Writing for survival

IMG_0181Slowly but surely my hybrid memoir is taking form, becoming something larger than its separate parts, dreamed up late at night, and then made real in a messy scrawl in a heavy hardback book, before elevating themselves to type here at my computer. This is how it has grown. I’ve been through the most unimaginable changes the last couple of years. I’ve separated from my children’s father, moved home, moved city, sold a house, bought a house, divorced, started a new job, settled my children into new schools. And throughout this time, I have probably produced the most honest and to the bone writing ever. I have been brave enough to put some of it out there and have been lucky enough to find a publisher, with feedback that you could only dream of.

The memoir is, and its process has been, unlike anything I’ve encountered before. I didn’t really set out to write something in its entirety, just wrote, initially, as the mood took me, as a form of expression, working out difficult emotions with the hope that I might be able to let them go. I knew I’d hit something good when the energy took me places I wasn’t expecting – shedding a few tears was a good sign, too. But when I started putting these essays, vignettes, snippets, together, I realised there was continuity, a journey was being taken, a story told. I now have two thirds of it finished and am at that wonderful point in a creative project when I can stitch the pieces together with gold thread. The overriding story is one of my father’s, but it’s from the perspective of a woman – me – facing her own humanity, her mistakes, pain and triumphs. It helps, perhaps, from a storytelling perspective, that my father was an addict, of sex, work, transcendence through his relationship with a religious guru, and then finally and fatally drugs and alcohol. I’ve had a lot of material… and a lot to work through.  Today I came up with a title, and the disparate parts of this project are beginning to feel like a whole.

In the midst of all this, I created a secondary project teaching recovering addicts through St Mungo’s, in an attempt to feel that I was doing something good in the absence of having any control over my father’s death. I realised, as the teaching progressed, that it was serving as a kind of recovery for myself. At the height of my crisis, I got myself up each Wednesday to cycle to St Mungo’s in Hackney’s, Mare Street, to teach creative writing to a group of wonderful people who were coming to rely on me. When I was awarded an Arts Council grant to continue, my writing and teaching partner Zoe Gilbert and I also did a national callout to gather together stories from across the country on recovery, from their own wild lives or that of a parent or a daughter, encompassing some stories about recovery from mental and physical illness. A Wild and Precious Life was born, and we are about to sign a contract with Unbound to publish it (after raising a significant amount of money – watch this space), so we will have fulfilled our promise.

The memoir and the recovery anthology go hand in hand. Two different sides of the same story. And like all good things, they have evolved from a psychological enquiry, a central question that was bothering me so much at the outset, and still bothers me today – why some of us have the strength to survive, regardless of what life throws at us, while others simply drift away.


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