A year! A WHOLE YEAR!

Where the hell did my publication year go? I can hardly believe it’s a matter of days until it’s over. It’s been hard work. Super fun. Massive learning. I will admit, though, it’s all a bit weird now any semblance of excitement is gone. Back to square one, only not square one… Sometimes I wonder if it’s square two or square zero, it sorts of depends on the day and how positive I’m feeling about the whole experience. But the fact remains that I’m soon to be back on submission with a new manuscript, and I’m working on a third with the aim of finishing that by Christmas. Things are happening.

Plotting and writing and editing has taken a lot of time away from marketing Tinker, Tailor the past six months, but the truth is, while I feel bad about the lack of focus I’ve given to my book baby, I’ve had no choice but to scale back in order to get on with anything else at all. And anyway, am I a writer, or a marketeer? Probably a bit of both. But honestly, I’m not really very sure if all the hours of marketing I put in – especially on social media – made enough of a difference to book sales after the initial push to be worth it. I say especially social media, because I think it took up far too much time and my reach hasn’t increased anywhere near exponentially as I hoped it would. Your reach is your reach on social media, I now realise… and unless you’re very lucky and Dawn French retweets you and you go viral (she didn’t), you’re just another debut author.

But all is not lost, and I’ve got some great things coming up thanks to quite a bit of persistence, tenacity and maybe a bit of borderline stalking over the course of the past year. Networking, radio interviews, book signings, workshops – getting out there and talking to people who might just be able to help has proved to be fruitful and I’ve definitely had exposure as a result, ranging from my own table at Waterstones to a couple of book festival appearances, including Barkway Lit Fest in October and the Emirates lit fest in Dubai next February, which should definitely shift a few copies! Personal and in person stuff has definitely been more effective, in terms of self promotion and sales. Maybe that’s just me – better in person. Not sure that’s a great advert for a writer haha. But it’s helped me learn where my strengths are and how I can best sell books. I do remember someone saying once, that back of the room sales are the most effective way to sell books. Of course, getting a room to be at the back of is actually the challenging bit – the festivals are all about the big names and it’s hard getting a look in, especially as my publication year is now at a close and I’m not considered a ‘debut’ author anymore. (The irony being that last year, no one would consider me because my book wasn’t out yet… if you can figure out how that works, do let me know.) Going forward, I figure the best way to sell more books is to write more books and publish more books so that people invite me to a room I can be at the back of. So that is what I’m going to do. Stay tuned.

Doing a number two

I learned a lot about writing from Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy; certainly, my writer toolkit has improved dramatically and while writing my new manuscript I’ve patted myself on the back a number of times for not falling into any classic bad-writer traps this time around. But if I thought I was done learning how to write a book, I was sorely mistaken.

Way back when I understood nothing of how publishing works, I thought my next book would be a sequel. It’s not, before you ask (lots of people have). I’d love to do one, but I need each of you to sell the first book to another 3,000 of your closest friends before I get to write Vicky again. It didn’t matter, in the end; I had loads of ideas, although it took a while to land on the thing that felt right, not least because of lockdowns and covid and, well, you know the rest. In the end, after a spring getting Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy ready for publication and a summer spent reading, musing and generally procrastinating (as well as promoting my very new, very real book), I started writing properly in September. It was just after TTSS launched, and I was buoyed up by the amazing experience that was having my first book in print and raced through the first third of the story, however, as autumn crept towards winter, my enthusiasm and positivity quickly turned to fear and general paranoia, that I would never be able to write another book.

Things may have been slightly easier if I’d had a plot. I hate plotting. I’ve convinced myself it takes all the spontaneity out of writing; I loathe the idea of post-it notes and spreadsheets and notebooks and whatever else wise people who meticulously plan their books use. I wrote Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy in a proper seat-of-the-pants style. I didn’t ever feel like I needed a plot plan. I knew what I wanted from my story and my characters and was happy to rework it over and over again until I got it right. This time things weren’t quite so clearcut, and the fact that the book didn’t come out of me fully formed has been a source of great frustration.

As the end of the year approached, I was stuck in the dread zone, two thirds of the way through, at the point where nothing makes any sense anymore and I assumed I would never finish. However, I was thankfully wrong; by the end of January, forcing myself to stay off social media and going into hibernation thanks to yet another covid wave, I was done with a first draft. It was 10,000 words too short, had a big chunk in the middle that didn’t make any sense and a character who was completely superfluous to requirements, but it was done. The whole thing took me five months, which isn’t bad going at all, especially when at least half of that time was taken up with deleting huge tranches of copy in fits of anguish and scrolling past all the more successful writers on Twitter every day.

I sent the first draft to my agent at her (misguided) request with a message that read: ‘I am aware this is shit, please don’t drop me’ and then rested up for a few weeks before starting the first big edit. Lots of writer friends said they were sure it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. Bless them and their unwavering loyalty. It was.

But looking back, so was the first book. I just didn’t know it – I had no means of measuring my writing, back then; it’s only now that I know what a finished book looks like – and the effort that goes into getting it to that point – that I can be honest with myself about the probable state of my first draft of TTSS. And the second. And the third. It’s the knowing that knocks you sideways, of course; Book number two is not so much of a learning curve as a sort of virtual torture chamber where your self-confidence goes to die. But a few months and a lot of red pen under the bridge, things are much improved, and I’m just about reaching that delicious point where you realise you do actually have a whole book and it’s quite possibly not shit anymore, and you’re ready to talk about it with friends in pubs without desperately trying to change the subject when they ask ‘how’s the writing going?’.

I wonder if this really was a difficult second album, or whether every book is agony once you’ve written the first one, because every time after that debut, you’re so acutely aware of the mountain you have to climb. I might have already got to the summit, but each book is like taking a new route… so is it really the same mountain, and does it get any easier? I guess I’ll find out when I start number three. But for now, I’m just crossing my fingers that my new book baby will find a place in the world. Watch this space…

How it started… how it’s going…

Someone asked me last week, what it was like to be a debut author. It’s weird, because to be honest, I don’t feel very debut-like anymore, although as far as the glacial timelines of the publishing industry go, it’s entirely possible I could be considered ‘new’ for another 23 years. But the initial excitement and sense of achievement of publishing a novel is certainly in the past; and while I’m still learning a lot about my role as a published writer, it’s quite an interesting question to answer, six months in, with the benefit of quite a bit of hindsight. Now the euphoria has worn off, what does it really feel like to be a debut author?

Well, firstly, I’m a bit knackered. Every debut author will know (or very quickly find out) that the lion’s share of day in-day out marketing and publicity comes down to you; publishers simply don’t/can’t invest the same amount of time and energy in debuts by unknown authors as they do if you’re, say, Richard Osman or Dawn French. Trying to get noticed or stand out from the crowd is incredibly difficult; longer tail ‘reach’ feels like the holy grail. I can’t even begin to calculate how many hours I have spent campaigning to get into bookshops, do signings, appear in the local news or on the occasional radio show in the hope of selling a few more copies; social media is easier, but even so, to get followers up in the thousands could send you mad or die trying. And, after the initial few months, I’m possibly not alone in having the niggling thought that no matter how hard you work, it might not be gaining you any traction at all in terms of book sales. Not that you know one way or the other; there’s no way of knowing how your book is selling for at least six months so you are pretty much working in an informational void, with no idea if anything you are doing is paying off at all. Still, you can’t stop; you have to keep pushing, and hoping, and praying that it does.

But as time passes and people move onto the ‘next big thing’, it’s hard to keep the momentum going. And here’s where it gets tricky, as a debut author, to remain sane and grounded about your work. You have A LOT of other debut authors to compare yourself to and with each passing day you watch more and more of them launch into the world. We’re all making out like we’re so popular and successful and supportive in order to try and convince readers to give us a spin, but deep down in places we don’t like to talk about at parties, we’re all still really wondering if our books are shit in comparison to everyone else’s and that’s why we’ve only got 573 followers on Twitter and no one will answer our emails about appearing at book festivals. I’m not going to sugar coat how difficult that can be sometimes – I think it’s important to be honest with myself and a good thing, to check my ego and say, wow, you did an amazing thing but other people do it better, or got luckier than you, or both. But I recognise that in comparison to a lot of other authors whose books never see the light of day, I’m very lucky too, and I’m not saying I’ve been hard done by – I’m just saying it’s hard.

There’s a lot to celebrate, of course. Reviews, for one thing. Fan mail, too. I’ve had some amazing messages from complete strangers who felt compelled to write and tell me how much they loved the book. That I inspired someone to do that, to actually reach out, is a massive compliment and incredibly meaningful. I’ve been very fortunate to have a stonking set of reviews and actually only a few negative ones (my top three favourite 3* reviews, btw, are: 1. awarded for ‘ an unnecessary sex scene’, 2. ‘it’s not as good as Motherland’, and 3. ‘I’m going back to Ken Follett’). The variety of these comments will tell you that what readers like or want is very subjective so you can’t set too much store by them – and anyway, reviews aren’t really about feeding your ego – they’re more about feeding algorithms; still, it’s comforting to read what people are saying and know you didn’t write a complete load of rubbish. But ultimately, it IS about algorithms… so it’s hard to remain relentlessly upbeat about a product that you believe in and have invested so much of yourself in that almost everyone says is great when they read it, when you’re watching your Amazon sales nosedive because you haven’t hit the number of reviews that would propel you to be ‘noticed’ by a computer. That’s the other thing I’ve learned – don’t be shy about asking people to leave reviews!

Although I might sound a bit jaded I should point out that there’s still a boat load of things that make me buzz, that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. Seeing my book on the shelves in a book shop. Friends messaging me to tell me they’ve seen my book on the shelves in a book shop. Getting on ‘the table’ in Waterstones. Being asked to talk about my book, the writing process, and yes, about being a debut author. God, I love the talking. I could do it all day long. When I’m not busy writing, of course (just in case my agent is reading this, I am actually writing too, I promise).

As I move from being debut author to an author with a debut novel (and I do think there is a distinction to be made) it’s great to take the time and consider all the stuff I’ve learned so far – which is A LOT. Next time – and there will be a next time, I am determined of that – my expectations will be set. I will know how to do a book launch, who to call, I’ll know what the publisher does and what my agent does and what I have to do and I’ll know a whole bunch of hugely supportive bookshops, radio stations, magazines and social media pals who will help me to get my book out into the world. I will reap the benefits of the hard work I put in this time around and cross my fingers and hope for that tiny little bit of luck that will get me on the shelves of Waterstones without having to go in and ask, appear on the supermarket top 10 or get me an invitation to a book festival where I can share all the things I’ve learned with other new authors too.

What’s it really like to be a debut author? Exhilarating, exhausting, joyous, tough… but most of all, memorable. But I have the sneaky feeling it’s like that every time; and that’s why I’m hoping to do it all over again.

Six things I’ve learned from publishing a book

It’s six weeks since I woke up a published author. SIX weeks! I can barely believe it, still – and yet I don’t rightly remember what it was like before I painted my nails to match my book cover (oft-commented on during signings, although looking a little off-season as winter looms) or wondered if anyone would even buy the book never mind like it (they have – mostly!). I can honestly say it’s been a blast, and also incredibly hard work. I’m not sure any of it has really sunk in properly but I’m hoping by sitting down with a cuppa and writing it all down, it might.

Truth is, I’ve been thinking about this post for a while and wondering what to write that hasn’t already been said a million times before by every slightly deer-caught-in-headlights debut author. I’m not sure I’ve come up with much that’s new, but as it’s my six-week anniversary, here’s six things I’ve learned – or am still learning – about being a published author:

  1. Getting your book noticed is hard. Unless you happen to strike it really lucky or know someone who can get you on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine, after any initial buzz around launch, you’ll realise that your circle of influence really is very small. Being surrounded by supportive, like minded people on social media is great, and makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but it doesn’t necessarily convert to sales. Writers support other writers, and they share and like your stuff on social media – but they don’t necessarily buy your book. Some do – but a lot don’t. And they follow/are followed by a lot of other writers. The snake eating its own tail, so to speak. The group of people you really want to get noticed by – readers – are a lot harder to engage, and I think it’s important to recognise that you will probably need to be a little more inventive than relying on your Twitter following to get the word out. Interestingly, though, Insta has been the relative social media front runner for me in terms of new follows and likes/shares. I was quite surprised by this and am trying to keep up momentum, although I do find it more time consuming to generate content than, say, tweeting.
  2. Reviews are important. One obvious way of getting noticed is to get good reviews. At first I thought reviews were about my ego but actually it’s nothing to do with that and everything to do with ALGORITHMS. I was on a blog tour which was great (thank you to ALL the bloggers – amazing people!) – I almost certainly sold books because of this, and combined with being part of the September Kindle Book Deal, it was a very positive first month. On Amazon I was in the top 20 for my genre (Women’s Action and Adventure) for the entire four weeks and I even got to number 1 in Audiobooks for a day! But now the blog tour is over and it’s not September anymore, I’m reliant on algorithms. The more reviews I get, the more the algorithms will love me and plonk me in someone’s ‘If you like this, you’ll love this’ suggestions box. I’ve spent a lot of time asking the people who bought my book to review my book – because it’s actually their recommendation which will make the difference, not the fact they bought the book in the first place. So if you’re reading this and haven’t left a review yet, please do!
  3. Bookshops are brilliant places. Well obviously they are. But I hadn’t truly appreciated the support they could offer, when they are really behind a product and its author. A book signing might seem like a bit of an ego trip, but actually, you have to remember that for everyone involved, it’s also good business. If you can create buzz for the bookshop, they will create it for you. I’ve met some amazing people the past month who have really made the experience magical – both independent bookshops and Waterstones. These people love books and they know their audiences and if you can just get up the courage to walk in and talk to them and sell yourself and your book, for the most part, you’ll find they are willing to listen. Ditto bookshop customers. Talk to them! They are wary at first – the look in their eye says ‘you’re trying to sell me something, so I’ll actively avoid you’ but then they remember you are trying to sell them a book and they are in a bookshop, so it’s actually okay to stop and chat. Sometimes they buy, sometimes they don’t. There’s no point in taking it personally – if it’s not their thing, it’s not their thing – but whatever the result, it is helpful to talk about your work in any capacity – and it’s also lots of fun getting to know readers at a grass roots level.
  4. Publicising your book can be a full time job. If you aren’t careful, all this ‘getting noticed’ can consume you. Between visiting bookshops, being active on social media and writing guest blogs, articles and so on, I’ve barely had time for anything else in my life this past month. I don’t know how you would do it if you had another full time job. I suppose you wouldn’t – or you’d be much better organised than me. The hard work did pay off – I have at least one event booked for every week from now until December, and so I feel like I can relax a bit now, and start again after Christmas to build momentum back up for spring/summer. How this reflects in my book sales I have no idea… and won’t for another few months yet. If indeed, I can ever measure the effectiveness of the things I’ve been doing vs. organic sales. I’m not sure how I ever would, to be honest. Blind faith it is, then…
  5. Find time to write again. Gosh, the second book is hard. Your brain is so busy congratulating itself on the first one (as it rightly should – it’s an amazing achievement!) that it tends to forget what got you there in the first place. Actual writing. I’ve realised/been told repeatedly that the best way to sell Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy would be to get a second book published. But in order to do that I have to sit down and write again, with the same commitment and energy as I did for the first one. It’s taken me a long time to get to that point; I’ll admit at one point last year during the lockdown/homeschooling horror I wondered if I’d ever be able to do it again. But getting back in the habit of writing is half the battle, and now the first book is out there, I feel I have the time to devote to creating something again, the courage to put words down and the confidence that they are going to work out just as well as the last lot did.
  6. Finally… Have a launch party. Big and brash or small and intimate, do celebrate and make some memories with the people who love you. You just published a book!!!

One week to go!

And suddenly there’s just a week to go before my book baby hits the shops. The past few weeks have mainly seen me sniffing out PR opportunities like a truffle pig, trying to book in-the-flesh author events in. I’ve got the most amazing blog tour booked (see dates here) but Covid has made planning any kind of in-person gigs pretty difficult. However, I’ve been lucky enough with timing to get some events booked for the autumn, with some wonderful bookshops who really couldn’t have been more enthusiastic – and to top it all, positive reviews coming in that are making me slightly less nervous about the whole thing. At this point, it’s hugely comforting to know that people are enjoying it already, especially as I accepted the amazing Helen Lederer’s offer to come and do an ‘in conversation’ with me at my launch party. A perk of being involved with the CWIP Prize, but slightly terrifying given I’m now standing up in front of 60 people with an bona fide professional comedian who is bound to be funnier than me. Not I’m worried about any of it – honestly… it’s only when I think about it really hard that my stomach lurches at the idea that I made everyone I know buy this book.

But let’s not dwell on that – I’m all about the positive this week! Even if I am also going to be 47 years old (yes, folks, it’s my birthday next week too), I get to have a party bigger than my wedding, sign books, wear a neon pink maxi dress with flying horses on it (true story) and generally feel like a superstar. It feels like an incredible privilege at this point, one that I appreciate enormously. I really, really feel for authors who’ve had to do this during the past 18 months with nowhere open and nothing happening. What a bitter pill to swallow after all that hard work getting to this point. I am very, very lucky.

Publishing a book is hard work. Even in ‘normal’ times, I don’t think anyone appreciates how hard it is to get your name out there as a debut author. I’ve basically become a door-to-door salesman to everyone I meet, which for me, is a bit out of bounds. Although I’m not shy about coming forward, especially when I started, I was cringing every time I told anyone I had a book coming out – you see it in their eyes, I would think, they’ve already decided it’s crap before you’ve even finished the sentence. I have discovered though, that generally, people are very happy for me, rather than eye rolling at the very idea. I still can’t help thinking, though, if only I was a minor celebrity, I would be taken more seriously. Top tip, kids: if you’re thinking you might like to publish a novel in future, my advice would be to get on the telly before you write it – be a news presenter or bit part on Corrie – because it will be a darn sight easier to promote yourself (and get other people to do it for you) if you’ve already done a stint on Strictly or won a BAFTA for best undead zombie in Game of Thrones.

Next week is THE most bonkers of my whole life. Monday is my birthday. Tuesday the e-book is out. Thursday my son starts senior school and the paperback is released. Friday is the launch party. Saturday is my son’s birthday party, with the follow up actual birthday on Monday. Talk about art reflecting life – TTSS is all about the balance between family life and career, and it couldn’t be more apt. And just like my heroine, Vicky, I’m fighting a losing battle with the two things I love the most… I’m sitting here writing this, knowing full well I should be labelling shirts and moulding gum shields for my only-born. God knows how conflicted I’ll feel this time next week! But I wouldn’t change it for the world. So many people have been in touch to say ‘enjoy it’… and I truly am. Deep breaths… and ready, set… GO.

Signing my first books @Barnes Books!

Mad (wo)men

With just under two months left to go until publication day, I thought I’d reflect on the journey so far. It hardly seems real, still, that my book will be in the actual shops in eight weeks’ time. The creative process has been relatively smooth sailing, if I’m honest. The hard stuff is all the rest of it!

Being published for the first time is a strange situation: you go from lolling about in your writing bubble bath to being thrown into the publishing equivalent of a lazy river, constantly wondering whether you should kick your legs a bit to influence the outcome or just go with the flow. Throughout the past six months I have been constantly second guessing whether I should be more or less assertive with my publisher, or more or less proactive; not wanting to appear a control freak or tread on any toes, and at the same time trying to prove myself a competent, commercially savvy and enthusiastic individual who wants to work hard to sell my books. As an author, you have to be calm, patient and understanding that while your book matters to your publisher, they have a million things to juggle; and accept the fact that you’re a long way from the top of the pile, and that to get that vital airspace with bookshops and bloggers and influencers to propel you a little further up the food chain means pitching yourself against authors who are better, faster, more experienced, more known, with bigger budgets and better relationships with which to gain traction. It’s not easy. And I’ve found negotiating the choppy waters is all the more difficult because, like a lot of writers out there with their first book deal, I have absolutely no idea who does what.

Google ‘how to get an agent’ or ‘how to get a book deal’ and you’ll get a million articles. Try searching ‘who does what when you publish a book’ and the answers are less consistent. It’s quite a minefield, and from conversations with other authors, appears to vary from publisher to publisher, agent to agent, and author to author. Thankfully, I have an amazing, hands on agent who’s willing to steer a rather green debut author through the confusion of their first publication. But I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone.

One thing that’s very consistent though, is that authors need to market their own books. Although I was expecting to take on a lot of the responsibility to sell mine – I’ve read a million articles telling me as much – nothing really prepared me for how much there would be to learn and to do in order to make even the tiniest dent on the consciousness of the nation. Plus, I massively underestimated the sheer quantity of time it would take. Before this month, I thought doing social media was just a case of chucking a few tweets out a couple of times a week. Now I seem to be in a constant battle between being a writer who writes actual books and a marketeer promoting the one I’ve already written.

In truth, keeping up with the demands of social media admin in order to grow my online presence, generating book signings and organising launch events has become an almost full time job. To help me get some new ideas to help with promoting the book, I went on a marketing course for authors, which was great in terms of really focusing on my brand, but also made me aware of just how much there was to do. Today, I have a spangly website and several promises of book signings, and I’m feeling rather chuffed to have increased from 300 to a massive 434 Twitter followers (please do follow me, by the way, @Writerfaye – I’d quite like to make it 500 by the end of the week). But the amount of work that’s gone into it in the past four weeks or so feels faintly ridiculous and I have begun to wonder how anyone has the time to do this and write.

There’s a rumour that publishing a book in the good old days was vastly different. Allegedly, there was a time when the publisher did all of your marketing while you quaffed champagne and signed the occasional book. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. But I do know, that as a 21st Century debut author it’s very definitely not like that – and while confusing and fairly exhausting on occasions, that doesn’t always make it a bad thing. If I wasn’t before, I am super, super invested in my book now. I am not afraid to walk into a bookshop anymore and talk to them about stocking my book, or asking about an event. It’s yielded far better results than emailing, although taken about ten times the amount of time and effort. The @womenwritersnet and @debutsuk2021 groups on Twitter have really changed how I interact and I’ve learned a lot from other writers promoting their work too.

Whether it really makes a difference or not is quite impossibly to say, at this stage. But I keep telling myself it will! And honestly, after the last year and a half, I’m so excited to talk to strangers again I don’t really care. In talking to people and putting myself out there, on social media and in real life, I feel like I’ve tapped into a new community who really cares about books and writers.

Publishing a book is long, and crazy. I’m sure I’ll look back on this post in a few months and there will have been a whole other set of learning too. But to anyone reading this and wondering, is it really worth it, I would say yes. With bells on. Writers learn for a living: every edit is a lesson in how to be better. As I see it, the end part of the process is just an extension of this. So I embrace the next few months, and cross my fingers that it all pays off. If nothing else… WHAT a ride!

The Darkest Day

I’ve been re-reading my old blog the past day or so. Some lovely, timely reminders about the lonely, sad and exhausting nature of living away from friends and family – as well as some observations about expat life and motherhood that made me giggle and miss the chaos just a little bit too. But the main thing that struck me was how alone I was during those years. I forgot just how much I flew solo, trying to cope with a small child without a support network and missing my old life so much I would ache with the misery of it. It’s not dissimilar to how many of us are feeling right now, and reading it back, I realise just how much resilience I managed to build up over that time, that’s being redeployed over and over again this year and especially during this bleak, dark winter.

Writing that blog didn’t just kickstart my career; far more importantly, it helped me to work through any number of painful or difficult moments in time when I would have otherwise felt like I couldn’t cope. I supposed it’s what inspired me to write again, today; the move into yet another lockdown, or Tier 4, or whatever you want to call it – the cruel cancellation of Christmas, the shortest and darkest day of the year, the rain, the incessant underlying stress of holding it all together for my family when really I just want a break from the utter relentlessness of it all.

I read, I write and I remember; I know the demons that will come if I let them. So I push against them; I let myself have a cry, but I don’t let myself dwell on the situation. Instead, I get on with life. I write, finally: I’ve spent long months not writing, or pretending to write, or writing but finding it so hard to be motivated. I’ve missed the flow, the smile it brings to my face when a thought or feeling invokes words on the page; but suddenly I am filled with the want, to make the words come again. I have been inspired by that person I used to be, who wrote herself through everything once before and can do it again.

This period of our lives will pass. And the realisation, from reading words I wrote nearly a decade ago, that I’ve got this, has given me the boost I needed. My first novel was born out of my time in Dubai and a difficult re-entry back to London life; my second will come from the wastelands of 2020. One day soon this terrible year will be a memory, something we refer to in passing. In place of the misery and sadness we’re surrounded by right now will be a summary phrase adopted to encapsulate the time: ‘during lockdown’ or ‘during Covid’ – and just like saying ‘when I lived in Dubai’ to people who weren’t there, it won’t seem real or relevant. But the strength that we gain, the knowledge and power we hold tightly in our fists right now as we battle against the endless ocean of personal challenge – that’s real and relevant. It’s time to wield that power and begin again, even while the days are at their darkest.

Would you Adam and Eve it? I’m the CWIP Prize 2020 Unpublished winner!

It’s been a funny old year.

Funny haha? Absolutely not. And I reckon everyone could do with a bit of a giggle right about now, because really, otherwise we’ll all go completely cuckoo. Cue Helen Lederer and team CWIP, who have been on hand almost the whole of lockdown, championing female comedy writing and getting the word out there that women are funny, and write books, and that you should absolutely read them!

Not only that, they’re supporting new writers too. And I am delighted to say that I’m the astonished, proud, excited, emotional winner of the Unpublished Comedy Women in Print Award 2020, which is not only an amazing accolade in its own right, it also means a book deal with Harper Collins! I’m going to be a PUBLISHED AUTHOR!

I don’t know any more than that at the moment, except that I’m pretty sure it’s going to be lots of work and a steep learning curve, but I’m thrilled to be getting into print and looking forward to the next part of the journey. It’s a truly incredible feeling, to think that this time next year I will have a book of my own on the shelf behind me.

And now some thank yous… Thank you to Kate at Harper Collins and all the judges for the CWIP Prize for picking me and believing in me and thank you to Davinia for being a super agent and eagle-eye editor because I would not have got this far without you. The best of luck and love to all my fellow writers who were longlisted and shortlisted. And finally, thank you especially to Helen Lederer, for creating this platform for new comedy female writers in the first place. I hope we get to party like it’s absolutely NOT 2020 eventually!

Angry woman alert

Okay. I’m ANGRY. So if my ranting makes you feel uncomfortable, move along, defriend me, whatever. But I have to get this off my chest before I explode. 
 
“…the economy is clearly being prioritised and education is not being prioritised at the same level. From everything that’s been said, [children] could be going to theme parks and sitting in pub gardens with their parents, or they could be shopping, but they will not be in school.”
Taken from the Guardian this morning.
 
The Government washing their hands of a no-win situation because it’s just too tricky and leaving it to headteachers to figure out makes me furious. I don’t know about anyone else’s kids, but mine needs his friends. His peers. His teachers. He needs the stability and the sanctity of school. His education is not the only thing suffering, far from it. And as far as I can see, the decision not to open schools any further before summer is not based on data that it will drive up the R rate any more than opening John Bloody Lewis and telling everyone it’s okay to go back to work. Arguably, if statistics are to be relied upon, far less. The situation is frustrating, upsetting and it’s making my blood boil that a better outcome for our children hasn’t been found. It destroys me every time I think about what our kids have been denied these past months. And now, that this will continue for the same time period all over again until September, when apparently we are all just supposed to cross our fingers and hope ‘someone’ has found a solution. NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH.
 
I have a theory that the decision has been taken so that the population of people who are actually able to return to work (and therefore come out of lockdown) is vastly reduced until after the summer, to really try and see this virus off. But this hasn’t been specifically said out loud. And to address it would be to admit that a very distinct subset of the population who are not vulnerable and who should be able to return to a ‘new normal’ are being denied access to their lives along with their children, and sacrificing their health, wealth, job and mental wellbeing along with it.  
 
Because, while all these children are home for six months of their lives, who is taking care of them? Mostly women, because we mostly aren’t the main breadwinners, because we mostly already sacrificed that privilege by being women and having the children in the first place. We are a generation who have spent our whole lives battling misogyny, glass ceilings, equal pay, equal rights even though we grew up thinking our mothers had already done all that. Many of us started businesses that would flex around families after we had them – businesses that are running into the ground or running us into the ground, as we juggle working late into the night with home schooling our kids the next day. But that’s okay, I hear you say, because ‘we chose to have kids.’ If you follow that logic through, we’re ‘choosing’ not to go back to work right now too. But let’s be clear, this isn’t a choice. There are many who work part time jobs so they can care for their kids and still make ends meet. There are many leave their children in the care of others so they can work full time to support their families. Some women with children even go to work instead of being full time mothers because (whisper) they find it fulfilling. Whatever the reason, we have no hope of returning to those jobs while schools are closed, or even partly closed. It will wreak havoc on our ability to do anything except be at home. We’re told that ‘your employer should understand if you can’t return to work.’ But that’s missing the point. We are being denied the right to access our lives and are instead expected to shut up and put up, hold our families together, queue for food, clean the house, look after elderly relatives, home school and ensure the safety of our children while the men go out and earn the money. It’s like the clock went back 50 years and no one is talking about it and that scares me a little bit. If it’s so easy to revert to this model, did things ever really change at all?
 
This period of time has been difficult on everyone in many different ways. I know people who’ve been placed in terrible situations, had extreme hardship and awful losses during lockdown, and I make no claims to have a hard life, far from it. But people talking about when shops will open or when can they go on holiday or when they will be able to get a pint is making me mad. The government casually dropping the responsibility of getting our children back into school is making me double mad. Schools ALWAYS should have been the priority. Because until education is put back to rights, there are a whole load of us completely paralysed, unable to contribute to the economy or society.
Unless, of course, we were never that important to begin with.