Looking Back Is Harder That You’d Expect

I started to write a sort of year in review blog way back at the start of December. I thought I could do an overview of everything that happened last year; I thought I could write it all down and then pick out the positives.

But after trying to work through it for just over a month I gave up today. Instead I give you this slightly rambling meander about what I’m going to write this year.

Last year ended up being really hard, for a variety of reasons – some of which I’m still dealing with and to be honest I am still struggling. But last year was also exciting, exhilarating, terrifying and exhausting.

I got to go to Dublin with my dearest Mammy; got to bid farewell to sewing professionally by designing and making my wonderful friend’s wedding dress. I went to The Edinburgh International Book Festival; bought far more books than I’ll ever find time to read; got a couple of new tattoos; learned to drive and finally at the end of November I finished the first draft of the novel I’d been working on for 3 years.

I booked a writing day retreat for this weekend with another writing friend and I had thought I could maybe start editing there. But I haven’t even started rereading it so I’m not ready to start changing anything yet.

I’ve talked to The Mammy quite a lot about the idea of trigger warnings for books. (As some of you may know she’s a trained psychotherapist so knows what she’s talking about) I see the purpose and need for them in some instances but not all of them. Over the years I’ve read some really difficult books, I’ve struggled with subject matter that has hit just a bit too close to home and I have had to stop reading a book for a couple of days while I rehydrated and got control over my emotions again. But I chose to read those books; I decided to read them even knowing the subject matter and I kept reading, even after it got hard. So despite all the struggles with some of the subject matter I never felt the need for a trigger warning. In the case of Love From A-Z or The Weight of a Thousand Feathers I’m still kind of in the midst of my trauma with MS and no trigger warning will help with that.

But regardless; I think these topics are important. I think we need difficult books. We need the ones that’ll handle the hard issues: the ones that people can read and finally see themselves, their struggles in another person, in a book they can grow to love.

I was talking to another writer friend about this – about my propensity to cry while reading, and my need to read books that I know will probably destroy my soul in the end. We also talked about the fact that this is the kind of reaction I want from my readers. I don’t want them to suffer just for the sake of it. I don’t want to just punch their guts to make them cry. I want them to see themselves; I want them to fall in love; I want them to finally breath a sigh of relief knowing that finally, finally someone else understands.

Thing is, I know what’s happened over the past 3 years, and I know what emotions have gone into writing this book and I know it deserves the right amount of time and space before I change things. I deserve the right amount of time and space before diving back in. I know how much of myself I’m going to see in those pages; and I know what that might mean. So, for now, we wait.

But that left the question of what to write at this weekend’s writing retreat.
I thought about maybe writing some blog posts or even rehashing some short stories I started writing while on the MA but then I decided to go back even further.
I went back to the novel I’ve been trying to write since I was 17 – a novel I’ve been rewriting and adapting (I even tried to turn into a graphic novel idea and as a possible screenplay) for 15 years. After everything I learned on the MA I thought now the time was right to head back to it. I could use the pre-writing skills I learned and apply it to this project instead. I could make it into the novel I always wanted it to be.

It’s so completely different from Rosa’s story: it’s contemporary fantasy, it is (might be) dual perspective and I might even write it in third person. I haven’t shared my writing much but that’s a big departure from my usual first person narratives. (First person is just my go-to perspective when I start writing anything.) And maybe the most amazing part is that no-one dies (at least in this draft). It definitely feels strange that I’m not killing off my characters – it’s be such a common theme throughout my writing for so long.

I do still want to address mental health; bullying and finding yourself. Your teen years are such a huge, important phase for so many people and these themes are so often so prevalent and pervasive throughout that the idea of writing YA and not including these issues is strange.

This does mean heading back to my own teen years, though; it means looking back on the bullying I faced; it means seeing how much of my 17 year old self I originally put into that story and it means going back to the dark feelings of my own depression I hope I’ve dealt with.

Writing my chapter breakdown and synopsis is the plan for this weekend and maybe I’ll find out that it gets easier the further back you look.

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