Having completed a long-term project that has consumed my thinking for years, I expected to feel elated. Instead, I am filled with melancholy, and a sense of having no direction. It's a strange development, which I really should have predicted.
It’s been a bit of a strange week or so, really. Reviews have started coming in for Dancing With Disorder, and it’s been lovely to read the different perspectives on the story and it’s been uplifting to see people are enjoying it. I’ve included screenshots of them at the bottom of this essay, if you want to read them. Hopefully those reviews can persuade others to take a chance on the story and that leads to people who are struggling with mental illness reading the book and being able to use it as a starting-point for conversations in their own lives, and maybe even to getting support themselves. I also did an interview with Cumbria Crack, the leading online newspaper in my area, which you can read by clicking HERE. They kept the vast majority of what I said in there, too, which I’m grateful for. It’s probably cost me the chance of a few extra clicks, with the link to the book right at the bottom and way more words than usually feature in their articles to get there, but the topics discussed were important to me and if it costs me a few sales, so be it.
Yet, despite all of the positives to result from the book, I feel somewhat empty. There were a range of emotions I thought I might feel once it was published, but the thought I would feel empty wasn’t one of them. If I’m being really honest, I’m probably as low as I have been in five or six years. There are some mitigating circumstances contributing to that in other areas of my life, which I’m not prepared to discuss online, at least at this stage, but I do feel the ending of such a huge chapter in my life is the biggest factor. With Dancing With Disorder drawing so heavily from my own experiences, I’ve been living the book for thirty-odd years, planning it for four and then writing it for two. That the finished product is as readable, powerful and, if you can excuse a moment of pride, downright brilliant as it is fulfils almost all of my hopes for the story. I’d love to see it adapted to television or film, though I know the chances are slim, and I’d obviously love it to make enough money to make me financially secure, though the chances of that are even slimmer. As far as the story goes, I have maximised its potential. I should feel on top of the world, and yet, I just feel empty.
Tyson Fury talked in his autobiography, Behind the Mask, about how defeating Wladimir Klitschko to become the boxing world champion left him feeling nothing but anxiety about where he went from there, and how his entire life had been building towards achieving the ultimate success and how lost and aimless he felt having done so. In Jonny Wilkinson’s magnificent and must-read autobiography Jonny: My Story, he said that the only time he was ever happy on a rugby field was in the few seconds it took the ball to go into touch at the end of the World Cup final. He said the period of time between Mike Catt’s foot meeting the ball and the referee blowing the final whistle was when he knew that everything he’d obsessed over achieving had paid off, and that as the whistle blew, he knew he’d never be able to live up to that moment again, and he was daunted by having to spend the rest of his career trying to. It’s a feeling I can now relate to, and with both men having been so open about their mental health struggles, it’s one I should’ve been prepared for. This book has been my obsession for so long, and now it’s gone, and I don’t know where to go next or what to focus on. It’s such a strange feeling, knowing that achieving the ambition that has driven me has taken from me the thing that kept me driven, and now I am doomed to fail to live up to the standards Dancing With Disorder has set for the rest of my life.
The answer, of course, is to throw myself into a new project, and challenge myself to surpass my own expectations. The question is what I choose to write next, and there a few options I am considering. The first is to try my hand at writing romance novels under a pen name. Part of this is because romantic sub-plots and the trials and tribulations of people trying to make love work are some of my favourite aspects of stories. Indeed, the only reality show I watch is First Dates, because the nature of the programme – two strangers meeting each other for the first time, each hoping that it will be the last first date they ever go on – is so pure, so relatable and so human that it stirs great emotion in me whenever I watch it, especially if two people hit it off. I feel love is the greatest force in this world, and writing stories that attest to that is something that holds an attraction. Plus – and this must be a consideration for anybody who wants to become a full-time writer – romance readers are voracious, which means there is a lot of money on the table. Whether I can write a romance series that could contribute to turning this writing passion into a career, I don’t know, but the challenge of doing so appeals to me. The only problem is that my benchmark for success would be the cultural impact of Twilight and the writing quality of As Good As It Gets, so I’m setting myself up to fail. Still, it would be an interesting challenge.
The second option I am strongly considering, and which was the plan prior to publishing Dancing With Disorder, is a mystery/thriller series. These are some of my favourite books to read, with Chris Carter’s fantastic Robert Hunter series and Cody McFadyen’s unnerving Smoky Barrett series two of my highest recommendations. I don’t know if I’d want to write stories as dark and twisted as those two, or whether I’d be able to pull them off. I’d enjoy giving it a go, though. I love stories where there is a puzzle to solve, and writing them myself is an idea that keeps teasing its way into my brain. If I go with that idea, I think the first instalment would feature the return of Fat Cash, the cocky, brash firebrand from my first novel. It is such fun to write somebody so outspoken and self-confident, and I have many ideas of how to turn Fat Cash’s story into something even greater. Whether I do or not, though, remains to be seen. Part of me feels that doing so would water down Cash’s impact in Dancing With Disorder, and part of me wants to leave those characters be for a while.
The final option on the table is to turn my hand to fantasy writing, and I have an idea that is a bit like a cross between the Witcher saga and Neil Gaiman’s brilliant two books, Stardust and Neverwhere. I love Gaiman’s sense of whimsy, and the way his novels are like modern fairytales with a twist, while the depth of the story in Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – possibly my favourite videogame of all time – and the outcomes from the moral choices made is something that I love exploring as a writer. I have many of the characters already planned in my head and my notebook, it’s just whether I feel ready to undertake such an epic mission. Part of me feels it would be better to hone my craft further and read more novels in that style before attempting to write one myself. I also still have three university modules to complete, and I feel that a book of the depth I have in mind for this story would be too distracting, so I reckon I’m best off waiting on that.
So, I have plenty to think about, and writing these ideas out has helped fill some of the emptiness I feel. I think I’ll give myself the next few weeks to read, to research and to rejuvenate myself, then I’ll make a choice on one of those options and get to work after Christmas and New Year. I still need to write a load of Lawes Reports that got completely waylaid when I deactivated my website, so maybe I’ll do them. The one I am most interested in writing is about the Friendship Benches, which is a community initiative from Africa I studied as part of my degree and which I feel could make a real impact in the western world, especially given the difficulties in accessing mental health support so many people are experiencing. Maybe I’ll make that my first target, to finally get that article researched properly and published and then I can think about longer projects like my next book. There’s still the final book in the FPL Nightmare trilogy to come, too, though I see that series as completely separate from the books I’ll be writing going forward. As it stands, I’ve managed to hold top spot in the World’s Greatest Mini-League for the last three gameweeks, so there is a chance that my FPL Nightmare ends with the dream conclusion. If not, it’s just something I’ll have to live with.
I started this journal entry with no real idea of what I was going to write, and just needing to write something. In doing so, I feel like I’ve helped myself quite a lot, and if I can finally get a good night’s sleep – it’s been a week or so since I’ve had more than two or three hours – then I reckon this malaise will start to clear. If not, I guess I’ll just have to write something else, and keep repeating that process until it does. Writing is the only way I know how to communicate these emotions inside me, and it helps so much to do so. I think I’ll look back on this entry in a couple of months and see how I feel then.
Thank you so much for your ongoing support, especially surrounding all things Dancing With Disorder. With regards the interview linked at the start, if you have any questions you wish to put to me, be it about the book, mental health or anything else, send them in through the Contact page. If I get enough, or even if I get one that piques my interest, I’ll answer them in upcoming blogs. For all I’ve talked about feeling empty, I do feel very blessed and privileged to have such wonderful people in my life, who support me and encourage me. You’re all noticed, and you’re all appreciated.
Song of the Chapter:
‘Empty’ by Garbage
Quote of the Chapter:
“The problem with reaching the peak of the tallest mountain in your dreams is that the path can only wind down the other side further and further away from this idyllic moment. I had pictured this image—worshipped it even—for years, maybe as long as I could remember. As we walked around the field in our celebratory lap of honour I could feel my dream beginning to slip away. The brightness was already fading, and with each second that passed, so was my happiness.”
Dancing With Disorder reviews:
"One of the most insightful works I've read on mental health problems in men ... It is very well-written and a real page-turner. I would recommend it to anyone.
Dancing With Disorder
"It communicates a deep understanding of troubled individuals who suffer from the challenges of mental disorders ... Courageous, wise, humorous and thought-provoking ... an easy-to-read, surprising and subtly moving chronicle.
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