Why I Love Writing #1; I Don’t Have To Live In This World

There’s so much to say about why I love writing so much, I thought I would pen a little blog post series on the subject. It’s easier to break it down into separate pieces that way. There are just so many reasons I love writing!

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If anyone asks me why I love writing, I’ll usually answer by explaining that I get all these characters and ideas in my head and just have to write them down, or I would go mad.

But it’s really so much more than that. For me, writing is very similar to reading and the things that attract me are the same. When I’m absorbed in a really good book, it’s like entering another world. We all know that feeling. Maybe you get it from reading or from watching films or from listening to or playing music. You’re removed from the real world. You’re lifted above it and beyond it. You’re in the past, or the future, on another planet, another time, living and observing and experiencing another life. For a small and precious amount of time, until something in the real world interrupts you, you are gone. You’re not part of the real world and are utterly disconnected from your real life.

For me, writing provides the same thing. When I was a child, I was shy and awkward and extremely quiet. I melted into the background and both liked and resented this. There were things about the real world and my real life that I did not like and wished to escape from, and writing gave me this. Maybe even more so than reading a book, because writing your own stories is even more liberating. You’re in control, you’re like God, the puppet master, creating and destroying and moving people around like chess pieces. Once I started writing, I drifted away from the real world quickly and dramatically. I created my own.

People used to say to me all the time; ‘you’re in your own little world, aren’t you?’ And it was true. I really was.

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People still say that to me now, and these days writing is there when I don’t want to live in the real world anymore. And let’s face it, things are pretty bad right now. It sometimes feels like the destruction of this planet is something I simply cannot bear. It’s so pointless and needless, so utterly senseless how can any sane person possibly understand it? And then there are people. Human nature, such a complex, multi-layered thing. There are days when I’m floored by how cruel and heartless humans can be and I truly fear we’ve reached the end days, not just on the planet, but in our humanity. It feels so desolate and without hope. Of course, there are just as many days when humans surprise and delight me, and I remind myself that most of them are basically good and trying to be good. But on the bad days? Writing is an absolute Godsend. I couldn’t survive without it.

It’s in my head when I can’t physically get to pen, paper or laptop. So I’m already removed. I’m calmer. Less weighed down, less frantic, less panicked. Like when I was a kid, I’m off inside my own head. Entertaining myself. The stories go with me everywhere. I am never alone. And then when I get the time to sit and put pen to paper, or tap at the keys on my laptop, I’m gone again. I’m lost inside my own head and I’m free.

To me, writing sometimes feels like a rebellious act. Because when it revolts or disappoints me, I cannot be forced to live in this world. I’ll go if I want to. I’ll check out. I don’t have to stay. I can write.

 

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.

 

Lessons in Dog – A Response To Lessons In Kitten

Last week, the brilliant Lisa Sell posted Lessons in ‘Kitten’ on her blog. Like all Lisa’s posts, it was funny, honest and quite brilliant. It also made me think. I’m a dog person, myself. I like cats. But my dogs really, really don’t. I started to think about Lisa’s post regarding her new kitten Feegle and how he is helping her through her depression and inspiring her writing habits at the same time. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that my dogs have also had a massive impact on my writing life. So, I decided to write a post in response!

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Dogs Can Change Your Direction

For me, they quite literally did. For five years I was a childminder by profession. For eight years I’d been a mother to three small children. There was simply no time in my life for writing, and very little time for reading. We went through a bad period. We lost two homes and my husband lost two jobs. We felt cursed and helpless and guilty. My reaction? I got a dog. I got a dog because I needed something that was just for me. I’d always been dog obsessed, in fact the first books and stories I ever wrote as a child were always about dogs. Funnily enough, although we brought this little chap Skipper home in the most uncertain period of our lives, everything changed for the better after that. We found a house to rent. Semi-rural, massive garden, a river running past it, fields behind, woods beyond. It was like a dream come true. And then one day while out walking my new baby I had a revelation. I would give up childminding and take up dog walking instead. And I would go back to my writing. And…I did! So it’s kind of thanks to Skipper that I can now call myself a proper writer.

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One Is Never Enough…

Yep, you guessed it, one was not enough. Dogs are addictive. I might be biased but I happen to think lurchers in particular are incredibly addictive! After I fell in love with my big boy Skipper, I started fostering dogs for a local dog rescue, and not long after that this scruffy little wretch arrived on our doorstep. I totally did not mean to fall in love with Tinkerbelle but she was always going to steal our hearts. She fitted right in. At this point in my life I felt like I was living the dreams I had chosen in childhood. I was working with animals and writing. Perfect.

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Dogs Force You Out Of Your Bubble

Like a lot of writes, I’m an introvert at heart. I love nothing more than snuggling up with a  good book, staying home and putting on music, writing for hours or losing myself in gardening. If it were not for my dogs who expect their walkies at the same time twice a day, I could quite easily shut the world out and ignore its existence. I could easily do the same with the human race. But dogs don’t let you do this. They force you outside, they force you to go to new places. They encourage interaction with other people and other dogs. For this reason, writers need dogs!

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Dogs Are Therapeutic In So Many Ways…

No offence cat people (I have loved cats before!!) but there is nothing quite like the love of a dog. They don’t just love you, they adore you. You are their world! They throw themselves at you when you come home. Their little faces watch you out the window when you leave. They want to please you, they want you to be happy! Dogs are happiness! And they can teach us to be happy too. They yearn the simple things in life. A comfy bed (preferably yours, or the sofa will suffice) Good food, (again, yours is better, and with lurchers anything left in counter-surfing reach is fair game, including rubbish bags) Playtime and sleep time. Easy. Unlike children, dogs are grateful for everything! They also seem to know when you are feeling down. Just stroking a dog can bring your heart rate down and help you to feel less stressed. Not to mention how therapeutic walking is. (Bit less so when they disappear after deer on the horizon, but that’s besides the point) They make you exercise, they make you talk to people, they make you care.

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Dogs Accept Us The Way We Are

One of the best things about dogs is that they like you just the way you are. They don’t care if you are fat, thin, attractive, ugly, able bodied or disabled, straight or gay, old or young, black or white. They couldn’t care less! They also don’t mind your character flaws. When I’ve had a bad day or felt misunderstood or judged, it’s my dogs I long to be with. Just one walk across the beautiful common with my hounds and I’m soon all right again. I often talk to them while I’m walking. Tinks will skip ahead, doing her own thing, acting crazy, but Skipper will walk right by me, as if he is listening to every word. I’ll talk about my day, what was good, what was bad, and I’ll talk about my writing.

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Dogs Help Me Write!

Yes, they really do. For all the reasons listed above and because walking them, being out in the open with them, close to nature and away from people, is where all my inspiration hits. It always happens on dog walks. New ideas that spring out of nowhere, (including several of my novels and future novels!) Characters start chatting to me, giving me conversations to steer their story forward. Loose ends tie up. I get massive revelations when out with my dogs. Something I’ve been struggling with for weeks will suddenly come together and make sense. I’ll get story ideas from the landscape and from the dogs themselves. I don’t think I’d get so many ideas without them! I always come back with a massive smile on my face, desperate to find my notebook so I can scribble down my ideas before I forget them. Or I’ll tap them into my phone while walking. So many of my blog posts have been drafted in rough form on my phone while out walking the dogs!

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They’re in all my books!

Not my dogs exactly, (although that is my gorgeous Tinks immortalised by the brilliant Justine Pateman, on the front cover of This Is Nowhere) but dogs in general. All of my books have dogs in them! The Mess Of Me has bat-eared cross-breed Gremlin, Lou’s ever faithful sidekick. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and This Is The Day have Danny’s adored Jack Russel, Kurt. This Is Nowhere has beautiful lurchers, Chase and Dash. And as for future books, The Tree of Rebels has a ball obsessed cross-breed called Charlie, and dear Elliot, from Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature has a Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Tizer. I just can’t seem to write a book without making a dog a character in it.

Writers Need Dogs!

For all these reasons, I think dogs make the perfect companion, muse and inspiration for writers. They get you out of your introverted bubble, out into the world and interacting with other humans. Exercise and just simply stroking and being with them releases endorphins, making you feel better and less anxious. They keep your feet warm when you’re writing, and snuggle up with you on the sofa when you are reading. They also make fantastic characters in books!

I need to say another massive thank you to Lisa Sell for inspiring me to write this post and being cool about me responding to hers! 

So how about you? Are you a dog person or a cat person? How do they help you or inspire you? Please feel free to comment!