“So, are you looking forward to university…?”

In honour of A Level results day, here’s a teeny, tiny excerpt from the second chapter of my book, CLEVER STUPID, which is currently on submission. It’s 2003. I’m about to leave for university in the distant north, and having farewell tea in a five-star hotel in Marylebone with an older alumnus, a TV actress whose career has seen considerably better days. Having spent much of the past year doing little else besides having a breakdown and unsuccessfully learning to drive (which it would be another fifteen years before I eventually cracked…), I am not half as excited for my new life as I should be. Or even a bit as excited, really…

Yes, it’s a memoir; yes, everything in the book happened to me. Names and identifiers have been changed/obscured. Crimes against fashion have not…

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I did it…

…and, unless I sit my Maths GCSE a third time, or have to rewrite my whole book because no-one wants to publish it, it’ll probably be the hardest single thing I’ll ever do. But I knew it would be, and acceptance was half the battle. I was diagnosed with dyspraxia at 21 in 2005. Early on during the assessment, I was asked whether I could drive and whether I’d found learning difficult or frustrating (“Does the Pope pray?” “Is Boris Johnson a pillock?”). All bar one dyspraxic person I‚Äôve ever¬†met has said they found it hard or impossible to learn, and the one anomaly was a master of fake bravado (he later died – bad mental health, not bad driving…). In 2011, during my happiest spell as a journalist,¬†I wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph about dyspraxia and driving;¬†then had to explain patiently to many people that despite it, I hadn’t actually cracked said milestone myself. I took blocks of lessons during my teens and twenties¬†but was curtailed by multiple moves, lack of money and sporadic levels of enthusiasm for driving, and life. Of the five instructors I had age 17-24, only one got me anywhere near to a test. My first could barely get me into third gear and I didn’t drive again until two years later. Two were barely in their twenties. The older one tried to tickle my ribs as I drove down Durham’s main dual carriageway. I learned on Saturday mornings during my first graduate job and gave up because I was far too tired and consequently far too dangerous.

My iron determination to try again and finally see it through kicked in after I ran the London Marathon two years ago. A few people seemed to enjoy the diary I kept here during the training¬†so I thought I could similarly keep one of my learning to drive. But, while it’s normal to publicly celebrate running a Marathon, driving is…well, leaving it late or finding it hard’s not really something you’re supposed to talk about, is it? Like admitting you’re bad at sex, or struggling to get pregnant. Or grieving¬†(You should totally talk about those, by the way. I’ll help you do it).¬†More importantly, though, learning to drive is really quite dull. The basics can come fairly soon, even to a dyspraxic, especially if you’ve driven before. After that it’s just endlessly, boringly making new mistakes and repeating old ones for a long, long time until you get there. I’d expected it would probably take me two or three tests and 12 to 18 months of lessons to pass. It took me fifteen months to drive to test standard, another four months to book a test, and after another four months I still hadn’t passed. I failed the first due to two epic nervous brain farts at the beginning, with just two other minors. The second test a month later was infinitely more pleasant and I thought I’d done well, only to discover I’d failed for wrongly using the left-only lane at a roundabout, and not looking left before turning right at a junction where I thought there was only unused industrial land that side. After the third, another month on, I came back and lay face down on the grass for half an evening. Now well into worse-case scenario territory, I decided it might just help if I expected to pass next time rather than hedging my bets, and tried to put it to the back of my mind rather than overthink every permutation of test route. My driving instructor who overthinks and takes his job nerdily seriously (funny how we got on…) has spent two years emphasising the importance of keeping a positive attitude to driving. He would praise lessons where I had a serious fault but exuded confidence over those where I made no mistakes but drove as if I was driving through Pyongyang in a New York taxi. Sure enough, being quietly confident about my next test – quietly being about about as good as it gets – did seem to make the run up feel easier.

And so, attempt number four. The test centre was much less busy than on previous visits – a big help to begin with. Driving test centres, you may recall, have the combined atmosphere of a hospital wing and the worst places you’ve ever temped. There are lots of signs imploring you to relax and, usually, lots of smart, under-confident young girls being comforted by their gormless, over-confident older boyfriends. Everyone sits in the waiting room nervous-laughing and deep-breathing as they wait for the examiners to come down in their high-vis jackets and call out the names. I was first up, and remembered the examiner from my second test – another good sign. (“We’ve met,” I said, a bit too eagerly. He remembered I was “A writer of some sort.” I remembered he was called Ian). The cardinal rule of driving tests everyone tells you is not to worry about things you think you’ve failed for as you go along. Guess what, this is easier when you’re not on your fourth test during a heatwave. I hoped that I’d be given parallel parking as my manoeuvre, which I am inexplicably very good at, thanks to the one good instructor I had in my youth who made me practice it for an hour at a time. I hadn’t had it on any of the previous tests, so it was likely. Instead, I was told we were going to do the manoeuvre first and do a bay park in the car park –¬†my least favourite manoeuvre and possibly least favourite anything. “God, I’m sorry, I’ve lost this, how many go’s am I allowed?” I said, convinced I’d already failed and strangling the urge to run out of the car weeping before we’d even left the test centre. But then I remembered my instructor’s advice to me umpteen times that manoeuvres are very difficult to fail for. Examiners are lenient with them as most people cock them up simply due to nerves, especially if you have to do one first thing.

The drive seemed a mixed bag. Definitely some comfortable stretches, definitely some Moments. I was convinced I’d failed for at least one other thing, possibly a couple. I faffed about a bit trying to change lanes early on. Later, a car came flying uphill at me just as I’d passed a give way line on the blind spot of a notoriously dangerous winding road where no-one who wants to live should attempt the speed limit. I yelled something plaintive and was told politely but firmly to STFU and concentrate. There’s a small mosque on the outskirts of town and I had to drive up a street rammed with Friday lunchtime worshippers. (No racism from the passenger side, however. Hooray!). Further up, I had to pull in close behind a car because of an illegally parked van obstructing the road and was convinced I hadn’t left enough room or would be marked down for being prompted to reverse back/edge forward/generally stay calm. I knew the point at which we were going back to the test centre, and those last few minutes passed by uneventfully. I waited in the driver’s seat, slugging from my water bottle and trying not to look across. Ian did not seem especially as if he was about to impart good news. He seemed as if he was sweating and wanted to go home, which, strangely enough, I could empathise with.

“Well, Maxine, that’s the end of the test…”

I waited for the “I’m afraid/I”m sorry…”

“And I’m pleased to tell you that you’ve passed.”

I’m afraid it all went very X Factor and weepy for a moment.

“How many minors did I get?” I asked, when I could speak. I got seven, mostly for the bay park – as many as I had in the other three tests combined. You’re allowed up to fifteen minors on one test, the average is 8-10. They’re all indicated on your test report. “Have a look; but no need to dwell on them,” he added – the sign of someone who either knows me too well or not at all.

That was last week. Since then, I’ve had one very jittery little drive with a scared mum and a few much more pleasant little ones with a less-scared dad, where I realised my seat had probably been too far forward the first time (slow clap Max). My instructor left me with two pieces of advice: To self-monitor my dyspraxia (Essentially, don’t drive when tired, angry or hungry. You know, like everyone else on earth) and to push myself beyond easy familiar routes. I’m torn between thinking it’s perfectly OK to be a timid local driver forever, and agreeing with him that I have not put all this time and money into learning just to tootle to Tesco and back. After other milestones – degrees, diplomas, shortlistings – I haven’t always had the confidence to unlock the doors those milestones were supposed to open, and it wasn’t until I ran the Marathon at the age of 32 that I really learned to appreciate the magnitude of something I’d done. I don’t want to repeat the past with driving. Speaking of running, I have wondered whether a similarly methodical approach to driving would help, building up to more ambitious drives in a similar way my training plan built me up to running more ambitious distances.

Next up, I have a motorway lesson in September (I’ve already had one as the law very recently changed to allow learners on), and probably another night lesson as the nights draw in (I’ve driven in darkness before but I can’t even remember whether it was this winter or last…). I am old enough now to know there’s a pattern to my achievements: One, I can go into an anticlimactic slump afterwards. This needs to be carefully contained so that it doesn’t go on for months (Or, indeed, years. Hello 2011-14). Two, I daftly make a mental note of those who haven’t been in touch to congratulate me for it, as well as the 100-odd people who have, including people I haven’t spoken to in decades, and The Dyspraxia Foundation. In this instance, the people who haven’t made contact haven’t because they’re dead (definitely), or on holiday (probably). Nothing much to be done about either, is there? As I said on Twitter recently, I’m not just happy about passing my driving test for what it is. I’m happy because it’s the first achievement in all my adult life I haven’t clouded by wishing someone would and/or could get in touch. At least, not to the point any pleasure is removed from it. This feels rather lovely.¬†Oh, and now I have a free hour to spend applying for this and a spare ¬£162 a month not to spend on lessons and tests. That feels rather lovely too. See you on the road…¬†

Also, if you have recommendations of any advice/resources aimed at new drivers who aren’t teenagers, please sling them my way!

April, month of Absolutely Everything

Gosh, it’s been a bit of a while since I was here last, hasn’t it. A busy while.

And so, we go live to April, the home of big feelings, anniversaries and so on (see also, July, November, Christmas, my birthday. Basically I’m a cucumber with legs and a face throughout most of any given year now. But April’s the¬†daddy of them all…). Despite my best intentions to space events out, everything has converged around the last fortnight of the month like an annual blue-arsed fly convention. Maybe being incredibly busy and incredibly knackered seems a good way of handling things to you; maybe it doesn’t. Whatever. I am it, and I am – touch wood – doing well.

Late-April is exactly seven years since I last saw two people I knew separately alive in the same week. We had an early heatwave and an imminent Royal Wedding then too. Late-April also means it’s two years since I ran the London Marathon (no heatwave then, thank God. In fact, it was bloody freezing, which was OK for me. Not so much for my poor parents who had to stand and watch for 5 hours after they’d just come back from four months in the southern hemisphere…).

As I recently said on Twitter, recent years have basically represented me going through what anyone goes through when faced with the possibility of losing/not having things which our society assumes/expects you inherently get/keep. You make your own normality. In January, probably the most important piece of work I’ve written in years was finally signed off, after two years of back and forth and will-it-ever-happen. It very much did, and the feedback has been very much great. At the same time, having spent the better chunk of 2016 running huge distances and the better chunk of 2017 writing and editing my book, I arrived at the “Shall I spend 5K in relocation costs in order to take a two-year contract job at a department which may not even exist in a years’ time, or invest half that money into my business to make it better instead?” crossroads, and I chose the latter, relaunching my business with a stronger identity and focus. So, say hello to Genuine Copy.¬†I’ve kept meaning to blog about it here and not done it – my website will speak for itself soon, when it fully goes live. If you know me well, I’ve probably already told you something about it, and you’ve probably said something lovely and encouraging. Thank you!

This month I was also chosen as one of fifty “rare minds” to attend RARE London’s¬†two-day masterclass, designed for mid-career people in the creative industries and aimed at encouraging greater diversity in those industries. As a freelancer I was awarded a scholarship place next to people who’d had theirs paid for by the likes of YouTube, Google and Saatchi & Saatchi, which was extra rewarding. It couldn’t have been a better first outing for my business, or a better illustration of what said business is about.

What else? Early next month, all being well, I’m sending my book out to a first batch of agents. And being generally eager to discover what the next few months will bring, on every front….

Oh, and did I mention the small matter of my driving test? I postponed booking it for at least six months, and have been postponing taking it for at least the last four months.¬† But I’m doing it this time. INCREDIBLY soon. For definite.

At some point in all this, I might manage a drink and a little lie down. With you, if you’re so inclined (Ahem, the drink, not the lie down. I am slightly more discerning on that front…).

 

An little update on my book’s journey

(…for some reason I always imagine “journey” said in an elongated Scouse accent although I’ve never heard any actual Liverpudlians say it – and I used to watch Brookside unironically…).

Book feedback – the first set of editorial notes on my first ever completed manuscript – came through a couple of weeks ago and, as you may have gathered, I haven’t taken myself off across the country and locked myself in a Premier Inn for several days crying as per my worse-case. i.e, it was more good than bad. Not only good but very encouraging and at times even profoundly moving. A book report is something of a combination of editorial feedback and a therapy session – helpful if, like me, you’re an old hand at both.¬†¬†Like an editor in journalism or copywriting, the reader will have tastes, instincts and market awareness. Like a therapist, they won’t explicitly tell you what to do. They’re just there to ask questions in order to draw out what they see as being important from what you present to them. It’s likely there are things you need to do to make things better that you’re too tired to fix and having someone else point them out, along with what’s working well, will help.

My reader has had some remarkably similar life experiences to me around invisible disability and grief, which she shared beautifully. She especially related to what I expressed in the book regarding both, about having a tendency to over-explain myself in order to be better understood and more believed, and the sad irony that it sometimes seems to repel the very people it most wants to convince. Being of a different generation (She’s a boomer; I’m a Xennial, apparently, FYI) she was also particularly interested in the aspects of the book relating to the internet and online friendships (and the way modern technology particularly indulges the thirsty temptation to keep plugging away the more you sense someone withdrawing from you…). She feels that the relationship between my dyspraxia and the internet/blogging/social media could be the book’s timeliest selling point.

There are still a couple of problem areas I need to look at before it’s ready to go out to agents; hopefully fairly early next year. My reader and I both agree on what they are and why they exist. So with that I will resist the temptation to write more about writing and actually get on with doing the edits.¬†Things all got a bit poignant on Saturday night when I was mulling over a new edit schedule while watching the film¬†Spike Island¬†on BBC2. (Read the book and you’ll know why…).

In other “life goals now scarily and excitingly closer to real” news, I’ve booked my driving test for early February. Similarly, I would rather get on with prepping for the test and training for the Berlin Half Marathon right now than write about it, but I expect I will at some point before it happens (not 11pm the night before, ideally…). Less of the Christmas, more of the 2018 please…

As an old friend used to say:

Writing retreat week! (Book Edits: 1, Anxiety: 0)

I’ve just spent a very marvellous three and a half-days at the Devon writers retreat Retreats For You¬†– courtesy of my very kind grandma – to help me crack on with book edits. I’d been there twice before but not very recently and perhaps my biggest achievement of the week was getting there at all. For the last three years I’ve suffered from especially debilitating anxiety attacks that are especially brought on by travelling. The retreat was originally offered to me as a birthday present for 2015 but travelling alone, writing books, or spending a week with a group of strangers in the middle of nowhere were all very much off the menu then. Long-term therapy has been helping with the why’s.¬†Thankfully necessity won over anxiety – I have an Arts Council mentoring bursary and a deadline for using it. I’ve been sludging through edits over the summer and knew going away was a matter of now or never.

Retreats For You has also had a tough couple of years and is now under new management after the original owner Deborah D.’s husband died suddenly in early 2016. I was on a train back from a long run when I heard the terrible news shortly afterwards. A crowdfunder was immediately set up by writer and regular guest Angela Clarke (I blogged about it at the time, she wrote about it for City newspaper The Wharf). Like many returning guests I assumed Deborah would close shop. However, she decided to find a buyer so it could continue, and it was taken over at the end of last year, by another Deb, Deb Flint.

I’ll admit I was cautious about the idea of going back at first, not knowing whether it would be The Same without the Deborah and Bob I knew and liked. But much is still the same, and the few changes suited me well. New Deb has kept the twee and cosy spirit of the place, with a bit more of a help-yourself vibe to it. Rather than it being her family home she lives in London half the week so guests get two or three days with her to settle in and one or two days left to their own devices. Everything began in my favour: Avoiding all the train mess at Waterloo by getting on at Basingstoke, then travelling through beautiful rolling hills in heatwave sunshine with National Express by the Divine Comedy in my ears. There were five other guests when I arrived, which is as busy as it gets, plus two resident chubby and docile Labradors, Daisy and Gracie. I had the downstairs room which used to be a TV room and still has a TV, with the neighbouring bathroom virtually to myself. I can live with a single bed when it’s so comfortable. There’s also wifi throughout the house but treat it as a normal working week and you shouldn’t get too distracted; it also helps with anxiety to know I’m contactable if need be. Bob’s former workshop has been converted into a studio for extra writing space. I couldn’t use it because my laptop needs a plug to run but there’s also a huge TV and exercise machines, should you be so inclined. Deb’s helpers Linda and Wendy come in three times a day to do all the cooking and do a great job with everyone’s dietary needs whilst playing vintage music and arguing with the Alexa in the kitchen. There’s a ready supply of tea, coffee, snacks and homemade bread so delicious it’s worth the gastric consequences. Deb has cutely labelled cupboards, walls and containers with magic marker so things are easy to find, and you don’t have to spend most of your week saying: “Sorry, where’s the…?”‘Wine o clock’ is daily at six (and it is the only place in the world where the phrase ‘wine o’clock’ is acceptable to me). There are often tutors in residence for writers to get feedback and mentoring if they want it. The tutor for my week was Jayne Watson (from my hometown! I always meet someone from my hometown when I go anywhere!) I’m already getting feedback from somewhere else through my bursary so I didn’t see the need to pay extra, but from what I overheard the sessions were helpful and those who had them seemed to think so. Jayne was also lovely and told a funny story at dinner about getting pissed with a prominent Old Labour irritant…

I resolved that unlike in the past I wasn’t going to talk much to anyone about what I was writing and instead I’d adopt the Monty Python approach (“Get on with it.”). Generally fellow writers respect this and are similarly modest about their own work. I held my resolve, keeping my mouth shut and my head down. Despite Enya, lavender balm and a good sleep routine, by Day 2 I was knackered and being propped up with matches at the dinner table “You look shattered. You’re suffering, aren’t you girl?” said Jayne as I sat opposite her with my head spinning after one glass of white. I also had neck strain – my laptop stand which protects me from RSI was too bulky to bring on the train. I improvised an ice pack thanks to guest Joceyln – who was into her third week – and propped my laptop up on some big books. The neck strain receded and Day 3 was both productive and pain-free. Deb treated us to a dinner rendition of Cheek to Cheek in preparation for her daughter’s wedding. Someone spotted a Dionne Warwick CD in the hall so we put it on and all sang Do You Know The Way To San Jose. I arrived a quarter of the way into edits and by the end of Day 3 I was just over halfway through.¬†As a last-night treat for reaching my target, me and a couple of the other writers had a movie night and watched Whip It with Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page which was funny and silly and very American. Unlike the finale of¬†Trust Me which we’d watched on Tuesday – ¬†strewth! I chatted to writer Penny who has a blog called Great Things About Cancer, which is candid and funny with no cheesy motivational quotes Photoshopped onto sunsets – big win.

Early on Friday before I left I went for a gorgeous run in the early morning sun out to the nearby village of Totleigh, where the Arvon Foundation have a retreat. I missed the sign for the Arvon house itself and the route was much hillier than I remembered from walking it three years earlier. Thus a 5K run ended up being 8K run-walk but I’d allowed the time for it and who minds getting lost in a big bucket of fresh air and twee? My playlist featured Come Up and See Me Make Me Smile, Lorde’s Green Light, Don’t Give Up by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel (one of my London Marathon anthems), the theme song from St Elmo’s Fire and the Todd Terry remix of¬†Missing by Everything But The Girl (how this has only just made it onto my running playlist I do not know). The downstairs shower I was using throughout the week had no water pressure so I couldn’t rinse my hair very well and by day 3 it looked like straw. But after I came back from running everyone else had finished in the upstairs bathroom so I went in there and had the best shower and hair-wash of my entire life, with high pressured soft water. Deb’s a presenter for a shopping channel so she gets lots of divine hair and beauty freebies and puts them in the bathroom for guests to use. I emerged with swishy shampoo advert hair and smelling like an all-over Boots counter. There’s also a superb massage chair in the living room, which I availed myself of while waiting for the taxi. Apparently my voice was deeper when I’d finished. Ooh-err.

As in previous years, I was the youngest guest by quite a long way. As in, the next-youngest was 48, and most were old enough to have me as a daughter. But I held my own, and left with a feeling Retreats For You had grown with me. When I first visited seven years ago I had little more than a big set of drafted scenes and fragmented notes for a novel. I was not far over 25, financially stable but in every other respect a kid: a little unsure of myself and in need of mothering, which Deborah The First, being a mum of three twentysomethings, was more than happy to do. On my second visit in 2013 I had half a novel but ended up abandoning it a year later at 60,000 words. I arrived this time as a 33-year-old with a completed 90,000-word draft and a gritty determination to Get Shit Done. And I did. And it was lovely.

From the kitchen. A rare motivational quote I can get behind…

 

I actually finished writing a book! And nobody died!

A celebratory hedgehog.
Not actual printout.

Eight years ago my then-boss advised me to write books and do¬†crisis comms rather than continue in that job. Quite perceptively, it turns out. I’ve done plenty of both since.¬†If by writing books you mean writing incomplete books, and by crisis comms you mean talking about my life.

It’s much easier to be¬†writing a book than to have written one. Who knew!? But I’m now extremely delighted to be able to say that for the first time I’ve¬†completed a first draft, which I intend to edit later over the summer and¬†send out into the world early next year. You may or may not have known I was writing it, as I’ve been fairly quiet, or at least, fairly vague about it. Because previous attempts to write books have taught me writing about writing is the best procrastination there is. And getting hung up on what people think of you or it is the best way¬†to get absolutely nothing written.

I abandoned my first proper novel¬†in 2015 after several years of stop-starting. The concept wasn’t sellable enough anymore, I enjoyed the research more than the writing, and above all I often wasn’t in the best of emotional health for doing much at all. For various historic reasons, plus because people kept dying. The book-interrupted-by-death thing became a bit of an in-joke (my friend’s boyfriend quipped: “Have you tried writing novellas? They’re shorter. It might be safer…”) although obviously not ultimately very funny.¬†Cumulative bad experiences put me in a permanent state of waiting for the shoe to drop. I became convinced¬†I shouldn’t write books because it was a bad omen. Which is bollocks,¬†obviously. Although quite fitting too, because many of my previous assumptions about both writing and tragedy have had to be challenged in recent years. I used to assume it would be easy for me to write a book. I was wrong. I used to assume wanting and being able to¬†talk openly about difficult things¬†was the norm rather than rare. Also¬†wrong.

In early 2015 I took up running on my mum’s recommendation, which essentially¬†saved me. In spite or because of it being so utterly alien, running was also immune from my usual self-doubt, to the point I believed I could run the London Marathon. Yes, while telling me I couldn’t even do my job, my brain also told me I could run 26.2 miles. Brains are such a lark, aren’t they. With my writing career seemingly stuck down the toilet, while Marathon training I fell into¬†working as a freelance proofreader¬†(in a very flukey and unsustainable manner I would not recommend, BTW).¬†Marathon running taught me so much more than I’d ever have anticipated about how to approach a big project. So afterwards (with a little slumpy interlude of anger over work and politics) I fell back in love with writing and decided to approach a book like a Marathon. A writing schedule like a training schedule. c.90,000 words, from January to May. And it actually worked.

I soon discovered that typing morning until night seven days a week is not good for your mind or body, that writing can injure you worse than a marathon, and that physio is brilliant but expensive. I bought a laptop stand, enforced bedtimes and an evening laptop curfew¬†and started being kind to myself, similarly to how running taught me to. The book¬†is not all about running or mental health as some have guessed,¬†although it does touch plenty upon them. Besides a lot of running and a lot of therapy, what’s really spurred me on is¬†winning a bursaried read of the opening chapter with TLC, courtesy of the Arts Council and New Writing South. That was at the end of 2015. When I got in touch with TLC again this year with a progress update, to my unexpected delight they said¬†I could have another bursaried read of the final manuscript. There’s still a very long road from here. As I said, I’ll be doing edits in June and July¬†and won’t be querying until January. But under the circs, just having finally got this far without catastrophe is immense enough.

As far as my¬†day job goes, I’m still officially a freelance proofreader but¬†due to a lot of client heartache over the past year I’m rethinking this pretty urgently. I’d like to do more journalism again but wouldn’t everyone; I’d also like to pass my driving test first time in August and have a holiday in the tropics but I doubt either of those will happen. I would certainly like to do more copywriting and social media, either for mental health organisations, or for writing organisations that support underrepresented groups. It’s also partly because I spoke¬†to the director of a copywriting agency who sensed I had baggage, asked about the TLC bursary I’d mentioned on my CV, then sent me away with:¬†“Finish the book before you do anything else” that I decided to commit to it. It was as if I finally had permission.

My celebrations are being¬†hampered slightly at the moment by a stinking cold bordering on flu and someone kindly deciding to clone my bank card last week. Soon after finishing, I had a lovely snotty, croaky ugly-cry at¬†my mum¬†(I swear I’ve done a life’s worth of public weeping the last few¬†years; I’m basically a wandering cucumber). Then I listened to a song I used to play at university on the way to lectures and imagine I was in a film. (Did I just publicly admit that? Oh). But once the lurgy has bleeped off and my bank have sent me a new card, one of my treats for finishing will be going to the Comment Awards Conference and hearing Channel 4’s Matt Frei and the Beeb’s James Harding discuss Fake News. I heard about it through a journalist friend who told me she binge-read this blog, which even my mum hasn’t, so that’s nice.

Thank you all and thank you again.

In which I try to write a book. Again. Hoping nothing awful happens. Again.

Oh, hello, blog. I feel I’ve neglected you somewhat.¬†For a change, this is a blog post about writing. Not about¬†Brexit, or¬†putting my body through ridiculous¬†things for charity…

Seasoned Max Watchers will know that two or three years ago, I was writing a book. I’m no longer writing that book: I stopped writing it at the beginning of 2015 and am still having to¬†grit teeth and explain why; as if I’m going through a¬†divorce…

“Oh, God, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to…I didn’t realise you two had…”

“Oh, no no, it’s OK! You know…¬†c’est la vie. Che sera sera.¬†Mange tout Rodney, mange tout…”¬†

There’s a different book now. Well,¬†there will be, soon.¬†At the end of last year I was awarded a New Writing South bursary for a TLC free read of the first few pages of a¬†memoir I’d started. Fed up with weaving bits of my life into bits of fiction writing that¬†nobody ever seemed to be getting excited enough about, I’d wondered whether it would be better to¬†remove the fiction altogether and¬†write openly about my early attempts at doing¬†journalism. Chapter One’s about the first ever journalistic interview I did, back in 2002, when I was still in my last year at school. The rest’s about where that led: A bit later, 280 miles North; and, very much later, 26 miles around London. Together with the very unique-to-me stuff are the standard experiencees every twenty and thirtysomething can nod along to. You¬†know the ones…

Why do it? The usual reasons people write about experiences: To appeal to people who can relate to them, laugh at them, and help myself move forward from them. I sent the chapter to New Writing South, basically¬†asking: “Do you think this is any good and should I carry on with it?”¬†

Having won the bursaried read, which basically meant “Yes”, I immediately set about…not writing anything. So far this year I’ve been busy Marathon running, tin-shaking, learning to drive (I meant to blog about that as well didn’t¬†I. Oh. I will, promise!) and getting upset over Brexit.¬†In September I decided that as I started the year with four months of the London Marathon I’d end it by finishing my first draft by Christmas.

Then, there was a death. Another one.¬†People I know seem to keep dying whenever I’m in the middle of writing¬†books.¬†(Friend’s OH: “Have you tried writing novellas…?”) This time it was my dear grandma. Not as horrible¬†and unexpected¬†as the others, clearly, but still family life went pineapple-shaped. Writing did not happen.

It’s now late-October and there are two months (or, 66 sleeps, as e-marketers who still live in 2009 insist on describing it) until Christmas. I don’t even know if¬†it’s¬†physically possible to write about 75,000 words in two months and do anything else, but I would very much like to get something resembling a book written by then. And for nothing else horrible to happen. Obviously….

In other news, yesterday I saw¬†Bryony Kimmings’ A Pacifists Guide To The War on Cancer at the National, a musical about cancer (singing patients! Dancing cells! Inflatable tumours!) which, in her words exactly, tries to make us, Society, suck a bit less at talking about illness and death. Some criticisms of the play, though understandable,¬†remind me a bit of times I’ve felt judged for being open about¬†mental health, or dyspraxia, or bereavement.¬†I think the therapist I see at the moment has sometimes felt I¬†can’t grasp¬†that not everyone feels as comfortable as I do talking/blogging/tweeting about those sorts of things, and that it’s her job to try and make me. It’s not that I don’t understand their reluctance, but I sometimes find it hard not to take it personally¬†because of my stupid¬†brain, which is sort of the whole point of therapy.¬†I must admit I had reservations around Bryony’s earlier play,¬†Fake It Til You Make It, based on¬†her¬†relationship¬†with a depressed man (sour grapes, really, because the way some men handle their depression is not conducive to any lasting relationship at all) .¬†But having seen this play, I’d like to have caught that too. I went¬†with someone who has supported my writing for a long time, and had cancer recently, which made it particularly moving. Thank you!

Unrelated to-anything footnote: For those who read my brief post last month, I wrote to the hospital trust about the person concerned, with recommendations. Thank you to those who persuaded me it was worth doing, and helped with it.