All posts by unclekins

About unclekins

Blogger, writer, mental health advocate

We have lift-off!

Last night, we held a small event at the Book Hive in Norwich to launch my novella Playtime’s Over. Undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable, and at the same time surreal, evenings of my life. To an audience of about forty people (largely friends and family), I was introduced, fielded a few questions about my book, gave a reading, and then sat at a table signing copies and having my photo taken. All very normal things for a book launch, only it was me doing it. Which is, I’ll be honest, SO FREAKY.

Feeling very discombobulated today, unsurprisingly. There were drinks afterwards, though I’m of an age where the drinks are few and the late night is a bigger burden to shoulder than the alcohol. But yes, long story short, ready for a snooze already, and it’s only just gone six.

Keeping it short then, let’s start off by saying that we’re on sale! No more waiting, get out there and buy it! Book Hive if possible, elsewhere if not, as I’ve said before. I can’t wait for you to read it and, even more so, to hear what you think of it. Which brings me on to my next point…

Reviews! These help massively. Wherever you might do these things – your own blog, on Goodreads, on Amazon, wherever. And of course, we mustn’t forget good old word of mouth. If you read it, and you love it (or like it, or whatever), tell people. Tell your friends, coworkers, whoever. I won’t make a habit of cajoling people into spreading the word and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to say they enjoyed it if they didn’t. But the truth is that selling books these days is hard and there’s nothing so effective as hearing, from people you know, that something’s worth a look. Not only is this book important to me, but I genuinely think its themes are important in themselves, so I will be eternally grateful for anyone who tells a friend they ought to read it.

Anyway, enough of that. On a lighter note, you may be amazed to hear that I got through the reading with barely a stutter. It is, genuinely, the first time I have ever read anything I’ve written (okay, except for a couple of speeches) in front of anyone. I’ve never joined a writing group because the thought of reading my work out in front of people makes my buttocks clench. But last night I got up and did exactly that to a roomful of people. It helps that this has been through a rigorous editing process by someone other than me, that gave me some confidence. I think, though, primarily it was knowing I had to do it, there was no way out. Whether or not it was easier because it was in front of people I know, or harder, I’m not sure.

What was weirder, given I knew most of the people there, was talking about the mental health aspects. I’ve written a lot about my mental health struggles, but I’ve never addressed a room verbally about that sort of thing. That was a bit new. But again, needed doing.

I think the weirdest thing, though, was the signing. And especially signing books to people I know and still putting my full name, because it’s a book signing not a birthday card. Writing a message to my brother in his copy and signing it ‘James Kinsley’… just bizarre.

Honestly though, one of the proudest moments of my life. I’ve a lot of people to thank for it, not least of all Henry, my publisher and editor. My lifelong ambition has come to pass because he… I was going to say ‘took a chance’, but honestly, he’s a smart man who knows what he likes. I don’t even think it’s fair to say he’s taking a chance on me. He’s publishing it because he believes in this book. I also owe, unsurprisingly, a huge thank you to my family, especially my parents and my wife. And the network of friends around me who have all played their part in being supportive, both of this endeavour and of me generally.

One of the questions I was asked last night was about the differences between me and my protagonist, given the directly personal nature of some of the book. And my answer, which I’d never considered before, came surprisingly quickly. Will is, in some senses, analogous to me. His thoughts and feelings about a number of things are closely aligned to my own – the difference is the people around us. My family and friends, and the love they’ve always shown me, are exactly the reason I’ve created Will, rather than been him. So however I know you, sincerely, thank you.

Much Love
James Kinsley

Photo credit: Max Hilton

(buy my book!)

DON’T PANIC

We have a wipe-clean chart on our fridge where we plan our week; meals, events etc. It helps keep us (me) organised and plan for the week, especially so we don’t come home from work tired and then have to consider what to cook for dinner.

I went to update it today, turned the page of my diary to see what we were up to and the word ‘LAUNCH’ jumped out at me. Now, it’s not that I didn’t know it when it was, or that it was very close. But there was something about seeing the word on the current page of my diary that was like a punch to the gut. This is happening. This is it. To put it in the vernacular, we’ve reached squeaky-bum-time.

Mr Johnson has, in his wisdom, thrown open the country and, simultaneously, up his hands and told us we’re on our own now. The pandemic is not over, but their management of the public health crisis essentially is. So good luck, folks.

All of which means, of course, that we are free to hold an actual, in-person Book Launch event for Playtime’s Over. While I’m not over the moon about the fact that the government didn’t leave at least some measures in place (masks on public transport, for instance, feels like it would have been a low-level quick win), I am happy about the chance to meet with friends and family to celebrate my book going on sale. A bit of a mixed message, I appreciate, but there we are. It’s a complex world we live in.

So if you’re in Norwich on Wednesday (21st) and fancy stopping by and getting your hands on a copy, we’ll be at the Book Hive from 6:30pm. I shall be reading from the book and signing copies. Who knows, we might even try a little Q&A. But in any event, there will be books for sale. And if you can’t make it, then from the 22nd the book will be on the shelves (I’ve recently posted about the best way to get hold of it).

I remain proud of it. This seems an obvious thing to say, but given my issues around self-esteem and self-worth, the fact that I’ve yet to start second-guessing myself over it is a good sign. It’s a short, punchy read that tackles some big questions, but also has the potential to make the reader laugh out loud (I certainly did last time I re-read it). Which seems like an odd thing to say about a book where the protagonist is drowning himself and revisiting, in his mind, all the reasons that have brought him to where he is, but let’s be honest, if it didn’t have any levity, it’d be unbearable.

I’m not, I will admit, exactly looking forward to reading from it. One of the main reasons I’ve never joined any kind of writing group is that the idea of reading my work out loud in front of people makes me slightly sick. I’m reassured in this instance by the fact it’s been edited and chosen for publication by wiser heads than mine, so it’s not like reading a WiP. However, it still gives me the willies, and the one time I’ve practiced reading out loud from it did not instill any great confidence in me. So that’s one of the things I’ll be practicing over the next few days.

The other main one being, of course, my signature. Luckily, as things have turned out, I have the afternoon off work beforehand, so I can meditate, get myself in order, clean up and also get a quantity of copies signed before we kick-off. I’m trying to keep the Imposter Syndrome at bay, for which I can’t decide if it’s better or worse that this first time out is in front of family & friends. Mainly, I just need to work at keeping calm, I guess. And carrying on*.

* Don’t do that.

Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

Playtime’s Over – Release Date

I’m delighted to announce that Playtime’s Over, my debut novella, will be hitting the shelves on the 22nd of this month. It’s been an exciting journey bringing this story to life and I’d love for you to read it and to hear your comments and reviews so do get in touch, either here, on my Facebook Page or on any online review platforms.

To help get you on your way, here’s a short run through of the best places you can buy it for yourself and your friends and family.

👋 Friends in Norwich – the Book Hive! Propolis, my publisher, operates out of the Book Hive, handily in the centre of town. So, where better to go than right to the source, and obviously I can guarantee they’ll be stocking it! Check out their website for opening times and contact details. They might even have signed copies…

🇬🇧 Friends in the UK – Please ask at your local independent book shop who’ll be able to order it in for you. All independents in the country will be getting a copy. However, as they obviously get an abundance of titles, having customers ask about it raises awareness and if that prompts them to look at it, get enthused and stock it, this is really helpful to me.

As a debut author in a crowded marketplace, it’s unlikely to be carried in any chain book shops, for now at least…

🌎 Friends abroad – Firstly, do check out the Book Hive’s great website. They do ship abroad and while I can’t guarantee it will be the cheapest shipping you’ll find anywhere, it is only a slim novella – so it’s both modestly priced and doesn’t weigh much, meaning it shouldn’t cost the earth.

👩‍💻 Other online retailers you may already use will likely stock it, including Amazon. A friendly suggestion on that front, if you’re not already aware, is that by simply logging in each time via smile.amazon your eligible purchases will benefit a charity of your choice, as 0.5% of the net price (excluding VAT, returns and shipping fees) is donated. It may sound small but it all adds up.

Thank you and I hope you like what you read.

The Great Setback

So following on from my blog last week, I don’t need to tell you that the day after I posted hoping for the easing of restrictions to go ahead, Johnson announced that they were to be rolled back four weeks. So no early July book launch for me. I’m grateful my publisher was willing to be flexible on the publication date to give me the chance of a live launch, so all we can hope for now is that this four week delay is the last one. What happens in four weeks time if it gets pushed back again, whether we delay again or forget about having a launch event, I’m not sure. Hopefully it’s not a decision we’ll have to face.

But I should be clear, I know that my concerns over the launch of my book are insignificant next to the public health crisis we’re facing. Far from this being about me moaning about this latest government move, I’m writing this to make the point that I know where my priorities lie. There’s much about the pandemic that needs to be examined, so far as our government’s handling of it goes. The delays in implementing border controls, the matesy-once-had-a-pint-with-Matt-Hancock-so-now-I’ve-a-seven-figure-PPE-contract procurement scandals, Dominic Cummings… Today’s by-election result in Chesham and Amersham suggests that even in the Tory heartlands, questions are being asked about how Johnson’s going about business. But extending lockdown, as unpopular with the public as it is, isn’t something Johnson would do if it wasn’t necessary – characteristically, where there have been errors in the government’s approach, it’s been by acting too carelessly, not too cautiously. As this article shows, nearly two thirds of NHS Health Leaders thought 21st June was too soon to open up. Another four weeks for a final big push on vaccinations has to give us a better chance, and it’s vital because there’s a world of difference between the impact of this extension and the impact that would be caused by a fourth lockdown. If we want to come out completely, we have to come out right.

There are those who disagree, naturally. The Laurence Foxes, Toby Youngs, Julia Hartley-Brewers and Andrew Neils of this world are incensed. But when someone’s getting the mileage out of the pandemic that these people are, and are discrediting vaccines and encouraging things like abandoning masks, ignoring social distancing and calling for an end to lockdown, we need to ask what their endgame is. Only a crank would look at what’s going on across the globe and claim our government has somehow made this up to control us. Only a crank would believe that the way this is tanking our economy is a government strategy. And only a crank would call for an end to lockdown while encouraging exactly the sort of behaviour that will prolong it. There’s no sense in protesting masks* and protesting lockdown. Halting the spread is what will bring an end to this sooner.

There is a mental health issue in play when talking about the conditions we’ve lived in for over a year now. There is a genuine risk to some industries and the normal working people who rely on them with ongoing restrictions. But giving up and just going back to normal because we’re bored is not an appropriate response. Taking responsibility and doing our part to fight this disease is what will get it under control, and us out of lockdown. And that, to me, is always going to be of more concern to me than when I get to have a party.

A couple of film recommendations for you this week. Lesser known Powell & Pressburger offering The Small Back Room turned out to be a hidden gem. I’ll admit I had to watch it twice, as a mate and I tried to watch it on a very warm Sunday afternoon, and both fell asleep about half an hour in. But I went back to it the next day and was really engaged in its slow-burn tale of a WWII bomb expert overcoming his personal demons, some cracking performances on show. It is more of a character piece than a war movie per se, but worth looking out for. I also watched multi-award-winning Polish drama Ida – an absolutely beautiful film about an orphan raised in a convent finding out about the world and her family history on the eve of taking her vows. Two mesmerising performances from Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza, and every shot a beautifully framed and stunning image. Filmmaking at its very best.

* Don’t come at me with your anti-mask stuff. I’m always going to put more stock in the NHS, the CDC and WHO consensus than some nutter’s YouTube video your mate sent you.

Image by Fexplorer from Pixabay

Another week closer

I shall be keeping my fingers crossed over the weekend for the Government announcement on Monday regarding the cessation of lockdown restrictions. I hope, as everyone does, that we see an end to restrictions but unlike some of our more outspoken citizens, I only want it if it’s the right thing to do, supported by science. I don’t think rushing into it for the sake of it will do us any good in the long run and I don’t believe, as many of our tin-foil-hat-wearing chums do, that the government has a plan to keep us in lockdown forever. I’m more worried about Johnson going full tilt for lockdown too early because it plays well with the electorate.

Why I am keeping my fingers crossed that it’s soon, though, is because I am hoping that in July we’re going to be able to stage a little event, regarding the launch of my book. A date has been mentioned, but it is Covid-19 dependent. But if all goes well, we are looking at early July. Possibly within the next 3-4 weeks…

It was the 8th June 2020 when I finished the first draft of Playtime’s Over and, in a pleasing moment of synchronicity, it was the 8th June 2021 when my book was sent to print. Just a year from first draft to print is quite something, although in some senses it feels like the longest time. But I count my blessings, plenty of writers wait that long, or longer, to even get it on a publisher’s desk.

So that’s how close we are now. One government statement and one smooth printing process and we’re there. We had a meeting with my publisher today about what to expect over the next weeks and months, and to kick around some promotional ideas, which was a lot of fun. We talked quite a bit about how this is where the work starts. Selling a book these days, from a debut author especially, is a slog. Luckily, I’m enthused about the process, I want to take the opportunity to learn as much as I can. Partly because, to me, this isn’t about making money (I don’t expect to do much of that), but it’s about putting that book in as many hands as possible, both to get the ideas out there, but also because my one overriding hope is that this is my first, not my only, book. Expectations are modest, willingness to roll my sleeves up and get stuck in is high. No podcast too small, no book group too remote. And if you hear of any envelopes being opened, give me a shout…

In the interests of promoting myself like a tuppenny-ha’penny strumpet, I spent an hour or so with my chum Max this week taking some photos that I could use to make my Facebook page look a bit more professional. I wanted to keep my Facebook account personal and working on the assumption that people I don’t know might read my book and start taking an interest, I thought having a Page might be a good idea. Posting events, updates, that kind of thing. Feel free to like/follow etc

Max’s photos are, it must be said, sensational. Especially given what he had to work with. A fantastic photographer and a good friend, so big shout out to him. If you do check out the Facebook page, you might also notice the cover image…

This is Niki‘s magnificent cover art. Completely captures the protagonist’s mindset and character, it’s a thoroughly apropos starting point to his journey. I love it, and I hope to see it on your bookshelves soon…

In non-book news, I’ve a couple of films this week I’ve seen that I’d like to recommend for your viewing pleasure. It’s All About Love is a futuristic conspiracy thriller about an ice skating champion getting divorced, and is as wacky as that sounds. Couldn’t be more different from The Best Pair Of Legs In The Business which, despite looking like a ‘Cor, crumpet!’ 70s sub-Carry On holiday park romp, is actually a compelling, melancholy look at life as a comic who never made it. Starring Reg Varney from On The Buses, who is brilliant. And even I can’t believe I’m writing that.

First prize, however, goes to Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Featuring an outstanding performance from seven year old Brooklynn Prince (hands down the most engaging child performance since Drew Barrymore in E.T.), a remarkable debut turn from Bria Vinaite and a surprisingly sympathetic, non-psycho role for Willem Dafoe, it’s the story of a young girl’s life living in grueling poverty in the shadow of Disneyland. The twist being that, through her eyes, there’s nothing grueling about it. We as the audience watch her mother’s life deteriorate to new, ever more desperate lows, but only through the eyes of her blissfully unaware daughter. It’s incredible, nothing prepared me for how good this was. Please, please seek it out. And prepare for your heart to be warmed, wrenched and broken in equal measure.

Image: Max Hilton

A little check-in…

Well, last week was pretty exciting, what with the blurb and everything coming together for Playtime’s Over. Surely nothing could top that this week? Unless, of course, we got a first glimpse at the cover…

Yes, this week I did indeed get an email from the very talented Niki Medlik with a first look at the cover design for my book. I thought reading the blurb was a rush – this was, I have to say, kinda jaw-dropping. I wish I could share it with you, but that will have to wait for the meantime. I can tell you though that it’s an elegant cover that, for me, totally conveys a sense of atmosphere appropriate to the book. Just looking at it gives me chills. It’s another step closer to holding the real thing in my hands and it’s so exciting.

Not much else to share book-wise, still waiting on confirmation of the launch date. Though in the interests of drip-feeding you info, perhaps I can slyly hint that we’re reaching the point where we could start counting in weeks rather than months… But shhh, you didn’t hear that from me.

Outside of the publishing thing, as I said in my last post, I did go and see Babyteeth this week. It’s a gorgeous little movie with an outstanding cast, although I fear I went in with expectations running a little too high, and something I couldn’t quite put my finger on stopped me from falling in love with it. I think, perhaps, the familiarity of the story beats didn’t help. I love a coming-of-age drama, but there are number of very familiar tropes in the genre, and Babyteeth never quite manages to get away from them. If you’re looking for movies to watch, I can put a good word in for Table 19 and Sword of Trust. The former is a deceptively charming wedding comedy, with a solid cast headed by the superb Anna Kendrick; the latter is a stranger beast, a gentle-ish comedy about a young woman trying to sell a sword she inherited from her grandfather which may prove the South won the American Civil War. Jillian Bell and the superbly hangdog Marc Maron head up that one. We also revisited Fighting with my Family, which kinda brings us full circle, since it gets a bit of a tangential mention in Playtime’s Over (oops, spoilers…)

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Playtime’s Over – an update

Hello all! Things are starting to get real over at Propolis. My trad-publishing debut will soon be hitting the shelves! I have a (provisional) date, though I won’t be disclosing that until I get the go ahead from my publisher*.

Things I can tell you – well, we’ve made the final edits now. The text as it stands will be the text you read when** you buy a copy, and it has been typeset. I have a proper Author bio for the inside sleeve, which I had to get MP*** to write it for me because, as you know, I just can’t stand writing about myself… Even the dedication is final (so too late to throw your hat in the ring, I’m afraid).

Most excitingly, on Thursday this week I got an email with the blurb he’s drafted for the cover. I don’t mind admitting, that was an unexpectedly emotional moment. A weird disconnect between recognising his description as the bones of what I’d written, yet still feeling that what he was describing couldn’t possibly be my book. Honestly, my first reaction was, “That sounds bloody great! I’d love to read that…” I almost, I must confess, shed a tear. I expect actually holding a copy in my hands will be the watershed moment but, to date, reading the blurb has been by far the most ‘Wow, this is really happening’ feeling I’ve experienced.

These are, to the best of my knowledge, all the things that go into making a book. Oh, apart from the cover, which is also being worked on at this minute by MP’s super-talented in-house cover designer. To say I’m excited is somewhat of an understatement. We’re well into the third trimester now – it won’t be long ’til we birth this sucker.

What happens next? Well, this is where the mystery begins. Hopefully I’ll be meeting up with Propolis soon to talk about what the next steps are. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some kind of launch event, if Covid-19 behaves itself and we’re still allowed out of our homes come the publishing time. What that will consist of, what else I’ll be doing, I don’t yet know. Writing a book is one thing – that’s a simple**** tippy-tap exercise. Selling a book, that’s a whole new journey for me. Watch this space!

While I’m here, in other news, we actually went out this week. Like, proper ‘out’. To a place. To do a thing. The next phase of lockdown-easing is upon us, so to mark this momentous occasion, we went to Cinema City to see a film. Yes, an actual cinema. For the first time since Proxima last year. Pleased to report that Cinema City are, as indeed they were then, totally on their Pandemic game. One-way system, spaced seating, masked staff, etc. Even more delighted to report that, unlike Proxima, this time it was worth the trip. Judas and the Black Messiah is a very powerful movie experience. Vital, relevant, shocking and also very well-made and gripping. Highly recommended. You can see what else I’ve been watching of late by following me on Letterboxd, and next week find out what I thought of Babyteeth.

* I will never tire of saying ‘my publisher’

** Yes, I said ‘when’

*** My Publisher

**** I say ‘simple’ – the reality is it takes enormous effort and no small amount of natural genius

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A bit of personal history…

One of the things about writing about other people is it’s hard to decide how much is your story to tell.

I went to University in the early nineties, to a city in the north-east. I was assigned a room in Halls which I would be sharing. I went along, with the expected mix of anticipation and fear, having bid farewell to my family and the love of what I assumed would be my life.

I was a day or two later getting to campus than most of my peers, due to a wedding, and as such a number of people had all made that important first contact, those first connections based on proximity or shared courses. In that regard, the shared room was a blessing. I’m not great at meeting new people at the best of times so with everyone else getting a head start, a single room could have been a catastrophe for young Kinsley.

Double blessing – not only did I have a roommate, I had an excellent roommate. Friendly and welcoming to me, and gregarious and popular in a way that saved me a lot of trouble when it came to meeting people. This is not the story of how I met D, my closest friend for what has turned out to be my life, the best man at my wedding. This is the story of how I met another D, and how, through him, the rest of the Halls crew I would end up spending a lot of that first year with.

The love of my life from home ended in exactly the way you’d expect it to, with two young people leaving home for the first time to go to different universities – which is to say painfully quickly – and I embarked upon my student life. I had my new friends, there was socialising, drinking, even some study. At some point in that first year N, one of this circle of new friends, and I started dating.

Cut to year 2, and the eight of us move in to a pair of neighbouring flats. When it came to dividing between the two flats, we decide, as grown ups, that it would probably be better if N was in one and I was in the other. You know, just in case we broke up.

We broke up. She had already had the worst of me as a boyfriend. I was a desperately unhappy young man who for the first time in his life lived away from home with a disposable income and ready access to alcohol. Everyone drank a lot, we were students paying £1 a pint. Most of us were doing it for fun. I was doing it because, in part, I didn’t like who I was when I was sober. Which was ironic as a lot of people didn’t like who I was when I was drunk.

If I was a rubbish boyfriend, I was an even worse ex-boyfriend. I gloss over the details not to hide anything massively dark. I was, for the most part, just a source of annoyance and misery for those around me. Cut to year 3 and I’m not invited to the new flat that the seven of them are moving into, and who would ever blame them for that?

I leave university not expecting to ever see any of them again. I learn a lot of life lessons, tidy up my act a bit, develop a whole new lot of problems, but largely keep my life on the rails, slowly improving, occasionally lapsing – those of you who’ve read my blogs regularly will know a lot of that. I am, however, thanks to the internet, given the chance later in life to reach out to those friends from that time, including N. She was gracious, but not inclined to extend anything more than one conversation online. A few years later though, we crossed (online) paths again, and in an incredible show of forgiveness on her part, formed a more regular (albeit superficial, 20th century Facebook kind of) friendship. Occasional messages, occasional likes, a general vague but sincere feeling of goodwill.

She was, I’ve no doubt the others would agree, the very best of us. She was a kind, decent, good person – one of the most kind and decent human beings I’ve ever met. She was smart, fun and caring. She loved books, she was an English Lit. student, and it set the tone for a successful career in publishing. She met a good man, married him, travelled the world. She got the good life she deserved, so far as I am aware, and no one is more happy about that than me. Not least because of all my regrets in life, how I treated her remains the biggest.

My connection will always be more with the eighteen year old girl I met at university, far more than with the forty something woman she became. She has family and friends whose connection to the 2021 version of N carries vastly more weight than mine ever could, obviously. That fleeting chapter of my life that she was part of, however, was undoubtedly a formative one. And her presence in that chapter looms large. I’ve had relationships since that have guided and directed my life more than the eight months we were together. She is, to all intents and purposes, just a part of my personal history. But I loved her. And love at that age, though volatile and often fleeting, leaves an echo that for the more romantic of us never quite fades to silence.

Earlier this month, N passed away. The how and the why are, as I hinted at the start, not my story to tell – although I will say the manner in which we became aware was, as one of us pointed out, a mark of the character of the woman. I don’t use her full name, or a picture, as again, I don’t want to seem as if I’m taking ownership of somebody else’s tragedy. A man lost his wife, parents a daughter, siblings a sister and others a good, close friend. I’m not even in the background of that loss. And this certainly isn’t some kind of revelatory admission that that love for her still burned.

She was, though, the very best of us, and we loved her. And the world is that much sadder and greyer today without her in it. Rest In Peace, N. You will not be forgotten.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Today marks the start of the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week. As you know, this is kind of a thing for me*. This year’s theme is Nature. The positive benefits of connecting with nature are well documented and this past year has been brought home to me, what with the amount of last year I spent on furlough, gardening, becoming more aware of my surroundings and so forth. I can, for example, now recognise a wren straight off the bat, and have a passing idea of what a blackbird sounds like.

Mental Health plays a significant part in my forthcoming book, Playtime’s Over (out soon from Propolis). Perhaps unsurprising (write what you know…), but with an increased public awareness of, and sensitivity to, MH issues, it feels like an important thing to discuss. Which is why I spend a fair amount of time on here talking about it, as well as using it as a basis for my fiction.

Personally, I’ve had a pretty good year. Book deal, great new job taking the potential sting out of redundancy, a subsequent better work/life balance – things are going pretty well. I’ve been lucky. And I have seen that played out in my dealings with the broken bits of my mind. I’ve certainly suffered less anxiety attacks in the last twelve months**. There has been some underlying depression at times, I think, although some of that is almost certainly bound up in the pronounced Vitamin D deficiency I was diagnosed with earlier in the year***. But as the time for the afore-mentioned book to appear draws closer, I can hear the black dog barking in the far-off distance.

I now have a date, which no doubt I’ll start yelling about before too long. It is, I can say, a little earlier than I possibly expected (it’s ballpark with regards to my expectations, just closer to this end of the window, shall we say). And while this is obviously VERY GOOD AND EXCITING NEWS, there are a few questions that were hovering at the back of my mind that have just leapt a few font sizes.

What if nobody likes it? What if nobody buys it? What if some hitherto-unconsidered lapse in my thought processes emerges in the text that makes me look foolish? What if all those racist and sexist tweets in my past come back to haunt me****? What if I upset someone I know, like a vicar? What if my mum reads it?

What if nobody cares?

Obviously, I am aware that most of this is nonsense. I know how my mind works, I’m well aware of its stratagems for self-sabotage. And surprisingly, given my self-esteem issues, I remain confident that the book’s bloody good. So if you don’t like it, that’s on you. In all seriousness, I am fully conscious of how fortunate I am to be in the position I am. It is not in any way my intention to bemoan all the problems that come with having a book deal and becoming a published author. Even if it tanks and I never get published again, the achievement in getting this far will always be a victory. It’s just a reminder to me that this sort of thing doesn’t make that sort of thing go away.

I was incredibly flattered recently to be invited to give a quote for an upcoming novel by Richard Gadz. His publisher was looking for authors to give it a read and when someone suggested me, amazingly my lack of experience didn’t stop her sending it over. The book, The Workshop of Filthy Creation, out from Deixis Press 31st October, I will say is bloody good. An updating/continuation/reinterpretation of the Frankenstein story, it juggles some hefty ideas around what constitutes ‘life’ with some meaty, visceral body horror. It’s well crafted, I really enjoyed it and look forward to picking up a print copy.

What really hit home though was the next newsletter from Deixis, talking about not only my endorsement but also publisher Angel Belsey’s emotions when she received it. It’s a fearlessly honest statement referencing Imposter Syndrome and Fear of Failure. For me to have given a lift to someone I assume is way more grounded in all this than I am was revelatory. I couldn’t have had a more timely reminder that WE ALL FEEL LIKE THIS SOMETIMES. Nobody out there has it all sewn up, everybody needs a lift from time to time and, crucially, even during those times that you feel you need it, you never know when you might be actually doing it for someone else. That’s magic.

So over the course of this week, get outside, find a way to reconnect with nature, breathe, relax, take a moment for yourself. But remember as well, if you’re finding it tough at the moment, that person you’re looking up to, who looks like they’re cruising, underneath the surface, they could well be every bit as lost as you are. Let’s all pick each other up.

* History of clinical depression, anxiety attacks, yada yada yada

** I won’t pretend there hasn’t been any. As I write, it’s been five days since my last one. But hey, before that

*** All fine now, taken my pills, got outside more, summer’s coming

**** This is a joke. I have deleted them all.

Image by 1388843 from Pixabay

Review: The Rojas Quartet

Experienced an interesting crossover between my previous position and my new job last night. Norwich Theatre, for whom I used to work (pre-Pandemic), are currently hosting a series of FREE online livestreamed performances, billed as Live from the Royal. It’s a brilliant initiative, focusing exclusively on local acts, giving them a welcome opportunity to return to live performing after a very difficult year for Arts creatives, and making it accessible, via new technology, to their audience for free.

Last night, it was the turn of the Rojas Quartet, three quarters of whom I know through my new job at NORCA & Sistema in Norwich. The Quartet is named for and led by Juan Gabriel Rojas, Musical Director at Sistema in Norwich, one of my new colleagues*. The Sistema element of NORCA & Sistema refers to a youth orchestra programme, based on the longstanding Venezuelan model, which aspires to not only teach music to children, but also help them develop in a more rounded way, through being part of something larger than themselves, with all the opportunity and responsibility that comes with that.

Knowing someone from work, knowing them as a music teacher, is not the same as seeing them perform as a musician. With Juan, and fellow Sistema tutors Ingrid and Caroline, participating, I signed up quickly for the chance to watch the performance, both to see them and to see how the Royal was getting on with their new online streaming capabilities.

In both instances, expectations were exceeded. The Rojas Quartet delivered an exquisite programme by South American composers, including Jimenez, Abreu and (naturally) Piazzolla. Across sixty minutes, we were presented with a range of chamber pieces, covering a variety of countries, styles and moods. A couple of pieces I recognised, most were new to me, but it was all breathtaking. I hope this won’t be the last time I get to see them perform, and it really hit home how wonderful an opportunity Sistema in Norwich is, in giving students an opportunity to be taught by musicians of this calibre.

The Theatre, for its part, delivered a slick livestream experience. A quartet on the Royal’s main stage faces a few audio, accoustic challenges, but these were dealt with admirably. The camerawork and editing (live, remember) were of a quality you’d expect from a professional outfit, cuts, focus, angles etc – and this was only their second livestream event, I believe. The performance was hosted by Chief Executive Stephen Crocker, and it was obvious that even this aspect had been carefully considered and thought about (details like each spoken interjection being delivered from a different part of the stage or auditorium is the sort of thing you might easily overlook, but adds to the professional atmosphere created). They’ve clearly embraced the new opportunities that streaming can offer the Arts in these challenging times.

The season continues for a further three more weeks (all free – and performers and crew are paid**). I’d urge you to check at least one of these performances out. That the Theatre is giving this opportunity for local performers to get back on stage in front of an audience (albeit a virtual one) is admirable, but the product they are delivering belies it’s free and local status. These are great performances, delivered well and as such, a sign that NTR and the Arts in general are a huge boon to our community, and something we should be thankful has been preserved through Covid-19.

* A delight to work with, so long as you don’t let him touch your spreadsheets

** So you might also consider putting your hand in your pocket and adding a donation.

Image by Andreas Glöckner from Pixabay