The Mess Of Me Now

In 2013 I released my debut Young Adult novel, The Mess Of Me. Originally, it was part of the self-publishing platform, Autharium. I then got a publishing deal with a small press and removed it from Autharium. This did not go to plan as a whole year later the small press had done nothing and not responded to my messages, so I decided to take it back and put it back with Autharium…who then closed. Since then, it has been with Pronoun, who also closed, and with Amazon. Currently, like my other books, The Mess Of Me is self-published through the indie collective Pict Publishing, and there I hope, it will stay.

Six years though! In that time I have published eight more books, had another child and started my own Community Interest Company; Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. Life has indeed changed a lot.

But in many ways, Lou Carling, the 16-year-old narrator of The Mess Of Me, is still with me, perhaps increasingly so. I will perhaps explain in another blog post, another day, but for a while now I have not been feeling myself and in times when I am feeling down, Lou is the voice I hear the loudest.

Perhaps because she is the character most like me. They say that a grain of truth seeps into every work of fiction and I agree. They say that characters are often at least partially based on people we know, or on parts of ourselves, and again, I agree.

In fact, Lou is not just the character most like me. She pretty much is me. When I wrote that book, it was perhaps the most cathartic process for me. I had an idea for a plot, for characters, back story and so on, but more than all of that, I had a burning desire to just speak my thoughts through her. Everything Lou says, thinks and feels in The Mess Of Me comes from me. Me when I was a teenager, and me now. I still think of myself as a mess and I probably always will.

The issues with food are still there, just as I suspect they will always be there for Lou. It’s just that as you grow older, you work out ways to rationalise your irrational thoughts. Or as in my case, you have your own children and are determined to set a good example and not let them down.

But for me, The Mess Of Me is a voice in my head, and Lou’s voice is one I hear more than ever lately. I feel the strongest urge to write the sequel, which contains a storyline which is also something true from my own life, but at the moment there are too many other books in progress to focus on it.

Anyway, here are a few reasons why Lou is me and I am Lou;

  • She is obsessed with being thinner
  • she thinks her life will be better if she is thinner
  • every day she thinks and obsesses about being thinner
  • if she does not do anything to help her get thinner she feels like a failure
  • she puts all her thoughts and feelings in writing rather than actually telling people
  • she’s feels the pull of self-destructive behaviour and tries hard to resist
  • she thinks everyone else’s lives are far more interesting than her own
  • for this reason, despite not really liking humans too much, she is endlessly fascinated with them
  • she is in love with her best friend

For those of you perhaps interested in reading about Lou and Joe’s messy summer, the ebook is currently just 99p on Amazon and all other ebook platforms. Please consider leaving an honest review if you do happen to purchase the book. Many thanks!

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My Body Battles

(Warning…not strictly writing related…unless you have read The Mess Of Me or intend to one day…Monday was World Mental Health Day and this post is somewhat inspired by that.)

I feel like I have always been at odds with this flesh covered vehicle of transport I call my body.

I think the only time we’ve been on the same side is when we were trying to push out babies. (Although possibly not during the fourth labour, but that’s not a story anyone wants to hear today!)

I remember how I viewed this casing of skin as a child. I can’t remember ever feeling like it fitted me right. It always felt too big. I can clearly recall being about eight years old and noticing the thin, brown arms of a boy sat close to me in the classroom. They were like little brown matchsticks, and when I looked back at mine they seemed too big in comparison. I couldn’t understand why. They were just too fleshy…just too much.

When I was about ten my body began to develop. I had womanly curves whilst still playing with Lego. I hated it. And I hated all the friendly euphemisms for being a big child as well. ‘You’re a big girl, aren’t you?’ ‘It’s just puppy fat.’ Ugh. I didn’t really want to be a fat puppy, funnily enough.

As I grew I became increasingly aware of my unwanted flesh. I had breasts that jiggled and moved. I had hips and a bum. I had rolls of fat when I bent over or squished up. None of it felt like it belonged to me. It all felt like it needed to be shredded.

The weird thing is, if I look back at old photos of me, I really wasn’t as big as I thought I was at the time. I had a brother and two sisters who were all like stick insects, and I was bigger than them and I looked big for my age, but I wasn’t really fat. I was just developing. Still, it was not the body I wanted or felt I should have, and that feeling has never really gone away.

As a teenager my weight went up and down, and more often than not, I simply loathed the human suit I was forced to wear. I wanted to unzip it and step out, revealing the true me. I would have long, thin, shapely legs. Matchstick arms. A flat, hard belly. A neat, trim waist. Angles on my face. I would shed my skin and emerge looking like the girls I saw on TV and in magazines.

At one point in my teenage years, I submitted to my body and gave in. I hated sports because I felt so fat and slow, so I avoided them like the plague, shut myself away in the imaginary worlds of books and writing, and hence got bigger. I thought I was stuck with this flabby cage forever. I did not want people to see me. I often wished I could cease to exist.

During my later years as a teenager, a full on battle commenced. Much like the one Lou goes through in The Mess Of Me. I went to war with my body. I fought back. I kicked its arse and got control of it. I aimed to change it and remould it, to make it into something I could be proud of. It all started off sensibly enough, but as you can imagine, it soon all got rather messy.

I figured out ways of fighting back and rebelling. I told my body to fuck off. I discovered ways I could eat without getting fat. I figured how easy it was to just not eat at all. I realised that I could run and that once I started, it was hard to stop. So I ran faster and faster and faster, doing all I could to outrun the fat girl, to leave that chubby loser far behind.

During my early twenties, this battle continued. It’s fair to say I treated my body like utter shit. I hated it and felt like it hated me. We would never be friends. I would punish it any chance I got. Away from parental control, my University days were not good for me at all. I became obsessed with feeling hungry. With feeling for ribs and hip bones, with feeling the enthralling darkness of pleasure and fear. At my thinnest, I got more compliments than ever. I got noticed by boys, flirted with, asked out. Things that had never happened much when I was bigger. I loved it when people told me how much weight I had lost. I went to a family wedding and people did not recognise me. The only thing that ever scared me into eating  was each time my periods stopped…and only because I was desperate to be a mother.

I’ve always said having children saved me from myself, and it’s true. The first pregnancy we had ended in a miscarriage and I was devastated and completely blamed myself. I’d still been exercising, still watching what I ate, still waging war with my flesh.

The second pregnancy was a success and in the years that followed I threw myself into being the best mother I could be, and although I worked hard to get my body back, it didn’t occupy my mind in quite the same way as it had. There just wasn’t time. Through pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding I did, at last, learn to feel pride in my body. It wasn’t just a clumsy machine to be hated and abused, it was actually quite amazing. It could grow a baby. I could feed and sustain and nurture a life. Although I am far from happy with my body today, I do feel an element of pride in wobbly bits and stretch marks. They are part of who I am and what I have chosen to do with my life.

I’ve struggled over the years not to return to the old, messed up me. I was lucky enough to receive therapy before I became a mother, and I truly believe that opportunity set me on the correct path of health and fitness and sensible attitudes.

The thing is, you can’t hurt yourself when you have children because you realise that if you did, you would also be hurting them.

And now here we are. Me and my body which is fast approaching it’s fourth decade and still feels to me like it’s not really mine. I can’t say that we’re friends yet. In fact, lately it has been frustrating me more than  ever. It just won’t let me lose weight. I swear it feels like it’s getting revenge for those years of punishment. It’s getting its own back on me. It’s hanging onto the baby weight my two-year-old left behind like there is no tomorrow. He was a large, overdue, ten pounder who has certainly left his mark. There is fat to spare and my body wants to keep it all! It’s not making milk any longer, but it won’t let the post-baby body shrink no matter what I do.

This battle has been ongoing for six months now, and I am starting to take things up a notch out of sheer desperation. I’ve barely touched a drop of alcohol. I am running and skipping almost every day. I don’t make excuses. If I have a cold, tough. If I only have ten of fifteen minutes, tough. My new motto is Do It Anyway!

Is it making a difference? Slowly. Oh, so…slowly.

My body is now a snail, a slug, a tortoise.

It sneers and rolls its eyes and tells me to fuck off.

I jump on the scales every Friday morning and wonder if they are in fact broken.

I get out with the dogs and run faster and further and harder.

I feel my jeans getting looser in the legs and around the waist.

And then the scales say otherwise…

I honestly don’t know what is going on. I mean, maybe it’s just me? Maybe I’m eating more than I realise?? Maybe there is something up with my metabolism!

I only know that I am not going to give up. I am not going to quit and say, okay body you win, I will accept this body wrecked and ruined by childbirth and age. I will take it and be grateful, and I will eat cake and drink wine and never mention it again.

But the problem is the mirror. The old enemy resurfaces. I can’t hold my head up high or look people in the eye when I don’t feel I’m in the right body.

I know it can’t be perfect, and to be honest, perfection was never really the goal. Just feeling happy with it was.