Or rather, why publish it?
Everybody knows that the process of writing from life is cathartic. The fast clatter of fingertips on the keyboard always felt like a tonic to me, frustrations and negative emotions rushing out and ending up on a screen, where they became something positive, a neat little tale with an ending that always made me feel like everything was going to be OK.
But once the words are out of your system, can you really cast them out into the public domain?
When you write a blog, you get instant feedback from your readers, often to say you’ve helped or inspired them in some way. If, after you’ve written a post, you decide it’s too personal / a bad idea / just a bit crap, you just edit / delete / make private. And often you do.
I started writing my blog because, two years in, I had finally settled into being a mother and the fact that I was one and seemed to be doing an alright job of it, totally alone, surprised me. I was also constantly amazed by the fact the small, squirming thing that had been handed to me a midwife not that long ago was quickly becoming a walking, talking human being who came out with hilarious stuff.
I’d thought about writing a book about how I got to that point for a while. I kept thinking back to me, absolutely desperately terrified, pregnant, skint, on my own, feeling like my future had just hit the dead end by the ditch at the bottom of the quiet cul-de-sac where Mum lived and I had to move. If someone had shown me my son and the adventures that lay ahead, I’d have leapt out of bed every morning, counted down the days to the birth, maybe even braved the cheesy couples in the antenatal classes. I wanted to tell other women in my situation my story, for them to have a bit of hope.
My book contract, a wonderful opportunity, came when my son was four. After the celebration came a spontaneous and not massively productive trip to a remote Turkish beach to get started, followed by panic. The story of a birth isn’t just the mother’s to tell: the story I wanted to publish was my son’s too. Could I really write indelibly about the fact he was unplanned? What would that do to him?
With a book, there is no reassurance from your readers, you just send it out there and hope people like it. Most terrifyingly of all, there is no option to edit / delete / make private.
“Write it as a novel,” some suggested, as I went around in circles trying to work out what to do.
I couldn’t, though, because I’d already gone and written a blog about how it was real and lots of people had read it and there was no going back on that. Sometimes, when I was suffering from really bad anxiety, when I lay awake and my mattress felt like a flimsy raft careering towards the nearest waterfall, I told myself I would just have to stop. I would have to get up, open my laptop, email my publisher and finish it all.
While I was busy worrying about how the book might affect my son, he grew up. Four years isn’t much for an adult, but it’s makes a big difference to a kid. Suddenly, I was having to sit him down and have the chat about sex (thanks to The Sims and their ‘Woohooing’ – you think it’s just the likes of Grand Theft Auto you need to shield your children from? BEWARE OF RANDY SIMS!). From that came questions about relationships, contraception and naturally, his own conception, all of which are far easier to discuss with an inquisitive eight-year-old than a mortified teen.
“Where is your book, Mum? When is it coming?”
That question floored me more than, “why did you have sex if you weren’t ready for a baby?” (ooff), but, thanks to The Sims, I felt able to sit down and sigh and explain what (apart from my full-time work and looking after him) was taking me so long.
“You must have been really scared, Mum.”
I was. Just like loads of other mothers are in the beginning, even married ones, who’ve been planning their pregnancy for years. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. It’s kind of the point of the book: the shock of the love and the depth of it, when it arrives.
I began to write again, constantly assured and encouraged by my son. I picked up more memoirs, by people who’d been brave to write them, whose stories would certainly help others. Most recently, Amy Liptrot’s stunning account of life on a wild isle recovering from alcoholism, The Outrun, blew me away and spurred me on. Before that, Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh: a bold and brilliant collection of short stories, mixing real-life and fiction, with a heavier dose of the former, reminded me of the importance – and the power – of life writing.
In the middle of it all, I had panicked so much that I’d lost sight of why I set out writing the book.
Then last weekend, when I was snoozing and recovering from a sponsored run with my son, I opened an email from a young woman I don’t know. I used to get them a lot, when I was writing my old blog, but it had been a while. She was pregnant, on her own, frightened, but she said my blog was giving her hope. It reminded me of how helpless I felt when I was in her situation eleven years ago, and it also reminded me why I had written real life and sent it out there into the world. I replied to her and wished her and her baby all the best, but there was one thing I forgot to say and I hope she’s reading this. I forgot to thank her, because she gave me hope back.