I’m one of those people who love making New Year resolutions. So much so, that I do it throughout the year. Some might say I’m constantly reinventing myself. I think I’m constantly doing the opposite.
I’ll be washing dishes or walking through town, and a compulsion will come out of nowhere. Frequently, it’s that I must cut my hair. Or dye it. And I do mean must. And it has to be the next thing I do. I’ll book an appointment or buy some dye right then and there. I’ve moved towns, quit jobs, gone vegan, joined the gym, taken violin lessons, burnt decades of diaries in the attempt to edit my past, and thereby direct my future. Trapped in a loop of change; changing but unchanging.
I’m well aware that nothing stays the same for long and that to survive, we have to adapt. I’m aware that change is one of the two certainties of life. But what I do feels pathological, and when I get the urge, there’s no stopping it and there are no halfway measures.
There’s this great lyric from Manic Street Preachers’ Die in the Summertime: ‘Colour my hair but the dye grows out/I can’t seem to stay a fixed ideal’. It’s true. No matter how much I try to change myself, I always revert to my default setting and the pattern repeats. I am a writer because writing has been the only constant in my life.
And now I find myself trying to change even that. My current #WIP is a conspiracy thriller, set in the present day, and told through the third-person perspective. I’ve made this change because I have this desire to make my living through my writing, so am adapting to market forces (if that’s the correct phrase). It occurred to me, four novels in, that maybe what I’ve been writing so far is too dark to be popular. Yes, I know there’s an underbelly of us who are into this ‘darker’ stuff, but, unfortunately, it is an underbelly, and I have bills to pay. Demand and Supply.
And how have I found writing outside my ‘comfort zone’? It’s killing me, frankly. I used to love flipping open my laptop while the kettle boiled, ready to sit down and immerse myself in a story I felt passionate about. Working on this particular novel, it’s felt like a chore. I find myself making little errands, going cobweb-spotting, scrolling through social media – and worse: watching the bloody advertising videos for face masks and products for wavy hair! (How the algorithm knows my hair is naturally wavy, freaks me out. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the adverts.) And, instead of heading to Amazon or Etsy when I was looking for a set of mugs from my brother’s birthday, I wandered through town browsing the shops. Ordinarily, that would be a good thing – interacting with people, supporting local businesses, getting a bit of sunshine and exercise – but not when in my heart of hearts, I knew I was only trying to give myself an excuse for avoiding my WIP.
You might be wondering why I was buying a set of mugs for my brother for his birthday instead of tickets to see the new Jurassic Park film, or a bottle of vodka, or hmm, I don’t know, maybe a cracking noir thriller series, written by his sister…
The reason I went for mugs, is that my brother is going an incredibly tough time, which has resulted in his having to find and fill a new home. The last time I went up to visit him, he had three mugs – and one of those was from the Easter egg I’d given him. Yes, I know three mugs is do-able, and is better than no mugs, but he has young children and works long hours. (And here I am again, caught up in trying to justify my choice of what I’m guessing a lot of people would consider a crap present.)
Anyway. I’m in town, looking for mugs. There were no decent mugs. Everything had happy farmyard scenes, or hearts, or shitty slap-in-the-face quotes on them, like love yourself first and focus on the good. I went online. It was a case of more of the same, unless I wanted to call my brother a cunt. Which I didn’t, because he’s not.
This is bollocks, I thought. Pretty much everyone is having a shit time of it right now. The planet’s falling apart, countries and economies are falling apart, governments that should have fallen apart a long while ago, haven’t. We’re all struggling in one way or another, and we’ve all got our personal shit going on, too. Focus on the good?! Fuck off! Fuck sugar-coating everything – pain should be acknowledged, especially now! Everyone’s going on about mental health and how we should talk about things – how come we should paint over things in our art?! It doesn’t make any sense! Make something positive out of it, by all means (in fact, please!) but don’t pretend bad things don’t happen. Don’t tell someone with depression to cheer up because the sun’s out. People have scars. Don’t airbrush them out.
In the end, I found some mugs for my brother. They had sheep on them. He got it.
And back to my writing. Skin and Bone, the fourth – and final – novel in the Glasshouse series, will be out soon. Wrap it up, move on. Change.
As for my WIP, yes, it will be a departure from my novels so far. But I’ll do it my way. To use Muse to sum things up (again) the Dark Shines, to me. Always has. I’m not going to mug myself.