Great, said the people

‘Great’, said the people, ‘shielding is terrible but at least you’ll be sealed in. you’ll be really able to ‘get stuff done’, you’ll be the shutterstock photo of productivity, scribbling away, steaming cup of coffee – no, turmeric tea – to hand. You’ll be wearing glasses, even!’

‘I don’t wear glasses.’

‘No, but in the photo you are,’ said the people, and by people I mean the idealistic voice in my head.

‘But I have a 5 year old to look after’

‘That’ll be great, too!’ said the people. ‘He’ll be acquainting himself with nature, independently making dens in the garden, exploring twigs. You’ll come together for meditation and a wholemeal muffin and he’ll put himself to bed. In the meantime – you’ll finish all the ideas floating around in your head and start new ones – podcasts, plays, poems, prose – you’ll generate all the pees!’

Great. Great.

Need I point out that the idealistic part of my mind was inaccurate in their prediction? I feel little sense of failure – more a battered pride, like a defeated rugby player, as I write this down before you. I did write some monologues and did a couple of fantastic workshops (more later). We did a little bit of home learning most days and on some days we only watched one film, which has become the seal of academic excellence in our house. My son has returned to school thinking that dollars are our national unit of currency from the amount of America he has imbibed, but that will be lost over time.

Childcare aside, I cannot avoid the image of the blank page which has loomed large during lockdown life. The blank white page is what writers have in common (along with crushing self doubt). And of course, the people (the idealistic voice) thinks that a blank white page is a brilliant bedsheet to doodle, to scrawl, to play on.

Now that my son is back at school, there is finally space to contemplate the blank white page – but there is nothing to fill it with. And now, when I need them most, the people are quiet, watchful, aware of the buzzing and droning of a million tiny other voices gaining momentum on my feeling of potential and positivity, ready to cut it off at the the legs. I walk away, think, and by think I mean watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for a bit.

Problem is that there’s been no stimulus for the LONGEST TIME. As a shielder, I’ve missed tuning into the overheard dialogue of the outside world; the initimate breathless chat of 2 joggers, the abrupt tone of an old man on a mobile phone that he doesn’t trust, the odd triangulated conversation outside the Pound Bakery. Not the stuff that’s already been turned into a line for an actor to say but the raw stuff, the fucking ridiculous things we say, I say, every day. I miss human contact as well of course – I’m not a psychopath – but I really miss the source material provided by being outside.

As one door closes, another one etc etc. I’ve been fortunate to have regular work coming in and I’ve taken proper advantage of the online goodies offered by great writers in the form of online workshops. A session with Jenn Ashworth organised by Arvon reminded me that, yes, now is weird, and yes, lowering one’s own expectations is also good. Also, as a substitute to those snatches of overheard dialogue, go on to messageboards for inspiration. Replace your ears with your eyes and trawl Reddit or Mumsnet for character ideas. You’ll miss the nuances of accent and emphasis, but you’ll have a pool of anecdotal inspiration as big as the universe.

From Anna Jordan’s fantastic workshop with Without a Paddle Theatre, I’ve thought about being a bit less precious about the blank page. It doesn’t have to be neat, it’s not a Personal Record of Achievement (Remember those, anyone?). It’s a living document, so fill it with notes, lists, automatic writing. It doesn’t have to be a script. As soon as you make a mark on it, you’ve made a mark.

And from a Q and A session with Simon Stephens, hosted by Up ‘Ere productions, I learnt a most reassuring thing. Writing is not just sitting at a desk, being the shutterstock photo. Writing is also thinking, walking around, reading, watching films that are relevant to my WIP or made by a creator that I admire or want to learn about. So even though my life over the past 4 months has been smaller and more compressed in scope, it has not been empty. that being said, I don’t think I can justify watching Minions as part of my research process.

Writer’s bitch

It’s devillishly personal and impossible to explain to anyone else.  This is because I have writer’s block which is a) devillishly personal and b) writer’s block which means that I can’t express it or indeed anything very well (witness this sentence).


My writer’s block is accompanied by a grave case of self doubt.  The bitchface inner critic is perched on her bony arse in my left ear, waiting to pick up on any phrase I spin forth and critique it in her bland, repetitive, empty way.  She seizes up on the irrelevant and builds them into something significant.  As I typed ‘like’, I accidentally punched in “liek”.  Bitchface was straight on it, taking it as a sign of my blanket failings as a writer.  Bitchface is about 12 years old and a total asshole.


I wouldn’t mind if she were witty, but she isn’t.  She is purely there to destroy any shreds of hope I have in my writing at the moment.  Very often she will simply repeat a phrase in a whiny voice and add nothing to it.  And by Jiminy is she powerful; she has even now wrapped her vines around my tentative google searches for inspiration in the guise of writing competitions or forums.  Her ‘what’s the point’ mantra’ is winning hands down at the moment.

I’m beginning to think that she has something going on with Writer’s block because they’re always together.  I don’t trust them.  If so, bitchface definitely wears the pants in their relationship; if it were just Writer’s Block on his own, big solid stump of blank that he is, I think I could win him round.  But she always shows up and sticks the boot in.  Writer’s Block might even be quite helpful if he were on his own and I could just …contemplate him for a while.  But it’s never just him.  They’re a couple, I’m sure.


I hate Bitchface.  She spoils everything and I’m not even kidding.  She is making my life hell at the moment.  According to her I am terrible at everything I try and deserve to fail. I’m a rotten teacher, with no social life (deservedly) and no chance of being happy and creative and successful.  Ever.  In stronger moments I’ve tried exorcising her, but it never works. 


Bitchface has read all of this and you would think that she would be happy with this paean to her ways.  But she isn’t.  She has complained about my lack of adjectives and lack of stylisticpunch.  For this is how she rolls.


Bitchface 1 Nefny 0



Fear eats the soul

I’m just throwing words at a page a the moment, the way kids throw a ball against a wall in films, telegraphing boredom and ‘I’ve got nothing better to do’.  Unlike them, I am not about to discover a secret portal into the past or have a life changing experience with my peers on the way to see a dead body.


I am stuck, throwing not particularly good words at a wall in a not particularly good order.


So I keep on going, knowing it is rubbish but keeping on all the same.  This week, my week off I said I’d make 5000 words.  This week.  5000 words?


To avoid this vertical struggle, I just read the opening of Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet.  It reads so honestly – first person – Watson talking about his experience in Kandahar.  I think my novel is too much about my own attitude to my experience looking back (bitter) rather than the experience itself, which was actually kind of joyful and reasonably positive at the time.  Only in grizzled hindsight have I become bitter.  At the time I was happy and excited – surely that should shape the novel?  It has totally affected the way I write.  None of my characters are ‘nice’, not even okay.  One of them is close to me, but only because we share all the same slovenly, trashy bad habits.  Didn’t even Bonfire of the Vanities have some balanced, optimisitc characters?  Generation X?


I’ve decided to basically write through it and do a first read though in June.  13 weeks at 5000 words a week.  June will be the first chance I have to read back and see what kind of a big poo I have done on the page and whether I can mop it up.  The finish line is everything.  Is this a stupid strategy?  Words of support, answers to questions and any kind of input are moooooossssst welcome right now.




Dejected for all the wrong reasons on Valentine’s Day x