Thursday, 25 April 2019

Summer is on the way!

I couldn't think what to call this blog post so I decided on something cheery. It's probably because I'm getting old, but the weather makes a real difference to my mood these days. I am so much happier since the days started getting longer and the air warmer...

Looking back at my last blog post, which I wrote longer ago than I thought, I have made a little progress. I did publish my novel, in mid-February. But I did so under my married name, which I now feel was a mistake. If I'd published as Louise Gillett I'd  have been able to harness my readership from 'Surviving' - or, rather, offer those who were interested the chance to read it. Now I'm back to the old problem - wanting to protect the children from any repercussions because of the diagnosis (the boys don't even really know about it - I told the older one years ago but I think he's forgotten!)

The stupid diagnosis - it's wrong but how can I ever prove that? The more I try to insist I'm not crazy the more crazy I will seem! I need to put the thing behind me now...and it's difficult to do that, but in a way I suppose it has worked for me. It has held me back - meant that I couldn't get any decent work - but that has meant that I have been free to bring up my family and that I am now free to write. Anyway, it was wrong. Time has proved that for me and all I need to do now is to forget about it. Whatever is/was wrong with me. whatever thing or things caused me to break down on several occasions when I was younger (I self-diagnose these causes as anxiety and low self-esteem) it's not a disease of the brain. Thank God.

I suppose I don't need to protect the children from other people's misconceptions. I just need to inform them that I haven't got the condition (and maybe not complicate things by explaining that I don't think anyone really has it, that the psychiatrists don't really know what's wrong when people get seriously mentally ill and have no idea what the outcome will be. I fear that my attempts at explanation make me sound unstable!) I don't want my kids thinking that they might inherit some terrible condition - the truth is that if they do ever suffer from mental illness it will probably be my fault, but only because of my shortcomings as a parent (which stem from the shortcomings in my childhood).

The truth there, if I say it myself, is that most of the time I am an excellent parent, because I put the kids before myself (this happens because of my crummy self-esteem. It's very good for them, not so great for me). And the family is doing well. Paul's career is flourishing and all our four kids have got into grammar school, not because they've been pushed but because they are all willing to learn and they understand the importance of education. Two of them have gone on to win scholarships to private school. They have loads of friends and are happy children. The outlook is very promising for all of them.

It still really bugs me that young people are still diagnosed with 'schizophrenia' and I'm considering getting back into mental health activism, to try to combat this. I don't know if I'll do any more good than I did last time I tried, quite a few years ago, but I think it's probably my duty to give it a go. I've been lucky to have found a way through it all - maybe I have a touch of survivor's guilt, knowing that so many people don't get past the diagnosis. The problem there is that it'll be difficult to distance myself from the diagnosis when I'm working, or volunteering, in the field. But I feel that I should.

So, I've contacted Rethink, the charity, and I'm teetering on the edge of the process of setting up a local group again. I haven't quite taken the leap. I might also pick up my Huff Post articles. I contacted the Huffington Post a while ago and asked if it would be okay to start blogging on there again after my long gap. They were really nice about it, said of course I could...and I didn't get around to it.

Meanwhile I'm writing. I am well into my second novel now - I'm writing a series of mystery thrillers. I intend to treat the writing as a job now - I've decided it's still work, even if I don't get paid (although hopefully I will earn some money as the series gains momentum). It's going well at the moment - I head out of the house to write, as experience has shown that's the way to get the work done. A couple of hours is plenty, because I don't like to leave the dogs for too long (although I feed them and walk them before I go). But a couple of hours a day is probably enough for most writers - it's hard to maintain the necessary concentration for much longer.

So, that's all for now.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Novel to be published (very soon)

Hi everyone. I see that I wrote on here several months ago that I had finished my novel.'ve  just finished it again. I don't really know what has happened in the interim, but it's basically the same old story. I have bursts of writing activity, get totally immersed, then find that I need to turn my attention elsewhere - to the family, invariably - and the writing goes on the back-burner.

I spend a fair amount of time these days looking after my mum, and when I'm not actually with her I'm thinking about her. She's pretty poorly. Then there are the dogs, who have been a handful recently. We have a new puppy (it's a long story and I'm not in the mood right now, but that brings the total number of canines in our family to three). And then of course, the children, who are growing up beautifully (Paul and I are very lucky indeed) but they do still need care and attention and when I am focused on my writing family life invariably gets out of balance. And there's the house - we moved last year and have had a lot of building work done and it's ongoing. I don't do any hands-on work - Paul doesn't trust me and I don't blame him. I try to do things too fast and mess them up. But I have done a lot of organising and it takes more time and creates more trouble than you would imagine. I have to get three quotes for every single thing we have done and getting people to quote is unbelievably difficult. Then I have to be here to look after the builders - I am far too attentive, bringing them numerous cups of tea all day, but I feel it's necessary to keep them onside after all the trouble I have persuading them to do the work in the first place.

Anyway, I have edited the novel again recently and it's been read by a number of friends and acquaintances who have all given really helpful feedback. I've also asked the cover designer who created the cover for both my memoirs to work on the novel. She's very good, but very busy, and obviously although it's my priority to publish the book as soon as possible, it's not hers. Hopefully it won't be long now though. Exciting!

I've also made a good start on the next book, so I have been more productive than I give myself credit for. I'm going to write a series: they're mysteries, a la Agatha Christie. That's the plan, anyway. But of course, you never know what's around the corner. And so I've decided not to stress about it - I'll do my best to make the books happen, but looking after the family is my main and most important job, so for the next few years at least the writing will continue to play second fiddle. I'd love to make a proper career of it September when our youngest starts secondary school I should have more time but I'm not counting of it.

Anyway, the reason I'm blogging now is, as usual, to order my thoughts. I'm going to publish the novel under my married name. The memoirs are written under my maiden name and I am considering re-publishing them. I would take the 'schizophrenia' out of the title and call the first memoir 'Joined-up Writing.' Because that's what I would be doing - joining up all my writing, bringing it under one umbrella, one name. I have also written other, shorter, fictional books, some of which have got surprisingly good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and I'm thinking of editing those and doing the same with them. They're all written under different pen names! Partly because as an author it helps if you stick with one genre and I've flitted from self-help to chick lit to children's fiction (I had a brief foray into romance but it was not a success). And now mystery/psychological fiction. Hopefully I'll stick with this one for a while, although I have been hankering to try my hand at writing for young adults...

I might wait with the name change though. I like the idea of changing the title of the memoir - the schizophrenia word doesn't deserve to be aired - but it might be better to do it later down the line. When (if) my writing career is better established. At the moment, if you search 'schizophrenia' you have a chance of finding the memoir - and the reason it's out there is to help people who themselves have been held back and damaged by that hideous label. Anyway, it's not a straightforward process to change an author name when you publish on Amazon.

I can't concentrate any more, there's too much noise in the house right now. I have to see to the puppy and the children. Youngest has been off school the last couple of days. I can't put my finger on what's wrong with him - he hasn't got a temperature and yesterday was just sneezing occasionally and coughing a bit. Today though, he's got stomach ache and feels weak. He hasn't eaten anything since this morning and normally he's ravenous, so I am getting a bit worried. Hopefully he'll have a good sleep and be fine in the morning.

Right...I feel a bit clearer about the way ahead regarding my other books - do nothing for now. As for the new book I really hope that I can announce its publication soon. Au revoir, all.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Something to shout about!

I want to share my news with readers of this blog. I have finished my novel - the one I began for my MA in Novel Writing. It's a psychological thriller.

I'm taking the day off tomorrow and then I'm going to start writing my next book.

That's all for now - my shortest blog post to date!

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

And Now What?

It's starting to look as though I am not going to be doing a PhD after all. Applicants are supposed to be informed of whether they are successful after eight weeks and it's been at least twice that long since I applied. The funding deadline has long since passed. I could get Government funding, which is available for the first time for PhD study from this year, but I don't want to end up with more debt (I already borrowed for the MA).

Anyway, I think I need to take the hint - my PhD proposal almost certainly was not up to scratch. I wrote it in a hurry, I never revised it. I put the project on hold until I knew whether I was on the programme or not. And now it looks as though it is a not.

I don't really mind. It would have been good to look into this subject some more - the treatment of mental health is so unsatisfactory and I would have loved to be part of the solution. There must be a solution, I know there is. But I can think about the subject anyway, examine it in fiction. Because although I love academia - I have always been good at studying - I am, first and foremost a writer. I need to hold that thought.

It's not as easy as it should be. I feel as though I should be having a successful career, showing a good example to my children. Modelling a future for them. But I hardly earn anything from my writing these days (I have been distracted by the MA and also because we moved house and I have been organising the building works. Some days - most days for the last eight months - we have had builders in). So I consider other jobs, sometimes apply for them, get rejected. It's always a blow to my confidence, even though it probably happens because in my heart I don't actually want the jobs.

Confused? Moi?


So what now?

Well, as I wrote on my last blog post, I need to finish the novel I started last May. I am just treading water at the moment until the end of the school holidays, then I will get back to work on that properly. As I write, I am revising. I recently read the Eleanor Oliphant book by Gail Honeyman as well as two by Rachel Joyce - the ones about Harold Fry and Queenie Hennessy - and I want to end up with the sort of a book that I consider those to be. Simple, but profound.

I have also been reading a lot of thrillers. A month or so ago I went to an author event which consisted of a panel of four crime writers and I bought one of each of their books. Then I ended up a week or so later at an event featuring another crime writer and bought hers. They were a mixed bag. Of the first four, one was in my opinion unreadable, one was trite, one was very well written but too disturbing for me and the last I haven't read yet and might not because the opening passages feature a murdered child and I don't really want to think about that. I know, I am a squeamish wimp, it's only a book...but still.

And the book I bought from the second event, which was at our local library, was rather horrid. Not badly written, but...I don't know. I just feel that book was unnecessary. I don't know about the subsequent six or so that author has written. Presumably crime books suit some people, but I don't want to read them and I don't feel as though they contribute anything useful to the world, to our understanding of humanity. (Which begs the question, why have I just read four of them? Out of politeness towards the authors and curiosity, I suppose). I have probably just got staid and old. I used to read anything, gratefully. Now I feel as though time is running out - how many thousands of books do I have time left to read? I don't know. Not enough.

Anyway, my novel has definitely never been in the crime genre but I did think at one stage that I was writing a psychological thriller (until that Penguin editor informed me otherwise). Now I see that what I am aiming for is just fiction. I don't want to classify it further than that. I want to write a good book. A page-turner, but with meaning.

It's what every writer wants to achieve, I know. All I want is to write a masterpiece... And of course that might never happen but it's what I am going to work towards. I'll aim high. And if I don't achieve what I set out to do in this book then I will try again, in the next.

I'll have to forget about the money side of things. Stop applying for jobs. It's not as though we're ever going to starve. We're going to have students in to help pay the bills, as soon as the house is ready for them.

And it's a better example for the children to see their mother happy than successful, if it has to be one thing or the other. What is success anyway? Can it be measured purely in financial terms? I know a few people who are very well-off but still dissatisfied with their lives.

Maybe writers aren't meant to be rich. Maybe stay-at-home mothers aren't meant to be. Perhaps a person can't have everything. But I also have a feeling that I don't put enough hours in to my writing, and that until I do I won't know how good I could potentially be. I want to keep trying to be the best that I can be.

So here's to some hard work ahead. But not until the school holidays are over.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year, 2018.

Hi everyone

It's actually quite unusual for me to be awake at this time of the night. In previous years I have struggled to stay up until midnight on New Year's Eve, and usually failed. I just used to get so sleepy. And also panicky - I felt that sleep was so important for health, I was pretty obsessive about getting enough of it. If I didn't sleep well, even for one or two consecutive nights, I would become really worried about my health and do everything I could to get back on track.

But in recent months, actually in recent years, I have had occasional bouts of insomnia. It started, I think, with a family holiday in France five or six years ago. It was so swelteringly hot, and the apartment we stayed in was so cramped and uncomfortable, that I hardly slept for two weeks and to my amazement I survived.

I still didn't like the occasions when I couldn't sleep, but after that I didn't panic so much. Which is lucky because over the last year or so, sometimes I have had long periods of not sleeping well for no apparent reason. I suspect the onset of the menopause and the fact that my lifestyle is not as calm and stress-free as it used to be (I can't remember ever thinking my life was stress-free but it must have been if I was able to sleep so well...?)

Where is this navel-gazing going? I knew at the outset of the piece...I have forgotten already. That's what lack of sleep does for you, maybe. If what I set out to say was important, I will remember and fill it in here, if I don't remember then it doesn't matter.

Anyway, I am awake and I thought I would write a blog post quickly. I have been quite unwell for the last couple of weeks - I had the flu and could hardly get out of bed for several days. I have been complaining like mad to my family members, trying to elicit sympathy. Not a lot was forthcoming, which I see as a healthy sign - I don't really want my loved ones to over-identify with the suffering of others, not even my own... Also, I guess they knew I wasn't as ill as I thought I was. Or something.

I really want to be better in the next day or so. I have things to do - the new school term starts on Tuesday (it's Sunday now) and one of the children has exams. I drive three of them to school each day - they could catch the bus but they prefer to be driven and I see it as part of my motherly duty, plus it saves the bus fare.

Paul takes our eldest to her school, which is a little further away, and she gets a minibus home. She will finish school in six months. That seems incredible. She will be properly grown up, education done, unless and until she goes to University, which I don't think she will do this year. She's planning to take a gap will be interesting to see what she does with her time.

I don't usually write about my children on here. It doesn't seem relevant, and it's personal. But what I am thinking about is how they are all growing up, how life changes when this happens. We all know how the various life stages work but it still feels odd when you start going through a new one. Luckily for me I still have young children - I am not ready to be an empty nester just yet.

I am looking forward to moving on with my career though. Hopefully I will be accepted for the PhD programme and from there move on to a career in academia. In the meantime I will keep writing, finish 'the novel'. A friend sent me a link today to a review of another book I wrote, on Goodreads. I had forgotten I even wrote it but the review was really encouraging - short but sweet, five stars and 'I loved this book'. So I looked at the other reviews, and the reviews and ratings for some other short books I wrote on Goodreads - a lot of them from India, for some reason. And I thought - wow!

I wrote these books under different pen names and, of course, my memoir is written in my maiden name. Now I am wondering whether it is time to come out into the open, to bring all my books under one umbrella, that of my real name. Whether it's time to stop hiding.

I didn't think those books were much good, so I didn't promote them, and now I am thinking perhaps that was an opportunity wasted. That's also why I wrote them under pseudonyms. When I write something really good, I told myself, I will use my real name. I will know when that happens.

Maybe though, that won't happen. Maybe I will never write anything that I consider to be really good. Maybe I just need to look at what I have already written and be proud that I tried (also, as I said, the reviews and ratings are encouraging so I should allow myself to be encouraged by them).

If I go ahead with the name change thing I will let you know on here. It won't be in a hurry, I really have to finish the novel before I get onto anything else.

Meanwhile - Happy New Year everybody! Maybe it bring you all you wish for and more. XXXX

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Next step, 'Dr Louise' - a PhD?

Hi everyone - or rather, anyone who's still checking on this shamefully under-used blog. I just wanted to get some things straight in my mind and I remembered that blogging used to be a good way to do this. I could write it all down as a journal entry on my computer or in my diary, but this way I have to think more carefully, express myself more clearly, knowing that the writing is for public consumption.

So. I finished my MA - hurrah! I got a Merit, which on reflection I am quite pleased with. Of course, I set out hoping for a Distinction - doesn't everybody? -  but it soon became clear that wasn't going to happen, due to rather poor marks received for one particular module, Reading as a Novelist. This module was rather heavy on the old literary criticism and also had a particularly exacting tutor. Enough said.

I enjoyed the course, although it was quite heavy going at times. I liked having something concrete to do and I love deadlines - the meeting of them - which is, I know, peculiar. Once we got to the summer term, when we were free to write our dissertations, it was all plain sailing. We had to complete the first fifteen thousand words of our novels-in-progress - it didn't take me long, and I can't resist mentioning here that I got a Distinction for this bit.

The thing is, I already knew before I embarked on the course that I could write. The problem was that I wasn't being prolific enough, and felt somehow that I needed motivation and an excuse - a reason - to write, so that I would get on with it. Which I did, and I am grateful that the course gave me the opportunity to do so, the freedom to concentrate on my writing. And also to practice fiction, because my natural inclination has always been towards non-fiction and I wanted to think more about the other.

I just wish we'd had to complete a whole novel instead of just fifteen thousand words, because if that had been the target I would have achieved it. Now I have around 43 thousand words written - I am around the half-way mark, but I am not pushing forward at the rate I feel I should be. What I am going to do is to self-impose a deadline to complete a first draft of the book - perhaps April 1st. No, May 1st (attempting to complete a project on or before April Fools Day is surely asking for trouble). I will have to find a way to hold myself accountable and make a plan - a certain number of words per day or per week, maybe.

In the summer, I got to the shortlist stage of a Penguin mentoring programme and now I wish that I had been chosen to be mentored, only because then I would have got on with the writing. At the time though, I was pleased not to have been selected - I had so much on (such as moving house) that I needed a rest, didn't want the added pressure. And I do have the contact details of various agents who were there on the day, as well as now being a member of a Facebook support group made up of the other shortlisted writers. So it might be a way forward. Fingers crossed. Imagine being published by Penguin! The editor I spoke to was quite brilliant. She was very young and in my stupidity I thought that therefore she would not be very clever/perceptive but she put me to shame - she not only 'got' my concept but seemed to instinctively understand the difficulties I was having expressing it.

I will finish my novel. It would be such a waste of a year and forty-odd thousand words otherwise. However, I am already planning my next step - into academia, as the title of this blog post suggests. I like the idea of being a Doctor - who wouldn't? But it's not just vanity, It's more than that. I really enjoy the process of researching, reading, thinking about things, and the subject of mental health is still the one that fires me up more than anything. For the last few years I have reviewed research proposals for the McPin Foundation and more recently I have done the same for the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research). It takes a number of hours to read and digest the papers and then another few hours to come up with a coherent and hopefully useful response to them - but I like doing this so much. I believe I am good at it too and it's well enough paid that I feel not only useful but well-recompensed for my time.  I wish it could be my full-time job. It's like writing this blog used to be - immersive, almost meditative, with the added benefit that hopefully I am helping other people out there.

Anyway, just this afternoon I applied for a PhD in Medical Humanities at one of the top universities in the UK, to begin in October 2018, and now I am holding my breath. I wrote the proposal in rather a hurry, as I was hoping to complete the application in time to be considered for funding, and of course as soon as I'd sent it in, I printed it out and noticed various errors (I wrote the word hope or hopefully three times in one short paragraph and it's not really a suitable word to be included in an academic proposal in the first place!)  I am pleased I have sent something in though and looking forward to getting a response. It has set my mind working again, and I have spent the last few hours reading various information on the net around the subject of mental health (my proposed topic for research, surprise, surprise!)

I'll keep you all posted.

As I mentioned, we moved house over the summer, after sixteen years in the old one. Only one of our children had ever known a different home to that one, and she was only a year old when we moved in. (She's almost eighteen now and has passed her driving test - where did those years go?) So it was a bit of a wrench for all of us - that was the house where our family was formed, where our children took their first steps. Where we raised our puppies - I actually mean young dogs, I am not being squishily cross-species sentimental!

This house is home instead now. I have grown to love it surprisingly fast. It's not in the best area of town - a train has just racketed past less than a hundred metres away as I am writing, there is a derelict house on one side of us, and overgrown garages on a neglected plot of land on the other side. But it's the right sized house for our family - or it will be, when we have finished the building work. It's closer to Paul's work and to most of the children's schools. It has a bigger garden. The neighbours are friendly. And now it is becoming gradually more habitable - it was rather ramshackle when we arrived, but now we have a new bathroom, new carpets throughout...we'll get there. Most importantly, the kids are happy here, and so are the dogs. It's definitely home.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

World Mental Health Day

Hi everyone. I only realised that it was World Mental Health Day a minute ago - I got an email from FutureLearn with some links to relevant courses. Writing and wellbeing, for example - sounds great. I really recommend FutureLearn - the courses are all short (usually just a few hours a week for about six weeks) and they are free, although I notice there's now an option to upgrade, for which you have to pay...

I don't think I am going to sign up right now. I have just finished my MA in novel writing - I handed in the dissertation last week, which included the first fifteen thousand words of a novel plus a five thousand word critical commentary on it - and now I need to finish writing the book. I enjoy studying, but I don't want to distract my self with any more courses right now, even if they are short, and free.

So, World Mental Health Day. I am a little out of touch with the issues, although I don't suppose things have changed that much. Part of the reason I stopped writing about it regularly was that nothing seemed to be really changing, or not in the way I hoped. I would still love to see and hear about less diagnosis - of 'schizophrenia' in particular - and of more access to talk therapy.

In any case, having come to the party late in the day (it's nearly three and time for me to start the school run) I will be looking out now on Facebook and Twitter for debate on the subject this evening.

Enough for now.