Things that I have done in January: an incomplete summary

Hello there.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Busy busy busy – but nobody’s that busy, really, are they? Choosing where to spend your time is a conscious action, and I haven’t been choosing to spend it blogging. It would be really satisfying if I could say, smugly, oh it’s because I’ve been doing so much work on my novel project. But honestly I’m a bit in the doldrums with it at the moment, so that would be a big fat lie.

It turns out that I like editing and redrafting about seven thousand times less than I enjoy banging out a first draft. I shouldn’t be surprised by that, really. I’m the person who handed in her dissertation at the end of her degree without ever having read it all the way through, let alone put any work into editing into a cohesive piece of work.

(Shockingly, I did not ace that module).

(Nor the one on Renaissance literature for which I literally had not read the texts).

(I would do things differently, now).

(Or would I???)

When I finished my first draft I dutifully put it away for a couple of months, like everyone [Kerry] says you should. And when the 8 weeks were up, I dived straight back in, with no particular plan beyond: maybe each chapter should be about 3000 words long?

I would not recommend this approach to a friend. Joyless, aimless, and led to 15,000 words of utter bobbins. I started putting off my daily writing sessions, because they gave me the same sick sense of dread that my dissertation did a decade ago. Instead of a treat, a respite, a lovely creative thing, they’d become a grinding chore I’d do anything to avoid.

That draft is dead, for now. I’ve refocused my daily sessions onto some serious plotting and character work – and I think it’s paying off. Slowly and painfully and more than a year after I started working on it, I think I might have worked out what the story I’m writing is actually about.

I’m not telling you, though. It’s a tiny baby bird that will die if I uncup my hands and show it to anyone. But bear with me, pals. I’m determined to get it into a shape that’s not horrifying, and when I do I might even let some people read it.

In the meantime, please console yourselves with this partial list of Things I Have Been Doing Instead Of Writing.

Organising a wedding!

Fairly certain that the same rule applies to other people’s wedding plans as it does to other people’s dreams: If I’m not in it, I don’t want to hear about it. So suffice it to say: planning a big party for lots of your favourite people is a joy, especially when you get to do all the planning with your VERY favourite person, who is also The Most Organised Man In The World. If you’re coming, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that I have been doing wildly inappropriate road tests on everything from the bridesmaid dresses to the confetti, and it is all going to be delightful.

(Also: RSVP ASAP kthxbye).

[Not quite] buying a house!

One of my favourite things I have ever written was about accompanying Saz on a not-very-successful day of house hunting. Now she has a lovely flat in Cambridge with two adorable kittens (and a lodger who doesn’t know how to load the dishwasher), so ultimately that story had a happy ending.

We’re not quite there yet. We pulled out of a purchase a couple of months ago because the survey came back showing that the entire ground floor had essentially been constructed out of wet paper towels at some point in the early 1980s.

But just this week, we’ve had an offer accepted somewhere else! And perhaps it will all come to nothing! But just for now, I’m enjoying the little flame of hope in my belly that perhaps this will be a house we actually live in. And perhaps the two open planning applications on the road – one to convert a disused mud patch into a new play area, the other to re-open a derelict shop as a cafe – will come to fruition. And perhaps we’ll go and buy coffee, and take Lars to play on the play area, and then go home and sit by the nice bay window, and all will be well.

Doing some not-very-coordinated yoga!

I’ve done 29 days of Yoga With Adriene’s “True 30 Day Yoga Journey”.

I had thought that I could feel myself getting a bit stronger and bendier. Maybe I can do yoga! Then yesterday, out of nowhere, she pulled out this move:



Tomorrow’s the last day in the series, and I’m not sure yet whether that will be a full stop or a comma for me.

My favourite bit is when you get to have a nice lie down at the end.

Seeing Hamilton! 

I made myself so tense with excitement beforehand that I felt physically sick.

It was brilliant, though.


Doing OK at my new job!

I have got past the point where I walk through doors and immediately have to turn around and retrace my steps because I not only don’t know where I am, I don’t know how where I am relates to where I was trying to be. (The trick is: NEVER GO TO THE BASEMENT).

Someone new joined our team on Monday, which whizzed me straight up the emotional charts from Clueless New Girl to Wizened Old Timer. There are two sets of stairs! I told her, wisely. The Pret that is 19 seconds further away is inexplicably much better than the one that is closer! 

I’m basically running the place, now.

Cooking lots of new recipes!

We’ve been consciously trying to expand our repertoire of meals over the last few weeks, with varying levels of success.

I am here to tell you: Every tutorial you have ever seen about how to get the seeds out of a pomegranate is a lie. Bashing it firmly with a rolling pin does not result in gleaming gems tumbling into your hand as Nigella and Jamie would have you believe. Instead, it leads to everything in your kitchen being covered in vibrant magenta splash marks, as if a murder has taken place inside a fever dream.

(The pink goes quite nicely with the thin sheen of silver glitter that’s been indelibly coating every surface since we decorated the Christmas cake).

But that Anna Jones one-pot pasta recipe everyone raves about? Yeah, it’s lush.

Going to what we thought would be a human interest story-centred talk about the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, that turned out to be an impenetrable academic lecture about the concept of narrative in historiography with occasional references to Alderney!

Within about five minutes of the talk beginning, we realised that we’d misjudged things. (If I am in a room in which someone is making reference to Roland Barthes and Becky is not by my side drawing elaborate, vaguely-semiotic themed doodles, I know that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong).

But we’d positioned ourselves in exactly the wrong place to try to make a subtle exit, so we were in it for the long haul.

Luckily, Mark and I find exactly the same things funny in exactly the same way, so while the lecture was excruciating the debrief was sublime.

Highlights included:

  • The man who interrupted the cursory safety briefing to ask aggressive clarifying questions. “Is THIS a fire exit?!” Yes. “THIS is a fire exit, is it?!” Same door. Still yes. “And we assemble in Russell Square, do we?!” Yes, yes, yes.
  • The lecturer repeatedly pausing, mid-sentence, seeming startled by having caught sight of his pocket square in his peripheral vision.
  • The lecturer pausing at other – also mid-sentence – moments, to nail entire glasses of water. Each time he went to take another sip, he would find his glass empty, and look baffled and incredulous.
  • The woman who opened her ‘question’ with the words, “There is an omission in your research. In 2005, I wrote a play. THAT WAS PERFORMED ON BBC RADIO.”
  • The man who wilfully misinterpreted one of the lecturer’s statements and asked, literally six times, “THE GERMANS WERE WELL BEHAVED IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS, WERE THEY? THE GERMANS WERE WELL BEHAVED, WERE THEY? THE GERMANS WERE WELL BEHAVED IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS, WERE THEY? WERE THEY?????????” On failing to receive a satisfactory answer, he loudly shuffled around the back of the room for the remainder of the Q&A.

Friends: if you would like to learn about the Occupation, do not sign up for academic lectures on a whim. Also do not read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; it is entertaining nonsense. Go to the Jersey War Tunnels, and perhaps read a book called The Model Occupation by Madeleine Bunting. The lecturer utterly denounced it; on that basis alone I assume that it is accessible and interesting.

…and that’s January done.

I might be back at the end of February.

I might not.



No-one can give you courage; no-one can thicken your skin.

I’m very, very close to finishing the first draft of my first novel. I’m trying to get comfortable with saying phrases like “the book I’m writing” or “my novel” but I stumble over them every single time. How presumptuous, to think my word splurge might one day exist as An Actual Thing.

Friends, it is such a mess.

I’m trying to be zen about that, and to remember that first drafts are necessarily messy and full of holes. Plenty of authors whose work I love have written extensively and honestly about the amount of work that goes in between that initial pile of words and the finished, polished product at the end. (See Non Pratt’s recent post on revisions, for example).

But oh, I’m frightened.

Because one of the things that’s got me to this point – that I’ve clung on to like a rubber ring when the swirling sea of feelings is threatening to pull me under – is that First Drafts Are Meant To Be Rubbish. So when I know I’ve skimmed over a plot hole, or used the word “tiny” for the four thousandth time, or created a character whose only discernible personality trait is has quite a nice jacket, I cut myself some slack.

But now I have to fix that all. And even though half my working life is spent editing – and I like it! I’m good at it! – this is so much more daunting than I anticipated. This is where it’s meant to get good. And what if it just isn’t?

It’s such a leap of faith, writing a novel. This nebulous, fragile, beautiful, ugly thing that you chip away at over months and months. Sharing little fragments with your trusted writer pals, and cherishing the nice things they say and doing your utmost to incorporate their helpful feedback – but feeling like a fraud, all the same. Because yeah, you liked that 3000 words. Course you did. I picked the very best extract I could find and polished it until it sparkled. But what you don’t know is that there’s no follow through on the relationships it hints at; the character arcs are barely-there squiggles.

Here’s what I think is scaring me.

Writing is a habit, now, in the same way that making the bed is a habit. After work, most days, I shove some Ludovico Einaudi on the speakers and bang out some words for thirty minutes. More often than I’d like, I have to have a strong word with myself so that I stop faffing around on Twitter or suddenly needing to research Moroccan recipes or whatever elaborate procrastination technique I’ve invented that day. But when I finally get going… it’s magic.

My brain quiets. My mood lifts. I can physically feel the tension easing out of my shoulders. (This is why people like exercise, right?). Brief daily writing sessions are so, so good for my mental health. They’ve helped me feel balanced in a way that felt out of reach for quite a long time.

I’m writing forwards, with hope. That one day, several drafts from now, an agent will read my work and want to represent me. And an editor will read my work, and want to publish it. And a bookseller will read my work, and want to sell it. And readers, lovely readers, will read my work and find something in there that resonates in their brain or heart or tummy.

It’s easy to hold on to that hope before you’ve tried to make any of those things true and before you’ve opened yourself up to the inevitable rejections that are going to come your way. (Rejections are normal! Rejections are part of seeking publication! Zen, zen, zen, zen, zen.)

But what if there’s never anything except rejections? What if I’m just not good enough, or the timing’s wrong, or there’s some other reason I’ll never fully understand that it isn’t meant to be? I know myself well enough to doubt that I’ll be able to keep writing into the void without the hope of it coming to something tangible and validating at the end. I’m not proud of that, or comfortable with it, but I think it’s true. Writing for myself won’t be enough, and it’ll get flung onto the Good Intentions Memorial Pile to nestle in with crochet and swing dancing and my two half-hearted attempts at Couch to 5k.

I’m scared that all that mental balance will disappear and I’ll be back to simmering with anxiety. And that it’ll be self-inflicted: because I’m too proud, too weak, too arrogant to get on with things unless there’s someone giving me a gold star at the end of it all.

Here’s what I’m trying to do, right now. To not psych myself out with a doom-laden imagined future where everything’s gone off the rails. To not psych myself out with a whizzy imagined future where I am making a living from writing. To get over myself. To see the spiral spiralling, and stop it. To write, for myself, because writing is good for me. To speak my anxieties out into the world, in the hope that naming them goes some way to taming them.

I’m putting this out into the world for two reasons. Partly, because I want you to read it and say nice, soothing things that will make me feel a bit better. (If you haven’t got it by now: I AM HUNGRY FOR YOUR ATTENTION AND VALIDATION). But also, because I’ve found it so helpful and so important to hear from other writers saying, It’s hard. It’s a slog. It’s OK. So this is me, adding my voice, for the next person who needs it.

And if that’s you, don’t stop here…

Let us go forth and give ourselves courage, friends. 


The Gender Games by Juno Dawson

Alright, pals?

It’s been a while, I know. And there is so much to say! But almost all my writing energy is going into Writing A Book (hahahaha yes I typed that out loud) or Doing My Actual Job so if you want to hear about all my LOVELY THINGS (getting married, aren’t I?!) then you’ll have to take me out for a drink or something because my fingers have a finite amount of typing in them and not much of it is ending up over here at the moment.


I impulsively signed up for the blog tour of Juno Dawson’s new book, The Gender Games, so I am here to tell you all about it.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

But, like, actually do judge this book by its cover because LOOK HOW GREAT THIS COVER IS.

IMG_9576Will be channelling this aesthetic in all future wardrobe/stationery/interior decorating decisions.

(Those mermaid leggings. SERIOUSLY.)

Once you have stopped gazing in lovestruck wonder, though, do actually sit down and read it because I am confident that you will enjoy it very much.


So what are these gender games, then?

Juno Dawson is a transgender woman, and this book is her memoir. Usually, I’d agree with her that nobody as young as she is should be putting out their memoirs unless they are a literal Spice Girl, but this is deeper and richer and more wide-ranging than a conventional autobiography.

I reckon I’ve probably thought about gender as a concept more than your average bear. I work at a place with a dedicated Gender Specialist and my ridiculously clever, talented, hardworking and prolific sister is an academic focusing on sex, gender and sexuality in a theological context. (Yes, she is EXACTLY as awesome as you think).

But if someone asked me, outright, what is gender? or why does it matter? I think I’d struggle to articulate myself particularly well.

Luckily, I can now thrust this gem of a book into their hands.

I was really struck by the analogy Juno uses of Gender as a His Dark Materials-style daemon. At once completely, inherently, inextricably part of who we are, and yet separate and distinct from us as individuals. (And, if the gender you’re assigned doesn’t match the gender you know yourself to be, it might feel more like Mildred Hubble’s hapless Tabby than Lyra’s Pantalaimon).

I imagine that snippet’s enough to give you a sense of how accessible and enjoyable this book is. Just like Juno’s novels and her journalism, it’s a chatty, gossipy, pacey ride peppered with little pop culture Easter Eggs and possibly the world’s first instance of a footnoted gif.

sure jan

It is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. (ALL DINOSAURS WERE BOYS AND THAT’S WHY THEY’RE NOW EXTINCT). It’s also very moving. The section about her relationship with her dad is beautifully written and made me cry in the bath. At other times, it is full of righteous and rightful anger. It is a book to read RIGHT NOW. It’s like sitting in the pub with your mate putting the world to rights: snarking about Theresa May and sobbing over the NHS and generally thinking, god, isn’t she smart?


The Gender Games made me think about friendship a lot, actually. You can feel Juno’s love for her many and varied female friends emanating from the page, and she writes so brilliantly about how those relationships ebb and alter and strengthen and flow as life goes on around you.

I thought of two of my friends in particular.

When Jo and I were taking our first tentative steps out of the Just Colleagues zone, we went to see Sex and the City 2 in a sticky cinema in the West End. We sat in perfect silence throughout, neither of us emitting even a breath of a laugh. I can’t remember which of us, as the lights came up, first dared to ask: “That was… not good, right?”

Both of us visibly relaxed, relieved that we would not have to cut the other one dead because they had no taste whatsoever.

It is, as Juno says, “one of the worst movies of all time” but it will always have a weird little spot in my heart for cementing my Jo-mance.

(See also: sitting in perfect silence through Britney at the O2).

The other friend I thought of for just as specific reasons involving Historic Beef with a medium-famous figure who pops up a couple of times in the book.

She and I have talked a couple of times recently about how on earth adults make friends. How do you take the leap from “women with shared interests” to “actual friends” when you can’t just thrust BFF necklaces at each other and hope for the best?


In the scheme of things, I’m not sure whether sticking it in a blog post equates to grand romantic boombox above the head gesture or writing our names in a heart in the back of my diary – but Alex, let’s be friends, yeah?


In summary…

Is this how book tour posts usually go? A bit of gushing about the book, a bit of gushing about your pals? Possibly not, but here we are.

The Gender Games is by turns funny, educational and very moving. I recommend it wholeheartedly.


I received a free copy of The Gender Games from John Murray Press. I did not receive payment nor (clearly!) was I told what to write. These thoughts are from my own head. 

You can read an extract of The Gender Games on the Guardian website and follow Juno on Twitter. You totally should, too.


Eyes on your own plate

Last night I went to dinner with two women from my writing group. We’re just on the edge of becoming friends; hovering on the edge of the diving board, bouncing nervously, priming ourselves to tumble into the water below (and hoping against hope that it isn’t a bellyflop).

We sat at bar stools overlooking an open kitchen, talking in mousy-quiet voices because we are Far Too British to get on board with the theatre of food going on inches in front of our noses. The sharing plates arrived in a steady trickle, and we meticulously rationed them out into ever-decreasing, scrupulously equal portions. A third of a raviolo; exactly four chickpeas; wine measured out by eye but with absolute laser precision.

With old friends, with family, I might have run my finger across the saucer to scoop up the last sumptuous smear of labne. With new friends, I watched politely as the crockery was cleared and tried to keep the yearning off my face.

There’s a weirdness when you’re perfectly conscious that you’re being constrained by bullshit gendered societal norms, but you’re not sure that you actually want to defy them.

Appetite, hunger, cravings, greed.

I read some writing advice recently (which I’ve now lost in the sea of the internet, inevitably). Most of it disappeared immediately from my head, but a borrowed phrase has been stuck there like an earworm: keep your eyes on your own plate. Focus on your own writing, on building your skill. Keep going, keep going. Don’t look with envy at what other people are doing, or measure your achievement against theirs. All very sensible, very admirable – but how do you balance that with learning through reading, with supporting your sisters? How do you tamp down the pang of anxiety and jealousy and panic and self-doubt that courses through you each time you read something brilliant that you couldn’t have, wouldn’t have written yourself?

Eyes on your own plate. 

Head down.

After dinner, we went to a spoken word night and listened to a series of Nasty Women perform their writing. It opened with Jonatha Kottler reading her essay Fat in Every Language; I sat in the back row and cried a few hot, silent tears. So funny, so moving, so witty, so warm.

Yes! I thought. This, exactly.

I’ve been trying hard to uncouple food from emotions for quite some time. In bereavement counselling, I found myself sitting across from Sabine (in her boilersuit and necklaces and perfect eyeliner) voicing a truth I didn’t know that I knew. That my binge eating is a distorted echo of my mum’s drinking; that “there was something inside me that was open and desperate, and I filled it up with some potato chips”. (Or M&S Extremely Chocolatey Mini Rolls, or whole pouches of Twirl bites, or spoonful after spoonful of buttercream icing).

At lunch this week I joked to Kevin that I eat all my feelings. Happy feelings; sad feelings. Answer them all with food. Grief tastes of chocolate raisins and creamy lattes consumed alone in a dark cinema. Nervousness tastes of an extra bowl of tortellini, doused in creamy sauce. Anger tastes of oozing, thumb-sized coffee eclairs.  Happiness tastes of cheese and chutney and crusty white bread eaten off a picnic blanket under the stars. 

Kevin laughed, and I laughed, like people have laughed at that line every time I’ve used it for the last 15 years. I think it’s probably time that I retired it.

Another performer at the spoken word night made me bristle and prickle with her slim-limbed gestures as she made ridiculous the women who fear being the ones to open the packet of biscuits. OK, maybe it’s ludicrous. But if you were the one who people look towards when there’s a final piece of food on the communal plate, maybe you’d have a little more empathy for those of us who fear the attention that the squeaking tear of the cellophane wrapper might bring.

Greed is such a luxury, isn’t it?

Last week I stood at King’s Cross in the early-morning rush hour, clad in a red t-shirt and clutching a bucket. FAMINE IN EAST AFRICA, I shouted, again and again. Ninety minutes of yelling at commuters: FAMINE. FAMINE.

20 million people on the brink of starvation; 800,000 children under 5 acutely malnourished. And here I am, stressing about the judgement that might fall upon me if I eat half a teaspoon more soft white cheese than the women I’m breaking bread with.

I do not have that open, desperate space inside me at the moment. I am happy and fulfilled and so loved and so in love. I do not need to fill a void with sugar or salt. But nor do I need to deny myself every mouthful. I’m trying, still, to reach an equilibrium.

In the very first session of Write Like a Grrrl, Kerry spoke about destructive writing behaviours: of the euphoria and subsequent crashes that binging can bring. So I’ve written, steadily, in 10 and 20 and 30 minute bursts. And the word count has crept up, and my mind has settled. It feels healthy. It feels obvious. But it never occurred to me on my own.

I need to find that steadiness in my food and myself, too. To find a way not to indulge every sugar craving (but not to fear cake), to not eat in secret (but not to fear eating alone). To give food exactly the right amount of consideration, and not an ounce or a second more. 

What really has to change, says Jonatha Kottler, is how many fucks I give about all of this. 



Just write

If you know me at all, you know how fanatically evangelical I get about things that I think are good.

  • Counselling! It sorts your head out!
  • Oven-baked risottos! Everything you’ve ever been told about stirring arborio rice is bullshit and lies!
  • Mr. Kipling’s French Fancies! There is no more perfect sugar-delivery mechanism!

Let’s add something new to the list:

  • Kerry Ryan’s Write Like a Grrrl “Ignite” course. The best 12 hour, 80 quid investment any vaguely literary lady could make.

I’ve spent the last six Saturday mornings sitting in an outrageously fancy office with fourteen other women, getting the most pragmatic, practical, perfect crash course in creative writing we could ever have wished for.

When I wrote about exercise a couple of months ago, I mentioned that every time I think about getting fit the first thing I do is go out and buy a new piece of lycra clothing. I now have more pairs of running leggings than any one person could ever need, let alone a person who hasn’t been for a run at any point in living memory.

Until six weeks ago, I had taken a very similar approach to writing. Things that I had done because I thought maybe, probably, possibly I wanted to do some creative writing include:

  • Buying a bluetooth keyboard and a fancy case for my iPad
  • Deciding that wasn’t good enough, and buying a whole new massive laptop
  • Downloading Scrivener
  • Following every author I’d ever loved on Twitter and listening in on their authorly conversations
  • Ditto: young women in cool glasses that work in the publishing industry
  • Reading books about writing
  • Reading books not about writing
  • Subscribing to Mslexia
  • Reading endless NaNoWriMo pep talks
  • Writing this blog (sporadically) for the last eighteen months


The one thing that I hadn’t done for, ooh, thirteen years is any actual creative writing. Don’t know how. Don’t have time. Don’t have any ideas. Can’t. Won’t.

Until one evening when Mark and I were on holiday in Sardinia, my usually unhelpful urge to be a Twitter completist put exactly what I needed in front of me at exactly the right time. A tweet – I don’t even know who from – that said, essentially, “Think you might want to write but don’t know what or how?”

Yes, tweet! I said. Tell me more!

“Book this course!” said the tweet. And I had just the right number of Aperol Spritzes inside me to overcome my normal overthinking and procrastination; on a whim, I booked it.

I’m not going to give away all Kerry’s advice, because I’d like her to carry on being able to deliver the course without me having spaffed all her tips onto the internet, but let me tell you about the first week, which is officially called something like, “Getting Started”, but I have personally retitled “Just Fucking Get Over Yourself, Woman”.

Oh, you don’t have time to write? You do though.

Oh, you can’t write perfectly first time? Nor can anyone.

Oh, you don’t have an astoundingly original idea? People have been sharing stories since the dawn of freaking time; if everyone waited for something totally original to hit them, we’d have run out of books to read several centuries ago.

Just write.

You’ll be ok.

You’re not a genius; you don’t need to be.

Everyone’s first drafts are crap.

Everyone has self-doubt.

Just write.

And daydream, and read, and plan, and scribble, and listen, and edit, and share, and cull.

But most of all: just write.

It might be a bit quieter around here now. I’m writing, I promise, but I’m trying to wean myself off the immediate endorphin rush of sending a blog post into the world, for the lonelier but hopefully ultimately more satisfying task of writing something of substance.

It’s going to take a while.

That said, I’ve got some important thoughts about Christmas food that I need to get out of my system, so I’m sure there’s still an occasional post or two on the horizon.

If you’re a woman and you’ve got the slightest inkling you might want to write, I cannot rave enough about Write Like a Grrrl. It is transformational. And if, at the end, you get brave enough to send in some writing for feedback, it might come back with a smiley face in the margin that makes you feel simultaneously ten years old and INVINCIBLE.

There are courses in various parts of the UK (and even one in Russia!)

You will not for a second regret booking a place.



I was born into a world where walls were falling.

I was 2 years old when bulldozers starting tearing down the Berlin Wall and Mauerspechte – woodpeckers – took things into their own hands and chipped away at what was left. By the time I was old enough to know what the Berlin Wall was, it was as vague and historical to me as any other story we learned at school. There had been a wall; that was bad; now it was gone (but you could get little fragments of it set in perspex to have in your home as a souvenir).

My primary school had been constructed in the 1960s when, in a fit of idealism and utopian ideals, it had been designed without classroom walls. By the time I went there, the teachers had revolted and some flimsy partitions had been installed – but there were still huge open areas for communal play, an open-ended pottery area, a vast “plantation” outside to explore when the weather was good. (The one deliberately enclosed area was the mysterious, snug “Kiva” – a hallowed space used only for the most special moments, like sex education. I remember it as velvety and womblike. It’s possible I’m projecting).

Jersey is scattered with the visible remains of the Nazi Occupation during World War 2. The disused bunkers are now home to bike-hire shops, fish farms, craft stalls. They built a lot, the Nazis (or perhaps, more accurately, the slave workers who they imported did). Not least, the concrete fortifications along the coastline which formed part of the Atlantic Wall – and which have probably stopped bits of the island subsequently crumbling away into the sea.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve read Robert Westall’s Falling Into Glory at least a dozen times. The schoolboy narrator, Robbie, enters a highly inappropriate relationship with his beautiful, brilliant, broken teacher Emma. They steal away to Hadrian’s Wall for their dangerous liaisons; their flirtations swirl around Vindolanda and Vindobala. I’d always imagined the wall as desperately dramatic and romantic; it was an enormous anti-climax when I first took myself off there for a day trip when I was at university. I found none of the romance I’d anticipated, just the ruins of a project that felt like it was obviously, inevitably futile.

Because building a wall is so archaic, isn’t it? It’s the sort of thing that you see in Asterix cartoons. It’s not a reasonable, rational approach to relating to other human beings: to stick up a great big wall and hide on one side of it, defending the territory you so violently insist is yours, yours, yours. When we were very young, that’s what we did. Now we are six, we know better.

And yet.

This morning I listened to swelling orchestral music as Donald Trump, the President Elect of the United States of America, made his way to the stage to give his victory speech. This man, so divisive, so vile, who ran a campaign on the basis of hate and fear. Who vows he will build a wall on the border of Mexico to keep out the people trying to come and build new, better lives for themselves and their families. Trump’s family were immigrants once, of course, but these ones are brown so they’re the wrong kind of immigrants. A nation votes to build a wall.

Meanwhile, construction’s begun of not one but two walls in Calais, 4 metres high and a kilometre long, running along each side of the dual carriageway that heads to the port. Because it’s not enough not to offer asylum to those fleeing war; it’s not enough to dismantle the Jungle; it’s not enough to vilify those who seek refuge in our country. Let’s make it even harder.  Let’s make sure that people who have already risked everything to make it to Calais have one more literal barrier to climb. A nation allows a wall to be built.

When did we become so small, so petty, so frightened?

Today I feel sad and scared and sick. My inclination is to hide away, to nest inside the spaces where I’m comfortable and safe. To build my own walls around the edges of my life and refuse to let in anyone who doesn’t think and feel exactly like I do. But that’s not good enough, is it? There’s a Patrick Kavanagh poem I love in which he says, We build our heavens as we build our circles of friends. It’s always struck me as exactly right. We build the structures around us that will make us feel happy and warm and loved. That’s natural – but it’s not enough.

My baby nephew, Lars, has the right idea. When we play together, I build up his blocks: one, two, three, four. He knocks them down: bam. His will never fails. He cannot, will not, let the wall of blocks stand. Bam: it falls. Bam. Bam.

We have to do more, now more than ever. We have to be generous with our time, our money, our energy, our empathy. To force ourselves out beyond the boundaries of the walls we’ve built to meet with the people on the other side. Because talking to ourselves is getting us nowhere.

When I wrote about Brexit, the ever-excellent Kate Jones pointed me in the direction of More United. I’m not yet convinced if it’s the answer, but it might be part of an answer, perhaps.

What else should we be doing, friends? How do we pierce the bubble and exit the echo chamber?

These are not rhetorical questions. I actually want to know.


[Not] My Teenage Diary

I’ve got a theory about the formative nature of early adolescence; I think the things you’re exposed to from when you’re about 10 to about 14 make indelible imprints on your tastes and opinions. Certainly, that’s true for me. (See: Now 39 is the greatest album ever made. An indefensible stance I will defend forever).

Perhaps that’s why I am such a sucker for epistolary novels. I read a lot of them at that time; from Adrian Mole, via The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (despite not seeing a single second of Twin Peaks until a good decade later), to Dear Clare, My Ex Best Friend. I still have the best part of a bookshelf dedicated to all my most beloved and dog-eared Jaclyn Moriarty and Louise Rennison paperbacks. I return to them again and again.

Anything with a diary format draws me in, really – and especially if it gives a glimpse into that teenage mindset. I cannot get enough of Mortified and Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids and My Teenage Diary. Always so charming, so funny, so perfectly lacking in self-awareness.

I spent a Saturday recently working at the Youth Action Festival which had been organised by some of my colleagues and our youth advisors. As the hundred or so delegates milled around at registration, Hayley said, “Aw, I’d forgotten what it was like to be an awkward teenager.”

“I haven’t!” I laughed, “These are my people.



I thought that I remembered with absolute clarity what it felt like to be fifteen. But recently I dug out my box of teenage diaries, thinking that I could mine their pages for some amusing blog-fodder. Instead, disconcertingly, I found a stranger.

There, in neat handwriting (which has since degenerated significantly), were moments captured in amber that were oddly different to those I keep inside my brain.

Some of the cognitive dissonance comes, I think, from that fact that I used writing then just as I do now: to work through some of my thoughts and feelings by finding ways to articulate them to myself. In general, I need that less for the good stuff than for the stuff that sucks. So while my head is packed with memory flashes of beaches and balloons, swimming and sleepovers and silliness – in my diaries I found mostly angst and insecurity.

What makes me feel so completely off-kilter about it, though, is the impossibility of knowing quite where the true recollection lies. Do I really remember the things that I think I remember, or have I edited and reshaped them to fit a narrative that I want to tell myself?

There’s a boyfriend I think of with such fondness. We met first as eleven year olds on a French exchange programme; I crushed on him crazy-hard from afar. We were at different schools and, as unlikely as it seems in tiny Jersey, our paths didn’t cross again for years. At sixteen, we found ourselves in the same social circle. It was almost more than my little heart could handle. At seventeen, we got it together for a few months (until I ill-advisedly decided to give things another go with The Boy Who Broke My Heart. Another story for another day).

The things that I remembered about our relationship are all rosy and silver-edged.

We had our first kiss in my bedroom after watching an episode of Child of Our Time (oh, Professor Robert Winston, you infamous aphrodisiac). Every few weeks we’d go to a screening of a foreign film at the Arts Centre. We hung out at youth orchestra rehearsals. So far, so wholesome.

But here are some things my brain had not retained:

A good and lovely friend had had a crush on him for even longer than I had, and I was well aware of that. She was never anything but kind and generous and gracious about the whole situation, even though she would have every right to have been horrid in her heartbreak. I am breezy when I should be beholden.

He made me feel massively insecure. He once sent me a text message that said, “Don’t think cause I sometimes don’t reply that I don’t appreciate your messages.” I have recorded my impression that this barely acceptable nugget of correspondence was “lovely… It made my tummy go a bit funny.”

Weeks later, I write, “He’s a very sweet boyfriend… He treads a fine line between being a bit detached and being entirely disinterested.”

At the 18th birthday party of an acquaintance I didn’t know well, I lost him for a big chunk of the night. His best friend – his best friend! – tried to make light of it by saying, “You should start from the assumption: gambling number one, pot number two, girlfriend number three.” When I dissect the night in my diary, I write, “[He] is the best boyfriend I’ve ever had… But half the time I think I’m just an annoying distraction from the important things in his life… I’m a rubbish girlfriend. I don’t blame him for being disinterested.”

GET A GRIP, teenage me.

This isn’t meant to be a diatribe on his character, by the way. I think, probably, he was no better or worse than any other seventeen year old boy. What I am railing against is not so much his behaviour as the mismatch between the smart, bolshy, sorted girl I remember myself being and the doormat who I find in my diary. The chasm between the ovaries-before-brovaries friend I’d like to imagine I am, and the girl who trampled on her pal in the pursuit of what she wanted.

It makes me wonder what else I’m misremembering. It makes me worry about the line between interpretation and misrepresentation.

In the story of my life that I’ve captured in my diary, I’ve created a protagonist who’s fundamentally unlikable. She’s not even an antihero.

I want to rewrite.

I want to edit.

I’m worried I can’t get it right.



I’ve signed up, you see, for a creative writing course. (I’ve typed and deleted that sentence about nine times because “saying it out loud” is scary). It starts in under a week. Already, before it’s begun, I feel like a fraud. I worry that I can’t write anything authentic. I worry that I’m too full of pretence and pretension.

This entire post has been an exercise in avoidance and procrastination: writing about thinking about thinking about writing.

And we go round and round and round in the circle game.