I’m exhausted – but the good kind of exhausted. The kind of exhausted you get when you’ve been swimming in the sea, fighting against the tide, learning to roll with the big waves and enjoying the ripple of the smaller waves, occasionally worrying about the lack of control and being dragged out to sea, every so often realising that it’s all much deeper than you realised. And then – when you smack a hand into the sand and pebbles – realising that you’ve floated back to shallower shores and can stand for a while. Which I where I am now: utterly exhilarated and knackered but, after a good sleep, wanting to go back for more.
I haven’t quite had the good sleep yet (*looks longingly towards the bed*), but the past couple of weeks have been busy with news and events and now, in a brief breathing space, seems as good a time as any to update this intermittent blog. There’s been a lot going on, and out of necessity and wordcount I’m missing out tonnes and skipping to the most recent things.
So straight up – the newest big news (news that I’m not putting directly on Facebook and have ship-in-the-night posted on twitter, because so much lovely stuff has been happening, writing-wise, in the past couple of weeks that I feel as though I’m doing nothing but self-promo in spaces that actually mean more to me as a way to keep up with family, friends and events. And I’m getting sick of me, so how must my mates be feeling?!).
Anyway, I’m super proud to say I’m one of this year’s Northern Writers’ Awards winners, specifically in the Children’s and YA category. I entered with a manuscript I’m working on that’s based in the area of London where I used to live (though never named as such in the story). It’s ghostly and gory and sad and toothy and, I hope, quietly funny, and deals with loneliness and anger and love, of course.
It was, as it turns out, a weirdly appropriate story to win with, given the circumstances of finding out. I got the ‘Congratulations’ email – a day or so late because it had landed in my spam box. I opened it in a room by myself, and reread the opening paragraph four or five times thinking my eyes were addled or I’d just been so (repressedly) hopeful that I was making up the text. And then I did an actual honest-to-God happy dance.
I was floating on air for about two hours. I went out to lunch and debated calling my parents then and there. Decided I’d better check, just one more time, that I wasn’t imagining the whole thing. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, there to find a Whatsapp message from a close friend containing a joke so excruciatingly unfunny, written in such bad taste, that I actually called back to shout at him.
And that’s how I found out that the message wasn’t a joke, but a truly devastating piece of news that was completely out of the blue.
It would not be and will never be an easy thing to digest, but it might have been easier if I’d been back in London with other friends reeling equally as much, rather than surrounded by people who care but couldn’t possibly understand why the passing of someone I hadn’t been in touch with for more than two years was such a blow. But there I was. I forgot about the award – completely forgot. Sat through an uncancellable meeting that I still don’t really remember, and spent the next two weeks making a slow way through a fog of sadness, followed by rage. Just near uncontrollable sadness and rage at the world as a whole for being so so so shitty, and then being shittier still about that shit – all with a smile on my face and telling people that, yeah, no, I was fine now thanks, while I hated everyone.
So my first real feeling happy again was about a week ago, when I had to actually pay attention and prepare for the awards. I started doing the ‘but what I will I wear’ panic, and re-read the information that I’d originally replied to fairly automatically and realised that my future is opening up, and it’s a future I actually did dream of when I was a little kid tapping out endless ‘Bridie the ghost drowns her faithless husband in the loch’ stories, and do dream of still.
The Best British Short Stories 2017 anthology is out now (from Salt Publishing), and I’ve been crying (no exaggeration) as my oldest friends and my family pop up and tell me that their copy has arrived and they liked my story (oh yes, news: I got a story picked for BBSS17, and I am so grateful to Nicholas Royle for such a vote of confidence, and so pleased and slightly overwhelmed to be in there next to writers that I worship from afar). I can’t believe that everyone is being so generous and so enthusiastic, and I fully laughed out loud when one friend’s mum asked, ‘How long has she been writing?’ and my friend replied, ‘Forever!’ because everything over the past few months feels so sudden that it’s easy to forget writing has threaded through my entire life – but my friends have never forgotten.
Anyway The Northern Writers’ Awards are a hell of thing – free to enter (so if you live in the North, keep an eye out for the submissions window), with what feels like endless opportunities to meet industry names, learn valuable skills, afford research trips and more than anything, just really really feel as though you aren’t shouting into the void. They’re one of the many amazing things New Writing North do every year, and I make a solemn vow to update in this blog more often and let you all know how things go.
And as for Best British Short Stories – you can read all the info and buy here (just click). And should you wish (for the next 25 days or so) to hear me try to describe how I wrote the story in it (‘Never Thought He’d Go’, which was shortlisted for the Bristol Prize) and, additionally, tell a Manx folktale (The Buggane of St Trinian’s) slightly inaccurately; read a poem; hear a couple of my songs; and also witness the moment when I heard a Francoise Hardy song for the first time – check out this on BBC Tees with Bob Fischer, from about the two-hour mark. I can’t totally remember what I said, so apologies for any babble.