Talking to myself

country road sepiaI spend an awful lot of time talking to myself.  It started years ago, when deep in a bout of anxiety, I doubted every single word that came out of my mouth.  Every conversation, however small, was later examined in detail. I’d beat myself up for the idiocy of what I’d said, my self-centredness and my lack of empathy for the person with whom I’d been conversing.  (Jees – self absorbed much? But selfishness, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of the side effects of anxiety.)

I’d resolve not to talk at all, but that didn’t work in the real world, so I started to practice conversations I knew I was going to have. These took place mainly in the car while driving.  I told myself other people would assume I was singing along to the radio or talking on a hands-free phone. It did get me through some necessary conversations, but it also became a habit.

And it’s got worse, because for the last year I’ve had to do a lot of driving. The kind that doesn’t get me anywhere, but is helping someone out. (Or maybe it isn’t, but that’s someone else’s story.) Anyway, I have to do it and so have plenty of time to yak to myself.

Last year, I had my first interview in about 25 years. The build up to this resulted in many, many practice sessions en route to nowhere. As a result of that interview I now, alongside the journeys to nowhere, get to go somewhere: my other world, the lovely Corsham Court, for the MA in Writing for Young People. Of course, this means writing workshops and, in these, I need to talk. It’s essential to discuss books, give feedback to others, comment on feedback given to me, and so, more practising of talking is required.

Once, in full flow while driving to a workshop, I failed to notice that the satnav had overheated and was no longer functioning. Hence, I missed a turning. For a considerable amount of time I was lost in the wilds of Wiltshire.

So, I’m back to Uni after a bit of a break and talking to myself has begun again, not least because our first reading-in-public event approaches. So, if you see a slightly frazzled woman driving though the backwoods of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire in a dirty and battered Volvo, apparently singing along to the radio, you know who it is.

P.S. Coincidentally, I have just read this: ‘my habit of practising even the most mundane conversations repeatedly before I actually have them.’ This by twitter mate: @blondiecamps  on her blog: blondiecamps.

Letters, laughter and family stories

A few weeks ago, I received a proper, old fashioned letter through the post.  It was from my uncle, whose laugh I can hear clearly in my head although we’ve only seen each other a handful of times over the past couple of decades.

Knowing that I’m studying ‘Writing for Young People,’ he wrote of his favourite children’s story: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. In it, Phillip takes his small sailing boat to aid in the rescue of the British troops trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk. It has a resonance for our family, because my uncle’s uncle – my own Great Uncle John – was one of those soldiers.

dunkirk 1

Despite his rescue that day, Great Uncle John’s story did not end well. He became institutionalised as a result of mental illness and eventually took his own life. Long after the war was over, he was still a victim of it.

I recently wrote a piece for my course, the prompt being ‘an object lost’. I’d chosen my late grandmother’s house and, the more I wrote the more memories came back. It got me thinking about the stories we hear from our families when we are children and how they interweave with our own memories to become part of us. It’s made me think about the stories in my fictional characters’ pasts. I need to know what has made them who they are.

My uncle’s letter was full of lighter family news, too, including a photo of his first grandchild. Looking at her sweet round face and the distinct lack of hair, I could see the resemblance to my cousins when they were small.

Last week he sent me a video clip of her laughing. Light in the darkness.