What Lies Beneath

We’ve been doing some DIY recently, trying to sort out issues with rising damp, and through the dust and grime there emerged one day row upon row of gorgeous old bricks. Amazing that something so lovely has been there all along, hidden behind layers of plaster and wood. 

It got me thinking about being visible – putting stuff out there for people to see and read. My travel memoir is a work in progress and I’ve noticed that as I tell life stories, I tell the truth about myself. Each layer of plaster comes away (not always painlessly) to reveal another brick – often discoloured, bruised or dented, but always beautiful in some way. Health, grief, love, travel, loss, fear – it’s all there, and it’s all universal, so I suppose it makes perfect sense to share it. 

Dust? What dust?

Imposter syndrome and counting numbers are all part of the journey – writing words that want to fly. They may find a home and land safely, or they may fly away. And that’s okay. There’s courage in vulnerability. Beneath the layers of shame and anxiety are lovely old stories that want to be told. Tales that have lain hidden too long.

I’ll continue to prise away the plaster to see what lies beneath. Treasures all, I reckon. Oh, and we’re keeping the open brick in the hallway.

Who Do You Think You Are?

I had a great meeting today with an editor, as recommended by my agent, to talk about my travel memoir and how it could be improved. Even reading that sentence makes me blanche a little – who do I think I am? 

For some time now I’ve been sensing the approach of the dreaded imposter syndrome – raised eyebrows, cynical shakes of the head and much judgement. My inner critic has a field day when I step into the light and put myself out there. She’s trying to keep me safe, I suppose, but boy oh boy, she can put a dampener on my creative spirits. 

People might laugh at you, she’ll whisper, you might fail, you’ll probably never be quite good enough. And so on. This irritating and, let’s face it, paralysing syndrome, affects lots of us and it stands to reason that those who’ve always been in the background will feel it more strongly. It bites for perfectionists too (tick) and for those who are trying something utterly removed from their background. Get a job, hate job, stay at it, retire. That’s the usual trajectory and daily I find myself fighting against it.

But it’s the path I’ve chosen and, in fact, I’m delighted to be traipsing along it. I have an agent. I’ll soon have an editor. And one day maybe even an actual book with my name on the cover. And that’s allowed. 

Let’s gently show our inner critic to the door, show some self belief, and who knows what we’ll unleash into the world…see you out there!


I keep forgetting things: where I put my keys, why I came into the kitchen. It’s as if my brain is constantly reminding me that middle age has arrived. (Thanks). 

But remembering things? Now that’s another matter. I have memories so strong that they’ll never leave – some good, some bad. My long term storage is surely getting too full. I feel like I’ll need to order more storage at some point. The hippocampus region in the brain is a marvel, storing and processing memories more efficiently than a machine ever could. 

This week the world remembers the fallen from two world wars: the numbers still impossible to compute, the age of young men still impossible to understand. Remembering in this sense is dark but important, the urge to learn lessons is heavy. 

This week is also the anniversary of my brother’s death. A single story that brings into sharp focus the losses of many. He died from lung cancer yet never smoked. He was funny, warm and kind. He was my brother.

They say that time heals all wounds. This is nonsense, of course, time just wraps itself around the injury and lets it bleed. It’s been seven years. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, sometimes it feels like seven years – that’s what time does to grief. The burden is lighter now, though, and I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful for the memories that cling on: playing rounders at family picnics, being pushed (accidentally on purpose) into a bunch of nettles, 70s photos with hilarious, wonky fringes. Memory works in strange ways. I love these images arriving in my mind but it’s taken a long time to erase the horrible ones of his last days and hours. Brightness is better. And soon enough it overcomes the dark.

I don’t really care where I left my keys or what I came into the kitchen for. I care about these memories and all they bring back.

Fallen soldiers. Lost brothers. We will remember them.

The Numbers Game

How do you feel about maths? If you’ve just broken out in a cold sweat, welcome to my world. Numbers have never been my friend and I’ve now accepted that they never will. It’s as if my brain is wired to treat them as a threat – should any wander innocently into my head it will attack them and turn them into mush. 

It’s often the way with creative types who see the world in words and colour so I know I’m not alone, but I’m still jealous of people who can do sums in their head (in their head! With no calculator!). Even if someone asks me to add up a very simple sum I freeze and panic. 

When I went to a university summer school a few years ago we all gathered in the lecture theatre and the professor of psychology welcomed everyone and outlined the plan for the first day. Turns out we were all going to introduce ourselves and then do some quick mental arithmetic and add it to the board at the front.

Well. Eyes widened. Hearts raced. And some (me) even began to reach for their coats. But she laughed soon enough and explained that some of her research also involves ‘maths anxiety’ (she gets to wire candidates up to monitor their physical reactions to doing equations). This summer school was not going to involve such things (thank heavens) so we gratefully moved on.

Numbers. I don’t like them. But this might be a good thing. Since stepping into the limelight last year I’ve purposely not looked (too hard) at viewing figures or levels of engagement. How many people are reading blog posts, engaging with the newsletter, liking Twitter posts? It’s exhausting to monitor such things – the numbers go up and down and my fragile ego likewise. Ignorance is sometimes bliss.

And more than that, it’s an acknowledgment that small is not necessarily worse than big in this game. Small numbers are cool. Just one person who laughed at a tweet or was moved by a story – that’s the sweet spot. Real connection is where it’s at. 

One plus one equals? Lots of happy readers and one happy writer.