‘So’, I hear you cry, ‘what exactly is happening with the Gren Peppard sequel?’
Actually, I imagine that to most of you this is largely irrelevant in your daily lives, but I'm clothed in just enough self-obsession today to think you care and to want to soothe you.
I am still writing it. Honest.
In a nutshell, I had a very brief, fairly mild nervous breakdown in May. It really wasn't long lived in its immediate, intense phase, and I was just about able to go back to work after just four weeks. I could only work a couple of days a week for the six or seven weeks after that, and, though I'm doing significantly better than I was, I still need to take occasional day or week off work.
The breakdown was interesting for me (silver lining there), because I experienced a couple of new symptoms. I was quite desperately suicidal during that period. Not constantly, but certainly I'd have three or four sessions a week where I was struggling to hold on. Despite having a long, long history of depression, this is the first time I've been suicidal.
I have regularly had periods where I didn't much care if I lived or died, and have occasionally been filled with enough self-hatred to want to punish myself, and I've even made vague plans to be filed for later. This, however, has been the first time when I've gone through that darkness of wanting to die so much that I wanted to stop waiting for it and to take matters into my own hands. It was pretty harsh to get through, but get through it I did.
When I was a child, I was of the opinion that suicide was the most selfish thing a person could do. I still have a fair amount of sympathy for people who share that opinion. However, in the past fifteen years or so, I've slowly found myself shifting my sympathy to those people who are so desperate as to take their own lives. Now my opinion has changed again. It’s subtle, so subtle I don’t think I can put it into words, but I've added something to the ‘desperation’. Managing to not kill yourself when you’re actively suicidal takes a massive chunk of energy. When you’re in the fog of Depression, that energy is pretty hard to come by, and it relies on you having just enough logic still intact to know that it’s worth fighting through. When it comes at you over and over for weeks on end, and you don’t know when that’s going to stop happening … well, I can understand how people get so worn down that they just give in.
I am very lucky. I have a supportive family, and a frankly exceptional husband (in this area – I’d still like him to learn how to clean the kitchen properly), so, with a lot of help, I got through it.
That’s the largest part of my excuse. The reason that draft one wasn't ready by the end of June was that I was occupied almost exclusively with trying not to kill myself for most of May. While I love writing and hope to please my readers, you’ll understand why Gren moved down in my priorities.
There are a couple of other things that also blighted me during that time. The first was that I suddenly lost the ability to write. I mean literally; my handwriting went from fairly bad to nonsensical, and my typing speed also diminished to almost nothing. My brain started to do strange things with the keyboard. My poor spelling has always been something of a problem, but I started to type whole words backwards, or get stuck jamming the same key over and over again unable to control my fingers. So, on the rare occasions when I could work out how I wanted a sentence to go, I was unable to get it onto the document.
Again, I this wasn't all day every day, and I was often able to hold it together to write the odd status update and email. Creative writing was gone for most of the time though, and I couldn't touch Gren at all for about six weeks, and then had to limit it to an hour at a shot. To say this was frustrating is something of an understatement.
On the other hand, it wasn’t nearly so frustrating as the second blight: I couldn’t read.
I was able to work out what the words on the page said, so that’s something. I wasn’t, however, quite so able to work out what they meant. I’d spend ten seconds deciphering what a specific sentence was trying to say, and then, by the time I’d started the next one, I’d have forgotten the first. I’d battle through a paragraph over the course of forty minutes, and then I’d be so exhausted I’d have to sleep again.
Again, this wasn’t all day every day, but I focussed my energy on getting through what was necessary, and then I slept. Reading for pleasure was gone.
I’ll tell you what though; I suddenly have a massive amount of sympathy with Tom and his dyslexia. Reading is not fun. Reading, to him, is a series of mini mysteries that need to be decoded, and by the time he’s said the word correctly it has no connection with any other word. When I read a sentence back to him, it’s like he’s hearing it for the first time. I'm pleased that we continued to read to him at night, rather than forcing him to do it for himself.
For me the ability is slowly coming back, and like I say, the worst of this was over after the first four weeks. After a couple of months of occasionally dabbling in old, favourite, comfort reading, and after a number of frustrating false starts, I finally managed to read an entire novel without too many problems. It was Night Watch, by Sarah Waters, and it was precisely what I needed. It took me another month or so before I found Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell. OK, when I say ‘found’, I really mean ‘stole from my Mother in Law’, but still, I read the whole book. Both took longer than I usually take over a novel, but they made such a difference to me. The idea that I might not ever be able to read a book again had crossed my mind lots of times (I wasn't at my most logical), so these two were something of an elixir.
This weekend I demolished the whole of the Hunger Games trilogy. I wanted to jump up and down on my bed, flinging beloved books, old and new, into the air yelling ‘ I'm alive! I'm alive! I'm alive!’ at the end of them.
So, there you have all my excuses. 1: preoccupied by the trying to say alive thing. 2: literally couldn't do it – and this still creeps up occasionally, and I’ll still find that a two or three hour writing stint wipes me out for the rest of the day. 3: At my most desperate I went back through all the advice I've ever been given about writing, and finally stumbled across the one that’s as old as the hills; ‘read a lot’. I needed to start there.
The Gren Peppard sequel still underway, but it’s going to take a lot longer than I initially bargained for. I'm asking you to trust me when I say that because of the extra time, because of the things that I'm learning and re-learning now, it’s going to be a better book for it.