Hello self-doubt how nice to see you again. I started the day with such positivity. I went to Costa to write my Claire installment and spent a splendid hour wedged into a comfy sofa drinking a rather artistic flat white (it seemed a shame to spoil it!).
Then I did the usual chores: a two-hour supermarket shop, dishwasher stacking, floor vacuuming and lunch preparation. Okay I didn’t really do the last one as we had pizza.
My wonderful husband tidied my larder which had got so cluttered with lid-less Tupperware and random party paraphernalia there was no room for food. Life was good.
Then I sat down to work on Baby Blues, after two hours of ‘social media stuff’ (tweeting, commenting on blogs, reading blogs, retweeting interesting articles etc). I managed thirty minutes of editing before giving up in disgust and taking the dog out for a walk.
I have read so many blogs about how to write, how to edit, how to market, how to manage social media, what to do and not to do as a self-published author I’m ready to run down the road screaming. It feels like being a new parent all over again. You know, that time when you realise ‘parenting comes naturally’ is complete bollox and you consume every article you can lay your hands on searching for answers only to come back with more questions.
My biggest problem, as a parent and a writer, is that I like to be told what to do – within certain parameters. I want to be given a fairly detailed brief with clear goals and deliverables. Like at school: write this essay or this one, choice of two. You have your brief: deliver. I’m good at solving problems. I’m not so good with choices. Or weighing up conflicting advice.
A friend recently told me about a new TV show discussing ways to get kids to sleep better, because she knows ours have never been all that great at sleeping. And because I complain about lack of sleep a lot. But we’ve been through so many sleep training methods and none have worked. When the children are happy, physically tired, well fed and not ill, they sleep great. Usually that’s when worry or snoring keeps me awake instead, but that’s just god’s wicked sense of humour.
Unless I know something is definitely going to work better than what I’m already doing, I’m not interested any more. I’m going with gut feel and to hell with it. It’s taken four years and a lot of tears to get that self-confidence as a parent and it’s still pretty ephemeral. I’ll be wallowing in parental guilt and self-doubt within ten minutes of picking up the kids. [actually it was less than that.].
Now with the writing I’m back at the beginning. I don’t know what I’m meant to be doing. There is SO much advice but most of it merely serves to convince me I’m no more cut out to be a writer than I am a parent.
Well, it’s too late to send the kids back and nor would I want to. But I might have to seriously consider if I can sacrifice another four years to find peace of mind as a writer. Do I really want to embark on a career that has no answers and the only way I will know if I’ve done a good job is if my 5-star reviews out-number my 1-star reviews? Jury’s out, but the feeling in the courtroom is no.
“Michael? It’s Claire.”
“Claire, you’re okay. Thank god. I was so worried. Where are you? What happened? The police were going to call me back but they haven’t yet. I’ve been frantic.”
“Whoa, slow down.” Claire inhaled to calm her skipping heart. “I’m fine. I was mugged.” Michael made a guttural sound but Claire ignored him. She needed to get her words out and be done.
“The police found me just as I was coming round and took me back to the hostel. I’ve got a lump on my head the size of a duck’s egg and my hair is matted with blood, but apart from that I’m good. I was lucky.”
She wanted to hang up before Michael could speak again but he was already talking. “I’m so glad the police found you. When you called and then the phone went dead I didn’t know what to think.” He inhaled and released a shuddering laugh. “I thought. Well. Never mind. I’d seen on Twitter that you’d just left the pub and I thought you might be walking somewhere. You should take more care.” His tone took on the preachy note of concern that always set Claire’s hackles rising.
“I’m not a child and this isn’t exactly inner-city New York. I was unlucky, that’s all.” She thought about him tracking her every move. That’s a bit creepy. “What does Debbie think about you following me on Twitter?”
“It’s none of her damn business.” His voice scraped at the soreness in Claire’s head. She tried to puzzle through his bitter tone but her thoughts were still muddled. She shook her head and pain rattled through it like pills in a bottle.
“What? Are you okay? Have you seen a doctor?”
Claire laughed. “Yes I saw a GP this morning. I’m fine. Mild concussion that’s all. It hurts to move.”
“Come home Claire. You’ve proved your point. Come back and have a proper sleep in a proper bed.”
The affection in his voice weakened her. She slumped against the side of the phone box and dropped her head. “I don’t have a home to go to anymore. Besides, it’s not about proving a point.” As she said it she realised it was true. Part of her was actually looking forward to having Sky for a week or two, to explore the East Coast with her and write about it on her blog. “And the beds aren’t that bad. You know that, you stayed in one of the hostels I’ve visited. With Debbie.”
“We’re back on her again are we? Let it go, Claire. There is nothing between us, there never was after I met you.”
“Ha!” Claire winced as her voice reverberated around the confined space. She lowered her voice. “So it wasn’t you and her I bumped into at the airport?” Swallowing down the metallic taste in her mouth Claire cursed herself for rising to the bait. I promised I wouldn’t discuss it. Why couldn’t I have just sent him an email?
“We were coming back from a wedding.”
Claire’s stomach dropped down to her shoes and the breath stuck in her throat.
“An old friend of Debbie’s,” Michael continued, as if his words hadn’t left Claire’s ears ringing. “Debbie didn’t want to go by herself and I said I’d go. As a friend.” He emphasised the last three words, as he might to a difficult child. “You know where my heart lives.”
There was silence on the line. Claire could hear her heartbeat dancing an Irish jig, could hear her breathing rasping, her breaths making wisps of vapour in the freezing air. Inhaling deeply through her noise Claire immediately wished she hadn’t as the scent of Saturday night bodily fluids floated up from the floor of the phone box. Switching to breathing through her mouth, Claire searched the fog in her mind for words.
A loud hammering on the glass broke the spell. Claire looked up into the face of an old man wrapped up in several dirty jumpers and coats. He had a small scruffy dog at his feet and he was gesturing at the floor of the phone box. Looking down Claire realised what she thought was a bag of rubbish was actually the man’s possessions.
“I have to go Michael. I’m in a man’s house.” She realised how bad that sounded but didn’t have the energy to explain. “Thanks again for the knight in shining armour bit. You always were good at that.”
She hung up the phone and pushed her way free from the tiny box, gulping in the fresh morning air.