Hello, everyone! It’s good to be back blogging again, I must say. After my Northumberland Adventure post, I did promise that I’d do a catch-up post, so here it is. I looked back over my blog and discovered that the last time I did a proper post, as opposed to a guest post, was back in May. Actually, that surprised me, because I thought it had been a lot longer than that. It feels like ages. But then, it’s been a very strange year all round, and at times the days have dragged on forever, don’t you think?
So, what’s been happening since May? Well, if you read my post Special Offers, New Covers and Lockdown Locks! you’ll know that the last time we spoke I’d been struggling with anxiety and was trying to find more balance in my life, taking two days a week off work and staying off social media more.
Did I succeed? Er… well, yes and no. Between May and early September, I’d say the answer was definitely no. Sadly, I got locked into my usual hamster-on-its-wheel mentality, panicking about getting the next book out and keeping up with everything else I had to do. I was frantically writing the fourth Kearton Bay book, plotting the Christmas book, outlining a new series, working on three – yes three! – courses, as well as doing my newsletter, promo posts, and trying to keep up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…
On top of that, things were going from bad to worse at home. I don’t want to go into details about that, but suffice it to say there was a lot of stress within the family, and before too long, I found myself in a bit of a state.
For years I had terrible social anxiety, which badly affected my life from my late teens onwards. I struggled with going out to social occasions, and would agonise about any event I was invited to for weeks beforehand. Needless to say, I nearly always ended up cancelling, and I can’t even guess how many times I made excuses for not attending parties and other events, because I simply couldn’t cope with them. It didn’t always go down well, and not many people understood how difficult it was for me.
I wasn’t being awkward, and it wasn’t that I didn’t wish I could go, it was just that I honestly couldn’t deal with the terror of it all. For many, many years, that fear overwhelmed me. At one point, my anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t even go into my own back garden, because it was overlooked and I didn’t want the neighbours watching me. No one can begin to understand how that feels unless they’ve been through it, and there were times I thought I’d never get any better. If you want to know more about social anxiety, or you think that sounds a bit like something you’re going through, you can find out more here.
It was writing that changed my life in the end. I’d always dabbled, but when I made up my mind I was going to write seriously, and actually finish an entire novel instead of endless first chapters, things began to alter, and something within me changed. I suppose there was a sense of achievement that I’d actually accomplished something at last. I had no illusions that this first draft was much good, but at least I’d stuck with it and finished a complete novel for the first time ever. (Well, apart from a book I wrote and illustrated at the age of around eight but we won’t dwell on that!)
Having got this far, I was determined not to give up on my writing dream. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, and through that I began chatting online to Alys West, who was also a member. She invited me to meet up with her and her friend, Jessica Redland, for a drink and a chat one day. They were members of the blogging group, The Write Romantics, and I was very much afraid that they’d know far more than I did and would think I was a bit stupid to even imagine I could ever be a writer. To be honest, her invitation terrified the life out of me. How could I possibly go into a pub of all places, meet up with two strangers, and make actual conversation with them?
I’m not sure what made me do it, but I think the lure of talking to people who understood what my passion for writing felt like, and would know just what I meant when I talked to them about my enthusiasm for the process, my love for my characters, my excitement at creating a fictional setting… I couldn’t let that pass me by. Somehow, I found the courage and went to meet them, and from then on everything changed.
Since that day, over seven years ago, I’ve had the time of my life. I’ve been to pubs and cafes with my new friends, attended writing festivals, been to RNA events, been to monthly chapter meetings to sit and gossip with a large and utterly fabulous bunch of local writers, and even got the train to London by myself to be at the RNA’s winter party! I even went away for a few days with my Write Romantics buddies. We booked a hotel in Derby and went off to spend time together, and we had a fabulous couple of days. How did I get to that point? I’m not even sure myself, but it felt so good, and I was so proud of myself.
When lockdown hit, I’d just come back from a short hotel break in Glastonbury with the husband. I’d got used to going away now, and had no difficulty chatting to hotel staff and restaurant staff – things that would have been impossible for me at one time. I had no idea that things were about to change once again, nor that they’d have such a negative impact on me.
The last few months have seen my anxieties creeping back to such an extent that I’ve rarely left the house since March. Those of you who read my Northumberland post will know that, even on holiday, I wouldn’t go anywhere that involved being around people. It’s not just the fear of the virus that’s at play here, though, although that’s bad enough. No, it’s the old anxiety of being seen, of having to talk to people once again. The old doubts about being able to hold a decent conversation are back. The dread of doing or saying something stupid. It’s all there, and I don’t know how to move forward with it – especially given the social distancing rules that are in place.
I haven’t been able to meet up with my two lovely friends, Jessica and Alys. Usually, I’m able to share any worries or problems I’m having with them, and just unburdening myself to them has been enough to replenish my stocks of resilience and enable me to carry on. I’ve missed my catch-ups every couple of months or so with Alys, and my fortnightly get-togethers with Jessica, more than I’d ever have imagined. I haven’t been able to attend my regular monthly RNA meetings because they’re not happening.
All the confidence I’ve built up over the years seems to have slid away. It’s like when you train your body for a sporting event (as if I’d know – this is purely a guess!) and it takes ages to get fit and build up your stamina and speed. But then you stop exercising for a few weeks – say you’ve broken your leg or something – and when you get back to it, you find all that previous training has been for nothing. You’re back at square one. And that’s how I’ve been feeling. Back at square one. Which, frankly, feels pretty rubbish and a bit unfair.
I don’t think I’ve helped myself though. Like I said, there have been problems at home, within the family, and I tried to push those away by working harder. I spent every waking moment in my office, trying to take my mind off it by writing. My poor, patient husband was lovely, bringing me cups of tea and cooking meals for me, and telling me I needed to ease off, and everything would be okay. But I didn’t know what else to do. I just kept on that hamster wheel, feeling exhausted and tearful, and knowing I was getting nowhere fast.
I’d promised that the fourth Kearton Bay book would be ready for autumn, but I had no motivation to finish it. I could barely muster the enthusiasm to open the document, and found myself doing all sorts of other things – admin jobs I hated, like sorting out the invoices and receipts for my accountant – anything other than write. The words I did manage felt flat and lifeless on the screen. I managed to get about two thirds of the way through the book, then it ground to a halt. Truthfully, I just couldn’t face it. You see, I love my Kearton Bay characters, and I knew I wasn’t doing them justice. But the self-imposed deadline was looming, and I didn’t know what to do. How could I write uplifting fiction when all I wanted to do was cry?
Meanwhile, on social media, I was full of enthusiasm and joy, and desperate that no one should realise what a mess I was. Again.
The problem was manifesting itself in the form of endless tears, recurring headaches, joint pain and stomach troubles. And then, one evening, I had a full-blown panic attack, which is something I hadn’t had for years. I thought, “Okay, this has gone far enough. Something has to give.”
We’d dithered about going on holiday, but it made up our minds. We needed to get away. I needed to step away from the computer. We both needed to relax and switch off from everything that had been happening over the last few months. Having confirmed our booking, I started to put things in place for the benefit of my mental health.
Social media had become a nightmare world for me. The more I read other people’s posts the worse I felt. Either they were dark and bitter, attacking other people and being angry and malicious, or they were full of how wonderful their lives were and how brilliant everything was going for them. I wasn’t in any fit state to read either. But I didn’t want to lose contact with the people I’d friended – people whose very presence on Facebook has made my life so much brighter over the last seven years or so.
So I hit on the idea of a Facebook group. I’d toyed with the idea for years, but had never had the nerve to start one, in case no one wanted to join. But I needed that safe space. I needed a place where I could be surrounded by kindness, friendship, warmth, positivity, light and happy things. I’d used the tagline, “Love, laughter, and happy ever after” on my promo posts for some time, and I thought it summed up what I wanted from the group. I bit the bullet and went for it, and the group has far surpassed my expectations. As I write this, we have nearly seventy members already, and the best thing about it is that, in there, everyone is so kind and friendly. Kindness is everything, I’ve realised. And the group has helped me to get over my anxiety about social media. I really hope it’s benefiting the members as much as it’s benefiting me. You can find the group here.
When I venture onto Facebook now, that’s where I spend most of my time. I haven’t had to lose contact with people, and I’ve got my safe space. I’ve also taken the advice of another of my Write Romantic friends, Helen J Rolfe, who advised me quite strongly that I should definitely take those two days a week off work. My daughter has been telling me for ages that I need a routine, and that’s what I’ve now developed. So the writing happens in the morning, when I’m feeling most relaxed and creative. In the afternoon, I either do admin/promo/coursework, or I take time out of the office to read, or make notes in one of my many beloved notebooks.
I’ve shelved Kearton Bay Four until early next year, because I didn’t see any point in rushing to finish it this year. It would only get lost in the sea of Christmas books if I released it now, and honestly, that series means so much to me that I want to do it justice. So I’ll take my time and get it right, rather than rush it and regret it later. If you’re not a newsletter subscriber, or a member of my group, and you haven’t spotted it on this website’s home or books page, here’s the cover for The Whole of the Moon (Kearton Bay 4).
I’ve been sitting out in our garden – which now finally has a proper patio thanks to my fab builder brother and his business partner. I spent so many days never stepping out of the door, that just to be able to sit in my own garden, breathing fresh air and feeling the sun on my face has been a real treat, and it’s surprising how relaxing it is. And I’m writing again! By taking the pressure off, and by going away, getting out of the house and seeing new places, I found my creative urge returning. I’m remembering the joy of writing for writing’s sake, and I’m loving that feeling. It no longer feels like a chore, and I don’t have that awful churning sensation of dread any more when I head to my office and switch on the computer.
I’ve even got a new book coming out! Christmas with Cary is the third and final instalment of my Home for Christmas series, and it’s up for pre-order right now. It will be published on November 2nd, and I really love Molly and Cary the two main characters in it – as well as a certain Mr Grant, whose films feature in there, too.
I don’t know what the future holds as far as further lockdowns go, but whatever happens, I’m going to do everything I can to be kind to myself. Because it’s so important, you know. I said kindness matters, and it does, but we sometimes forget that includes kindness to yourself, not just to others. I really hope that, if you’re struggling, too, it helps you to know you’re not alone, and it’s okay to admit that things aren’t perfect – whatever it says on Facebook!
I’m feeling a lot better already, and all it took was a few simple steps to take the pressure off myself. Basically, I’ve taken the same advice I’d have given to my friend if she’d confessed to feeling the way I was feeling. I’ve climbed off the hamster wheel and I’ve cut myself some slack. I’ve realised that the sky won’t fall in because I’ll only have released two books this year instead of my usual four or even five. In fact, I think I’ve done pretty well to write two books (well, two and two thirds really) this year, given how I’ve been feeling. I’ve even booked an appointment with my hairdresser, which will be my first visit there since before Christmas. And trust me, with the state of my hair, it can’t come a moment too soon.
So there you go. That’s me, bringing you up to date with what’s been happening in my life, and how I’ve been dealing (or not dealing) with everything so far this year. I’ll be back soon to show you my gorgeous new cover for Saving Mr Scrooge. It’s very different to the current cover and I love it! Right now, I’m taking one day at a time, and for now I’m coping. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything, I hope this post has been of some use to you.
Have a great week