The doorway to a different world

For years I believed you could only truly be a writer if your work was published.  Whether you spend ten minutes on a poem or dedicate ten years to writing that one novel everyone is supposed to have within them – the work only pays off if the end result is on a shelf in Waterstones.

The minute I learned how to use the alphabet I knew I wanted to be a writer.  All the way through primary school I was writing stories taken from the characters I was reading about in the books I loved.  I was the funky kid in The Babysitters Club, I was just like Jo in Little Women, I was Kat instead of Katie in What Katie Did and I wanted to be Darrell in the Mallory Towers books because boarding school looked so much more exciting than the school I was at.

High school was a mine field of actions and emotions and it was at this point that I realised just how different I was from the other kids. My life at home was different, I didn’t understand myself, I didn’t understand the world and I read a hell of a lot of Point Horror books.  I was inspired by the writers who could incorporate the lives of kids at college with romance and at the same time make stalking and the supernatural cool.

At the age of eleven I stopped writing about fluffy clouds and rainbows and making everything in the world appear pretty and I brought out the big guns and I wrote my first novel, The College Fears.  Was it as bad as it sounds? Oh yes, it was terrible, but I dedicated my life to that story and I wholeheartedly believed that I was going to be discovered and thrown into the writing limelight and I would be the next big thing before I turned thirteen!

The College Fears

The College Fears was the culmination of a group of kids embarking on a brand-new journey at university, discovering new friendships and being completely independent, no family, no ties to their past, just the freedom to be who they wanted to be.

In 1993 I was beginning to realise that my mind was a messed-up circuit board where nothing was connected the way it should be.  I struggled with body image and the perception of who I wanted to be compared to who I really was.  I couldn’t make sense of anything so I threw all that I had into that one story.  I gave my characters the biggest egos, the worst luck in love, I made them beautiful on the outside but hideous within.  I made them tactile, I gave them eating disorders, I made them appear a whole lot older than they actually were.  They were everything I wasn’t but everything I wanted to be.

When I finished my first novel I was proud.  I felt I had achieved something big.  Who else had spent every night, every weekend thrashing out words and sentences?  I would send myself to sleep at night by creating conversations between my characters.  When I did this I wasn’t in my own head anymore, I was somewhere else, with other people; I was every single character I had created and I was the bees knees! In the real world I was anything but cool but in my head I was a successful writer, wise beyond her years with an advanced and complicated rare talent.

In 1994 I started to write my second novel.  I called it Life.  It was about a girl who went to university and she was addicted to suicide.  She’d tried to kill herself thirteen times in five years.  That poor girl, I gave her hell in that story.  I gave her misery and self-loathing, I gave her scars and an internal battle that she could never make sense of and never shake off.  But I also made her beautiful.  I made her appealing to boys, I made her intelligent and successful.  I made her popular and I gave her a singing voice any X-Factor contestant would crawl across hot coals to have come out of their oesophagus.  But hell, that poor girl was tortured, she was miserable.


When I look back at my early writing I can tell you straight off why my stories were written the way they were.  I was miserable and tortured and struggling but every word I wrote was a release from all of that.  On a blank piece of paper I could be whoever I wanted to be, I could do whatever the hell I liked and no one could stop me.  That’s the power of the written word, you can dress it up and dress it down and it doesn’t matter what the end product looks like because you can call it art!

As the years went by I swam in writing circles with real writers who were published and successful and they saw the world from angles that I never even knew were possible.  I loved those people, I still love those people with all of my heart and even though I didn’t fully fit in; I was accepted as a human being and when I was with those people, listening to them read, watching them sign their work I would sit in awe and think,

“That, is what I want. That is who I want to be.”

They taught me everything I needed to know at that time, how to be a critic, how to deliver your best work, how to get a backbone because the writing world was just as tough as the real one. 

I once wrote a screenplay about a man whose entire family hated the fact that he was a writer. I was sixteen and obsessed with the book Trainspotting and by the end of watching the film I already believed Danny Boyle was going to direct my masterpiece with Robert Carlyle cast as the lead role.  I pictured myself at the BAFTAs, the Oscars, I’d pick out a dress from Hello magazine and when I went to bed at night, I’d fall asleep to the sound of my acceptance speech for Best Screenplay.


Growing up I kept a diary.  It was the usual angsty teenage…

“I hate the world but I love this boy in my English class…”

…kind of stuff and my brother would joke about breaking into the locked tin I kept it in and reading all my deepest darkest secrets but really, my real secrets, my true diary was in the stories I wrote.

I confessed my undying love for the kid in Year 10 English by aging him and making him rescue a girl with no true friends in her life.  I took out my anger on the bullies that wouldn’t give me a break by creating a twenty-something year old character called Doug Fairchild and I made every other word a hideous swear word. I made him a violent moron with a conscience that didn’t make an appearance until the last page of the book.  I killed off pointless adult figures because in fiction it was so easy to do.  I gave girls eating disorders because it was easier to carry off than doing it myself.  I made my characters stars!  I made them humble singers, guitar geniuses, famous, adventurous and admirable and I full on believed that every story, every character, every single page I covered with my barely legible handwriting was going to be printed!  It was going to be real!  As far as I was concerned, every written word that fell from my pen to the page, made me a true writer in every sense of the word.

But it’s like public speaking.  In the eyes of the world unless you’re charging a fee to be heard, you’re not really a speaker.  Unless your work is printed, you’re not really a writer.

Last year in lockdown I had time on my hands and a room in my house that was a disaster zone.  I was spending hours editing a novel that I wrote twenty years ago and my mind was consumed by the ridiculous amount of notebooks that were littered with ideas, plots and synopsis. 

(Bear in mind this was smack bang in the middle of a massively prolonged and never-ending Bipolar episode so I had a lot of energy and an incredibly obsessive imagination)

At the time I couldn’t read books.  I tried everything from Jilly Cooper to Bret Easton Ellis and everything in between but the only thing I wanted to read was my own work.  My overactive Bernard the Bipolar brain convinced me the best thing to do with my furloughed time was to build myself a library.  

The disaster zone

It took me three whole days.  I lifted, I carried, I sorted and I got a chance to look at 38 years of an unstoppable imagination that I never gave enough credit. 

My library

I looked at the two novels I wrote back in the 90’s and the reams of short stories and countless other novels I had forgotten I’d ever written because they were the backing singers to something bigger.  I picked up the tattered notebooks I used to carry with me before mobile phones had memos.  I relived the memories of where those initial ideas came from and for the first time, instead of giving myself a hard time over what should have been and my lack of effort to get my work published, I actually shrugged my shoulders and I thought,

“This not about being published.  This is how I stayed alive.”

Before phones had memos

Standing on the shelves in my “office” are notebooks and folders that contain my own version of therapy.  I have hundreds of stories and pieces that contained my sadness and exposed my madness.  I have countless pages that are just daft scenarios I created simply to exercise my imagination.  They were childish expressions of a life I wanted but one I knew I would never live. 

So does it really matter that I’m not on a shelf in Waterstones?  Does it matter that the only eyes that will ever see my work are my own?  It might be a shame with some things but trust me, most of that stuff should probably never have left the pen in the first place.  I am not always consistent, I may not be very good.  I’m probably lazy and sometimes I have far too many ideas I want to write and these days I hardly ever finish the stories I start. 

I once had a vision of a life full of artsy friends and intelligent conversation and cultured weekends but really?  Let’s be honest now, I’m a kid from Bolton who got a raw deal and the only escape I had was to dream of a life where I wasn’t me and the most gratifying part of it was that I could make the lives of others miserable without hurting anyone real.

I am not what I thought I would become.  I haven’t grown into the writer I longed to be but now, when I look at my shelves I don’t see failure; I actually see someone who achieved something because I have more than just a couple of books, I have many books; I have my very own library.

The collection

Being a writer is not about being in print.  Being a writer is about having an imagination, its about putting the alphabet together, it’s about sentences, setting a scene, creating characters and becoming so immersed in something that it takes away the pain of what’s really going on in the world and making it that little bit easier to live with. 

When people tell me…

“I didn’t know what to get you, so I just got you a notebook.”

How is that not the most perfect present?  For Christmas Matt bought me a Paperchase voucher.  The other day he asked me what I’d bought and I said…

“A shit tonne of pens.”

…because being a writer is about enjoyment, it’s about opening a new notebook and trying not to cross out any words so your first page looks perfect.  It’s about clicking your new rollerball pen and setting it to work or flicking off that weird gluey ball at the tip of a fresh gel pen and watching the ink slide across the paper.  Writing is about working all day and riding the bus home reading what you wrote the night before.  It’s about sitting on the floor by the fire when is flippin freezing outside and writing about somewhere hot.  It’s about shoving a bunch of characters in a coffee shop with no social distancing rules, no masks and no Covid app asking you to track and trace where you’ve been; they can just drink coffee and if you’re really creative they can have a party without the rule of six!

I have never pretended to be something I am not.  My fiction is dreadful. I know it is!  With my hand on my heart I declare it now that I am no J.K Rowling and I wouldn’t want to be.  I am not Shakespeare, heck, I couldn’t handle the public attention.  I don’t know the difference between a novel and a novella, I barely know the difference between a noun and a verb and the worst part of it all?  Doing a degree in English literature has completely ruined my love for literature!  Now I can’t open a book without trying to see where the Oedipus Complex fits in to a Mills and Boon or if the concept of the Menage a Trois fits in with a teen fiction book I picked up in a charity shop. 

In the last two years I have educated myself on my writing.  My writing isn’t about publication…

(Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to turn Penguin away if they come knocking at my door…)

…it’s about survival, it’s about escapism, it always has been.  I’ve learnt that I can do whatever the hell I want with words because it doesn’t matter, they’re mine and I take ownership of everything that doesn’t make sense because at the time of writing it, I knew exactly what I meant. 

Sometimes the best advice has come from a character of my own creation and maybe this is the only way I can learn to take my own advice? 

Being Bipolar sucks.  Sometimes having a stoma is really annoying, but the worst thing that could ever happen to me is my imagination being taken away.  How would I keep myself entertained?  What would I spend my money on?  WHSmith’s would go out of business if it wasn’t for me buying Pukka pads and gel pens.  My friends and family would have to think of something else to buy me, God help them with that one.  What would I do with the shelves in my office? I’d have to read books again.  What would I do on holiday? Part of my whole holiday experience is tramping round the shops looking for cool notebooks with lines in them.

I’ve taught myself that a finished story doesn’t have to be finished.  You can resurrect your characters and give them a makeover. You can backtrack, move forward, there doesn’t have to be a realistic timeline because its all fiction, time doesn’t exist.

Resurrected characters

I don’t care that I’m not in print.  My terrible fiction gives me air, it’s my release, it’s a distraction from a world that everyone wants to get away from.  It’s not real life and that’s the beauty of being a writer, that ability to transport yourself from one place to another without leaving your house.

That’s writing…

…that’s the writer in me.

Dedicated to Milly. I wasn’t sure I could pull a blog off without you, but now that it’s written, this is for you. Be a good girl xx

Reading time: 13 min