dimanche 10 novembre 2019

Trick Pony

After I've written a book, I always feel like I've pulled off some sort of black magic that I may never manage again. It's always a panicky, identity-shifting feeling. Who am I if I can't say 'I'm a writer'?

I've been through it enough times now that I know I will have several ideas in between books that won't come to anything. Ideas that aren't really very good, that are too flimsy to sustain an entire book (or my interest). Invariably I will tell people that I'm working very hard on something new, then feel embarrassed when it fades out to nothing. I have abandoned half-books and even whole books before.

This time I've found that I don't care nearly as much. I think I will probably write another book. It's what I do. I only want to do it if I think I have something interesting to say. There are a lot of books in the world.

I think sometimes you know when you're really onto something. The 'breadcrumbs of curiosity' that fall into your life and point you towards what you're supposed to be doing. You can't force it.

I haven't worked on anything in earnest since STAUNCH came out.

Because publishing works very slowly, that means it is well over a year since I wrote anything with the intention of it becoming a book.

Amazingly, for the first time, I'm fine with that. I've had a great time. I've been on loads of holidays. I've read lots of other books. I've taken up knitting again. I've watched loads of TV - I'm more OK than ever with really doing nothing. I've got quite into gardening.

I've given up smoking and cut my hair and moved in with my boyfriend. I've seen a lot of my friends. I've spoken on the phone to my nan most days. I've started taking evening classes.

I have had a lot going on, most of it good, and I now consciously remind myself to be gentle with myself. I try to treat myself as I would a dear friend, a friend who I really love. A friend who I treat with kind care. I tell myself not to panic.

I might or might not have a new idea.

vendredi 8 novembre 2019

The proof is in

I received proof copies of STAUNCH this week. These are the uncorrected proofs, bound like a book but not quite a finished one yet, which will be sent out to people as pre-publicity for the real book (which comes out in March).

It's a funny feeling. This is the third 'proper' book that I have written by myself (there have also been e-books and collaborative projects and many manuscripts that have never seen the light of day). I tried so hard to have a book published for so long, I thought I would feel very emotional about finally seeing my book as a real object. When it finally happened, there was a lot of other stuff going on and I didn't really give myself enough time or space to feel my feelings - curiously, I felt nothing. I didn't feel any of the validation that I had always assumed I would. I didn't even feel particularly proud of myself. It seemed entirely separate from me. I guess there's a lesson about unfillable spaces and how all the books and boys and drinks in the world won't make a difference.

This time, though, it was different. The box arrived and it took me a little while to open it. I circled it in my kitchen. The cat sat on it. I made myself a cup of coffee. I sat down and opened it slowly.

I bought myself flowers. I ate some cake. I set up a little shrine on my kitchen table, with candles and a few objects I had bought in India.

I sat there at the kitchen table, where I wrote the whole book. I felt really proud of myself. This book came from my guts and I am now actually really excited about it coming out into the world.

My boyfriend came home from work and I wouldn't let him touch it, but we danced around the kitchen.

'I'm proud of you,' he said.

And so am I.

STAUNCH. Coming March 2020.

mardi 24 septembre 2019

New Shoes

I love back-to-school time. While the mornings are getting a bit depressing, the sunrises are worth it and I am already excited about cosy evenings involving soup, blankets and candles. Last night was spent debating this year's Hallowe'en costumes. Autumn is underway.

As I have already banged on about a lot, I am now pretty much not buying new things. Depop has (quite dangerously) become my new best friend. My newest-to-me purchase has brought me so much joy I cannot tell you.

I have new school shoes.

I have bought a pair of second-hand DM shoes, identical to the ones I wore for school between the ages of 13 and 16. I love them so much. I feel solid and my clunky footsteps delight me. It was pouring with rain this morning, and for once my feet felt warm and dry. I am enjoying wearing them with a cropped trouser and a jazzy sock. Shoes haven't made me so happy, probably since my last pair of DMs - which I had to beg my mum for and promise I would wear at weekends as well to justify the expense (which I did, for years). Truly happy-making shoes for the back-to-school month.

Most importantly, it's the season when I feel the most productive. I have so many new ideas and just need to get on with it and do them.

Today really is back-to-school day. Tonight I am taking my new shoes and my rucksack and my new notebook to an evening class. This will be the first new thing I have learned in a long time, and the first non-writing-related endeavour I have undertaken... maybe ever? New stuff. It's scary and good. Wish me luck.


mercredi 4 septembre 2019

Inverted Commas I Hope Never To Use Again: an essay about the old internet

‘Writer.* Bass player.** Performance artist.*** Inept office temp.****’

* Had a blog
** Was asked to be in a hypothetical band because I looked like Cat Power; taught to play three basic songs by my friend Sheryl’s boyfriend; never played a gig
*** Pranced about in a Valley of the Dolls nightie for my friend Russell’s art college film
**** Actually quite a conscientious office temp, when not writing my blog, photocopying my fanzine, using the franking machine to send agents my unfinished novel and endlessly refreshing Friendster


I always casually expected to be a child prodigy. I was desperate to be special, but also sort of expected it. At three years old, I was reading the newspaper. In junior school, they gave me tests to see if I had a photographic memory. (It turned out just to be ‘quite good’.) I wrote my first ‘novel’ when I was seven, inspired by the Cottingley Fairies and Anastasia Tsar, painstakingly written out and stapled together.

I guessed it was only a matter of time before someone spotted my rare genius and I became the next Francoise Sagan or similar. As the years went by, I began to wonder how I could speed things up. Time was starting to run out. Maybe I should be… doing something? I just wasn’t sure what. I was full of energy and ideas, with not the slightest clue what to do with them. The frustration began to eat me alive. My skin was perpetually itchy with it.

I was twenty-one. I had failed to work hard at my A-levels and thus finished a course I didn’t enjoy at a mediocre university. I had moved back in with my mum, in a medium-sized town 20 minutes on the train from Paddington.

I wanted to be ‘a writer’ but I had no idea how. I did some office temping and interned on magazines, where I was too self-conscious to speak to anyone and then wondered why they didn’t offer me a permanent job.

I was bulimic. I was desperate for a boyfriend. I wanted to be where the cool kids were, but I had no idea where that was. I wore eyeliner that stretched out into my temples, vintage dresses from Camden Market. My back-combed hair was the size of a small dog.

I went out to Popstarz every Friday night and felt sad when I had to go home to the suburbs. I couldn’t afford to move to London and visibly cringed when anyone asked me where I lived.

I was jealous of everybody else’s small successes: an article in a magazine, a play put on above a pub, an exhibition in a café.

When I interned at The Face for two weeks over the summer, when I was laughed at for thinking that Hedi Slimane was called Heidi, I was asked in an editorial meeting whether I knew anyone who had ‘a weblog’. I promptly went home and started one.

And suddenly I could make my life look however I wanted it to.

A night out at the pub with my similarly floundering friends could look like Andy Warhol’s Factory in the retelling. We now weren’t unemployed dilettantes; we were ‘writers’, ‘filmmakers’ and ‘DJs’. I’d airily refer to friends’ bands with a coyness that suggested they might be very, very famous. I had many ‘secret projects’ on the go, which in reality consisted of drinking cheap wine in friends’ flats and talking about the things we were ‘definitely’ going to do ‘soon’.

That was the summer of blogging, going out every night and writing about it, car boot sales on a Sunday (I would inventory my finds in great detail: old polaroid cameras, horror films on VHS, a lot of 70s costume jewellery), and it was the summer of Friendster.

Like my blog, this started as an attempt to impress people I knew a bit and admired: sort-of friends a year or two older than me, who had flats, boyfriends and cool jobs. I listed myself as a ‘writer’. Exaggerated everything. Posted pouty selfies taken with disposable cameras on nights out.

We read each other’s blogs and left ‘testimonials’ on each other’s Friendster pages. It became a little community of all the acquaintances, semi-friends and boys I had slept with; the thing we had in common was that we all wanted to be ‘something’. On the Internet, we could be.

It actually wasn’t the exaggeration that made me feel better about my small, disappointing life – and I was very careful not to actually lie. This way I could convince myself that my life wasn’t so very far from the one I was presenting. The revelatory bit for me was the uninterrupted viewpoint that was all my very own. I don’t think I’d ever felt that before; I’d been too worried about other people’s interpretations.

And so I could write emotionally about ‘my ex’ without anybody pointing out that, actually, he was just somebody who had sex with me for a couple of months, didn’t like me very much and would have been utterly baffled to have been referred to as ‘my boyfriend’. The emotion was real; I’ve had crushes and outwardly minor disappointments that affected me more than significant adult relationships I’ve had since. Being able to say ‘my ex’ in my own little space made me feel better, somehow. It made me feel like this experience had really happened, my feelings actually mattered.

My family and closest friends didn’t read my blog, so it was fine. The ones who did tended to know me less well, and to have the same attitude towards the dullness of real life, so none of us questioned each other. As long as we didn’t, we could be the stars of this collective little lo-fi soap opera. It suited us to take each other’s fraught, over-dramatic words at face value. I gave everybody pseudonyms – Alabama, Django, Miss Kitty – which not only added to the air of mystery, but made these blurred lines of reality somehow seem more acceptable. It wasn’t quite fiction and it wasn’t quite public oversharing – it was both and neither.

The best thing was, via the magical medium of Friendster, we could broadcast this aspirational life to other people. Not total strangers, so it felt safe but exciting – the best kind of social experimenting. Friendster was based on a degrees-of-separation theory, so it was an acceptable means of stalking friends-of-friends-of-friends. I’d see that my friend Denee’s ex-boyfriend knew a guy who knew the Libertines and looked nice in a stripy T-shirt, so I’d send him a friend request. In later life, I’d agonise over following acquaintances on Instagram and how this might be interpreted, but sending friend requests to tenuously linked strangers on Friendster was not only totally fine but encouraged.

I don’t know if, in that early 00s heady bubble of new social media, everyone was doing the same as me – making themselves sound just a little bit cooler than they were, presenting ourselves like minor celebrities for the first time – but I know a lot that were.

I spent weeks, bored in my dull temp office in Maidenhead, messaging with a guy who didn’t have a picture and claimed to be living in a hotel somewhere out in the wilds of Canary Wharf due to his work. He was amusing and weirdly fancy compared to my friends and me. He sent me long, beautifully written missives about Blixa Bargeld, shopping sprees in Fopp and how the hotel where he lived had ‘an excellent pastry chef’. He was like Patrick Bateman played by Vincent Gallo.

For me, it was a way of passing the time, at least. Someone to test out my arch prose on. Until he eventually sent me an angry all-caps message about how he’d DROPPED SO MANY HINTS ABOUT MEETING BUT YOU NEVER PICK UP ON THEM WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT IF WE’RE NEVER GOING TO SLEEP TOGETHER. I was taken aback. I thought what we were doing was, in and of itself, the point. I deleted him. I was terrified. But undeterred.

I moved on to a boy who was a part-time art student and part-time 50s diner waiter, with great taste in music and a pleasingly gangly frame. We corresponded enthusiastically. He also lived ‘on the outskirts of London’ and had outsize aspirations. I felt like we matched. It began to feel like a real connection.

So, this time, it was me who wanted to escalate the situation. Drunk after my sort-of friend Jo’s birthday party in Spitalfields (she was a year older than me, with a boyfriend, a flat and an editorial assistant job – I hated her a bit), Saturday night was bleeding into Sunday morning and I really, really didn’t want to go home. I informed 50s Diner Waiter (as he was known, of course, in my blog) that I was getting in a taxi and coming to his house to meet him.

My friends told me to stop being so silly, and I rather enjoyed the drama of it all. I had always wanted to flounce into a taxi and never had a legitimate reason to do so. I still didn’t, but I had to take what I could get. I think I restrained myself from telling the driver ‘and don’t spare the horses’ but I can’t be sure.

I’d been texting 50s Diner Waiter so much, my Nokia ran out of credit. When I tried to top it up, I didn’t have enough money in my account. 50s Diner Waiter had been somewhat vague about where he lived, and it was turning out to be a lot further than I had anticipated. I had to ask the taxi driver to stop in the car park of the Bluewater shopping centre so I could try to find a payphone.

50s Diner Waiter walked to the car park to meet me. He looked like his picture, at least. Turned out, he also lived with his parents in a small town quite a long way outside of London, in Kent rather than Berkshire. Fortunately they were away for the weekend. We had nothing much to talk about, so we had sex on their beige sofa and I left very, very early the next morning.

I spent much of the next day on a rail replacement bus, crying behind my enormous sunglasses. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like crafting this into a romantic story for my blog. It was all too depressing. I ate a Big Mac at Paddington and told my mum I’d stayed round at Jo’s. Her nickname for me during this period was Santa: ‘because we never see you, but the food has always disappeared in the morning’.

I needed to get my act together. I couldn’t carry on like this. I turned my blog into a print ‘mini-zine’, which I sent out to all the people I most wanted to write for. It actually sort of worked! I carried on with that blog for about two years, but in the latter portion of that time I also read some books about how to go about writing properly. I bought myself a copy of The Writer’s And Artists’ Yearbook.

I stopped fetishising London and ‘going out’ quite so much. This meant I wasn’t hungover every day, which made me – surprise! – much more productive. I finally managed to land a day job in publishing and I spent all of my spare time trying to write in a way that wasn’t half-arsed and aimless. I started eating properly and going out running.

I met a boy IRL who wore a cardigan and liked PJ Harvey, and who I got on with. We went out for a drink.

The boy in the cardigan and I moved to Brighton. In our little top-floor flat, high up above the Lanes, I wrote a proper, full-length novel for the first time.

It all still took me a while after that. It took me a while to get an agent, and a bit longer than that to get a publisher. When I did, it was with a YA novel I wrote, about a girl who lives outside of London with her mum and escapes from her mundane life through the magical medium of blogging.

So it wasn’t all for nothing, that time. In so many ways. It gave me a safe space to experiment with who I wanted to be. I deleted that early blog, and now I wish I hadn’t. Just like I kind of wish I hadn’t thrown out all those old horror movies on VHS, the vintage dresses, the Barbarella boots, the crazy costume jewellery… But then I guess I don’t know what I’d do with them if they still existed. I guess that blog would be up in the loft somewhere, gathering dust with all the rest of it.

If I could read it now, and see that big-eyed confused selfie girl as she painstakingly detailed her life from 2002 to 2004, kind of as it was and kind of how she wanted it to be – I’d feel hopeful for her. Not sad.

Years later, when I was nearly thirty and writing had become my job, I found myself thinking a lot about that old blog. About the time when writing was pure wish fulfilment and there was nobody to answer to.

I set up a new one, just for fun. Still on Blogger, not Wordpress, for reasons of pure nostalgia. Everyone needs an outlet for their spare thoughts, their unasked-for opinions, their extra feelings. These days, that is not always the Internet. But sometimes it still is.

vendredi 23 août 2019

A nice time.

It's been a good week. I started it off in Andorra, where I went - via overnight train from Paris - for a long weekend. There was a lot of walking, eating, swimming and more walking. Andorra is weird, but I feel fondly towards it.

On Wednesday, when I was home, the announcement was made about my new book STAUNCH. It's a memoir, my first adult book and my first non-fiction. I am excited about it and also terrified. These days, I only want to put work out into the world if I think it serves a real purpose - and I truly believe this does. That is probably also why the prospect of it makes me feel like one big messy, bloody, beating heart. Ho hum. You can read this labour of love in March next year!

I happened to read this little definition of a long-term relationship in the comments of a random blog of all places, but I have been thinking about it ever since. I don't think I've ever heard real emotional intimacy with another human summed up so incredibly accurately. As much as anything, I'm putting it here because I really want to remember it.

The lovely, lovely comfort of someone to go home to completely be yourself with, immediately worrying about losing them, the boring moments (is this all there is), the really bad mad moments (is this it?), and back again to the romantic luckiness of wow wow I can’t believe I found you and you see me and I see you.

Last night, I found myself singing Joni Mitchell songs to myself in the bath. She sums up a lot of feelings so well; I am struck anew by it every time. Listen to the whole of Blue, then to Court and Spark but only up to and including Car on the Hill. That's my big advice to you.

It's about to be a long weekend and it's going to be sunny. I am hoping to hang out with nice friends, go for some walks, sleep a lot, do some cooking, wear dungarees and do some jobs in the (tiny, concrete) garden. I can't wait.

mercredi 21 août 2019

S-T-A-U-N-C-H

For ages now, I've had a secret. I've been one of those annoying writers with their 'I'm doing a cool thing but I'm not allowed to talk about it yet!' schtick.

Well, let's go back a few steps...

In January 2018 I went to India with my grandmother and two great-aunts. I came back feeling inspired. I met up with my agent at the beginning of February and said I had an idea.

'It's something... different,' I said.

'OMG, write this immediately,' she replied. 'Do it quickly. I want to read it, like, yesterday.'

So I sat at my kitchen table for approximately two months and I wrote a book. It was the easiest and the hardest and the scariest thing I have ever written.

Like all the best things, the words poured out of me with unstoppable force like some kind of weird magic. Then I read it back and wondered if I had actually gone mad, to have put all of this into words. Let alone to consider letting actual people read them.

During that period, I think I only went out once. For a friend's birthday; Sunday lunch in the pub, where I had a cup of tea and hurried home to write some more. That day I met an interesting person with glasses and tattoos and a nice air of kind cleverness.

I finished the book and edited it and then went on holiday to Switzerland with my new friend.

The day after we got back, I had a very nice breakfast at Dishoom with my agent and the publishers who would buy my book.

It's coming out in March 2020 and the nice interesting person and I now live in a house together. I've also given up smoking, cut off all my hair, got some new tattoos and travelled quite a lot. What a time it's been.

Oh, and the book is (of course) called STAUNCH. It's for adults. It's non-fiction. You can find out more about it here and here. I'm excited.

mardi 13 août 2019

Adore/Endure

I want to move house. I always want to move house. I want to live everywhere.

Then I start thinking about it properly, and the admin seems overwhelming. I like my bookshelves. I like my little postage-stamp sized garden, which these days has a very good variety of herbs.

Maybe I will, maybe I won't.

What I do need to do is make the most of wherever I am each day. Such a simple thing, but a really good one to keep in mind.

I try to walk the long way home from the station in the evening; it's prettier. I have been making a cake every week. I have been doing yoga nearly every day, even if it's just a short one. I've been walking more. I've been swimming in the sea at least once a week.

The other day I walked from south London to east London. I even took a picture of that classic Shoreditch High Street motto - 'Let's Adore And Endure Each Other' - on the way.

I go for a massage once a month now. Somewhat relatedly: I'm comparatively fucking LOADED since I gave up drinking (Day 65 today).

I went out with my lovely friend Holly on Friday night. I drank kombucha cocktails. We discussed how difficult mid-to-late thirties life can be. It's a glorious fucking horrible time. Then again, it made me feel much better when we talked at length about how happiness levels all even out in the end, no matter what we decide now and how it affects us in the future. And I think they really do.

I've signed up for an evening course. I've been writing just for fun. I've been reading a lot. I've been wearing outfits that make me feel very happy, all bought second-hand, which also makes me happy.

While I'm striving so hard to be this more evolved, calm, Zen, organised creature - this article by the goddess Taffy Brodesser-Akner made me laugh and laugh, and feel much better about my real, messy yet quite productive self.

While we're at it, isn't Jia Tolentino as wonderful and talented and smart as everyone says? The best thing is, once I would have been jealous, now I'm old enough just to be pleased she exists.