Book Launch, 12th July, Waterstones Deansgate

My Shitty Twenties, my memoir, will be launched at Waterstones Deansgate on Wednesday 12th July at 6:30pm. I’ll be reading from the book, answering questions and signing copies. If you’d like to join me on the night, book your ticket here. It’s £3 including a glass of wine or a soft drink.

If you can’t make it and you’d like to read the book, you can pre-order it now at your favourite bookshop, or from Amazon, Waterstones and lots of other online retailers.

“The freshest, frankest, wisest, ballsiest memoir I’ve read. Daring, eloquent, and important: a glorious tale of one woman’s triumph over the past and her own fears as she learns how to be a single parent in a world where ‘single’ is still a dirty word. I cried heaps and adored every page.”

(Emma Jane Unsworth)

mstcover

Write Away the Shame at Deer Shed Festival, 21-23 July

A few days after I launch my book, I’ll be heading to Deer Shed festival in North Yorkshire to run a writing workshop. Write Away the Shame is a class in the art of getting over excruciatingly embarrassing experiences by writing about them and (if you’re feeling brave enough) sharing them. And no ground is more fertile for excruciatingly embarrassing experiences than the mud of a festival field, right?

Deer Shed is a brilliant family-friendly festival with ace music, literary and spoken word line-ups, as well as loads of workshops. Find out more and book here.

 

Come and join in if you can!

Wilderwild

A Book Cover

My book is being released into the wild next summer. It will be published by the excellent Salt Publishing. It’s a memoir about becoming a single mother. I’m half-nervous, half-excited. Either way, I’m still nowhere near as terrified as I was about having the baby. Here is a picture of the cover; more news as it comes…

 

book-cover

Why Write Real Life?

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.

 

 

 

How Running Helped me Write

mud

Cross country running? Mum wrote, in response to the photos I’d sent her of my ruddy face and muddy trainers, You hid in a ditch smoking ciggies when you were supposed to do that at school. Whatever next? Church?

Mum was right: after religion, cross country running was probably the least likely pastime for me to take up. I needed to get fit though: new relationship complacency had made me put on way too much weight and daring to look down at the scales at a doctor’s appointment weigh-in horrified me into doing something about it.

I’d heard about a free app from the NHS called Couch to 5K, which guides you gradually from short bursts of running, interspersed with walking, to running for 30 minutes solid. I decided to try it, but imagined, deep down, that it would suffer the same fate as the scratched fitness DVDs and forgotten gym membership cards of years gone by.

The first run was a disaster. It was chucking it down and I was wearing my glasses, which were quickly splattered with raindrops and therefore totally useless. I hadn’t really thought about what music I wanted to listen to while I ran and Spotify’s dedicated running playlists were beyond awful. I was only required to run for a minute at a time, with 90 seconds of walking in between, but the minutes felt like hours and I was sure I would never get through each 60 second section. It didn’t help that I’d overestimated the size of ‘running tights’ (overpriced leggings) I’d need and they slipped down every few paces. Just. Keep. Going, I huffed to myself, looking around to make sure I was alone before messily hitching the leggings up. And I kept going. Until the session was over, I was nowhere near home and my new trainers had grated the skin off the back of my ankles. Somehow, as I schlepped home with only my soaking, icy toes inside my shoes, I managed to lose the armband I’d bought especially to hold my phone.

So far so shit.

I kept at it though, for some reason. And I made a few changes: loops, round local parks, so I didn’t end up miles from home, proper good old-fashioned Detroit techno on the phone and cheap leggings that stayed up. I’d also shift my focus when it got difficult: look at your feet going, keep your eye on that tree skeleton over there, think of how you’ll feel by summer. Smile. The running parts got longer and I could see within a couple of weeks that I was capable of a little more each time.

Then I went to glorious Gladstones Library, with my book. My book, a magnificent opportunity to write the story of a personal battle, had become a personal battle. It was an enormous collection of words of varying tenses and standards that I had been working on, sporadically, because of work, for years.

When I was ten, I began making jewellery to sell in aid of the local hedgehog rescue centre. Impressed by my new expertise, my dear nan gave me an old necklace of hers to repair. I couldn’t do it, and it became tangled, the thin, delicate chain tied in endless, impossible knots. I tucked it inside a container with the rest of my jewellery-making kit and worried about it. Nan asked me about it a couple of times, and I said I’d been unable to fix it but I’d dig it out, but I never did and that was twenty-something years ago and now my nan is dead. I think the necklace is buried in Mum’s garden shed and I still feel guilty every time I think about it, like now*. Anyway, my book manuscript was like the necklace: a big tangled mess that made me feel guilty every time I thought about it. I had to get it ready to send to the publisher this time, because people wanted to read it and because it was driving me mad.

My initial plan was to intersperse writing with running, but after my first run in the gorgeous parkland near Gladstone’s, I sat down at my desk and just wrote. I shoved my hair up, didn’t bother washing it, settled in and just got on with it. Every time I hit a difficult bit, I just. Kept. Going. I had to. This not-OK-for-work-or-kids article was a major inspiration, but so was the running: if I could keep going until Laura, the woman on the Couch to 5k app, who had begun to feel like a good buddy, told me I was allowed to walk, then I could keep writing / editing until I reached the next chapter. And the next. And the next. Until I attached it all to an email, clicked ‘send’, left Gladstone’s so quickly that I accidentally took my room key with me and found myself on a train back to Manchester, stuttering at the ticket inspector and horrified at the news there wasn’t a drinks trolley on board.

It was done. And I had been able to do it by breaking it down, just getting through this puddle and past that dog turd and up the little hill, rather than thinking of it all as an insurmountable whole. Most importantly of all though, I enjoyed writing again.

As for the running, I can do thirty minutes, non-stop now, and my son and I are about to run a charity 5k together. Top marks for Couch to 5K. It’s been about ten weeks since the first run. I get to see spring unfurling every day in the park; the quagmire that I used to dread has shrunk to a tiny puddle and white blossom is everywhere. Just like writing, running is a joy.

*Mum, if you read this, I am really sorry about the necklace. Please don’t make me feel any worse than I already do; I am sure Nan was OK about it and I was only ten.

gladstones

My favourite desk at Gladstone’s.

A Real-life, Proper Book

After a few years trying to juggle motherhood,  full-time work and the anxiety-fuelled notion that I would never be able to do it (a formidable mix), I finally finished my book. Next year (exact month to be confirmed), the delightfully-titled My Shitty Twenties will be published by Salt Publishing. Salt is a wonderful, independent publishing house that produces books that are things of beauty. The words I wrote will be magically transported from the grubby screen of my held-together-with-duct-tape laptop to the insides of an actual, tangible book, with a cover that I know Salt will make look great. All of this is an enormous deal.

The book is a memoir about becoming an unlikely mum. More news here, as it comes.