My writing: depression and direction

My apologies for not posting here for a few weeks. Various issues have prevented my ability to do so. If you’ve followed my blog for long enough, you’ll know that I generally refrain from writing personal posts, but very, very occasionally I make an exception. This is somewhat of a long post; please forgive me. Try not to snore too loudly…

I am not at all reticent about stating that I suffer from triggered depression. Writing this is tough; writing anything with substance is very difficult when, right now, one good day equates to two subsequent bad days – or one good hour is followed by four dreadful ones. There are so many writers who have to deal with this on a regular basis, and in some communities, such as academia and education (where I have spent a decent portion of my time in the UK, one way or another), it has been difficult to admit to having depression for fear of reprisals, and particularly in the form of peer judgement over the intellectual worth of the writing of someone who can’t hold themselves together. Obviously, this attitude is bullshit, in academia as it is anywhere else. What I do know from being in the writing community for a long time now is that, not only do many writers work hand-in-hand with depression, but they are very supportive and understanding of each other’s highs and lows. Nowhere have i experienced such kindness and support as in the erotica-writing (and reading) community.

I know just how important writing can be to stave off the feelings that pull you into a mire where there seems no escape, and I have very specific methods of getting through the low period, until I finally reappear on the other side. One way I can cope is to literally write and write. I write myself out until I seize up mentally and physically, and there is no choice but to sleep. Sometimes this works, and, if the trigger was such that I feel that writing is the only way out, then that’s what I’ll do. I rarely self-edit this work very much: it’s raw, and it says precisely what I want it to say, such as when I wrote “Seven Seconds” and “Finis“, during a severe case of emotionally triggered depression.

Sometimes, though, this doesn’t work, or it doesn’t wholly work for me, and my mind and body revert to the default position of withdrawal. Not everyone understands or can cope with this self-protective process, and it often causes a lot of friction and tension. On this recent occasion, however, even this kind of withdrawal seemed to internalise, and I found myself not just withdrawn and shut down but questioning everything I ever believed that I wanted, questioning who I am, and bringing to the fore my own insecurities as a writer.

I found something the other day that I’d written in 2014, during a similar bout of depression. It pretty much summarised how I’ve been feeling recently:

Time is going too quickly and I don’t feel there’s the hours in the day – or days in the week – to get to grips with everything. I don’t know where my self-worth is. I don’t know who or what I am…I’m a nothing. Nondescript. I don’t have a place. I’m displaced. Or maybe misplaced. I need to find a place.

I read this and cried, solidly, for about an hour. I felt I’d reached an impasse, in a number of things, but especially as far as my writing was concerned, and for a while now I’ve been wondering what to do about it. Finding self-worth has always been an uphill struggle for me, personally, but I did thank that, finally, I’d managed to find it in my writing. Over many years, I’ve written and been published in everything from academic journals to literary and commercial magazines. I’ve written for the market and for myself. I never felt at ease, never felt like I’d found a ‘place’, in the mainstream market, even when publications on the other side of the world sent me beautiful pay cheques. The only stories that ever meant anything to me were the ones I wrote from the heart, for myself.

What’s all this got to do with me writing erotic fiction? Just about everything. I was questioning what I’m doing, writing erotic fiction. Is that what I’m writing, or is it really erotic romance? Do I really want to write that? Do I really want to write about the erotic as a disparate element, in and of its own sake, without context of feeling? Do I even want to write about the erotic at all (and there have been weeks where I thought that I really, really didn’t, and couldn’t do it the justice it deserves). This didn’t feel like the greatest conversation to be having with myself when at the time I was uploading my book of voyeur stories to Amazon, but I never said I had good timing!

Alarm bells rang. Why was I writing erotica? Or, specifically, how had I fallen into erotica? The answer to that was very simple: on the orders of someone else. And, being the good little sub I was, I’d done as I was told. It’s the only thing I’m pleased I ever did for him, but you live and learn. So, why the hell was I still writing it, when those orders no longer meant anything to me? I think Natalie Goldberg says it best:

Write what disturbs you, write what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.

And this is what I’ve been doing – at least, during those times I felt that I was writing purely for me. If you’ve read enough of my stories then you’ll know that they are not by any means all ‘stroke stories’. Let me make it very clear that I have nothing whatsoever against erotica purely for its own sake. I enjoy writing and reading that very much. But the force that drives me, the passion that lives within me, is in writing about those things that fascinate and yet unnerve me, those that scare me, and the ones that eat into my very soul if I let them. It’s why I blogged Love Slave, and it’s why I’ve written several of the more soulful pieces on my blog. Erotica, in lots of ways, has been, and continues to be, cathartic for me. I’ve learned more about myself in the last couple of years than I thought possible; I’m still learning where my boundaries are, and how to push them to make myself a better person.

But what I do know is that my passion is to put the erotic into a much bigger context. To not just write about sensation, but about how it fits into other aspects of life – into love and memory, fear and desire, on a cerebral level. How the erotic is part of much bigger stories, because the erotic is about people, about connection with others, and with feelings and viewpoints on every level, and that doesn’t happen in isolation from everything else.

So, having debated long and hard over whether this is a direction I was to turn, or return, to, you will notice some of my work will be changing, and growing, opening itself up to embrace more of the issues that are dear to my heart. It means I’ll be writing the erotic, but it also means I’ll be writing other works in which sex, lust, and other forms of the erotic are intertwined with a larger story. These pieces of work won’t be ‘genre erotica’, and they won’t be to everyone’s taste, but that’s fine. I don’t expect people to read everything I write. But I do intend to expand my work to incorporate what is at the core of my interests. Love, lust, desire, fear, pain, sadness, fantasy. That is where my direction lies.

On a very personal note, I want to thank a couple of people, without whom I very much doubt I would still be in a position to write at all. You know who you are, and I am grateful every day for your care and concern, and for your belief in me. Without you, I would not be the person or the writer that I am, or that I can be.

Just for once, then, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, and include a non-erotic story here. I wrote it a number of years ago, and it has since become a novel (with a very different ending to this story), which encapsulates everything I have mentioned here. The erotic is present in a very shadowy form, but it isn’t the story in and of itself, but a part of the overall context of a much bigger picture. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s part of who I am, and it’s one of two favourite pieces I’ve ever written.

 


 

Baby Up the Chimney

Should I tell Andrew about the baby up the chimney? I wonder if I’ll ever tell him. He caught me crying in the kitchen this morning. He’d sneaked up on me, just when I wasn’t prepared for his fingers around my belly, probing, searching their way downwards through my nightie. It was the wrong morning to pick, this one, of all mornings. I know I’d jerked backwards and he must have noticed my shudder, because he’d said,

“What the hell’s the matter this time?”

I couldn’t answer him, because I can’t tell him about the baby up the chimney, and the cleaner, and about him.

But it could have been worse. I could have given way and succumbed, corpse-like, to one of our nearly extinct lovemaking sessions. And they are sessions; like being in a dental surgeon’s room, laying back, letting him fiddle around a little, telling me what he’s going to do and getting on with it, while I lie there, impassive, until it’s over. And don’t forget the “Thank you” at the end, so I’ll come again next time.

Is there any wonder that I still sit here, in the window of this café, avoiding the ritual of Friday night tea time with Mother? I can hear it now – “Have his tea on the table when he comes home, and keep him happy in bed, and you’ll be content together.” Every Friday, the same old torment.

I’m content, hiding out here – my little home from home in the seat by the window, stirring my cappuccino. Sitting here because of one friend – friend or fiend? – who told me that he’s back, here, in this city. So I wait here, just in case he walks past the window or comes through the door, or stops to tie up his shoe laces on the other side of the road. And I watch, until my eyes ache and the blood vessels round the edges start to show.

I love that everything here is brown, from the sign outside, to the emulsion on the walls in its muted tones, holding all manner of secrets and whispers in its dull pigment. The oak edging around the walls stretches out, reminding me of long shelves. That’s what struck me first about his house – the wood.

His house was like a gigantic autumnal tree. It captured me, the very first minute of that first time. Oak bookcases grew out of the floor in every room. Deciduous-coloured books hung on every shelf, bound in brown, red, or golden yellow, appearing to have seen brighter days and coming to the end of their lives now. I loved those books.

I was at home in that house of his, in this city, away from prying village eyes. I melted into his life, a fixture in his bed. I don’t think I ever used his name, even when we used to talk. It somehow seemed disrespectful, so I never did.

He had a white bedspread, embroidered with tiny pink flowers, the first time we laid together in his bed.

“Where on earth did you get these sheets?” I asked him, laughing. “They don’t match anything.” As I gazed round his bedroom, I saw that even this had become overgrown with books. All his rooms seemed to melt into one, huge library, so I suppose it didn’t matter that my skirt was in the kitchen, my top was in the living room and the rest of my clothes lay in a pile on the bedroom floor.

“My mother gave them to me, to keep me warm,” he replied, without a flicker of embarrassment. So I blushed for him, partly at the thought of his elderly mother worrying about him being alone and cold in bed, partly at me being in his mother’s sheets.

He wasn’t like the students. He held me round my middle, close to him, as we discussed Emily Bronte, Katherine Mansfield and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and he read me poetry while we lay curled together in his blankets.

I loved those shirts of his that I wore whenever we’d made love. I can stand here now and feel those smooth, pale fingers glide from my neck to my thighs, taking each button in turn, and the scent of Old Spice as I felt the closing of his lips around the flesh where the button had been, until I was open, laid bare for him, sacrificed to him.

Afterwards, he was flushed as he rammed the notes into his briefcase and had to hurry to his lecture. I could just catch a glimpse of the brown tweed jacket and the back of his head, and hear the clang of the front door as he left me scooping up my clothes from their rip-off points.

And he, my lifeblood, had loved me.

My cappuccino is cold. I think it’s all the stirring round and round. But I’ll drink it anyway, if it means a few more minutes remaining here where the waitress smiles at me and the walls are brown.

“How long does it take one person, on their own, to drink a cappuccino?” they must be whispering behind raised hands. “Twenty minutes? Surely not! Maybe she’s waiting for a secret lover who never comes. Maybe she hates going home.” But the owner smiles his glittering smile and says nothing, and I crawl away, past the shops, on the way home to Mother and Andrew, and teatime. And I wish that this morning, of all days, I had not even set foot on the bedroom floor.

Of all the shops I pass, I really detest this one. There they are in the window: half a dozen stuffed dummies, adorned with women’s suits. I hear Mother, rattling in my head – “Sensible dressing is the key to fitting in, my girl. I wish you’d try a bit harder, make something of yourself. You’d never know you were my daughter, the way you drag yourself together.”

My reflection mocks me as it laughs at the pickle stain on my sleeve and the coffee dribbles on my skirt. “What an impractical colour,” the reflection taunts. “You should have picked something serviceable, like all of Andrew’s.” And I feel smaller as Mother appears to stare back at me.

The reflection of Invisible Mother, and the one of me, vanishes to my eyes. I can hardly breathe.  I stop searching for breath and instead only feel the thundering of my heart, wracking against my rib cage. I dare not, must not blink, or the image I can see now may be gone forever. It is him. No, I could never recognise him by just the back of a head and the top of his suit – grey now, to fit in with the rest of the city – moving away from me, across the road, surely? But I know it. And my heart knows it – thumping its way, trying to escape my body and chase after the image. I can feel bile reaching my throat. I’m going to be sick. I shut my eyes, swallow, force calm onto the urge that has waited so long to consume me.

“Tut-tut.” What is that? “Tut-tut.” There it is again, and the slicing pain across my ankle forces my eyes towards the culprit.

I untangle my legs from the wheels of this mother’s pram, and look up. Normal people would be bending over, forming human triangles on the path for others to walk around. Ordinary observers would coo over this child. Is it a boy or a girl? How beautiful. What gorgeous eyes – like its father.

But I won’t look at it. I can stare at children – the psychologist said I mustn’t ignore them – and describe their freckles, their brown hair, blonde hair, blue shirt, yellow dress. But all those children are just whisps of smoke to me, vanishing high into the air.

And then, what is there to say to the exhilarated new mother of this child? How high your baby floats in the sky, madam. How twisty and turny it is. Even I can recognise that as padded cell talk. It’s not normal, is it? It’s not what people say, is it? But it’s all I can see.

“Thank you,” murmurs the mother. But there’s no smile, no emotion in that strained, droopy-eyed face, and the shoulders get ready to suffer under another ordeal of pram-weaving, in, out, in, out. As she wheels her life away from me, I want to throw a rock and hit her hard. Because he’s gone. Where is he? Has he sunk beneath a wave of workers rolling from the offices in a sea of blue and black and grey, all moving in the same direction – home, with only one thought ingrained in them – home to wives, mothers, husbands, lovers.

I must go home, too, with food. For Andrew, and for Mother.

The bookshop. Of course, he’s got to be there. It hasn’t changed in here since we lived our lives in these bookcases on Saturdays, him and me. My nostrils flare with the musky taint of processed paperback trees on the shelves. The infinite brown stained pine cases still form that long walk to reach the end, to reach Knowledge, served up as dictionaries, thesauri and encyclopaedias. I wonder what it’s like, right down at the end of the long walk? I never needed to know before. My knowledge was found by a pale, manicured hand around my shoulder leading me into a world of classic fiction, then ushering me to the exalted shelves of poetry. My knowledge came from being read to in the Reading Room here, over in the far corner.

I walk faster, searching, searching. My eyes blur and as I open them wider, the edges of all the bookcases are lines and lines of him, standing tall, guarding the books. But I forget. I’m not looking for comfy brown now. I’m hunting a grey man.

“Are you looking for something in particular?”

There he is, Beelzebub, staring from behind his counter, leaning forward on his knuckles which glow white under the artificial light, and his all too easy smile. Does he remember us? Does he remember me, afterwards? He does, I see the knowing narrowing of his eyes. He knows everything about all his customers. He reads their hearts as he watches them with his azure blue eyes, scanning the rows, choosing their visions and dreams from his shelves. He smiles as they pay for their choice and he strips them of their very souls, forcing them to return and buy more to fulfil their dreamers’ lives.

How do I answer this man, without giving him a part of myself? So I say, “Have you got the man in the grey suit?” Stupid, stupid girl. And he smiles, but it’s altogether too thin-lipped, and too toothy today.

“I have The Man in The Brown Suit – by Agatha Christie. And if you like mysteries, you might like to try this. It’s a new release.”

I watch, helpless, as he reaches behind him. I don’t listen, I just see the thinning hair at the front of his head, and the red shining scalp revealing itself through the brushed over strands. Will horns appear in any second? He will not have my soul. So I smile, and decline the book, feeling giddy from my arm-wrestle with the Devil. The chairs in the Reading Room will be a welcome respite.

But it’s gone. Our chairs, where it was too difficult for Beelzebub to hear our words and extract our souls, piecemeal, have been replaced by computer terminals – shining glass casting warped reflections, and silver-grey computers and matching chairs shimmer, yellowed slightly to a dirty grey by the lights. I touch the side of one of the monitors and let my finger run down and over the glass desk top. It makes my finger ache, it’s so cold. And there, sat at these gleaming new marketing ploys, are the fledgling victims of the Beelzebub of a new age, giving their souls in a more efficient way to new gods: Email and Google.

I cannot sit on these chairs. There are no arms, no cushions. Where did the furniture go? Why has it been taken away? We were comfortable here.

I’d stood and watched the furniture moving out of his front door. Three steps to negotiate, then bang – in went the chairs, the table, the bed. I knew, then, what the bed looked like naked, stripped of its make-believe naivety, its little flowers and white sheets. It was just an old, tired mattress and a wooden frame. And for me it had been dressed up to look like something beautiful.

I can still feel that rolling, billowing sickness I felt then, as I leant upon the railings – solid, unmoveable support – and watched him carry his last box of books down the steps and slap it in the van. His face was wet, and he blew air out through his teeth and closed his eyes, while the bookcases slid, screeching, into their designated spot in the van.

My eyes moved from the bookcases to him, and I wretched at the crying in the pit of my stomach. His eyes were averted. He stood, shuffling his feet, rattling his keys to the house. Who would let me in, now?

I heard his words, refused to listen to them – “There wasn’t time to tell you. I couldn’t tell you. It’s an offer I can’t refuse.”

Why couldn’t he tell me? Why couldn’t he refuse it? He wouldn’t answer, but rattled his keys faster and faster. Who had done this to him? To us? Someone must have had a hand in it. Was it Mother? Had she made us known to the world and were we now dirt to be swept up with a university yard brush? He wouldn’t answer, but locked the door to the house as the last box fell out of my life and into the van. The heavy metal doors clattered shut, and I wretched again, at being alone – with Mother, and this crying in the pit of my stomach.

Should I have told him? I could have made him stay, I’m sure. Two words and I could have made him stay with me. Two words and he would have stayed with me and said, “I love you.” Or he might have said, “It must be my fault,” and remained with me out of obligation. So I had to know, before I told him how my belly was beginning to swell, ever so slightly, and how I wretched every time I ate, or drank, or moved when I wasn’t with him. So I asked, pulling at his shirt sleeve – “Do you love me?” His head dropped lower and he rolled those keys round and round on that finger, round and round. And then the van driver spoke.

“Is that everything? All that’s yours?” And still he didn’t look at me as he plucked my clammy fingers from the sleeve and said, “Yes, that’s everything I have.”

So, I had to tell him. I walked, bent double, rubbing, soothing the crying in my stomach, right up behind him and said, “I’ve got something I have to tell you.”

His eyes were wide, the face was grey, and the lips were pale. He spoke – “I know what you want me to hear. For the love of God, girl, don’t do it.”

I found the railings again as I watched the back of his head through the open window of the moving van. I crumpled to the floor, to join the dead leaves which had fallen from the oak tree in the street and were trampled and dirty, and I was sick in the gutter, over the gratings.

And he, my lover, had left me.

Now I stand on the grey concrete slabs of pavement and watch the light of my day begin to disappear behind the tall office buildings. And with the loss of the sun comes the cold.

Which way do I turn now? This way, on my way home, to Mother who is pacing and disappointed in me, and to Andrew, whose tea won’t be ready when he gets home; or back that way, towards the café where the people smile at me? But they will be closing now. The tables will all be wiped and laid ready for the early risers and business breakfasters – those on expenses – for tomorrow.

The wind takes the dormant sweet wrappers and discarded crisp packets on a squalling journey down the street. It’s stinging my cheeks and biting my eyes, and I blink frantically. There he is, over at the cash machine, in the queue for every man’s Friday night necessity, so the wine can be bought, and the pints sunk, and the tickets to the cinema paid for, and the odd prostitute or two paid off. His head is leant up against the brick wall, facing away from me. The silver-grey peppering in the hair lights up red in the last stretched out arms of withering daylight. The street lamps are on now. They glow and then flicker flames of orange all around his feet.

One more minute, fifty, forty seconds, and I will be able to touch him. Should I pretend to be in the queue when he turns around? Should I ask him where his journey has taken him? Maybe I should just wait for him to speak. Look at me. I grab my hair; try to prevent the wind attacking it by holding it in a bunch, all together. Still the same long hair, after all these years, still trying, despite the billowing suit, to be as I was before.

I’m so close I can smell him. The aroma of aftershave wafts towards me and I stand, trance-like, ready to receive it. But this isn’t Old Spice. It’s not even an aftershave. This is a new fragrance for men, all over the adverts, launched last Christmas. This was not a gift from his mother.

A ghost-like lady appears in the doorway of the empty hairdresser’s, as if by magic, with her blue and white checked overall flapping at her sides in the wind. She holds the mop tightly as she looks up at the sky, stoops a little to accommodate the bubbled bucket, and then disappears down a side passage. With the door open, I peer in and notice how she has worked miracles. The familiar hairspray aroma and dirt have been swilled away and a shining vision of mirrors and silver chairs gleams back at me. An empty space, devoid of human traces, remains there instead.

As the clouds billow, swirling their dark threat over my head, the mop lady returns with her empty bucket, and I am left with the pungent smell of disinfectant – and that memory.

The bleeding had started first. I screwed up my eyes and pretended it wasn’t there, getting into the shower so I couldn’t see it. And I tried to wash it away, but it splashed to the bottom of the shower, and it was dirty. I’d never seen blood like it before. And then the pain – the evil that ripped my stomach apart – left me crushed in the bottom of the shower tray, when Mother found me. I was laid bare for her – filthy village girl, covered in mess. What was to be done with me?

I know Mother partly dressed me before the ambulance came, to cover up my disgusting body in front of the curtain-twitching neighbours. I lay in the ambulance and looked up at her. I didn’t know what I expected to see – pity, fear, sympathy? I breathed hard as I looked beyond the stony wall mouth to the eyes which betrayed her. They sparkled, and I begged, pleaded in my silent head for another mother – one who felt grief, and would hold me until the pain stopped – but I had this one. And she was triumphant.

So, I clutched onto the swollen crying in my stomach and hung on, and I talked to it and told it to hang on and Mummy would make it all better. I curled into a ball and my tears rolled onto my baby-cocoon. And Mother turned from me, and she wouldn’t look at me in the eye.

Still talking, cooing, I was laid on the slab of silver-grey and I looked around – white floor, walls, ceiling. The masked green faces loomed up at me and I screamed at the faceless creatures who forced sleep on me. As my eyelids dropped across my darting eyeballs, I felt that disinfectant stench sting my nostrils. Nothing dirty would have been allowed to remain in that white room for very long.

Mother sat beside me when I woke, and she said, “Well, that’s that, my girl,” as if we had just had our tea and she was getting ready to wash the pots. We didn’t discuss it; we sat there, silent, until there was a sound in the corridor, a clunking, rhythmic sound. I stared towards the door and watched the new mothers push their transparent cribs on wheels past me, to the room that smelled of hot toast. How cruel to have put me here!

I wanted to be sick. I groped for my round cardboard bowl, while Mother said goodbye and left me alone. But I wasn’t sick. Instead, I was made to listen to the babies crying. I was empty now. I didn’t want to hear their babies. I didn’t even know where my baby had gone. So I asked, and I asked – “Was my baby a boy or a girl? Did it have a face – a proper one? Did it look like its father? Where is my baby now?” But I was told to get some rest, and that it would be better for me if I didn’t talk about it, because it was over now and I mustn’t upset myself.

And amid my agitation, an unknown entity approached my bed. The blue and white checked overall was well above her knees and her long nylon trousers stuck out from beneath the hem. Her curly blue rinse sat proudly on her head. She looked like she should have swum into the room.

As she mopped under the bed, I wondered how many decades she had worked here, listening in on doctors’ surreptitious conversations. She would know all there was to know. So I asked her – “What has happened to my baby?”

The tall, thin lady, bent double over her mop, straightened herself up with all the time in the world, and my heart beat faster. She looked at me with lifeless eyes, rather like a shark, which attacks its prey and is bereft of detectable emotion.

“Your baby?” She bent over me, and with her antiseptic breath, uttered, “Your baby has gone up the chimney, with the amputated legs and the other dirty girls’ mistakes.”

Then the Shark Woman was gone, with her cleaning trolley, clattering up the corridor, to circle around the proper mothers and their babies. Through the window, I could see the tall chimney, and a long, grey swirl of smoke twisting and whisping its way high into the air. I curled myself up, all alone apart from the whisp of smoke from the chimney as company, and I laid there and cried. For fifteen years I’ve cried. Have I ever stopped?

And he, this man, Alexander King, had not been there to comfort me.

***

My breath is so hot I could burn the back of his neck with it. I could let my finger ends run from his hair, over his new suit, down his legs and sit in supplication at his gleaming grey shoes, with their little artificial street light flames shining back at me.

But I don’t. I walk past – straight past, without pausing or glancing over my shoulder. I walk fast, and I leave him behind, to sail off away from me in a sea of tea-time shoppers. I pass by the buildings quicker and quicker, my heel still scraping and clicking, and my jacket trying to catch me and float me in the wind. The black rolling clouds sit, teasing and taunting, in front of me, then crack open above my head, and words scream from my upturned mouth – “Come on then. You’ve been threatening me for long enough. Drench me. Drown me. Wash away the dirt.”

It’s obliging, the rain. My eyes ignite as the rain begins to beat hard on my face and on my hands and calves. I succumb to its force, staring into the storm as it washes the grime from the city pavements. It slashes onto the rooftops of the nearby houses, cleansing everything in its path and bouncing off the concrete, thudding, until it finds a crack. Then it penetrates, forcing its way. Then there will be that day in Spring when new life will be made on the roadside and the tiny weeds with miniscule flowers will grow. And the Council man, in his green overcoat and a mask over his face, will spray the weeds or rip them out. Such is the fate of life created by the rogue city raindrop.

I have no food! Mother will be pacing outside.

But, as I bend around the bollards and turn into our estate, the solid redness of the brick frontage to my home, standing staunch and dependable, makes me smile, just a little – for the first time, I think. We can make the front of our house pretty this spring, Andrew and me. He’ll like that. We’ll get hanging baskets and plant pots to stand either side of the front door, and we’ll make the back garden ultra-modern. That will suit Andrew. Something clinical-looking and clean. Then he can invite his friends and I will entertain them and cling on his arm, like a barnacle on a ship.

Oh. There she is, pacing, looking up and down the road. Oh, God, she’s put her wellies on today, and her long blue waterproof coat that covers her flowered nylon skirt. Wave at Mother, Julia, wave. Smile.

There is no tea. I have no food. We’ll go out tonight, Andrew and me, and eat a well-cooked meal in a good restaurant, something substantial, to fill my stomach. I’ll send Mother away – in a minute, I’ll do it – and I’ll tell her I’m going to work on the recipe she gave me. And she’ll crawl away, back to her dwelling place among the crustaceans and the poisonous creatures. Will she understand, then? And will she finally forgive me?

Tonight, I’ll wear one of Andrew’s starched white shirts to bed, and I’ll lay myself on the sacrificial table for him. And I’ll tell him about the baby up the chimney afterwards, and I’ll remember to say “Thank you”, in case, just in case, he doesn’t want to come here again, after I tell him.

Tomorrow, I’ll cook up something for us. And we’ll have all our ingredients for our recipe. We’ll package them up together in a tight parcel, then maybe we’ll set sail on a journey over a new, undiscovered sea, holding on tight to our ingredients, so they don’t fall overboard. Here comes Andrew’s car now.

Maybe we will.

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  1. Oh, dear lord. I don’t know which made me more emotional, actually. Your foreword, or your story, which was rather like being spiritually disembowelled for the raw sadness in it – and because I can so completely empathise with that kind of bewildered grief. There was so much loss and tight anger wrapped through your usual exquisite eye for detail. The story has its own thumping momentum. I can see how this flooded from you. Though horribly painful, I can see why this would be one of your two favourite pieces. In terms of impact, it’s immense. I’d defy anyone to read it and not develop an acute case of the moist eyes.

    As to your foreword, totally understand where you’re going with your writing, and why. You need to go where your sense of fulfilment takes you, whether that’s on a cathartic sad journey which you need to take to unload some of the stifling depression, or whether that’s in a direction where certain stories just have to be told. As Goldberg often says, the writing practice is as important as the finished product, and you need to allow yourself both.

    Happy to do what I can to support you, if you ever have a really low moment but don’t yet want to withdraw.

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    1. Sam, thank you so very much for your heartfelt comment. I’m glad(?!) I could create that kind of effect on you through the story. I always struggle to read it without becoming emotional. It’s the story that has more versions on my computer than anything else – the original was roughly 10,000 words, in stream of consciousness style, and was compacted to the one you read here. But I always felt each character had their own story to tell, thus the novel was born (it’s much sadder, and much more intense than this story). I’m not sure if I should blog it; I don’t know how many of my usual readers would want to read it.

      I really appreciate your understanding over my direction shift (it’s not a full shift, just opening a gateway for a parallel journey, I think). I agree completely: writing is as much about process as it is about the final piece. And I do find that, if the journey felt authentic, then the final work is, too. I’ve forced work before; it’s always poor, and it rarely fits the market. Most of all, it never makes me happy. So, yes, the journey towards the completed piece is fundamentally important for me, as I’m certain it is for many writers.

      And thank you, on a personal level, for your kind words. They are very much appreciated, and will be remembered. xx

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  2. Your fictional story makes me very emotional, and angry. It also showcases your extraordinary ability to reach the emotional heart of your characters and splatter the pain across the page. That is a rare sensitivity you have, Ina, and it shows the depth of your creativity.

    Depression: I know thee well. These days there are a lot more options than in the past. Certainly, depression has claimed more than a few of the artistic greats. I understand and empathize with the frustration you feel at being put into a box by editors and publishers. Even with all the multitude of venues available to a writer, it seems that commercialization dictates what we all see, read and hear. It takes dedication and commitment to stick with what makes you happy.

    Yes money is important, but not at the expense of your health. That may seem elitist, but I’m broke too. I have found I can’t write to spec, nor to a hard deadline. The anxiety and stress make my writing so much worse, that it’s not worth anything. You know I firmly stand with you on the barricades facing down the hordes of critics—
    ‘Is that chocolate? I’ll be right back!’

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    1. Thank you for reading the story – I daren’t imagine what you’ll make of the revised, extended version. My best characters, my favourite ones, are those which face and explore immense emotional angst. Behind every one of them is me, somewhere – my story, my truth – melded to the fiction. I find these stories excruciating and exhausting to write, but their cathartic nature outweighs everything else. Thank you, too, for your lovely words on my creative process. If I can instil emotion into my reader, I consider it a successful story.

      I wonder if, sometimes, depression in writers comes about from the torn feelings we have between feeling the power of the inescapable box of commercialism and the need to be free of it. I admire writers who can produce a stream of books to a remit, and for a genre-based readership. It is much harder than people in general give them credit for, and to repeat this process, book after book, is testament to their astonishing ability to be unphased by that box. I cannot do it.

      You’re completely right: health comes before money (although I’ve never been interested in money enough to worry about not having any!). I totally understand your issue with regard to writing to spec and deadline – although, as the non-author, reading your work, it remains as ever the high quality it always is. And I think that’s the essence of what we’re saying: as authors who struggle to write to arbitrary criteria we feel the work is lacking a quality that would be there had we not tried to write to the deadline, to the spec, for a market, because we feel we’ve not done it justice. It may not show on the outside, but it drive us, as authors, crazy.

      For the record, I have never, ever, read a piece of your work that is not worth anything. I know how hard you work on each and every piece, how you take on board feedback and apply it astutely. Fangirling, as always, on these barricades, now!

      And what chocolate? Where? I thought I’d eaten it all… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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