtually keeping tabs on washed-up pop stars as much as anyone, especially all those from the late 90s/early 00s who are now giving it another go off the back of reunion shows. But there is one celebrity who I have to avoid.

Tom Fletcher from McFly.

And it’s because of things like this

and this

Let's play mums and dads!

A post shared by TomFletcher (@tomfletcher) on

Image credit: Tom Fletcher

It’s nothing more than envy. I’m not too proud to admit that. Because Tom seems like the most incredible husband and instead of that I got a disinterested boyfriend who, had I kicked him out before the birth, might only have spoiled my pregnancy rather than the first eight weeks of being a mum as well. Because they are a cliché of wedded bliss, approaching parenthood as a team and enjoying the adventure, and I am alone and finding it a struggle. Because Mrs Fletcher is a published author and I’m not. Because she didn’t turn into a whale during pregnancy and I put on three stone. Because I read an interview with her where she gushed about her perfect magical birth experience that went exactly as she’d planned it and without pain relief, when I was so exhausted and delirious with pain after three days of early labour and 12 hours of active labour that I actually fell asleep as the epidural needle was inserted into my back.

Because I’m finding it so hard and they’re making it look so fun. And I want everything that they have.

I know the Internet only paints half a picture. They probably have their struggles as much as everyone else. And maybe Tom is providing a standard to aspire to for men and boys everywhere, which can only be a good thing. I have absolutely nothing against them – they’re obviously lovely people and my personal pain is still very fresh – but every time I see one of their happy pictures with its cutesy caption it hurts more than I can explain. In fact, nothing brings me down faster than Tom’s YouTube videos. Although I was aware of it, I avoided watching ‘From Bump to Buzz’ for months. I knew exactly how it would make me feel. When I did eventually press play, I sat on the sofa and cried my eyes out. And then I watched it again.

It isn’t just Mr and Mrs Fletcher. Every time I see an engagement or pregnancy announcement on Facebook I get a little pang of sadness. It took months and months until I was able to look at any couple with a baby without wanting to cry. I recognise I’m bitter, but it’s hard to shake the image of what you expected happily ever after to look like. I’m not ashamed of these feelings. I’m sure I am not alone in feeling this way. I don’t know how long it will take to work through them, or if they will ever really go away. But I know the rawness will fade, and in the mean time I’m trying to make sure it doesn’t influence my interactions with other people too much. Remembering to be happy for other people’s happiness. Recognising that everyone is fighting their own personal battle with something. Trying to reciprocate the support and empathy I get from friends and family. And focussing on what I have got rather than what I was expecting to get is on my to do list. Although it might be a while before I Google Tom Fletcher again.

Things I Can’t

There are some things about my life that I find hard to accept.

I’ve been battling a chronic, incurable, untreatable, but thankfully by no means deadly, illness since I was 18. I was especially ill between the ages of 19 and 21. I wasn’t quite bed-bound, like many people with Fibromyalgia find themselves, but I think that was probably more to do with my stubbornness and how hard I am on myself when I feel like I’m being lazy or not trying hard enough. I went from being a self-assured teenager, excited by life’s possibilities and believing only good things about my future, to someone I didn’t even recognise. It took a lot of fighting, but by the time I was 22 I had managed to rehabilitate myself back into some semblance of normal life, with a job and a boyfriend and a driving licence – even if, behind closed doors, I was utterly exhausted by the effort to maintain this ordinary unremarkable life. I never found my way back, mentally, to that happy confident 18-year-old who had her whole life ahead of her. Illness stole my youth from me, and I don’t think I’ve ever properly come to terms with that.

Many years later I became a mum, and for twelve whole months after my daughter was born I didn’t see a single symptom of my illness. I was tired, but only as tired as any new mum was. No aches and pains. No reliance on bottles of supplements and medication. Nothing that made me different from anyone else. Cautiously I started to believe that, somehow, pregnancy and motherhood had cured me.

And now she is 15 months old, and slowly the ailments have begun to slink back under my skin. The kind of exhaustion that sleep will never fix, and that has thrown the exercise regime and diet that I was so proud of out of the window. The apathy and lack of enthusiasm for anything. The pain that accompanies every activity. This person that is so quick to stress and anger. I thought I’d left her behind.

My mum took the baby out for the day today and, instead of making the most of the blissful space and the quiet, I found myself unable to do anything except lie under a blanket on the sofa. The exhaustion consumed me, but not as much as the guilt did as I watched the wasted seconds tick away. I couldn’t enjoy any of it.

I don’t know yet how my illness fits in with motherhood. The only thing I do know is that, somehow, it has to. It’s just me and the baby. There is no “I can’t”. I’ve got a lot of work to do here, physically and mentally. Accepting the things I can’t change is probably a good place to start. In the mean time, I suspect I’m going to be watching a hell of a lot of Netflix.

Doctor Who?

This evening I sat on my sofa in Christmas pyjamas clutching two (Yes, two. I’ve had a hard week, okay?) tubs of ice cream and turned the telly on, looking for something trashy. I don’t watch half the amount of TV I used to, so I’m somewhat out of touch with what’s on at the moment. I was hoping for something like The X Factor, but instead I found myself with ten minutes to decide whether I was going to give the new series of Doctor Who a chance.

I did. And I wish I hadn’t.

Doctor Who features in one of my fondest childhood memories. I was about seven-years-old and living in an old cottage in the middle of nowhere with my mum and my little brother. Money was tight and treats scarce, but every weekend Mum would buy us each a Caramac bar and we’d all watch Doctor Who together. I don’t remember much about the episodes themselves, apart from being gripped by a genuine fear every time the Daleks appeared. Similarly, I don’t remember much about my initial thoughts when it returned to our screens in 2005.

But enter David Tennant and it becomes a different story.

I was, as I think we all were, utterly captivated by the slow-burn almost-romance between The Doctor and Rose. I have watched that final heart-wrenching goodbye at Bad Wolf Bay on YouTube so many times. Tears, goose bumps, the lot. The writing in those three series became something I aspired to. A benchmark of outstanding scriptwriting. Characters I could only dream of creating. Every line uttered by David Tennant was spot on. The way they executed the sub-plots – so subtly, so purposefully – was just perfection. I’m sure I will watch those three series many times throughout my life.

After my initial despair at Tennent’s departure, Matt Smith grew on me, and I don’t blame him for a second, but gradually everything about the programme lost its spark, to the point where I didn’t even notice that I stopped turning on the TV for it towards the end of the embarrassing seventh series.

And so to Series 8. I was highly sceptical about Peter Capaldi (could I really get emotionally invested in a Doctor that I didn’t find attractive?), but it took him all of one line to win me over. But it just wasn’t enough. Clara remains the most irritating companion of all time (and I do blame Jenna Coleman in part for ruining the previous series for me) and tonight’s episode – the first of the series – was jumbled, non-nonsensical, meandering, entirely lacking in suspense, terribly acted and generally cringey. Was there even a real plot? I didn’t notice one. I was bored. I left the room several times, where in the past I have been gripped and literally tense until the closing credits, which always seemed to come too soon. Tonight, I’d have been more content with a brief 30 minutes than the awful 80 minutes I barely sat through.

I won’t be watching any more of the series. As far as I’m concerned, you can throw as many Daleks at it as you like. This isn’t Doctor Who.

Not Doing The Housework

I have a rule about not doing housework while the toddler naps.

If, God forbid, we stayed in all day, she’ll have half an hour in between breakfast and lunch, and another half an hour in between lunch and tea. She goes to bed at 7pm and I go to bed with a Horlicks and a book at 10pm drag myself upstairs at around 11pm and immediately spend too long checking Twitter/Instagram on my phone in bed.

I make that a total of five hours of “me time” a day, with at least two of those being when I’m too exhausted to do anything of value. And, even 15 months into motherhood, I’m still finding that a bit of a shock to the system. Sometimes I remember that pre-baby I worked full time, and I didn’t get home until 7pm, and then I had to make tea, and then I was too tired to do anything except hang around on the sofa, and I’d go to bed too late, and I’d spend my weekends catching up on housework and generally being knackered, and what’s the difference between then and now? But most of the time I forget that fact and am in a constant state of “but when will I have time to do all the things?!”

Oh the things. Funny how not having time to do anything makes you want to do everything, when before you were quite happy to watch life drifting past you as you frittered away every evening watching rubbish telly. Suddenly I want to be a talented baker, and make cushion covers, and not only finish painting the kitchen four years after I moved in but paint staggeringly creative and poignant murals on blank walls, and make my own granola bars, and effortlessly transform that scruffy bit down the side of the house with some weed matting and gravel, and perfect my eye-liner skills and sort my CD collection according to colour.

In reality, most often I spend nap time watching box-sets on Netflix and drinking coffee. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got a date with Lost. But I’ll almost definitely get the sewing machine out tomorrow…

Hello, I Suppose

I made this blog yesterday, caught in a self-pitying mope and certain I had enough to say for myself to make it worthwhile. It’s been staring at me, empty and judgemental, for 24-hours now and I cannot find a place to start. Do I just dive in with my random musings? You don’t know a thing about me. Should I give some kind of summarised back-story? Is anyone even going to want to read about my ordinary little life? Swore I’d never become a blogger. And yet here I am. Hopefully it’ll get easier. Hi, by the way.