Everything I have learned about publishing so far: an author’s perspective 

Part One: Indie Publishing

Hey! Long time no see, thanks for stopping by, and other such genial platitudes. You’re here because I’m a horror writer who asked if anyone would be interested in hearing my relatively limited experiences of the various forms of publishing I have encountered in the admittedly short time I have been doing this. I wondered if an article detailing my personal experiences might be useful to other authors. A lot of people said yes, so here we go. BUT! As usual, a few things to say before we crack onto the meat and gravy. 

First: this is NOT a post extolling the virtues of one form of publishing over another. I would never encourage or discourage someone to publish their work in any single direction. I might offer advice specific to a person’s situation if asked, but my journey ain’t your journey. It’s important to remember that, with writing as with most other things, everyone’s creative career is routed along a unique path, to different destinations, at the risk of sounding extremely, infuriatingly and wholesomely cliche. Also, I was born sitting on the fence, and my highly splintered, peachy backside will thank you to remember that. So, whatever works for you, great, do it, go for it. I am certainly not a publishing snob, never have been (I hope). I profess some wariness around certain practices and approaches that I personally do not approve of, but hopefully, if you are here, you can accept my personal opinions as just that, rather than the black and white statements so many seem to expect of us these days. Life is a good deal more nuanced than ‘this is bad and this is good’, unless you’re talking about things like murder and microwaving tea, both punishable offences. But I digress. 

Secondly: I AM NOT A PUBLISHING EXPERT. I am not even really that much of a career author, not yet. Yes, I write full time, yes I am published across a variety of media and by a variety of means. No, I am not an industry stalwart, and I am fully aware I HAVE LOTS YET TO LEARN. Still, my experiences might be useful to those of you starting out, and with that in mind, I am sharing them (and because you asked me to). Not because I wish to present myself as any sort of publishing/Authory advisory figure, I genuinely don’t have enough self-confidence for that, I am British and will die thinking I am a totally incompetent twat with a vague ability to sling words at paper and make them stick sometimes- a twat who got indisputably lucky enough to word-sling for a living. BUT. I have been where some of you are now, and I do wish I’d encountered more transparency in this game that might have allowed me to avoid a few minor disasters. 

Lastly, I tried to do this all in one post, but it ended up being so ridiculously long that I am going to split it into several. Expect Part Two at some indeterminate point in the future when I don’t have a looming deadline *cries in undiagnosed ADHD*

So, with all this being said, knowing full well I’ve left plenty of loop-holes for anyone who doesn’t care for me that much to slither into (I know you’re out there, it’s cool, can’t expect to be everyone’s brand of tampon) I shall begin. I hope you find it useful, and if not, I will no doubt hear about it, eventually. Hurrah for passive-aggression, it’s really wonderful isn’t it. *upside down face*

My Author Journey

It’s probably a good idea to lay out my author and publishing journey thus far. It has encompassed a variety of forms of publishing, which is good, because otherwise I have lured you here under false pretences. Bugger, you got me! BUY MY BOOKS


Anyway, in 2018 I found myself unemployed, mentally ill and unable to cope with a job that followed the conventional working patterns of the time (I’m talking pre-pandemic, after which, everything changed). Open plan offices, aggressive socialising, targets, profit and loss statements, sales scripts, cocaine raining from the sky, endless posturing and machismo…I couldn’t do it anymore, and I knew I needed a change, pronto, before my mind completely buckled under the colossal, stinking weight of Small to Medium Enterprise bullshit. This coincided with my child starting school. Suddenly, I had a surfeit of something I hadn’t had for a while: free time. Time for me. I had always been a writer, tinkering with various novels for most of my adult life (and yes you will see those at some point), but never actually managed to finish anything. I had not been published beyond one or two clunky websites back in the early noughties (good luck finding those stories, they are dreadful, but it’s a process), and a history magazine that ran a story about the time I stewarded Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice (click for baby Gemma, also, this will definitely get repurposed at some point). 

Not only did I now have a ton of time on my hands, but I also had a fuckload of emotional trauma to deal with. So, I made life changes. I got into a nice, healthy daily routine: from 9am to 1am, after the school run, I would take myself off to write. Weekends I kept for family stuff, unless I was thick in the grip of an idea. 

I wrote two things: I wrote about my trauma, to help me process it (should you wish, you can read this in September, for it ended up not only being the book that saved my life, but the book I sold in my first traditional publishing deal. It’s called FULL IMMERSION and you can pre-order it right now), and I wrote short, scary stories, to help me hone my skills and also enjoy the thrill of actually finishing something, which until then, I had not experienced. Short stories, I think, are the perfect entry device into a writing career, for they are not only fun as fuck to write, but teach you a lot about voice, structure, tone, and word efficacy (there is a cleaner way to phrase that but it escapes me for now). 

The routine proved to be the thing. It amazed me how quickly the words stacked up, and I found myself with an almost completed novel on my hands, which felt marvellous, and a folder full of shorts. But it wasn’t until my first short story was published by the inimitable NoSleep Podcast, that I started to think outside of the realm of ‘hobby’. I started to think that maybe, one day, I could do this for real. And by that I mean: people would actually read my work, and even pay me for the privilege. And that is, as it turned out, is exactly what happened.

My first produced story by NoSleep was ‘His Life’s Work’, a story about a mad professor who opens a vault to another world in his workshop (you’ll have to click ‘Buy Full Episode’ to hear it unless you have a season pass). Hearing a team of voice actors, sound designers and a composer fully produce my material into a veritable ear-movie lit a real fire in my belly. I have to say, it isn’t the strongest story I’ve ever written- I hadn’t figured out yet that one word would do in place of twenty, but it has a soft spot in my heart, for it changed my life. I was fortunate enough to build a wonderful friendship with the cast, crew, editorial team and showrunner, and through this, I met a small solo self-publisher who was willing to list my short stories onto amazon for me, in the form of a collection. I called it CRUEL WORKS OF NATURE, and it was my first published book. A massive milestone, and one that made me very, very happy. 

At the time, I knew nothing about books, publishing, self-publishing, anything. I was blown away by the idea of simply holding a book in my hands that I had written, and by the idea that someone else might actually buy and read the thing. I was keen to keep the momentum I had built going, so I didn’t really do any due diligence into what different publishing routes looked like, what to expect, red flags to look out for, agreements, royalty schemes, and I genuinely didn’t really think any of those things mattered in relation to my silly short stories. I was proud of my writing, but I didn’t want to be a knob about it. I was a reliably easy-going, ‘mustn’t make a fuss’, type of author (many of us starting out are) and that’s why I jumped at the first opportunity that came along. 

This was a mistake, and held me back for a little bit. 

The book didn’t perform well after the initial launch sales bump, and I was disappointed. I quickly understood that I hadn’t placed myself and my work at a high enough value, and I was cross with myself when I realised this. Whether through ignorance or a simple lack of confidence, I had sold myself short, and it didn’t take me long to realise that everything the publisher who hosted CRUEL WORKS on amazon had done, I could do myself, with more passion, time, and dedication. So I requested a reversion of rights for that book (the publisher, by the way, was extremely agreeable, made no problems for me whatsoever and we parted ways on good terms. They now only publish their own material under the same publisher name), figured out Kindle Publishing Direct, taught myself photoshop and calibre, started making my own cover art, and wrote myself a marketing plan (turns out ten years in business and digital marketing didn’t go to waste). 

It didn’t take long for my efforts to pay off, and things to gain traction. I threw myself heart and soul into building a network of writers, creatives, publishers and other fine horror folk. I hammered social media to the point where all my real-world friends muted me, and I learned not to feel guilty about that: I was simply advertising my wares as any self-respecting business person would, and there was no shame in that whatsoever. At the same time, I brought out a little book called DEAR LAURA. I wrote, edited, formatted it (apologies for the few typos left in there) myself, painted the cover by hand (of my own hand), did the layout in photoshop, and hit publish on Kindle Publishing Direct in a little under a month. It felt incredible to be able to do this: I was in complete control, and I was able to ride the wave of the story idea I had that would not let me go without worrying about anything other than my own vision for the book. I wanted it to be short and to the point, I wanted it to be as raw as it could, I wanted to write a novel where a victim was front and centre for a change, rather than a murderer. The thing fell out of me, and before I knew it, it was live, and more to the point…it started selling, steadily. Not in vast numbers, but enough to keep the reviews and royalties trickling in on a regular monthly basis (and they still do). Social media embraced it, and god love the incredible bookstagrammers who started to recreate the front cover with gruesome enthusiasm- this helped the book’s popularity no end.  

Incredibly, it was then nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and that’s when things began to change. People began to reach out to me, for stories, novellas, books. It confirmed for me what I had only dared to hope before: I had something real to offer, something of value. It’s not why I write, I write for me, to tell the stories I want to tell, but it sure helped a hell of a lot with motivation and confidence. 

To wrap this up, I ended up crowd funding a book (again, another article I should write), securing a couple of deals with indie publishers and then, finally, signing with a traditional publisher. During that time I also made a podcast, got ghosted by another self-publisher who had spoken a good game, wrote more short stories, started getting invitations to anthologies, edited my own anthology for charity, wrote more books, eventually secured an agent, and all the while kept marketing myself as aggressively as I knew how. I also shared a lot of shit jokes on twitter, which may or may not be how you found me. This all took place in the period from the end of 2018 to now, 2022, for perspective.

So now we’re caught up, let’s look at the individual forms of publishing and my biggest lessons learned from each of them.  

What I have learned about Indie Publishing

It might seem odd to start with Indie Publishing instead of Self-publishing, but it doesn’t feel odd to me, because that is perhaps where the bulk of my experiences both good and bad, lie. It’s also where the majority of those reading this will probably have questions about, so here we are.  Rest assured Self-Pubbing will be in Part Two of this series. 

Let’s start off with definitions. ‘Indie’ means different things to different people, and the lines with self-publishing are most definitely blurred in today’s publishing landscape. Type ‘indie publishing’ into Google and you’ll get a ton of articles that are actually about self-publishing. Most people define indie as ‘anyone not one of the Big Five.’ This is not really representative of publishing today, in my opinion. To be clear, Indie is not Self-Pub, I don’t think. I consider those to be two distinctly different forms of publishing, as you’ve probably figured out from the long intro above, but let me explain in a little more detail. I imagine someone will have a problem with this, fine, words and definitions belong to everyone, and I can do what I like on my own blog post, at the risk of sounding slightly cantankerous. 

For the purposes of this post, I am going to personally define indie publishing for me (again, like I said, if you don’t agree, cool, no drama, it’s just I have to attach some definition so I can actually, you know, write about it) as a small-smallish publishing outfit (you might see the term ‘small presson the interwebs) who takes the time, effort and energy required to bring an author’s book to the world, via amazon and other outlets, in exactly the same way as ‘traditional’ publishers, but who do it in kind of a more punk-rock fashion. 

So by that I mean, they will work with an author on some, if not all of the following:

  • Editing and structural feedback
  • They will take care of formatting, layout, and the technical publishing details
  • They will work with an author and artist or designer to produce an engaging, relevant book cover (and can I say, indie publishing still, in my opinion, brings out the best, bravest, boldest cover shit, largely because they have few of the restraints that often cobble the ankles of trad publishing)
  • They will promote the book, not just list it (they really should!!)
  • They will actively exploit opportunities to raise awareness of the book and the profile of their authors
  • They will help deal with review requests, ARCs, and blurbs
  • They will help work to place your books in various expanded distribution channels including indie bookshops, retailers like Barnes and Noble, libraries, book subscription clubs and other outlets 
  • They will help deal with events and other promo opportunities like blog tours, author readings, etc.

And that is what I mean by: what are you getting for giving away some of your hard-earned royalty dollar? The idea is that you get something of value for portioning off a chunk of your earnings, and these are the sorts of things I consider value-add services. 

Now don’t get me wrong, they won’t be doing all this without you. You, as an author, will also be working with them, side by side, on a lot of this, building up your own relationships and opportunities that they can help you exploit, having opinions on cover art, marketing until you’re sick of the word, doing the socials, asking author friends for blurbs, visiting bookstores to build relationships, touring the event circuit to network, all the things. In my experience Indie publishers aren’t an excuse for you to prop your feet up on the steering wheel and hope for the best. Quite the opposite: I treat a publisher as a partner, and I find having someone else on side doubles my efforts, rather than reduces them, and I am cool with that. 

In my opinion, an ‘indie’ publisher who does not help with these things, who needs you to format your own book, to do your own edits, source your own cover, helps out minimally with your own marketing efforts and generally only functions as a person who hits the ‘publish’ button on amazon is not an indie publisher. This type of outfit is a self-publisher (please note, I am not talking about ‘vanity’ publishing here- we will get onto that later), and my question in those instances might be, again: why are you giving up a portion of your royalties for something you could, quite possibly, do yourself? What does the royalty split look like, and what is the publisher actually doing for you, for that share of the money? On amazon, publishing your own material, you can make up to 70% of a book’s value in royalties, which is not to be sniffed at. Something to think about- I do not judge, and I am aware that many people, in the same way I did when I was starting out, simply want to get their stuff out there and that’s the end goal. Just take a little time to think about what your work is worth, and what you are worth, as an author, and that’s all I’ll say on the topic. 

Anyway, an indie publisher is basically supposed to be someone in your corner, someone who gives your book a home and nurtures you as an author and generally cares for you and your book and your readers, too (Welcome to Gemma’s Rose-Tinted Publishing Fantasy, come on in, the water’s nice and warm, and ooh, are those flower petals? Candles? You shouldn’t have.) 

Basically, an indie publisher will do all the things above and more, but on an arguably smaller scale than trad, because, well, reasons. History. The nature of business and the industry. Bureaucracy etc. It’s worth noting that several traditional publishing outfits operate in a distinctly indie fashion, but we’ll get to that, too, a bit later on. I think this just goes to show that definitions are reductionist and stupid but we have to have them so we can talk about shit. And with that poetic thought fresh in your mind, let’s talk about money and payment structures. 

Indie Royalty Structures 

The royalty and payment structures in the world of Indie pubbing tend to be a lot more imaginative than with trad, and in my personal experience I have encountered a fair few different setups, depending on the works and people involved:

  • Payment per word, with a decent pro-rate of around $0.08 per word (although that may have changed- feel free to help me out if this is the case). Usually reserved for short works although I have been compensated for a novel on a pay per word basis in the past. There might be a word-count cap though in these instances. 
  • Advance & Royalty structure- meaning an up front fee paid to you by the publisher upon signing the contract, or maybe half upon signing and the other half on publication, or variations of this, and then a subsequent split of the profits once published, at varying percentages, but expect anything from 30% to 70%, depending on the publisher. Can be paid quarterly after publication, or whenever suits the publisher’s accounting period. (It behoves you to make note of payment periods in your contract and calenderise them so you can keep track of what you are owed by who and when).
  • A flat project fee based on a mix of anticipated word-count, word rates, project time, and other factors like your marketability, the publisher’s budget, etc. This is more common with podcasts, who might pay a certain sum for an XX word story, and might also be something you figure out personally with a publisher depending on the circumstances, although I think this is rare.  
  • No Advance & Royalties once published (usually via paypal)- in my experience this is more common with short stories and anthos where the publisher has little money to invest up front and needs the book to sell first before it can pay the authors, which I tend to be leery of, because if the book doesn’t go onto sell, it is doubtful the authors will get compensated. I prefer projects where there is some element of payment up front or where there is a signed contract stating that payment will be within XX amount of time from publication of the material. It basically means you don’t get inveigled into working for free without your consent. If contract terms are broken rights revert to you and you can shop your work elsewhere, in theory, ensuring you get adequate compensation.
  • No Advance or Royalties- basically, working for free, which happens most commonly these days for charity projects, like a charity anthology where the proceeds are subsequently donated. The author knowingly submits materials- often reprints- on the understanding this is the case, and the antho benefits from the shared marketing efforts of the collected authors. Outside of charity endeavours, paying nothing for a creator’s work is obviously not something I generally approve of, but I have been known to give up a fair share of my time and efforts in the past when I really believed in the project and had time for passion endeavours with no expectations of compensation. It is also worth being transparent about the fact that when I worked on Calling Darkness, we had no money to pay our voice actors and only a tiny budget to pay our audio editor and composer. We were up front about this with our cast, and thankfully we were able to approach it as a passion project, but I wished more than anything that we had been able to compensate them accordingly. Financing is a large reason why Season Two has taken so long to come to fruition, but that’s a different article and not one I can write without the consent of my co-creators. 

I wish I still had time to dedicate to some of these wonderful things I used to work on (I’m looking at you in general, podcasts), but the hard truth is that these days I have to focus on paying the bills, and also I do believe my work should be compensated for fairly and competitively (charity stuff aside, although I’ve had to limit how many a year I get involved in to a certain extent). 

  • A hybrid mix of several of the approaches above.  

This is just a few of the options I’ve encountered and there are no doubt many more, as I’ve gone to great pains to point out- I am not yet an expert, and still learning about this business every day, but if you know of any more, please let me know in the comments below. 

It goes without saying that ANY INDIE PUBLISHER WORTH THEIR SALT WILL MAKE YOU SIGN A CONTRACT. This protects you, your work, and the publisher. From one writer to another: please don’t let anyone publish your work without a contract. Your writing is valuable, and the rights attached to it should be clearly defined and come with terms attached. I should probably write another article on contracts, but for now, read this from the Society of Authors. (Side note: I had a hell of a time finding an up to date guide that wasn’t ten years old, publishing experts, assemble! Drop your links below please).

Please note: I do not personally consider a publishing outfit who charges YOU a fee to publish your book indie publishing, and so have not represented their fee structure in the list above. Many of these companies market themselves as ‘self-publishing experts’, which I am not sure I agree with, because they are publishing something on your behalf and getting paid to do so. They are not teaching you how to publish your own book, and so in my opinion, this is not self-publishing. Others in the industry call this ‘vanity publishing’ which I mentioned earlier. That might be a slightly mean way of describing it, because it is not vain to want to publish a book (well, okay, a little vain, but many of us aren’t solely driven by ego. We just want eyes on our stories which…arghhh, which is ego, isn’t it. Damnit. Still! The Point Stands!)

Anyway, whilst I firmly believe that an author should never pay a company to publish their book, I also recognise that people are fully in possession of their own wants, needs, desires and capabilities. I am not insensible to the appeal for those writers who just want to hold a copy of their book in their hands without having to navigate editing, formatting, publishing, cover art and marketing. Like I said, I am not a snob, and I do not judge. I do however believe that self-publishing expert companies can be predatory and unethical in their approach to authors (but then so can some true self-pubbers, indie presses and trad publishers). But, that’s just me. I’d prefer not to be lambasted for holding this viewpoint, but this is the internet, after all, so I’ll start caulking the canoe in anticipation. 

Right, so. With all those caveats and ‘please don’t shout at me’s’ in mind, let’s look at the pros and cons, because, as with anything, indie comes with its ups and its downs. 

Indie Publishing: The Good Shit 

  • INDIE IS (by and large) QUICK! Oh boy, so gloriously quick. Quick to pitch and accept, quick to turn around, quick to contract, quick to start marketing. It’s all so quick, it’s like dropping a ketamine-soaked, oil-basted eel down a greased drainpipe. I love it. I adore it. It, like self-publishing, allows an author to ride the wave of whatever passion, inspiration or gut-need to explore a topic, feeling, sensation or experience has them in its current grip: ‘Yo, friend, I have this novelette about a depressed werewolf who is also a dentist, and his best friend is a sentient nail file with homicidal tendencies, you want it?’ ‘Sure!’ And there is a lot to be said for that. An awful lot. I think that’s what I mean by punk-rock, in certain ways. Going with the gut. Taking a punt on an author or an idea, without the decision having to go to sales and management and back again. Often, because in indie, those departments are represented by two or three people at the most, so the conversations are quicker to have. 
  • Now, this rapidity does not come without its problems. I would be an idiot not to acknowledge that. Sometimes, in my humble opinion, a book perhaps shouldn’t be so quick to market. If it has harmful themes that some people might struggle with, perhaps, or discriminatory undercurrents/overtones, or is an anthology that is about as inclusive, diverse and colourful as a blanched cod, some could argue that it might (again, opinion is subjective, so retract thy spines) be prudent to sit on it a little longer and perhaps spend some time reading the room, gathering expert opinion, canvassing readers and target audiences, and generally thinking carefully about something if there is an iota of doubt, but then also, saying these sorts of things can mean that people use words like censorship by way of reply, and while I can understand where those people are coming from, because censorship is of course an awful thing, I would argue that one person’s censorship is another person’s exclusion and discrimination, and that’s all I can say on the matter because I have more splinters to tweeze out of my arse (stop looking at me, weirdo, this is a private moment, shoo). The point is this: indie is quick. For some of you who have been through the traditionally published cycle a few times, this might appeal. I do think a speedier process lends itself to a rawer output, because in traditional publishing, working on the same book for a protracted length of time can take the joy out of it, but that’s just me. Again, my brain is wired to desire movement and variety, I am a hare and not a tortoise. This is why I am so fortunate to have experienced different forms of publishing, because spreading my books across such varied working structures has taught me a lot of valuable lessons in when it is good to run, and when it is good to take one’s time. (Ooh! Another splinter)
  • INDIE PUBLISHING CAN BE BRAVE. By that, as I mentioned above, I mean it tends to bring out raw, unfettered, un-sanitized, punch-me-in-the-face material that pushes boundaries, represents a broader, more colourful and inclusive rosta of creatives, themes, styles and narratives, and generally just excites more, because the publisher is less concerned by genre constraints, prescription, loglines and whatever is currently en-vogue, and more interested in the artist or writer themselves (which again, can be both a good and bad thing, but we’ll get to that). Indie publishing is founded on strong relationships between a writer and the publishing outfit, and there can be a great deal of personal investment, both ways, in this type of publishing. Therefore editors are more personally invested in an author and more open to material they might not otherwise be, and, again, on the whole, I love this. I love that stories can be heard in this way that might not be heard otherwise. I have often heard Indie publishing likened to pirate radio, and I think that works. These are not the books that you find on the shelves of W.H.Smiths, these are books that flex their muscles more extravangently because of this. Anthologies are another area where indie shines. I have seen some incredible releases in the last few years, with wonderful central themes, tables of contents that are fresh, interesting, and colourful, and a healthy mix of established authors and those who I have yet to encounter, who then went on to become favourites for me. I basically want my fruit fresh and juicy and diverse as fuck, thanks. Indie is great for this. It is also terrible for this, depending on who in particular helms a certain project, but we’ve covered that above. If nothing else, the extremes in the indie game should serve as some indication as to how fast and loud things happen there. Don’t even get me started on trigger warnings (for the record, I’ve included content warnings in the last three books I brought out, podcasts and TV have being doing it for yonks, ain’t no regrets there from me and I’ll keep doing it).
  • INDIE CAN PAY WELL, or as well as can be expected, in publishing. It depends on the book, the publisher, the time, the author, a million things. Generally however, the up front negotiations can look rather appealing, especially if you have a good relationship with your publisher. What differentiates indie from trad in that respect is how well the book performs post-launch. This can make a less appealing deal more appealing over time, or a more appealing up-front deal less of a performer in the long run, if that makes sense. We’ve covered all that above, and this will make more sense when I talk about trad publishing in more detail in subsequent posts, but for some writers looking to pay the bills, having a series of relationships with reliable indie and small presses is actually sometimes more sensible, financially, than putting all your eggs in the trad basket- namely because of the timescales involved, as we’ve mentioned before. Nothing happens quickly in trad, and that can be a problem for those of us in the early stages of our career who like eating and paying our mortgages and occasionally going on holiday whilst also writing books. This is why I am a huge proponent of hybrid approaches for authors and of agents who let their authors have a hybrid approach. 
  • INDIE HAS A LOYAL AND ACTIVE FAN BASE. I know many readers who have eschewed traditionally published books because they love the fresh, bold approach of proactive indie presses. They love the covers, and the author composition. They love the themes and energy. They love the familiarity of the book presentation, and they love supporting a particular outfit. I guess it’s like having a preferred brand of clothing or trainers, and I get it. It does feel an exciting movement to be a part of. Those readers, god love them, will snap up the newest release and enthusiastically promote it in ways I never dreamed possible until I experienced it first hand. Indie tends to have its finger on the pulse in terms of social media, which also helps.
  • INDIE HAS A WONDERFUL ONLINE SENSE OF COMMUNITY. I say ‘online’, but it exists offline, too, as I found, to my delight, at the recent Scares That Care Authorcon event. I have honestly made some incredible friends, colleagues, peers, whatever, through participating in the online horror indie community, which flourishes on twitter, insta, tiktok (I’m not so good at tolerating facebook but I should probably fix that). If a publisher behaves in a naughty fashion, there is accountability (some would debate that this is not a good thing, I however shall remain schtum and pluck yet another shard of fence from my tender flesh). If an author has an achievement to share, it gets celebrated. If someone is having a shit day, the community, by and large, lifts, encourages, inspires. I hate to be all Pollyanna about this but…actually, I’m fine with being a Pollyanna. Pollyanna that shit to the moon and back. Positivity and community will always win out for me. That doesn’t mean I haven’t rolled my eyes many a time, for I have. But that’s life in general, isn’t it. On the whole, I love the horror and indie community online and I am so damn happy I found it. If you’re a new author trying to figure this business out, community is everything. Build a network of peers that you trust and love, because that is a huge part of the battle going forward, trust me. 
  • INDIE LETS YOU HAVE MORE CREATIVE CONTROL. The example I use is SIX ROOMS, which I wrote for Cemetery Gates Media. This was a rather unusual commission, as the publisher had a clear idea of a world they wanted me to write within. They wanted a haunted house story about a certain property, and they gave me a history, a few key characters within the universe already imagined, and a brief: to theme the book around different rooms in the house. Now I know this sounds like the exact opposite of creative control, but really, it wasn’t. I ran with the idea in my own fashion and ended up with a multi-POV, multiple timeline emotional ghost story that was completely unfettered by editorial constraints and allowed me to play with structure and narrative in a fun, organic way that I am not sure would have happened in a more traditional setup. Also, the publisher was incredibly accommodating of me delivering the work late, owing to a pandemic, illnesses, family loss and a whole host of terrible stuff that happened whilst I was supposed to be writing it. This leniency and confidence in my abilities was extremely encouraging. For the record, I am not saying that an author should not expect editorial input when writing a novel. Quite the opposite: my experiences in traditional publishing with various editors have been nothing but informative and brilliant and helped me to hone a very difficult book into a much, much better one, and I learned a hell of a lot along the way. But in this particular instance, with SIX ROOMS, I was allowed to run free and unsupervised, and I am proud of the result. I mean I am proud of all my books because WHEEE! I WROTE A BOOK MOTHAFUCKA but you know what I’m saying. 

There are more good things, but this is approaching the 6k word mark so….let’s move to the bad. 


  • INDIE CAN SOMETIMES BE VERY UNPROFESSIONAL. And I don’t, for very obvious reasons to do with my own sanity, want to name-call or get into the ins and outs of who said what to whom or did what over the past few years since I’ve been doing this and why what has happened is or isn’t bad. *takes deep breath* Nobody wants my opinion on any of that stuff, and it probably wouldn’t be very professional of me to offer it without invitation anyway. BUT. From my standpoint, I have seen a fair bit of, well, for want of a better word, unprofessional behaviour from indie publishers. I have quietly withdrawn from several anthologies and podcasts and other projects for this reason. It’s a natural by-product, I think, of smaller companies that are driven by fewer individuals, which by nature then become personality-led enterprises, and accountability is not perhaps what it would be in a large, established organisation with HR departments, professional conduct policies and employee manuals and so on (I do think each and every indie publisher should have a social media policy guide and nail that shit down fast and hard, because this is where the bulk of conduct issues lie, from what I can see). And I get it, I do, I see how certain things happen, but in my opinion it doesn’t excuse certain behaviours. Non-payment of authors, covering up sexual misconduct, racism, tokenism, ableism, sexism, all the isms…there seems to be a greater risk of this, weirdly, within indie- or perhaps I am more aware of it in indie because it’s where I tend to hang out. 
  • The irony of this is that I literally just waxed lyrical about how brave and progressive Indie can be. Well, it can also be narrow minded, regressive and exclusionary, depending on your stance. Like I said, that dichotomy seems to be part of the makeup, I don’t know why. Extremes are more pronounced in a smaller pond, perhaps. These things certainly happen in trad publishing too, and I am not saying they don’t. What I do know is that it is worth doing your due diligence on any publisher, big or small, indie or otherwise. Take a look at the author rosta composition, ask other writers what their experiences are, use google, do a little digging into social activities of the publisher and the people they publish (pro tip: the ‘likes’ and ‘tweets and replies’ tabs on a particular twitter profile is mind-bogglingly indicative of a person/organisation’s preclusions, tastes and behaviours, although some people disguise themselves better than others). You won’t always be able to uncover red flags and warning signs, but you can put your ear to the soil and listen for rumbles. 
  • Another thing to watch out for is how an outfit apologises once it’s fucked up. Denial of another person’s hurt and experience and doubling down are often not, to me personally, a good indicator of professionalism. Impassioned rants and outbursts can hurt authors as well as the publishers, no matter how they are intended. People make mistakes, and again, I have made many of my own. I don’t judge that. But in a world where hate and prejudice breed with such enthusiasm, I have witnessed the power of a genuine apology, of apparent lessons learned, of growth. Times change, and companies can change too. And that’s all I have to say about that. Please don’t come at me, I am a delicately wilting flower with all the emotional capacity for conflict of a well-used colander. *chews viciously on clump of grass, for the fence has now crumbled ‘neath my weight*
  • INDIE REACH IS SMALLER THAN TRADITIONAL REACH. Not always, but in a lot of cases, the simple truth is that you may not reach the same number of readers with an indie house (unless a book goes viral, which is the dream) that you might with a traditional publishing house that has access to an array of print distribution channels, publicity experts, pre-existing relationships with franchises and large retail chains, a marketing budget, partnerships, celebrity endorsement and more. This is why so many of us chase the Trad dream: because it offers the best chance we have of getting as many eyes on our books as possible. Or at least, that used to be the case. Social media has levelled the playing field considerably. I certainly wouldn’t have a career without it, and I am not entirely sure I would have succeeded via the traditional routes to traditional (endless subbing, waiting, and hoping for the best, none of which I am good at). 
  • LOWER ROYALTY RATES THAN SELF PUBLISHING. Again, I’m looking at that sweet 70% royalty split that amazon offer. It’s kind of hard to move past that, especially if you have a decent following already and there is an appetite for your books. However, some indies offer up to 60 or 65%, which is a damn good deal, if you ask me. The costs balance out too when you consider as a self publisher you’ll have to invest in editorial, book cover art, formatting etc- unless you can do all that yourself (and it is very much worth learning these skills, in my opinion). 
  • SOME AWARDS DO NOT ENTERTAIN INDIE PUBLISHERS I think this probably applies more to self-published books these days (I could be wrong, my own awards experience is still limited), but it is worth bearing in mind. That being said, there have been some notable exemptions from this rule, which always warms my heart. My own self-published novella was nominated for a Stoker, so there’s that.  
  • THERE CAN BE SOME SNOBBERY AROUND INDIE. And it shouldn’t be a thing, but it is. Perception of quality, of amateurishness, of a hundred nonsense things that get applied unfairly- it exists. I’ve had conversations with bookstore owners that won’t stock a book unless its published traditionally. I don’t know if this is snobbery or some other consideration I am not aware of, and I bear no hard feelings. It is what it is. And it is down to you how much you care about that sort of thing. From what I can see, these attitudes are slowly starting to change, largely because the industry is adapting and those within it don’t have much choice but to also adapt, and in ten year’s time we hopefully won’t be having these discussion, but it elitism exists in all walks of life, unfortunately. I hate that it applies to books, which should be the most accessible art form, but hey ho. 

And with that, I need to draw to a close, because I’m getting tired and I also need a shower. I hope this was useful for some of you, and if you made it this far, thank you for reading, and if it is helpful, maybe you could share it with someone who might like to read it. If not, then I tip my hat to you anyways, because I have elaborate cowboy fantasies and would love to live in a world where I can swagger into a saloon and hawk a gobbet of spit into a bucket and order three fingers of bourbon in a dirty chipped glass and…

Wake up Gemma. *slaps self*

Submissions: is it time to get off the Carousel?

Submissions Burnout is Real

I’ll admit, your honour: this is a mildly click-baity headline. And it sounds like I’m about to go all Meh on the art of submitting your work for publication, so I’ll stop you before your porcupine spines start to lift- I’m not about to do that. Stand down, Buster, stand down. Writers get published by sending their stuff off to people who print things and that is how we get paid, everyone knows that. I have no interest in dragging the time-honoured tradition of submitting your words (and soul) for judgement in exchange for recompense, for upon this principle is the entire foundation of human existence: something for something.  

What I am going to write about is what I called Submission Burn Out, and how to avoid it. And to be honest, it’s not going to take a rocket scientist to figure out that if something is making you tired, the quickest way to solve that singular problem is to take a rest, but this would be a shit blog post if the entirety of it was me essentially saying STOP DOING THAT THING THAT MAKES YOU TIRED FOR A HOT MINUTE AND HAVE A CUP OF TEA/A PROTRACTED WANK/GO FOR A RUN/EAT A BISCUIT/TAKE A NAP/PLAY MINECRAFT etcetera etcetera. I’m not going to do that (well I am, actually, but I’m going to attempt to make it a slightly more in-depth argument in order to make the medicine slide down more sweetly).

Let’s backtrack first, before I drop any slippery pearls of ‘wisdom’ on you, and define what I mean by submissions. 

If you’re a writer, whether you’re just starting out, a little more established, or a regular Dan Brown (insert inscrutable face emoji), you want to get eyes on your work. Of course you do! Well, not all of us, some of us write solely for ourselves with no intention of sharing it publicly, and I often wish I was one of those people, but if I were I wouldn’t be here today with so many awesome writerly friends and cool things up ahead so let’s park that sentiment for a moment. The point is, if you write, you want it to be read, and one sure-fire way of making sure your stories/poems/essays etc get read is to send them off for consideration. Most commonly, especially in the indie horror scene at the moment, this could be responding to a Call For Submissions (capitilised for no good reason but this is my blog so fuck it). These calls come out regularly, almost weekly it seems, by many incredibly cool indie publishers looking to put together anthologies, often with a discernible theme, or magazines, blog posts and so on. The call comes out, sometimes there is a cool cover attached to the project (I have provided art to some wicked anthos of late and feel privileged to have done so), and hurrah! The game is on. Writers across the indie scene scramble to get something ready in time for the deadline, making sure (please, for the love of god, make sure), that they FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES carefully, putting together a piece of work, then submitting it. 

And in doing so, jumping onto what I like to call the Submissions Carousel, which can prove an incredibly tricky thing to climb down from, because the darn thing never seems to stop. By this I mean, you’ll submit one story, settle down for the agonising wait and eventual rejection/acceptance, ride through the various accompanying emotions, start to regulate, and then what do you know? 

THERE’S ANOTHER CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS from another publication putting together something cool, and NAGDAMIT, the theme for this one is Killer Hedgehogs From Outer Space Oh And They Like Anarcho Punk Music Too And Only Speak in Iambic Pentameter and before you know it, you’re off again! The Carousel spins, you’ve got a month to write a six thousand word masterpiece, and so the cycle moves on. 

Now, this sounds like I’m taking the piss out of Anthologies and writers submitting stories to them. It’s really important that you all know that I AM NOT DOING THIS. Indie publishers often rely heavily on open submission calls, and rightly so- they are an essential part of making sure that new writers can be found and have a voice, not to mention what open subs do for diversity and inclusion in an industry where, let’s face it, a lot of people just ask their mates to sub them a story and bob’s your uncle, here’s another antho with the same ol’ same ol. And because the world is an ever changing, wonderful place, books should reflect that as far as humanly possible (without lazily sliding into tokenism, because those that do can easily be spotted a country mile away). We need new voices, new stories, new perspectives, new talents. Submissions are a key part of keeping things fresh, and it’s not uncommon to see publishers taking a hybrid approach too, with an invitation only list combined with an open call. So yes, to clarify, I think this is all brilliant and good, and the sheer wealth of publishers, anthologies and open calls to provide material for such is an indication of how busy and vibrant the indie horror scene is at the moment, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Shucks, I put together an antho myself with two very talented ladies, and I have no ragretz whatsoever. 

What I am trying to say, in a big-sisterly sort of way, I suppose, is this:

There are A LOT of amazing projects out there to submit your stuff to.

There are likely to continue to be an awful lot of amazing projects for the foreseeable future.

You don’t have to submit to each and everyone. 

But of course, you’re thinking. I’m not an idiot.  

But then: Oh, shit, what’s this? My favourite publisher has just announced a call for submissions? Oh god, it’s looking for Slasher Fic revolving around Used Teabags? Holy Shit, that’s my favourite thing ever!! 

And just like that, you didn’t get off the Carousel. You stayed, mesmerised by the tinkly music and the weird grimacing wooden horses that jerk up and down on their candy-striped poles and the strange mirrors and little globby lights and the smell of candy-floss and 

*slaps self hard, across the face*

Ugh, where was I? Sorry about that. 

Yeah, so. What I’m saying is that Submissions Burnout is a real and very tangible thing. See call, get excited, write story, submit, wait, rejoice or feel rejected, repeat cycle. It’s tiring. And while on the one hand, rejection is an essential and extremely necessary (not to mention healthy) part of the writing game, too much of it in a short space of time can really, really damage your mojo. Because often, rejections don’t come with constructive feedback (although there is an increasing trend in personalised rejections that I approve of). And honestly, with an anthology in particular, there are so many factors at play: available space, word count, other writers already on the TOC, theme, tone, and so on. By this I mean, your story could be incredible, it could be the best story about Killer Cheeses From Missouri ever written, but if the brief calls for Killer Cheese From Illinois, then it won’t get accepted, because although you think the story matches thematically, an editor has a tight brief in mind and that is why your piece didn’t make the cut. But rejection is rejection, and you love the words you write, so it can be hard to feel good about yourself if you continue to not make the cut (even though your story was one out of three thousand submitted, received, read, weighed, considered, and rejected). 

See where I’m going with this? 

So, a fun fact about me (and I’m not setting myself up as any sort of ideal or writerly expert, but again, this is my blog so I’m allowed to talk about my own shit where it is relevant), I try not to submit things. Its true! I’ve been doing this since 2018. In that time, I’ve been invited to write stories for charity anthologies directly, which I have gladly done. I submitted one piece, and one piece alone, to an open call last year that really sung to me. I was invited to three anthologies this year, one of which I then pulled out of. 

And that’s it. 


Well, honestly, it’s because I’m a delicate flower, innit. I get fatigued easily, and I hate rejection because I’m an idiot who needs to work on her ego a bit, but that’s for another time. Mostly I don’t submit because it’s so overwhelming to me: the number of calls, the frenzy surrounding it, the chatter about this story or that call and so on…I find it a bit much, so I…don’t. 

But what about getting your stuff read? 

Well, I guess I was a bit narrow-minded in my approach: I never really got onto the submissions carousel to start with (largely because I was very new to the indie horror community in 2018 and didn’t know much about any of this stuff going on at all). Instead, I wrote stories for podcasts (which I will admit- I submitted my first ever published story to, on a whim, and it was accepted thank god, or I wouldn’t be here). Once I had a handful of these stories, I realised I had enough material to self-publish my first collection, and I put my energy into building my own audience and readership from the ground up, which I feel like I’ve had some success with, thankfully. I preferred to put the effort into curating my own stories into my own publication, where I could write what I wanted, to my own brief, and it worked well for me: I didn’t have to endure the crushing sting of rejection after rejection (bad reviews notwithstanding) and I also had extra material to send over to the podcasts I had begun to build good relationships with. Not every story got accepted, but that was fine- it all went into a book eventually anyway, one that I controlled, so nothing felt wasted. 

So how does this translate into useful ‘advice’? I hate that word but I don’t think I can avoid it much longer, so here goes:

  • If you’re experiencing Submission Burnout, get off the Carousel for a while. No matter how exciting that open call for stories, just stop for a bit. Rest. Do something else. Write something purely for you, rather than to a brief. Or maybe don’t write at all. Maybe do something fun, instead. Have a breather. Rejuvenate a little. It’ll help a lot. 
  • If you do want to get back on the wooden horse, PRIORITISE. Seen an exciting call but it ends next week? Maybe consider sitting this one out- what’s the point in rushing it? Especially when there are so many other calls out there. Also consider prioritising submissions by the themes that are closest to your heart, and also maybe by doing a little due diligence on the publisher themselves- are their values as a business and the people associated with it aligned to yours? That can be important to consider, particularly at the moment.  
  • Consider self-publishing. Who cares if the story got rejected, honestly? Maybe it needs some work, maybe it doesn’t. Just because one particular editor doesn’t like your stuff, or didn’t think it worked entirely with what they had in mind, doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole world of people out there who might enjoy the hell out of your story, so why wait? Self-publishing is accessible, valid, worthwhile, and can be hella rewarding- why waste all your efforts, get out there! Go on, git! 

So yeah, those are my thoughts. I hope they’re helpful, I see lots of good writers going through the Burnout and I understand it, I really do. It’s addictive, this writing and getting published thing. It’s a trip, and I love it. 

But it might also be time to consider doing it more on your terms, than on someone else’s’ all the time. That Carousel aint going anywhere, anyway. You can always climb back on a bit later, once you stop feeling dizzy. 

G. A 

Self Promotion Tips for Authors Who Hate Talking About Themselves

It’s a familiar, lonesome cry, and one I hear often from indie and self-published authors: ‘I want to write books, but I HATE promoting them, why does it have to be all about promotion? It shouldn’t be a popularity contest! I just want to write, not take a degree in fucking marketing to get any sales! Ugh I hate promotion so muuuuchhh!’

We’ve all been there. And for the record, I agree, sometimes. It would be lovely to just focus on the writing part of making a book and not have to think about the selling part at all. But, and here’s a thing: nobody is forcing you to promote yourself. If you don’t want to and you don’t feel comfortable doing it, then…just don’t. The ‘You Didn’t Promote Your Book You Naughty Thing’ Police aren’t going to come knocking. Nothing bad will happen. 

It’s just unlikely that, you know…you’ll sell many books. Because the basic laws of selling things indicate that No Promotion = Very Few Sales, even for established authors. It’s sort of just how it works, in my humble opinion based on extremely limited experience (which is a phrase I need to tattoo on my face to stave off snarky replies).

But actually, this could be okay. Not everything in life has to be about the commercials, and I have nothing but respect for that. If your main goal is to enjoy the craft, get immersed in the act of storytelling and not worry about what happens after you type ‘The End,’ then you can just keep doing what you’re doing. Enjoy the process. Enjoy rearranging the words, enjoy the feel of the manuscript in your hands, enjoy knowing you’ve completed a wonderful, highly personal thing, because writing a book is an incredible and unique act of construction that can be one of the most gratifying things on earth to participate in (ignoring that stodgy bit in the middle when it all feels about as gratifying as being slapped across the bum cheeks repeatedly with a thinly battered spiny cod). I often wish I could detach myself from the idea of what may or may not happen after I’ve finished a book to simply experience that raw joy properly again, and I have a feeling that at some point in my immediate future, I need to strip myself of all other considerations and focus purely on the words, nothing else. Immerse myself so completely that my next book just slips out of me like a tiny baby eel through a hole in a submerged rusty bucket (Jesus fucking Christ on a bike Gemma, these analogies are getting terrible). Write a book, and not worry about shifting copies after. 


For me, at the moment, and I suspect for the majority of my career, whichever twists and turns it may take, self promotion is important. I do want to sell books. And maybe I’m making enormous sweeping assumptions here, but from what I can see of my author friends around me, I think most of you do too. We write a book, we bleed into a book, we put ourselves bare on the page in a book…it stands to reason that we want that book to sell. We want it to do well, we want it to accrue positive reviews and make people feel the things we felt whilst writing it and meet the characters we so lovingly imagined and breathed life into. We want to earn money from that book so we can write more books, because we feel like this is our life’s mission now- this thing we call writing. Because we made this. We’re proud of it. When we are proud of things, we want other people to experience them and maybe feel their own version of pride in that thing. People beyond our spouses and our Mums (although my Mum has never read any of my books, and for this I am rather grateful, because in her mind I am still ten years old I think and she likely wouldn’t sleep ever again if she did).

But, and here I circle back to the inescapable truth: very few books sell themselves. 

Therefore, you gotta put the work in. Just like any business or endeavour, and without getting into any debates about The Hustle, and whether or not it is good or bad for us, the simple truth of the matter is that sometimes, yes, you need to apply yourself to hustling and bustling if you want to sell copies. It’s just how it works, and for the large part, I’m okay with knowing that. 

And it’s not like I don’t get it. I do. It’s tedious at times, it really fucking is. Of course it is! It’s something I will openly admit I spend hours of my day thinking about and doing: marketing and self-promotion. If I had to split it percentage wise, a typical day for me is 30% creating and 70% selling myself in increasingly inventive ways whilst simultaneously trying not to gnaw my own fists off with how ughhhh it makes me feel. 

And that leads me to the point of this post. How does one relentlessly self-promote and generate book sales without dying of ennui? Now that we’ve acknowledged we do actually have to from time to time. Well, I’m certainly no guru, but I do have some ideas for things that work for me, and in the spirit of encouraging other writers as much as humanly possible (and yes, that features further down too), then here we go. And yes, most of these relate to social media, with a heavy preference for Twitter, because that is where I am most active. And its worked for me so far, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it I guess. 

Stop Talking About Yourself All The Damn Time

Hate talking about yourself? 

So don’t. 


It may come as a surprise, but if you feel like all you do is bang about yourself and your own books, then maybe that’s because that is all you do. And self-promotion isn’t always about you. It’s about other people. Make no sense? Think about it. Marketing is predicated upon understanding your target audience and ideal readership. And in our case, our target audiences are, unsurprisingly, people who love books. Not people who love YOU, per se. I mean, sure, some followers have definitely bought into YOU as an entity, a personality they enjoy interacting with and supporting. But this doesn’t mean the only thing they want to hear about is your books. They might, from time to time, enjoy hearing about other things. Like movies you’ve enjoyed, other writers they can follow and engage with, art that is particularly moving or inspiring, shit jokes, the weather, DOG PHOTOS, notable book birthdays, other birthdays in the community, events, podcasts, interviews…you get the idea. A well-placed post about something other than your book can give your readers, and you, a bit of a break. And the best thing about this? It stops feeling like a promotional carousel of death and starts feeling much more like an enjoyable day out at the races with a bunch of friends. It becomes more fun. And when you’re having fun, people respond to you differently. They engage more eagerly. They explore your output more keenly. They feel a stronger pull to you and affinity with what you’re trying to achieve. They might be tempted to look you up on places other than your social media profiles and find other ways of interacting with you, like your website, blog, newsletter if you have one, amazon page or goodreads profile. They might, eventually, decide to recommend you and your books to their friends and contacts if the topic comes up, which it often does. 

Thinly concealed writerly angst aside, promotion and marketing is about community, at least it is for me, and for many other writers I surround myself with (this is not to say, at the risk of repeating myself, that this means it has to be for you. It just might help, is all). I think, ultimately, promotion is about immersing yourself in a world of other people and having conversations with peers, readers, artists, heroes, aspiring writers, reviewers, friends, and doing so much more than HELLO PLEASE CAN YOU BUY MY BOOK TODAY. Because it can all help the cause, it really can. Interested in British Folk Horror Cinema? Why not put a tweet out there declaring your love of said Thing and find some new friends who also love said Thing and who knows, maybe, by proxy, you might find your follower count improves, your profile is raised slightly, and eventually, this might mean your sales go up. Similarly, that other writer you know who has a new book out? Promote it for them! Shout about their books! Help a mofo out! Chances are, if you do, guess what? They’ll do the very same back! And this might, again, lead to more sales. And so it goes. 

Think of yourself as being part of a pack. Because you are, really. There’s a lot of us writers out there, all doing the thing. It makes sense to treat them as allies, not enemies. And part of allyship is amplifying the voices of others. I’ve tried to do this as much as possible over time (although I miss so much these days due to workload and notifications not working properly), and one thing I noticed as the years passed is that the more I promoted the work of others, the better my own sales did. Bonkers but true. I’m not talking overnight, but given time. Because all things worth building take a little time, I guess.

Anyway the point to all this is that self-promotion doesn’t have to mean you only talk about yourself. It means varying the things you say and your interactions with others to create a more rounded picture of yourself to those around you. It means being part of a conversation, instead of delivering a monologue. This tends to be more effective than a rather two-dimensional approach that consists purely of links to your books and the same sales posts reshared dozens of times a day. You’ve got a personality outside of your writing, so lean into it- It’s also a lot less onerous, trust me.

Accept that Self-Promotion is Necessary and Okay and Drop the Fecking Stigma

And here’s where I try (and fail) not to sound cross. Because the number of people I witness banging the same tired, perforated old drum day in day out with weary, meek diligence and expecting different results staggers me. If it wasn’t working for you before, I am not sure doggedly recycling the same material will work in the future. But I suspect I know why people do this. It’s because many of us are stymied by self-awareness, embarrassment, exhaustion and a little shame that we are putting ourselves out there and asking someone else to reach into their pocket and buy our stuff. There is a weird stigma attached to self-promotion that inhibits how freely people feel they can advertise their own wares and drains our enthusiasm for it. And I hate it. It’s bullshit. It can fuck off into the sun and die a long and painful death. Selling something you made shouldn’t have a stigma attached. Books take hours and hours of dedication and hard work to bring into the world. Damn fucking straight I’m not ashamed of promoting any of those things I slogged so hard to bring to fruition. If you’ll excuse the vehement sweariness. I won’t repeat myself any more than I already have, because the lengthy intro pretty much dealt with this topic, but I will say this: IT IS PERFECTLY FINE AND VALID TO PROMOTE YOURSELF AND YOUR BOOK. Right? Right. Good. Glad we got that sorted. *cricks neck*

Think carefully about why your book is special 

This is a big one for me. There’s an awful lot of books out there. When I see someone talking about theirs, I want to know why I should throw my money at it. Often, this gets overlooked in promotional efforts. What is the book actually about? Who is the protagonist, and will I identify with them? Does it deal with any themes or issues that matter to me? Is it a group effort from more than one author, and if so, who are they? Is it inspired by something in particular? If so, can I see the source of that inspiration, whether it is another book, a movie, a place you visited, a period in history, a true crime case? Are there other materials, books, blog posts, articles about that thing that I can read? I need to know these things, and often, digging into them in more depth can give you ideas for how to promote your book that you might not have thought about yet. You’re an expert in your own novel, so leverage that expertise and use it to curate your promotional activities. Thinking about how to sell the book will also help enormously when it comes to writing back cover copy, where you have to succinctly do the exact same thing- summarise the book and why anyone should ultimately purchase it. I hesitate to use the acronym USP, but I will anyway, because that’s kind of what it is- the unique reasons why a reader should pick up your work, and invest their time in it. 

Invest in the best cover art you can and get visual 

Again, I don’t want to be reductionist or imply that the only way to success is to drop a ton of money on something you can’t really afford, or to imply that if you don’t spend money on cover art your book will tank, because I am not saying that at all. I would never say that, because it would be bullshit and entirely against the spirit of this post. I am saying however that people on the whole, particularly potential readers, do tend to be visually driven and can respond really well to good cover art and it can be one of the most effective marketing tools at your disposal, particularly in an age of Instagram and Bookstagram. I’m looking at you Eric LaRocca, and for why, I’ll drop casually this here:

Suffice to say you got my attention, to the point where I damn near creamed myself, but enough about that. Sharing your eye-catching book cover and making a big deal about it and putting it at the centre of your promotional efforts is a brilliant way of grabbing attention and an actually extremely fun thing to do, marketing wise. Make a little ceremony of it- find a book blogger who might be willing to host a cover reveal, for example, or utilise the following of the artist you commission and juxtapose their efforts with your own strategy to get more eyes on your work. And keep sharing that cover, in a complete contradiction to what I said earlier about banging the same drum over and over, because, unlike other types of posts, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you share images, people engage with them consistently well. The more times you get that image out there, the more people who will remember it when you come to launch, in my experience. I tend to leak cover designs as early as possible when talking about forthcoming books, because it cements the book’s identity in my reader’s minds collectively, and I keep drip-feeding it for weeks and months to come. This is also important, because, and I know this is shocking but- maybe, someone missed the first time you revealed your cover. Maybe they were out, or having their haircut, or cooking broccoli, or having a wee. Maybe you need to share things more than once because everyone works on different timelines and schedules and they don’t always match up with yours. 

There are plenty of artists out there who specialise in working with self-published and indie authors at reasonable rates, or, if you have artistic predilections yourself, you can do what I did and learn, pretty quickly, how to make your own covers. I use a monthly version of photoshop, a scanner, a watercolour pad and some paints to create cover art and it saves me a lot of money when I think it is something I feel I can do justice to. When I don’t, or I want a particular look or feel beyond my abilities, I hire an artist, and then do the wraparound layout myself in photoshop to save a little money that way. There are lots of options and none of them that mean you have to have lots of cash, but what I would say is, if you can afford it, go the extra mile and splash out on that cover- it really should pay for itself. Books are absolutely one hundred percent judged by their covers and that’s because there are so many brilliant, gorgeous ones out there. And visual posts on social media are by far the most engaged with, so embrace it and think about instagram seriously too. 

With that in mind, a few things to think about when commissioning cover art and then promoting the book:

  • Will the cover be eye-catching in thumbnail size? Because that’s how it will show on a lot of platforms. 
  • High contrast images work better for social posting- reverse white text on colour, or large fonts, bright palettes, clever font positioning, and simple, effective layouts. 
  • GLOSS COVERS ARE HELL TO TRY AND PHOTOGRAPH so do yourself a favour and go for matte.

The visual side of things doesn’t have to stop with the cover itself. It is super easy to make up a placard with a pic of your cover and some accompanying blurb, for example- here’s one I made in google slides, which is freeeee and was quite effective at raising awareness of my charity anthology WE ARE WOLVES– I did a series of these with different author blurbs. 

You can also think about selfies, using bookstagrammer’s pictures of your books (always, always ask permission first and credit the original source), taking your books to cool locations and taking quirky pics there, pet pics with your books…it all sounds a bit wank, I know, but guess what? It works. Sorry. 

Dial back on the self-pity and anger

I mean, I’m not your mum. But it feels self-explanatory to me, this one. I know we’re all human, and no one’s saying you can’t have a grumble from time to time. But, sigh. Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm, in my experience, and this is something people don’t acknowledge enough- that sometimes, being a PollyAnna is A-Okay. Because the world is a bit relentless and grim, innit? It’s nice to have a holiday from that, no matter how brief. 

Reach out for help and endorsement and find a mentor

This is a tricky one to do sometimes, and doesn’t always work, largely because other writers have a lot to do, but think about what you are trying to achieve, and the sort of writer you want to be, and the way you want your books to be received, and the issues you think are holding you back the most, and then do some research on authors you think are getting it right, take a deep breath, bite the bullet, and ask them POLITELY for advice, or, if that is a possibility, for mentorship. Like I said, this one is nerve wracking and will often end with a polite ‘no’ or ‘have no time’ or even a lack of response altogether, but on other occasions, that person might give you a lovely long list of tips and tricks for how they marketed themselves and their works and this can be just the encouragement and motivation you need to immerse yourself in the racket again. If advice is not on the table, consider asking for a blurb for your forthcoming project, although make sure you give the author you are asking a lot of time. And don’t stop at just one- why not five, or six? Not only can these blurbs make up some lovely promotional ground for you, but the chances are, the people blurbing your book will also be promoting it for you once they realise how damn good it is- its about using the idea of a network and community again to put down as many roots as humanly possible. Also, collaborations and projects with more than one author, like anthologies or novels written by several authors have the same advantages- multiple people singing the same tune and amplifying your material. So if you’re finding yourself stuck and feeling a bit alone in your promotional efforts, reach out. It can make the world of difference. 

Try and have fun 

Run a competition for a free copy of your book, or for someone to die a grisly death as a character in your book, or do a giveaway of someone else’s book, or run a poll, jump on clubhouse and get involved in a conversation about obscure 1970’s Italian revenge-slashers, join a writing course or seminar online and get involved in the group chat if there is one, embrace shit dad jokes, ask questions to things you’re genuinely interested in and try and keep a conversation about it going, host a live Q&A (these work well for me on my facebook page, and particularly well if I spend a week beforehand asking for questions to answer during the live Q&A), write a movie review, share a recipe, host a virtual noir at the bar, cosplay as a character in your book or someone else’s, interview a writer you admire on your youtube channel or podcast or blog, write a tongue-in-cheek article about something that matters to you, fuck around with poetry or flash fiction hashtags, make musical playlists to show people what you are writing to, or ask for recommendations…basically, try and cater to your basic needs as a human when using your socials to sell yourself and again, as with the other recommendations here, you tend to find that slowly, slowly, if you’re enjoying yourself, other things follow. Your confidence, for one thing. It gets easier to ask people to purchase things if you are in the flow and aren’t constantly apologising for asking people to purchase things. The more fun you have, the more you relax. The more you relax, the easier it gets. Promise. 

Don’t give up 

So you launched your book. 

You put your baby out there, heart in mouth, and you waited to see what would happen. 

And the answer was…nothing. 

So you gave up. 

Oh, wait up. No you didn’t. 

No you fucking didn’t. 

You kept going. You kept pushing. You set aside some good time every day to think about self-promotion. You reached out to bloggers and book reviewers, politely and always with an eye to their submission guidelines and reading policies. You looked for podcasts who might be accepting guests, you looked for pages and groups where self-promotion was welcomed and made a list, targeting them each in turn. You prepared a little press release email to news outlets you thought might take an interest. You made a book trailer. You recorded yourself reading excerpts. You sent out review copies and asked for blurbs, then asked the people who blurbed you to help spread the word. You got involved in conversations about things that mattered to you, you made sure you held up others as you wanted to be held up yourself. You did this day in, day out, until the book slowly started to get some traction. Then you realised that marketing and promotion is a war of attrition, and you kicked yourself for giving up after the first failed damp squib attempt. You realised that not many of us hit the ground running, and that this game is all about tenacity, so you kept going at it, consistently and with focus and a strategy, even if that strategy was only written on the back of a soggy beer-mat, at least it was written down, and it paid off. Eventually, it did. 

And then one day, you saw someone voicing the same frustrations you held, back in the day, and you didn’t move past it. You supported them as others supported you, and you felt pretty decent about it, too. And you got used to playing the game, even though we all know the game is exhausting and pretty demoralising at times, because the rewards are worth it, and the highs are just as gratifying as the lows.

Or maybe that’s just me.


‘So these are my choices?’ 

My Mother and I are discussing your imminent death. Knowing this would probably have upset you, for you never liked to be a burden, yet constantly thought of yourself as such.

‘I’m sorry, darling. It’s covid, isn’t it? The care home has all these rules…I’m sorry.’

‘It’s okay. I understand.’ And I do, I really do. The entire world has been placed in a state of compromise, and nothing epitomises the preceding year more for me than my current predicament: trying to find some way, shape or form in which to say goodbye to you, my guardian, my light, my friend, my cheerleader, my second mother, my precious Nan. Sadly, my choices are limited. I can drive for five hours to wave at you through the window of your room at the care home, where you won’t be able to see me anyway because of your poor eyesight. Or I can try and talk to you on a mobile phone that someone else holds to your ear, where you won’t be able to remember my name or see who I am or even understand what I’m saying, most probably, but perhaps it will be enough for me to roar I LOVE YOU YOU ARE EVERYTHING TO ME down the phone in a way that might make it through. Or I can say goodbye to the woman in the photograph albums I have filling up the attic instead. The beautiful woman with the dark hair and the tanned, smooth skin that glows and the bright smile and hands that were always, always entangled in the fur of a dog. I can kiss the tips of my fingers and lay these upon the cold, glossy paper and hope that somehow, the love reaches you. 

But I cannot say it in person, or hold your hand in mine, or lay a kiss upon your cheek. 

Instead, these are my choices.

I never was too good at making important decisions. 

You are, thankfully, oblivious to this conversation, for you are lying in your bed in the care home you have been in for three years, ever since that nasty fall that almost killed you, the fall you took on Christmas Day. I remember that day in crystalline detail: I remember calling you, listening to your house phone ring and ring and ring with a sinking stomach. I remember then calling Mum, telling her that something didn’t feel right, telling her to get round to yours, check on you- it was Christmas morning, for heaven’s sake, there would be no reason for you to not answer the phone, no innocent reason. I waited twenty minutes and then dialled Mum’s mobile phone, and she breathlessly confirmed what I was terrified of: that you’d hurt yourself, badly. ‘She’s fallen,’ Mum said, and in the background I could hear you moaning and crying in pain. It was awful. What you’d done was also awful: you’d stumbled while in the toilet, a small, pokey space separate to the bathroom with no room to manoeuvre, and in falling you’d twisted, and somehow managed to hook your arm over the sink and tap next to the toilet, and, having caught yourself, you then lacked the strength to do anything other than hang there, twisted, agonised, humiliated, cold, for hours and hours, your panic alarm cruelly out of reach on your trapped wrist, until you were found on Christmas day in the morning, as the song goes. I remember all of this. I remember being told a few days later to prepare for the worst: you had a broken wrist, collapsed lung, pneumonia, sepsis and a horrible, highly infectious form of flu. We had to wear PPE several years before it was all the rage, you know- I remember the plastic apron, the gloves, the clear plastic visor and face mask we had to climb into before going into the special, quiet ward they reserve for very sick people, to say our goodbyes. You had no idea who we were behind all that armour, and I don’t think you really cared, at that point, you were so thin and frail and tired and I wished fiercely that I didn’t have to remember you like that, that I could somehow twist time so that your skin plumped out and became the lovely light tanned skin I remembered so well, and that your hair would puff proudly again, and your eyes would sparkle, but time is a mindless machine with no care for my wishes, and I had to endure the sight of you, diminished and dying. Because love comes with certain rules, and one of those rules is that, throughout the course of our lives, we will see things we desperately wish we didn’t have to see, but we will have to bear those sights in an utterly lonely and unique manner, because this is part of the bargain we make when we open ourselves to love, and though it may be better to have loved and lost, undoubtedly, it would be far better to have loved without pain. But perhaps love and pain are so intertwined that wishing for such things is wasted energy, I don’t know. I do know that there is a part of my mind that is forever reserved for the low, sick feeling you experience when something so utterly horrible you cannot quite comprehend it is unfolding before you, in real time. It is like a headache that constantly persists, or a heavy backpack you cannot remove. You carry it with you always, and the weight never lifts, but your back grows stronger, with age and experience, and you learn to straighten again beneath the burden.

Given time. 

But time, we were told, was not on our side. You would die, we were warned, and that was that, there was nothing more that could be done. 

Except you didn’t. Miraculously, despite being informed that you would most likely fall asleep and never wake up again, you did wake. You were a stubborn bugger, under all that softness. Granddad used to call you ‘his little dragon,’ and I always thought that was a bit harsh, but it was in fact affectionate and accurate because by golly, could you roar when you wanted to, you were a five-foot-two spitfire in freshly pleated trousers. And a few weeks later, I was able to hold you, and my God, it felt so good. It felt so damn good. ‘I’m alright,’ you said, a little unsteadily, and I said nothing, just held on to you. The power of your skin against mine, your soft, velvety cheek resting next to my forehead, the connective surge of love passing from your body to my body, it was restorative, it was everything, and it was a gesture I haven’t been able to repeat since. Sometimes I see a photograph of you and relive that moment, feel your skin as if it were in reach, and I give thanks for that unexpected opportunity to hold you, I give thanks because my ability to touch you was wrenched away several years later and so those extra moments held more significance, in hindsight. 

After the fall and your recovery, you never walked again. You were bedridden, and so we sold your house, also partly my house, I suppose, by simple default of how many of my early years I had spent there, growing. It was obvious you couldn’t stay there alone anymore. The rapidity of which your life, and my childhood, was then dismantled and marketed and re-owned was incredible, and I spent a lot of that period feeling breathless, wondering if the new inhabitants of your house would sit where I sat as a girl, in the small covered seat a the bottom of the garden, near the shed, with ivy and honeysuckle tickling my back as I listened to my Granddad tinkering away inside, making something, fixing something, building something, doing what he did best: using his hands. I wondered if they would lie on the couch in the living room on sick days, the couch you would bundle me into with a scalding sweet tea and a warm rug and a hot water bottle, and trace the delicate lines of the hairline cracks in the ceiling with tired eyes. I wondered if they would listen to the same music we listened to, Rachmaninov and Holst and Vaughan Williams and Thomas Tallis, anything but Bartok, I hate blasted Bartok, you would say, as we moved around the warm bungalow painted in shades of cream and yellow, everything cream and yellow, like a field of primroses in spring, each room an invitation to smile. I wondered if they would keep your plants, your sea grasses and ferns and daffodils and climbers and creepers and mosses and trees, or whether they would want to start anew, whether they would ravage the pristine lawn with diggers and decking or worse, maybe even gravel, anything for an easy life. I wondered about this and mourned the loss of my childhood home, but understood that it was necessary to let go: your safety and health were more important. 

I am not sure you felt as accepting of things, particularly when you moved to the home. We tried our best, we tried to make your room less sanitised and sterile, we bought pictures and cushions and plants and ornaments, but we all knew it was sorry compensation for the deep comfort of your (our) own home. Despite this, there was a certain sense of security in knowing that you could no longer hurt yourself and lie, broken and alone, for hours on end, and we knew you would be warm, and safe, and fed, and there was the TV, wasn’t there? We would visit, and we did, and we said this to ourselves and to you, but we had forced smiles on our faces as we spoke. But there was little else anyone could do, and such is the reality of the situation for many. The struggle to care for someone with such enormous physical and medical needs is one that not every person can reasonably dedicate themselves to whilst also earning a living, being able to afford the gas bill and food and electricity, even with a pension taken into consideration. We did what we thought was best for you, and you knew that, because you loved us as we loved you, but we all felt shitty about it, and you most of all. They say a man’s house is his castle, but for you, your home was a ship, and without her, you were directionless, a passenger rather than a captain, and I always felt guilty for this. But, as I said, love comes with rules, doesn’t it? And another one of those rules is that you will, by stint of loving, also experience guilt, and that is something I have become extremely well acquainted with, over the years.


Time passed, days and weeks and years, and I thought I had more time, but suddenly, a huge event landed upon us all like a heavy, stifling blanket thrown down across the world: a virus. And everything became dangerous, and unsafe, and potentially lethal, and your care home did what many others did- battened down the hatches, closed the doors, sealed the gaps, and prepared for siege. 

And, for a while, I thought that would be enough. I thought you would make it. 

A year passed, all of us in isolation, and I couldn’t see you, couldn’t call you, couldn’t do anything except write to you and send cards, but as your eyesight failed you couldn’t really read what I sent anyway. You couldn’t see me, or the words I wrote, and I couldn’t see you, and I couldn’t see Mum, either, because she was the only person allowed access to you, and that meant she had to shield as much as possible. I still haven’t seen her, sixteen months later, and the first time I will see her will be for your funeral, which is not the reunion I would have wished for, but never mind. I think I slowly started to mourn the loss of you while I sat in my garden and listened to children crying in the nearby park, listened to frustrated parents ranting to their partners about homeschooling and how behind they were at work, how they never had any time to themselves anymore and how they just wished this whole thing would go away. And I wished that too, because the silence you left in my life was deafening. It still is, and will be for a long, long time.

Anyway, it wasn’t enough. The deadly arrows made it over the ramparts, and in January, we were told you had the virus. I dissolved into a ball of nerves, and everything fell by the wayside: I cocked up a huge writing opportunity, I started to get behind on deadlines, I wrote muddy, mediocre things to plug the gaps in my obligations, I became both needy and standoffish in my personal relationships, and you were always in the back of my mind, because you’d stopped eating, and you picked up an infection, and your delicate lungs began to fill with fluid, and I think I knew what was happening without really thinking I knew what was happening, because for the first time in my entire life, I did not buy you a birthday present. I couldn’t think of anything that you would reasonably want, in all honesty. You didn’t eat or drink, you no longer read, or listened to the radio, or watched TV. You couldn’t walk. What else was there for you? What does one buy a person who no longer wishes to live? I sent a card, a giant card with giant text on it, but I felt like a fraud in doing this, I felt like I was sending you an admission of my own lack of faith in your ability to pull through. As it was, I think you barely looked at the card, which must, by then, have been little more than a placard of fuzzy colours and blobs, and when asked about it, you forgot my name, which sliced a deep groove in my heart that will take many years to bridge, I suspect. 

And then, as I was sitting at my desk reading the rejection email from the Very Nice People who had expected more from me on the Thing I Had Cocked Up due to stress and grief and brain fog, Mum rang. 

‘She’s dying,’ she said, and then I was given my ‘choices,’ although they weren’t really choices, because we all knew I was going to stay here, in my house, hammering keys with mindless dedication to something I couldn’t focus on whilst separated from you. 

The next morning, Mum rang again. ‘She’s gone,’ she said, and I couldn’t quite believe it, they were hollow words that struck me as deceit, like cracking open a mussel shell to find no pearl inside. Still, it had to be true, because Mum said it was so, and thus we cried, but I couldn’t tell if I was crying for the loss, or crying in frustration because I never got to tell you I loved you one last time, and I didn’t even get to yell it to you down a phone, and, as they say, that was that, and you were gone, and I will never say it to you again, not in person. This feels unjust, and unfair, as if I spent my life painting a huge masterpiece, only to be denied the final brushstrokes. It feels unfinished, for I never got to say thank you. Thank you for picking me up when I fell. Thank you for mopping up my tears. Thank you for tending to my wounds, and tucking me into bed at night, and for the endless days in the sun down at the beaches of Holkham and Burnham Overy, thank you for the freedom you gave me to roam, thank you for the passion you shared with me for music and art and romance and photography, thank you for the appreciation you gave me for beautiful things, thank you for being hopeful, thank you for always being so determinedly optimistic that I had no choice but to succeed, even when the days were cloudy and dark. Thank you for being my friend, my hero, my inspiration, for making me soft and kind when I could very easily have been hard and brittle. Thank you for steering me on a steady course, and for helping me to understand what it means to love fully and completely and unconditionally. 

I never got to say any of this. Perhaps expecting to have this opportunity is very privileged and unrealistic of me, but I wanted to say it. I wanted you to know these things. Now I’ll never get that chance. Choices were made, and those choices led me here. 

I shall have to say it in other ways. 

I shall read your favourite poem to you at your funeral, Sea Fever by John Masefield, I shall grip the paper with the poem printed on it tight in my shaking hands and say the words I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky as calmly as I know how whilst keeping it together, for Mum is terrified I will break down and cry at the funeral, although I have told her there is no shame in crying at funerals, that is precisely the point of funerals, but she is funny about these sorts of things, we all are in our family, we have a stoic Norfolk tendency to view displays of emotion as alien, strange and rather grotesque occurrences to be feared, so I shall swallow the rising lump of loss in my throat and power on through. 

I shall light candles for you, and I shall flick through the heavy leaves of the multitude of thick family photo albums you gave to me when we sold your house and I shall marvel at how beautiful you always were, and be thankful that you were always so keen to document everything and never afraid to have your own picture taken, for this has left me with a bounty of images, all of them a way by which I can access your memory and cherish it, like sifted gold in a pan.

I shall write this letter to you, and I shall figure out some of my feelings in doing so, and I shall probably come a step closer to accepting this new reality, which is a world without you in it. 

I shall talk about you with friends, and I shall record videos where I lay out, in painstaking detail, all the things I loved about you, and I shall relive your life, or at least, the part of your life that I knew about, the part that I had such glorious access to.

I shall do all of this, but I shall also feel like a raw, open wound, for that is what I am, right now. 

The trick is to take care of the wound, the trick is to not let it fester, and that is something I need to become better versed in: taking care of my wounds. 


Later, after the awful news had settled a bit, like a fresh snowfall, I am lying next to The Kid in bed, reading to him. 

He turns to me, with his owlish eyes and long eye-lashes and says, ‘Mum?’


‘You know how Grandie is dead now?’

‘Yes, darling.’

‘Well, I’ve been thinking. Now that she is dead, she gets to go on an adventure, doesn’t she? She gets to find out what happens to us after we die.’

‘I suppose she does,’ I say, biting back a million feelings. 

‘And nobody really knows, do they? So that’s exciting for her.’

And I realise he is right. Because we don’t know, not definitively, not beyond what happens to our body. And although I am not of a religious persuasion, I do wonder what happens to all that warmth, all that love, all those years of experience and passion and emotion and encounters and lessons learned and language and feeling and expression. Where does it all go, the glittering, myriad components of a personality? Does it rot too, or crisp into ash, or does something, some part of us, the essence of us, go on to have wonderful new adventures? Are you setting foot upon a path yet to be trod, are you, right this very moment, as I write this, down by the sea that you loved so much, the sun upon your upturned soul, listening to the gulls cry and feeling the salt air run past you and through you and around you like my love?

I don’t know my darling, I don’t know. 

But I do know that I love you. 

And I know that I will always love you, with every part of me that can love, and for that, that feeling, that better-to-have-loved-and-lost-headachey-heavy-backpack pain, I will always be grateful, for I am what you made me, I am soft and strong and I have a heart as wide and as open as the sea, and my capacity for love is endless, and that is your legacy. 

And I hope I made you proud. And in hoping that, I know I am making another choice, I am choosing to live as someone who inspired pride.

And that, I think, will be a good choice.

A week, what a week

Good Things…and Bad

Content warnings: descriptions of abuse, PTSD, anxiety, assault, suicidal ideation and being followed. Sorry, folks.

I’m on a zoom call, and its about A Thing. A Thing I can’t talk about, beyond calling it A Thing, which, as a writer, is always an amazing and mildly terrifying but edifying sentence to be able to say. I have been on various zoom calls and telephone calls about Various Things for the last few weeks, and it dawns on me, as I watch myself relaxing into this particular call, getting into my conversational stride, enjoying the discourse and letting my mind run along with the possibilities that lie ahead for me should This Thing progress further, that I am not used to good news. I don’t quite know what to do with it. The last twelve months have been such an unending parade of cheerless struggles that I’ve become almost permanently braced for doom, which no doubt accounts for my terrible posture and the worry lines etched into my once flawless brow (apart from that irksome mole between my eyebrows that once earned me the delightful moniker ‘rice krispie face’ because kids are awful). And yet here I am, engaging in something most decidedly non doom-y and what, what is this- am I- is this happiness? Excitement? How would I even know, after 2020? 

Turns out it is both of those things, and because I am a twat who cannot regulate her emotions to any other state than flying through the clouds or buried in the dirt- as I’ve said before, there is no In-Between in Gemma Land- I am suddenly exhausted with this realisation. What herculean effort I applied to simply identifying what the hell I am actually feeling has drained all remaining juice from my tank. I fall back on my old friend adrenaline to help keep me present, and all the while a little incredulous voice whispers bloody hell Gemma, you’re actually doing this over and over and over in the back of my rather swollen, tender mind. 

The Thing call ends after an hour and a half and I take myself down to the kitchen to brew another pot of too-strong coffee that I absolutely and definitely don’t need. As the mocha-pot gurgles and regurgitates its brown juice I realise I am crying, freely crying, standing in the small linoleum-carpeted space that feels like a prison cell when two people are in it, and my husband, relegated to the kitchen table for his work space, appears in the doorway, his face concerned. 

‘What’s the matter?’ He asks, obviously expecting some horrendous disaster to have befallen me, because, like I said, we’re primed for disasters now. We’re experts in them. Not fully inured, but definitely getting there. 

‘Nothing!’ I sob, watching in horror as massive ropes of snot escape from me and hurtle down towards the floor. Oh well, I needed to clean it anyway. 

‘What do you mean nothing? Why are you crying?’

‘I don’t know!’

‘Are you crying because you’ve had a good week?’

‘Y-ye-yesss!’ I heave, fully aware that I now resemble something from a particularly moist Cronenburg movie. My husband shakes his head, half-frustrated, half-amused. 

‘It’s just…I…work…so…damn…hard!’ I wail, and that’s it, I’m gone for the next thirty minutes. Husband patiently rides out the waves and pours the coffee, discreetly taking down my packet of beta-blockers from the cupboard and popping one from its foil blister. He’s right, of course, with everything going on, I failed to medicate and that’s never a particularly good idea. It accounts for the sweats, the churning stomach, the racing thoughts, the thundering heart, the tight chest. All of these things are eminently manageable if and when I actually remember to take the bloody pills, but for some reason I struggle with this, the most obvious act of self-care. Perhaps I have spent too long in that old Norfolk mindset (I grew up in the Fens): medicine is bad, medicine is for the weak, who needs medicine? Just buck up, put up, get on with it. All things shall pass if you’re strong enough. 

Except anxiety, PTSD and other things don’t really work like that, and these two prevailing wisdoms often war against each other. In this instance, common sense eventually wins out: I need my pill. 

Once the storm passes, I therefore do what I always do: wipe my face, glurp my coffee, swallow my pill and pretend that everything is normal. Husband pats me on the shoulder- I have problems being physically handled sometimes, for reasons that will become evident- and goes back to work. Poor bastard, I think, unnecessarily, and not for the first time. I think that a lot about the people in my life, the rare few I let get close enough to see the blubbery mess I can become. Poor bastards, but that’s just the old depression-narrative, the hardest of habits to break, easy enough to overcome if you do what I do: focus on the work. Nose to the grindstone, for the grindstone grinds away the nonsense, and I like to think of it as akin to cleaning rust off of an old blade: after a time, a new, clean, razor-sharp edge emerges, gleaming, and it is with that blade that I can cut a swathe through my doubt and fear and forge ahead. And, although I may jinx myself immediately by saying this, I feel like that is definitely what I am doing. Moving ahead. I don’t always know which directions exactly I’m pushing in, but I am moving forward, chest out, arms back, legs pumping, and that is all that matters. 

And I’m proud of that. I’m proud, because I have overcome a few hurdles to get here. One of those hurdles, which I have been consistently open and honest about and will continue to be so until I breathe my last, was a persistent and rather pesky desire to fling myself off of something tall and vertiginous every five moments, give myself to the void, embrace oblivion, and as far as hurdles go, it was a rather sticky and resilient one. But I jumped over it, eventually (poor choice of analogy, all things considered, but perhaps I need to actively reclaim the act of leaping anyway), and thank god too, because dying is a horribly messy and inconvenient thing for the people around you to have to cope with, and I am glad I have managed to convince my brain it is an awful idea. It was a slow process, but I have convinced it. Realising this was a pivotal moment in my life that I’ll always remember: the exact and precise second I understood, with a huge and exuberant sense of relief, that I no longer felt that way. A glorious, choirs-of-angels moment, quietly shared with only three other living souls until now. Hallelujah. 

As I later walk to my weekly therapy session, I reflect upon this, and pride. How the simple act of being pleased with something you have done is so damn empowering. It’s a nice feeling, and it carries me along on swift feet, letting me keep my head above the cloudline until…

…Until that old, familiar fear fights its way through the clouds and takes a firm hold of my head, squeezing my skull in its iron grip. 

You see, there are other hurdles I am yet to leap over. Which is okay, because I know that life is a process, but I wish this process ran a little smoother. Fear is my biggest barrier to success at the moment, but let me elaborate: it is not fear of success, or at least, not entirely. I mean I am a little afraid of what good things may come, because those good things come with an understood rule that you also stand to lose whatever good things come your way, but this in itself is not a reason for me to stop pressing the blade to the stone. What stops me is anxiety, a deep-rooted primal anxiety that is so firmly married to past trauma and unresolved PTSD that it is like someone slapping a glass tumbler down upon an insect that is just minding its own business, pootling across the carpet. One minute, I’ll be fine, the next, I’ll be in a glass chamber of fear (anyone who reads Girl on Fire btw- yes, that whole scene was an analogy). And by fear, I mean complete, head to toe, my-life-is-in-danger levels of brain-crushing fear. None of it actually relates to anything happening around me at the time, but is a simple part and parcel of having too much adrenaline in my system (hence the beta blockers). The hypervigilance I feel feeds into this endlessly and around I go in circles, getting more and more primed for potential disaster until I almost immobilised. 

The reason for this is evident for anyone who has read my foreword to the charity anthology We Are Wolves: I was violently mugged and assaulted by two men late at night in March, nine years ago. I was attacked from behind at speed, thrown to the ground, and punched in the face several times over by men wearing balaclavas and gloves (I only remember the gloves because the fist that battered the side of my nose was wearing a ring, and I remember feeling grateful for the scant protection the glove afforded my skin). All of this took place within a time frame of seconds, but still affects me nine years later. And the last few weeks have been particularly difficult, with events in the news triggering a series of recurring flashbacks and a general spike in hypervigilance that has made it hard to leave the house, be near another person, sleep, and so-on. And the worst thing about this? A growing feeling that I was lucky. I was lucky to be duffed up and left on the ground, bruised and shocked and blackening, because guess what? ‘It could have been worse,’ someone gently says to me, not long after it happens. And so it could. I am grateful I wasn’t raped and murdered, immensely grateful- and gosh, how fucked up is that, hey? Such a burden to bear, sometimes. A heavy one too. 

Now, I think I mentioned in my foreword that I am not living like this day to day. I am not a slobbering slug of nerves on an hourly, daily, even weekly basis. I don’t dwell if I can help it. But at the moment, things are difficult. Women everywhere are (rightly) sharing their experiences of feeling unsafe, and it is important that they do so, but hugely difficult to engage with for me- every time I turn on my phone, or the tv, or go into a shop, its there. That’s how news cycles work, and in a week or so maybe it will have died down. But maybe I don’t want it to die down, maybe we need to keep talking about it until it becomes something that is acted upon, rather than discussed. Either way, these conversations are things I am going to need to learn how to live with without being so heavily, cripplingly affected, and so I persist, ‘nevertheless she persisted’ as the quote says, and she drags her sorry carcass to therapy, and here’s where it all starts to go a little pear-shaped: because therapy is awful. Its nobody’s fault, but it is what it is- extremely bad timing. And I know it happens but its unexpected and decidedly damaging and will take a few good weeks to unpick. That is the risk with exploring the deeper recesses of the psyche with another person- sometimes things happen. It’s okay, though, it’s certainly understandable, and extremely recoverable. But because of this, I leave the session with a heightened level of fear I haven’t experienced since the birth of my son (that’s another story for another day, innit). 

And it’s because of this, because I cannot stop checking over my left shoulder- the shoulder I checked over nine years ago when I realised someone was running at me with speed and intent, and that I had, in a split second, become prey- that I notice I am being followed. 

My immediate thought is that this is my fault. 

I had seen the individual in question, a young man of about seventeen, peering into the bins near the bus stop in the city centre. I had seen him and made the mistake of making accidental eye contact with him as I passed, largely because I was wondering what he was looking for. I made eye-contact, and could tell within seconds of doing so, with a sinking feeling, that I shouldn’t have. Because something registered there, I don’t know how to describe it beyond ‘interest’. And I immediately cursed myself for wearing a bright red jacket, because I knew that made it easier to follow me. I knew this, and I hated myself for thinking like that, but it is true. I often wear grey and black these days, and that is why: I don’t want to be a target. 

Now, I haven’t lost all sense and reason, and I recognised at first when he suddenly thundered down the path behind me and overtook me at less than an arm’s length away before slowing down ten yards ahead of me, that this was likely a coincidence beyond all coincidences. Here I am, struggling with feelings of threat and vulnerability, trying to process the tricky repercussions of once being followed and attacked, when I am, again, being followed. It’s such a terrible coincidence, you see, that I immediately write it off. You’re being a twat again, Gemma, I told myself, but I doubled my step. I moved into an underpass that goes through a recessed pit in the middle of a roundabout called the Bear Pit. The boy kept ahead of me, and then stopped to talk to some skateboarders. I removed my headphones, doubled my steps again and made it back to street level. Checking over my shoulder, I saw that I’d left him behind. I relaxed, a smidge. Put my headphones back on. After all, it was the middle of the day, and there were people about. No harm done. Just get home and make a chamomile tea, I thought. 

Until he overtook me again, at a run, a mile later. 

There are no words to describe the horror of looking over your shoulder to once again see someone moving at speed right into your personal sphere, with intent. I jerked away from him so violently I nearly fell into the road. He continued past and then ahead, stopping to chat to a shopkeeper, and I took the opportunity to cross the road. 

Ten minutes later, he jogs past me again. He has also crossed the road. He slows once more, when he is ahead of me. This is a pattern. I want so much to believe it is a coincidence, so I cross the road again, and then twice more. Each time, just at the point I think I am safe, he materialises like a bad dream, racing past what I now think of as my Danger Shoulder, and if I’m being honest, the boy is skinny, and young, and I could probably take him if I had to, I lift weights now- this is why- and I’ve eaten a lot of doughnuts in the past year. But by now, I am almost at the point of vomiting with stress. All I can think about is what happened before. Thanks for not murdering me, I trill internally as I cross the road one last time. 

I eventually admit that I am being followed when I begin to realise how much closer to my house I am. When I think about this I understand that I don’t want this boy to know where I live. 

At this point, I probably could have asked someone for help. But guess what: I didn’t. A) because my brain now assumed that everyone was The Enemy and I didn’t feel safe enough to do so and B) my Norfolk brain kept telling me that everyone else would think I was being an idiot and overreacting and C) I actually didn’t want to get the young man into trouble, in case it WAS actually a coincidence. 

And so instead, I waited for him to pass me once again, my whole body tight as I registered the fast footfalls. He passed, and I slowed to a stop, waiting for a double-decker bus I could hear coming up behind me to obscure me from his view should he look back over his shoulder- does he have a Danger Shoulder? I doubt it, few men do, I suspect- and then I peeled off the main road, ducking into a side street. I then walked a complicated, winding, nonsensical route home, a detour of about three miles, and I am ashamed to say I haven’t really left the house since. 

Why am I writing about this? Well, for reasons. 

One, because this is how I process. Anyone who has read any of my books will understand this about me, and by the way, that isn’t likely to end any time soon- one particular forthcoming work of mine is, well, hmmm. I won’t spoil it for you, but I may need to start writing Slyvanian Family fanfiction for a while afterwards just to help me recover. But it’s okay- I do this. It helps me. It starts conversations and allows me to process. Writing is therapy, that’s all it ever was. The blade, the sharp, keen blade. Cut away the necrotic meat, slice through the tangled undergrowth, and beneath are my bones, bright and new and clean. I can grow new flesh, you see, even if old scars remain and regrow- those scars are rather beautiful anyway, I think. 

Two, because I think this is the time, currently, for sharing these experiences. I have a feeling that many of you out there are only just beginning to understand what a burden some of us carry, day in, day out. Some of you hate this information, others are shocked, others saddened by it. Maybe now is the time, ripe with shared experience. Or maybe I missed my window- is there an accepted window to talk about the safety of another human?

Three: because I need to remind myself that nothing bad actually happened. The fear of fear was worse than anything that actually transpired. Do I think the boy meant harm? Hard to say. Do I think his intentions were completely innocent? Absolutely not. Am I grateful it wasn’t worse? Of course. 

Do I think I’ll be comfortable going for a walk any time soon? 

Absolutely not. 

I recount my experiences to my husband, who is on a call at first and cannot fully turn himself to it. Eventually he finds me, and I am cocooned in a blanket, drinking tea and staring at the telly without fully seeing it. 

‘Alright?’ He asks, after I tell him everything. 

‘Not really, I say,’ sighing. ‘But I will be.’

‘Of course you will,’ he says, and goes back to work. 

Meanwhile, my phone pings. An email: Dear Gemma, I hope this email finds you well….

And just like that, another Good Thing begins. And that is how we shall overcome: hopping from Good Thing to Good Thing like hopping across stepping stones set above a fast-flowing river. I might fall in every now and then, but I’ll survive. There are always more stones. More zoom calls, emails, messages. Good Things. 

What a week, though. 

How I survive social media as an Author (including the art of accepting unsolicited advice)

Get off Twitter, love (Photo by Denise Duplinski from Pexels)

Altogether now: if you’re trying to put food on the table with your writing efforts, then social media is a necessary evil. I know it, you know it, your seven year old nephew knows it, everyone who cares about book sales and making a name for themselves knows it. If you’re one of those writers fortunate enough to be able to eschew social media completely and still make a living in any way, shape or form, then hurrah! Hats off, I salute thee, please tell me your secrets especially if they don’t revolve around having direct access to a large publishing house’s marketing team and budget because I’d LOVE to take a break from feeding my soul into my phone on an hourly basis (this being a large part of why I’ve started searching for representation this year, because hot sausage I’d like to spend more time writing and less time plugging myself in increasingly new and exciting ways).

If, however, you’re like me, and extremely dependent on the various different hells sites out there for book sales, finding new readers, discovering opportunities to submit to things and general feedback and support from others in the genre who can help a writer to thrive despite the multitude of ups and downs inherent in this game, then you’ll no doubt be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik-tok, Youtube, Faceyou, Tubetok, Twitgram, Fuckface, Cockdoodle, Wangwinkle, Gramcoke and a large section of all the other permutations of digital socialisation that exist out there, and you’ll be pushing your books, and your face, and your own personal brand onto anyone else who will listen on a daily basis. 

And you’ll be finding it extremely challenging. 

Because it’s a lot. It takes a lot of mental energy. It is addictive. It is triggering, in many cases. It can lead to sleepless nights, and existential crises, and mental health relapses, and all manner of unpleasant things, if not handled carefully. It takes effort, and maintenance, and interaction on a much broader timescale and intensity than we are used to interacting with people out in the real world (especially at the moment, while we are all in isolation). And there will probably come a point at which you’ll get so burned out you’ll think ‘Nah, I can’t be bothered with this nonsense anymore,’ and you’ll announce a social media hiatus, only to come crawling back with your leg between your clubbed tails a few hours or days or weeks later, knowing that there isn’t a huge amount of choice about it, because social media is, in essence, the best way of reaching a wider audience FOR FREE that exists. Ugh. The wheel turns, doesn’t it.

And so, without wishing to push unsolicited advice on anyone without being asked, because yawn, I’ve instead opted to document the things that have helped me in the last few years since I really began focusing on social media as a means of getting my work out there. I’m doing this because I like to muse over things of a social nature, and get my thoughts down (I am A Writer after all), but also it might help if you’re floundering. It might not. At the very least it stopped you misery-scrolling for a hot minute, or maybe it staved off that argument you were about to wade into with that troll called IHatePeople07467683. 

So here it is. Stuff that helps:

Social media for an author can actually be fun!

I know, I know, I sound like an episode of Sesame Street, but its TRUE. I’m a firm believer that I get out of life and human interactions what I put in, and this applies to my social media efforts. So, if you like movies and books and shit jokes and pictures of cats and pastry and landscape photography and art and crochet then it makes sense to immerse yourself in all of that, and by this I mean, enjoy it. I spend large parts of my day enthusing about movies I love, for example, because it makes me happy, and in doing so, I make friends. Sure, it might not immediately result in my latest novel going straight to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists, but I think of social media as a long game. Eventually, those friends are going to want to support my work, because that is what friends do. And I support them in turn, as much as I humanly can. (This doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up if you haven’t bought your friends latest novel or retweeted them or whatever- you can only do so much in a day. Anything you can do, they will appreciate. Most normal people understand we all have a lot to do and cope with.) 

I think of this as the digital equivalent of being someone who doesn’t look inwardly all the time and talk solely about themselves on social media without taking a breath. I mean, I used to do this, because it’s a natural place to start, right? I’d talk about myself, my books, my feelings, my opinions etc. And I still do, of course I do, because those things are good, relevant, worthy things too, and why shouldn’t you be the most authentic, straightforward, honest version of yourself you can be? You should be free to tell the world you’re having a shit day or your opinion on this thing or what you ate for dinner or when you last listened to Pink Floyd and so on. And frankly, the thought of advising anyone to curate their social feeds to include this prescribed thing and that advice-thing makes my skin crawl, BUT, in the spirit of documenting what’s worked for me, I generally find I enjoy places like Twitter and Insta a lot more when I open up the conversation to others. I some of this is that I’m afraid of coming off as a bit of a bore, in large part, one of those people at parties who sidles up with a wide-streched rictus grin and says, uninvited, with dead eyes boring holes into your soul ‘I’M A FUN PERSON’, whereupon everyone else rapidly moves away, like bacteria steering clear of penicillin in a giant petri dish (wow I am stretching these analogies aren’t I). I’ve also been conditioned by years of awful networking events during my time as a marketing person- always ask people about themselves etc. I’m also just genuinely intensely interested in other people, always have been, always will be. And so, I make social media fun for myself. I have said this before- although it is work, and it is professional, I treat it like being in a virtual pub, and it’s a place for me kick back, sometimes. Until it all goes Pete Tong, that is. More on that later.

Outrage posting generally makes me miserable

So someone douche-canoe made a douchey luke-warm take on something in the world of publishing, book reviews, movies, horror, cooking, most likely for the sole purpose of getting on someone’s radar via way of OUTRAGE TWITTER, and it has offended you to the point where you have to quote tweet and strenuously shout this nonsense down. And oh, boy, have I been there. I have scrolled, and stopped dead, and been outraged. Trust me, I have. And I’ve hit that quote tweet button, or that Comment on Post button, and I’ve declared my strenuous denial of said Bait Post, and I’ve felt better about it for the twenty seconds of ignorance I had before the realisation that OP was probably off in a corner gleefully slapping the one-eyed snake over my post (sorry for the implications that these posts are all dudes, many of them aren’t, I know this, but the masturbatory definition as provided by Urban Dictionary was frankly far too good to not use), because THAT IS WHAT THOSE PEOPLE WANT, and then I have felt dirty and cheap and in need of a shower and just, ughhhhh. 

Now, there are some occasions where, quite rightly, Outrage Twitter has its uses, mostly in identifying and condemning racism, misogyny, sexism and all other types of nasty, abusive behaviour targeted at individual groups in a way that makes the genre safer and more inclusive for all- and when it comes to tearing down anything hate-filled, abusive, gate-keepery or harmful, I am all about Outrage Twitter. I know there is a hot debate about freedom of speech and cancel culture, but if I saw someone being bullied, ostracised or targeted in a social situation in real life, I would like to think I would speak out against it- in fact, I know I would, because I can be a real gob-shite at times, particularly in the rare occasions I get angry (bullying in particular is something that sets me right off, grrrrr). But. But. 

I’ve been so much happier since I stopped Outrage Posting. I really have. It’s very Pollyanna, isn’t it? Who fucking cares. I’ll do anything to protect my mental health, and not feeding trolls and knobends the vital interaction food they crave is my jam, these days. I am not here for it, and I am much happier for it. That being said, I do slip up from time to time, but that’s okay, it’s literally only an app on my phone. Not life or death. I have to remind myself of that a lot more than I like.

Not everyone is going to like me, and that’s okay

Same rules as with real life, right? Not everybody is going to sip your brew and enjoy it. I know this. I’m alright with it. I can be an acquired taste. I can be abrasive, or too openly depressed, or too quick to judge, too slow to trust. It’s all good. It’s all gravy. I don’t need the entire world to like me, innit. Phew, what a relief.

Notifications erode your soul 

They do, they really do. I have turned off every single notification except for my gmail and whatsapp notifications, and I have muted most of my whatsapp groups. I don’t discuss work on messenger unless I’m logged into my desktop. I won’t answer dms or emails until I know I can do it properly, with my full concentration on the subject matter at hand. Oh, and the sheer relief of knowing that every ping on my phone is actually from someone I like or value and prioritise personally rather than some malodorous fuck-knuckle who thinks that self-publishing is for losers is IMMENSE. I highly recommend it, folks. Those little notification thingies wear you down, hour after hour. My focus is so much greater when I control them. I also don’t have that sensation that I’m getting overwhelmed anywhere near as much as I used to.

Going viral is hell 

Trust me on this one. It is. You don’t want it. It feels like you’ve been slammed into wooden stocks on the village green and pelted with rotten fruit by the locals for wearing a slightly low-cut top or flashing a bit of ankle. To begin with, they’re laughing, you’re laughing, everyone is having fun, but then they swap fruit for chunks of rock or burning clods of manure and it’s horrible. It’s invasive. Chasing viral fame ain’t it. It suckkkkkssssss. It also doesn’t sell books one tiny bit. Because guess what? The things that go viral aren’t those beautifully photographed book stacks or amazing reviews of your latest work, the things that go viral are about why the word ‘fanny’ is funny to British people or a random joke you stumbled upon on reddit or a fucking pancake that looks like it has Betty White’s face in it and IT WON’T SELL BOOKS. So take the pressure off yourself, because its exhausting chasing those likes. I’ve stopped, and I’m happier. So much happier. I live in perpetual fear of another viral post.

Sarcasm and snark were making me miserable 

They just were. I don’t think I have the energy for it, mostly. I’m a sarcastic person a lot in real life, but in real life I can wink outside of an emoji, or soften a sentence with a hug, or make it more obvious immediately that my sarcasm is a form of affection (because let’s face it, is is), but I do this less so online these days, I think in large part because life has been an unending wasteland of shite for a whole year now and I feel like everyone is so much more fragile (myself included). Sarcasm is easy to misconstrue and snark can definitely make me back away for fear of being hurt- although having a thick skin is a part of this game, there is no need to relentlessly stick your hand into an open flame, is there? Not for me, at any rate. 

Its okay to step away from something that makes me uncomfortable 

By this I mean: arguments. Being tagged in a game I didn’t want to play (big props for the guy who once tagged me in a game about mental health, labelling me a ‘window-licker’, gosh that was fun). People who’s feed made me unhappy, or feel squirrely, or make me tired, or even angry. Do I risk an echo chamber by curating my online world so much? Possibly. But is the whole point of being social, to, like, constantly hang around with people whose fundamental worldview is so completely opposed to mine? I don’t know. I’m not talking about people who think marmite is alright or whether someone is conservative or liberal or believes in god or doesn’t, because on the whole I love the diversity of opinion you come across in the world at general. But in exactly the same way that I might steer of certain people in the pub and in my offline social circles, I gravitate more towards people who communicate the way I do, and I find that trusting my gut is important, the more time I spend online. It also helps me stay out of conflict. And I HATE conflict. Passionately. 

People respond well to instruction (if you ask nicely)

Depressed about that post or thing you made that nobody shared?

Well, did you ASK them to share it?

Or did you just put it out there and hope for the best? Because that only works with people who are famous, generally. And if you’re here, reading this, chances are you ain’t. And you’re going to need to tell people what you want out of them. Want them to buy your book? Then ask them, nicely! Want people to spread the word? Follow your page? Share your post? Tag you in something? Don’t ask, don’t get. My most enjoyable posts are where I ask a direct question or make a plea for a certain type of interaction, and get it. Not everything you do will garner attention or get traction, but that’s okay, you can’t win them all. Keep on plugging. It pays off, eventually. I don’t have the adequate tracking software to confirm this, but I do know that I spend zero money on any other means of advertising, so I can say with the utmost confidence that 90% of my monthly book revenue comes in via social media efforts. It’s been trial and error, but I have learned that asking openly and politely for your followers to engage with your stuff generally pays off, and also converts.

I do not negotiate with trolls 

I block ‘em. Screw those guys (said in Southpark voice)

I have accepted that people like to see my face 

Selfies are okay. They really are. Faces are okay. Posting a picture of your face is not ‘playing a game’ or ‘thirstposting’ or anything other than what it is: literally sharing a goddamn picture of your face. I refuse to be shamed for sharing what I look like. Literally no time for that. 

Hashtags are still useful but in small doses

Hashtag spam, above all else, makes a post really hard to engage with. I tend to use up to three hashtags at the most on any given post, unless it is Instagram, where I am still trying to build my audience and also, hashtags are much more of an accepted thing- the post layout there is so much gentler and more forgiving of tags. Everywhere else, I tend to yikes a bit if I see a hashtag-stuffed post and it makes me a bit leery, no idea why. I certainly don’t see any increased engagement because I use them. Unless it is something super targeted, like #WiHM, or something trending, I use them sparingly, and I think people genuinely prefer this. 

At the end of the day, I step away from my phone 

Yeah, right, who am I kidding?? Of course I bloody don’t. But I do step away from the work side of using my phone. Evenings are reserved for sharing art, shitposting about movies, sharing jokes, enjoying the company of like-minded people, and not really about trying to sell books for me. This presents problems with different time zones, but the days when I was continuously trying to promote myself well into the midnight hour are long gone, mostly because I was burning out. So I kick back in the evenings, paint, scroll, watch films, chat to those I want to chat to. Boundaries are important with this job, and the only way I preserve my energy is by setting strict personal boundaries in place.

And that’s it, really. None of this is rocket science, or particularly ground-breaking, but writing it did help me scratch an itch I’ve been trying to get to for a while, and for that reason alone, I’m glad I did. Maybe I’ll add to it as I think of more, keep it a rolling diary of things that work for me. Hopefully, someone might find it useful. If not, like I said- at least it occupied a little chunk of your day in a way that didn’t involve feeling your blood pressure climb up through the roof and leap off into the stratosphere.

G xxxxx

Till the Score is Paid- revised version THESE WOUNDS is out NOW

cover image for THESE WOUNDS WE MAKE

Beady-eyed readers may have noticed that my latest short story collection, TILL THE SCORE IS PAID, which was published in December 2019 by Giles Press, has been listed as ‘unavailable’ for some time on both Amazon and via the publisher. I’ve had a lot of enquiries about buying the book, and enquiries from (rightly) disgruntled readers who, upon ordering their special numbered edition of the book direct from the publisher upon launch, then didn’t receive their copy. Not ideal.

The reason for this is that Giles, shortly after releasing TTSP, closed their doors for business very suddenly. I was not warned of this development, and communication in general from Giles was extremely poor from the moment the book was made live. Having parted ways amicably despite this, rights for the book reverted back to me, but the timing was terrible- I was deep in the final stages of finishing WHITE PINES, and then, as soon as I released that novel into the wild, a global pandemic somewhat scuppered my publishing schedule- something which, in the grand scheme of everything that has happened this year, is a mild annoyance at best, and yet. My readers have consistently supported me throughout my journey, and deserve better, particularly when it comes to receiving books in exchange for money put down.

TTSP languished in the doldrums for a while as I hunkered down during quarantine, which is a real shame, because the collection includes some of my favourite stories yet, including ‘Caleb’, ‘Rat Girl,’ ‘The Strangler,’ and ‘Justine’. Eventually, I came across the insanely helpful and clever Ross Jeffrey, (who is a very talented author and you should buy his books). Ross very kindly agreed to help me reformat the lost book, and I commissioned the ever talented Mark Pelham to create a new cover, as I wanted to create a little distance from the previous edition and breathe a new identity into the collection with some fresh art.

And so, I am delighted to share that finally, after an age of faffing about, a BRAND NEW REVISED EDITION of the short story collection is AVAILABLE NOW ON KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK!

Now entitled THESE WOUNDS WE MAKE, the collection has a shiny new title, gorgeously creepy cover, and also now features two brand new additional stories and illustrations hand-painted by me to sweeten the deal. There are thirteen stories in total about the supernatural, strange, and downright hellish. What is down in Lee’s basement? When will the war be over? Who does that mysterious dog belong to? What is that thing under the bed? Why is Justine so angry? What is that crack in the wall? And how exactly does one get rid of a body? All will be revealed- simply hit that BUY button below.

It goes without saying that if you are one of those readers (and thankfully, I don’t think there are many of you left now) who ordered a special edition of TTSP and didn’t receive it, then please LET ME KNOW. I will either personally refund you, or send a signed copy of THESE WOUNDS out to you as compensation. Contact me with proof of purchase and I’ll get on the case.

And for those of you who are backers wondering about WHITE PINES, seeing as I mentioned it earlier- slowly and surely, I am starting to mail backer copies out. It’s going to take me a while, but I am working through them! Your patience and support, as always, is much appreciated. ❤

We Will

We Will 

By Gemma Amor

We will each have a day, maybe past, maybe yet to come, when a landslide of cold and brutal change will fall upon us, an avalanche of rules and warnings and death and terrible news and things we can, and cannot do, and we will understand, slowly, reluctantly, that our lives have been suddenly diverted, like a river splitting around a dam. 

We will not believe it at first, or take it as seriously as we should. We will shake our heads and laugh and say ‘It’ll never happen to us,’ but we will notice a slow increase in anxiety, greasy and slick upon our subconscious, and we will start washing our hands more than we used to, shifting away from each other in public places, hunching our shoulders and burying our mouths and noses behind scarves and collars and masks. We will start to watch the news more than we did when the world behaved as expected. We will gossip amongst ourselves with a quietly growing horror whilst never fully appreciating what it is that we are wagging our tongues about.

And then we will get the word, and the word will be: STAY. 

Stay indoors. 

Stay away. 

Stay home. 

Stay safe. 

Stay stuck, stay in stasis. 


For how long, no-one will know, and the pressure of no foreseeable end to our isolation will eat at our nerves and at our sleep.

And at first, we will struggle to adapt. We will split, as a society, and become a two-party system, we will be made of those who are ‘essential’, those who are ‘key’ to the survival of life as we know it, and those who are not. And those essential people will take a deep breath, hold up their heads, and march into the fray, because it is their job to do so, and in doing so, they are risking their lives, and it will eventually dawn on us, as numbers on graphs start to swell, as stories of chaos and sickness and loss leak into our lives, that the world has become a dangerous thing, for us, but most especially for them. That army of lambs without proper protective equipment will continue to stand firm, and we will be afraid for them, and appalled for them, and in awe of their strength.

And those who are left behind will pace the confines of our homes, the lucky ones of us who have homes. We will feel terrible, and we will feel terrible guilt for feeling terrible, and we will say to ourselves over and over, ‘At least we have our health,’ trying to wield it as a mantra against sadness, a mantra that will never quite ease the ache in our hearts that we will all feel, every day, upon waking. And eventually, we will stop reading the news, because it has become too frightening. We will drink, and sleep, and argue, and frantically launch ourselves into routines that none of us will stick to in the weeks ahead, because we have been too ambitious in our plans, but very few of us have lived through events like these, very few of us understand, at first, that routine is a comfort only when it bends around us, rather than constrains us.

And we will see the days pass, and we will pass with them, and we will start to change. Some of us will begin to enjoy confinement. The rest of us will try and find what the new ‘normal’ is. Those of us who battled the black dog long before any of this came to pass will find an army of black dogs, suddenly barking at our heels. We will flail and cry out and then try to outrun them, but our houses are too small, our lives too uncertain, and their teeth will sink into our flesh and our brains and we will find ourselves food, food for the hounds. Our families will worry about us, but feel powerless to help, because these are unprecedented times, and we can no longer say ‘It’s all in your mind, my love.’ And we will worry about our children, too, and money, and our jobs, and we will miss our friends and our thousand little freedoms, that cup of coffee, that spot in the park where we used to sunbathe, that busy restaurant that made the best dumplings you’ve ever tasted, the sound of the highstreet filled with people, the roar of a crowd in a stadium, the thump, thump, thump of music floating high into the night sky.

And most of all, we will worry about our people. We will worry about death.

We will worry about the future.



We will be greater than the sum of these worries. 

We will be resilient, and brilliant, and stronger than we ever dreamed we could be. We will cry, and we will grieve, and we will wake in the night with a heavy stone stuck in our throats, unable to breathe, and we will rage against the unfairness of it all, and then, having crested the wave of anger, we will let the sea swallow our exhausted bodies and minds…

For a while. 

Some of us, many of us, will lose people we love, and those we love will lose people too, and so on and so on until a great daisy-chain of grief lies draped around the world, and we will wish we could have stood next to our darlings at the last, and we will wish we could have held their hands, but some things are just not possible, and in time, we will, with a lot of help, come to terms with that, because there is no other way. We will throw the cloak of grief around our shoulders and fasten it tight at our necks with an iron clasp and carry on, always moving forward, even if it is with a slow and heavy step, and if the cloak feels tight and uncomfortable around our throats, across or shoulders, we will eventually get used to it, and maybe in time we will forget, on occasion, that we are even wearing the cloak, and maybe, in time, we even find a little warmth in the memories the cloak is woven from, and the weight will diminish, the weave will soften against our tender skin.

And those of us who remain untouched by the indiscriminate hand of the reaper will bow our heads and mourn with you, we will try and understand the weight of what it is you carry, we will stand on our doorsteps and clap and whoop and cheer and bang pots for those of you who work on the front line, we will make art and music and literature and improvise movies and plays and skits in our houses for audiences imprisoned within their phones, for people with heavy eyes who are slaves to a rectangular, tabular glowing window to the world, and most importantly, we will STAY INDOORS, because we don’t know what else we can possibly do other than try and show you we care, we care by staying away from you, we care by trying to bring you a moment’s peace in your day, we care by cooking that stupid, extravagant meal, we care by letting that argument pass us by instead of engaging in it, we care by creating, we care by holding our children close when they feel lonely and confused, we care by cutting your hair badly with blunt kitchen scissors not fit for the task, we care by holding that movie watch party, by rolling around on exercise mats together, by closing doors in a house where once, all the doors remained open. We care by leaving toilet rolls on your doorstep because you cannot reach a shop without risking your life. We care by painting rainbows and sticking them to our windows, and it seems so trite, so futile, but we will hope that maybe one person will see that rainbow, and smile. 

We will care by trying to bring a second or two of joy into your closeted lives, we will care by trying to offer a tiny distraction, in our clumsy, heartfelt ways, from the beast who scratches at all of our doors. 

We will find joy in new, unexpected things. A moment to ourselves in the bath. A book. A ray of sunshine. A fresh food delivery. A call with a friend. A cuddle with our child. A downturn in statistics. A sugary cake. A bird on the windowsill. An email. A memory of a time gone by, all the more poignant in retrospect. Tiny things, tiny, inconsequential things, little, fragrant morsels of pleasure, but they will bring with them a new appreciation for life, and we will eat them up hungrily.

And eventually, the word will come. 

It will come cautiously, but it will come. 

We will feel the heavy arm of authority and duty lift a little. We will creep out into the light, dazed and tired, but out we will come, like spring bulbs pushing for the sun, and we will hold each other again, and we will watch with a strange type of relieved sadness as cars and busses and trains and planes once again fill up our days, and we will know that we can never go back to how things were before, because too many of us have been lost, too much has changed, but we will nevertheless move forward, holding each other’s hands. 

Our cloaks will flap behind us as we walk, cloaks of so many colours, all of them made of the same cloth and yet not, and the debris of so many shattered lives will swirl around us like snow in the air, but we will find a path through it, together, we will, we know we will, we must, we will…

We will. 

What it’s like to write your first novel: a first hand account

I have just written my first novel. 

Before we continue, I should state: I have half-written fifteen novels in my life so far. Fifteen. There’s a sci-fi MS, an historic thriller MS, a fantasy saga MS, three more horror novels, a VR thriller MS, a dystopian underworld MS…the list goes on and on. 

I’ve never finished a single one of them. I *have* finished a collection of short stories called CRUEL WORKS OF NATURE, a novella called DEAR LAURA, both of which are published and have been well received. I’ve also written numerous audio drama scripts, countless items of marketing copy, am a digital copywriter and have another short story collection called TILL THE SCORE IS PAID that is due out in December from @gilespress. What I’m trying to say is that I am a writer, a published author, I get paid for the craft. My writing chops are chubby and yet. 


I’ve never been able to finish a novel. 

Until now. 

The reason they’re all unfinished is simple: every time I get to the 40k mark, I give up. The story peters out because I didn’t do enough planning. Or, I did the planning and got bored of my own story. Or, I made things too complicated, or the original concept didn’t have enough steam to make a full novel out of. Or, life got in the way: work being the primary culprit. Its insanely hard to write anything as life-sucking as a novel while you also work a job and parent or any of that other adult shit that intrudes on the creative process. This is because novels need momentum. By that I mean you need to pick up where you left off easily. You have to remember every tiny detail about your plot, and write in a way that keeps that momentum and allows for continuity and narrative pacing. Otherwise you end up with a ‘bitty’ book. You write in fits and starts. You lose momentum. You lose enthusiasm, and you give up. Or at least, I did. 

Because when I write, I want to get lost in it. I sink into it like sinking into a warm bath: I’m gone in there for hours, and when I come out I never really come out. I’m thinking about this character or that plot device or this unresolved issue or that location. Its life consuming. But that’s how it should be. When you create something you should sacrifice yourself to it wholly. Give it your full attention. That way, whatever comes out the other end is genuine and worthwhile and has your soul and blood and sweat and life experience in it, and that feels like nectar on the page. 

So I had the will to write, but not the time or motivation. When I quit marketing to become a writer, the time issue resolved itself. But motivation remained the thing. And the only true motivation is accountability. I needed to get it done. 

My way of doing this was crowdfunding. I had an idea in my mind for a novel I wanted to write, about a town that disappears one day, taking all its residents with it. I decided to crowd-fund it so that I knew it would actually get done. 

My kickstarter for White Pines went live in Jan this year. The idea was simple: support the fundraiser, get a book in return. This essentially meant people were pre-ordering the novel. Ergo, accountability. If people had already bought the book, I knew I had to finish it, or risk letting those people down. 

The fundraiser did better than I ever imagined. Within no time at all I had passed the target and then some, and all of a sudden I had 213 people waiting on my new novel. 


Enough motivation indeed. And so, buoyed by the support of the wonderful community of horror lovers, I began to write my very first novel. 

The idea was solid. I started with great enthusiasm, building a world in my mind and a plot and attacking it with gusto. I got to 10,000 words with no trouble. And then things started to slow down. I lost a clear image of what I was writing. I fumbled as I wrote. I lost interest in certain scenes. I lost momentum. 

This time, however, I could not quit. I needed to figure out why it was not working. And after walks and chats with friends, I realised the problem was not the idea I had, but the setting. I had set the book in a vague part of america I knew nothing about. I had no real voice as I was writing, or authenticity, because I just didn’t know what I was writing about. The prose was colourless and stodgy as a result. 

I had a think. I needed a new location. One that was isolated, evocative, realistic. My husband suggested a place, and I started to research. 

And the more research I did about the location and the area, the mythology, the geography…the more things began to click into place. I grew inspired again. I got fired up. 

I scrapped 10,000 words and started again. And oh, boy am I glad I did. 

At 20,000 words I hit a new challenge. Pacing. I was trying to fit too much information and back story in at too early a stage. I tried to fill potential plot holes all in one go within the first ten chapters. I did this with dialogue. Clumsy, tedious dialogue between the main characters. It was a way of avoiding exposition, which I struggle with. It made the book heavy and hard work. I couldn’t see a way out of it.

So I did the most significant thing in my novel writing journey so far: I reached out for help. I’m not good at asking for help, but I did, and it changed everything. I sent what I had written to a wonderful developmental editor called Dan Hanks. He told me that what I had was good, but lacked grounding. He told me to add more sense of ‘place’ and atmosphere, and cut down on the dialogue. Pull back on information the overload. I did this. I had fun with the location. I trawled google maps. I sank myself into more research. I added the colour the book needed, and focused less on trying to tie off all the loose ends before the plot was fully established. 

I got to 50k. I sent it to Dan. He loved it. His feedback spurred me on. I would keep going. Even if I wrote one hundred words in a day, it was progress. Little scenes came to me as I did housework, went on the school run, cooked dinner. Things I would see in the news would fire up my imagination, and I found ways to work that into the story. Little by little, my characters developed a real sense of solidarity, and their behaviour became more authentic as a result.  

Then I took a trip. I went to the Scottish Highlands in a little rented car by myself, visited several of the locations from the novel. This trip changed everything for me. I stood in a small cemetery on the shore of a beautiful blue bay and looked out to sea, marveling at how far I’d come. Pinching myself at this surreal journey. I was standing in a location from my book, breathing the same air my characters breathed. I was writing a book, and I was going to fucking finish, come hell or high water. I went back to the hotel I was staying in, ordered room service, wrote three pivotal scenes. The book changed beyond recognition from that point onwards, and became something very, very different to the original concept, but became something I adored. 

My plot, which I had planned three times and scrapped, went in the bin, and instead I just let the book flow. I am a pantser, and always will be, and fighting that was a mistake. Next time I’ll remember this (this is also why I will never be able to write crime, ha ha). 

The research trip gave me insane levels of motivation. I tightened up my prose, and added some lovely details about the area and location that I could only have gotten from being there. An atmosphere built that carried me through the slow writing days. I created a world, and lived in it, and I was happy there. 

I also built a playlist. I am heavily mood-driven and music is essential for that. It gave me the push I needed to write certain scenes and kept me focused. It’s here for anyone interested:


At 57k I hit another wall. I was tired. I was struggling a bit with the concept, which had grown more and more cosmic and wide-reaching and philosophical.

I decided not to let this slump get to me, so I made a call that I needed to pause, jump ahead, and write the ending, so that I knew where I was going. I did just that: I left my MS at 57k, and jumped forward to the end scenes, which were amazing fun to write, as they were climactic and dramatic and fulfilling. Again, the love for the story came flooding back in. Every time I found myself enjoying the process again, I knew I was on the right track. 

Then I went back, and filled in the gaps. illogical, but it worked for me. The book fleshed out, the word count went up every day. I battled fatigue. I battled self doubt. I battled plot holes and challenges. I used white boards, wrote down questions. I spoke to myself a lot, and to others. I walked. I listened to music. I watched movies in a similar genre for inspiration. I took long baths and thought a lot. I filled notebooks with ideas I never used, but it all helped unlock my stiff writing muscles, sore from overuse. 

And then I realised I had only three chapters left to go.

The feeling was terrifying, rather than euphoric. Three chapters, so much riding on those three. 

And today, I finished.

I plugged the gaps. I tied the bow on my FIRST EVER NOVEL.

And I feel so drained its unreal. Like I’ve climbed a mountain and come down, sore and stiff and exhausted. BUT. Also, insanely proud. It still needs editing. It still needs beta reading and formatting and line editing and no doubt will change some more as a result. 



So now, it’s time to think about those other fifteen manuscripts.  

Only kidding. I won’t lie- I’ve nearly burned myself out writing White Pines. It was a worthwhile endeavor, and I shiver with anticipation at the thought of those 214 people receiving their book, a book that they made possible. But after its gone, and the audio book is done, I’ll need a rest. A recharge. Let’s gloss over the next book already jostling for attention in my mind. I will force myself to have some time.

If anyone is struggling through their first novel, please feel free to reach out. I’ve been there, I know how soul crushing it can be. I hope this post has helped you, even if only a little. 

Keep going!

On death: I am no longer afraid

I’m reading a book about death at the moment, the unforgettable memoirs of Sue Black, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist and anatomist who was also the lead anthropologist during the War Crimes investigation in Kosovo. She, more than most, seems qualified to talk about death, but her book deals predominantly with the vital subject of life- who we are when we are alive being something we should focus on more that what happens to our mortal shape after we die.

In particular, there is one chapter that affected me more than I’ve been affected for a while upon reading. In it, Black talks about the death of her beloved Uncle Willy, and how she was tasked with the undesirable job of making sure Uncle Willy was fit for burial on the day of his funeral. She talks at length of the elaborate ritual she undertook to ensure Willy was, in fact, deceased and ready for his grave, a ritual that was both ridiculous and overzealous even by Black’s own admittance. But, she did it anyway, because she considered it her duty and because grief does funny things to the mind.  

This moved me because of my own experience of death. It moved me because Black lays the details out for us to read in a plain, simple manner, without hyperbole or tragic prose, and it is incredibly refreshing. It moves me because it is brave, although Black may not see it as brave, she may just see it as a fact of existence: people die, and this is something we should be able to talk about. And it occurs to me, that, as a writer, and a writer of horror fiction, I have never, not even once, come close to dealing with this in any of my work. I have never written the truth of death, only the imaginary version. I have never written about what I experienced.

Why is that? Why can I write about monsters and shadows and murder and the shapeless, nameless terrors that lie submerged in the layers of our imagination, but not about the real things?

Why not write about the funeral?

Why not write about holding the hand of someone who was no longer alive?

Why not write about the things that shape us?

Ironically, for me at least, the deaths of those people we love the most go on to mould the lives of those left behind into new, profoundly different lives. Death can be a catalyst, leaving us changed beyond measure. Death, and the act of dying, is such an enormous concept, the biggest story of all, and here I am, a cowardly, cowardly writer, who has never, not once, taken the black bull by the horns and described how it felt to be in a room with a person I loved more than I knew how to express, and that person to be dead.

That person was my Granddad. He was, essentially, my surrogate father. My real Dad skipped out when I was a toddler, remarried several times, and was a stranger to me until I arranged to meet with him at the age of seventeen, which is also something I should probably write about, and don’t.

My Granddad did all those things a good Dad should do: disciplined me when I misbehaved, picked me up when I fell over, threw me into piles of dead leaves in the autumn, let me ride upon his shoulders, watched movies with me, pulled funny faces, went for long walks, taught me how to use a lathe and turn wood, explored abandoned castles and fortresses with me, skipped stones across the surface of the sea, watched the sun sink low beneath the Norfolk skyline and told me that if I listened hard enough, I could hear the great orange ball of fire hiss as it hit the water (a line he pinched from the movie Blue Lagoon, and my love for that film now knows no bounds). He was by intervals taciturn, in that uniquely Norfolk way, and extremely, if privately, expressive (after he died, I found a notebook of his filled with transcribed poetry, and I didn’t even know that he’d read poetry). He loved nature and Pavarotti and being outdoors. He hated spaghetti (“who the bloody hell has time to eat this stuff?”) and cities made him bad-tempered, because, he said, it was impossible to walk anywhere- he would quote a line from a James Herriot book, where a hardened country bloke of the same ilk moaned about only being able to take “big steps, and little uns” instead of walk properly, because there were “too many bloody people everywhere”. He was a stickler for rules and an avid respecter of authority, lover of giant ice cream cones and jacket potatoes, and die hard Morecambe and Wise fan, as am I. He is the reason I adore films the way I do: his eighties VHS library was a thing of beauty: Costner, Schwarzenegger, Connery, Seagal, Ford…he would watch my face to see my expression as we came to his favourite part of any film, and then gleefully rewind that section over and over until the tape became fuzzy with use. He never smoked, and hardly ever drank anything more than a shandy, unless it was Christmas. The only time I ever saw him with a hard spirit in his hand was immediately after he put our gorgeous English Setter Sam to sleep and buried him in the back garden.

Because my Granddad never went to school, he entered into trade after a short stint in the army. He became a builder and engineer, later going on to found his own engineering business, which my Uncle still runs (my Uncle, by the way, being part of a team responsible for the gorgeous copper petals that made up the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony). What I’m trying to say is that he was healthy, and worked a physical, hard job. A job which also left him exposed to the sun and, lethally as it turned out, a lot of asbestos, over the years.

And, because Fenland folk are unfailingly stoic and enormously uncommunicative, when a small lump appeared on his chest and continued to grow in mass and severity, he did nothing about it for five years, until, at last, he burst into tears in front of my Nan who marched him straight to the Doctor. The Doctor examined it half-seriously, told him he was more likely to die with it than because of it, and the mass continued to expand. Eventually, a diagnosis of cancer was made, by which point it had spread aggressively across his skin and around his body and attacked his lungs, those clean, brilliant lungs that had never sucked on nicotine but had, most likely, been harbouring the toxic dust from previous building projects and exposure to asbestos.

And so it was that my vital, healthy hero became a diminished, sick man, ravaged by chemotherapy. I do not want to talk much about that, because I prefer to remember him before this: striding through the banks of sea holly at Holkham, dogs running free at his heels, army cap low over his eyes, peacock tattoo proud on his strong, freckled arm.

What I should talk about is the day he died. I should talk about the call I got from my Mother, telling me to get in a car and make the journey cross country from Bristol. I should talk about the hushed hospital room he was in on the geriatric ward, a room which I now know to be a bad sign- you only get private rooms that are quiet when you are truly, truly ill in most British hospitals. I remember the gas mask over his face, his eyes half-closed in pain, the fumbling awkwardness of those that gathered around him. I remembered, vividly, being too afraid to tell him I loved him, because if I did, he would know how sick I thought he really was, and would think that I had no hope.

Hours later, he died, quietly, in his sleep. My husband thinks he waited for me. I have no idea if this is possible when a person is so close to death, but I like to think that maybe, he did.

I had a choice, when confronted with the horrible announcement of his passing. I could choose to see him, or not. I chose to see him. I suppose it was an important part of the grieving process for me, and subconsciously, I knew this. At the time, I don’t remember what I thought. I only remember free falling down a huge, endless chasm of loss.

For years after, I wiped the next ten minutes of my life from my memory. I wiped going into the room, the same room I hadn’t told him I’d loved him in, hours before.

I forgot about sitting on the edge of the bed next to him, carefully, in case I disturbed something.

I blanked out his tattooed arm, that faded peacock now bloated and swollen from the cannula and medication.

I forgot his face, slack and motionless, but, thankfully, no longer in pain.

I forgot how still he was, and the absence of him.

Because this is the thing about death: it renders those you love unrecognisable. So much of who we are physically is made up of our unique expressions and reactions to things. Our animation is intrinsically linked to our personality, and if you remove that, then all that is left is the housing for it, the case, discarded like the skin of a snake. We take so much stock in what our bodies look like and how they behave when the true essence of us lies in our brains and our thoughts and our feelings, and how we portray those. I knew, then, as I sat there and tentatively held his hand, which was cold, and shiny, and most definitely devoid of life; I knew that this was not him. I knew that he was there in my mind in all the ways I wrote about at the start of this essay. This was not him. This was just the part, the necessary part, that was left behind. He was the love he bore me, the lessons he taught me about living. He was the sun and the sky and the salty sea breeze and the smell of wood chippings and steel shavings. He was the taste of icecream and frost on an autumn day. He was the notebook filled with scribbled poetry, the sound of the sun hissing as it hit the sea at sunset.  

I say I knew: in reality, my brain struggled to process this information for many, many years. But looking back at it now, twelve years later, I can accept it for what it was: a confrontation with death that became the single most defining thing in my existence until my son was born. Then, because all we are really is life and death, the act of giving birth reset my boundaries and understanding of myself and my place in all of… ‘this’.

I never wrote about any of this in my books or my stories because I was afraid. Exposing a personal tragedy in this way and using it as a literary device is tantamount to telling a perfect stranger all of your deepest, darkest secrets within moments of meeting them, or so I used to think.

But I’m reading this book, and in this book a brave, incredible woman is painting a different picture of death, a picture that we should hang upon the wall proudly instead of shutting it away in the attic, and I, for one, think I need to change how I write about the dead and the dying.

How, I am not quite sure yet.

But I have an idea. It starts, as most things should start, with celebrating life.