Writing makes me realise I’m going to die and this scares me.

Today I had a conversation with my little boy which went something like this:

A:  Do my mummy and daddy die?

Me:  Yes, at some point.  It’s alright.  It’s what’s meant to happen. 

A:  Hmm.  When you and daddy die I’ll need to take some money and buy new ones.  And go to a party.  You get new mummies and daddies at parties.

Me:  Um, right.

Tonight my husband told me (once again) he thinks I take on too much, try to do too many things, run myself ragged and get stressed.  These two conversations made me realise something which is perhaps blindingly obvious or common to other writers but came as a shock to me:

I’m perfectly comfortable with my mortality as far as me-dying-before-my-son goes (though I do sincerely hope he is a lot older than his current 4 when it happens, and is healthy, happy, safe and secure when it does).  It’s natural and normal and only to be expected.  But the idea of dying before I’ve written all I want to write, read all I could possibly read, and gone to all these wonderful worlds in my head (not in reality – I’m not one for travelling) fills me with actual-factual terror.

As my facebook friends know, I tend to have migraines.  Unpleasant, vomit-inducing, atypical migraines.  When they started interfering with my life a couple of years ago, no-one knew what they were.  The GP was confident I was pregnant, I was equally confident I was not – and when the drippy stick confirmed my womb’s empty state he was worried.  Maybe it was epilepsy.  Okay, so long as I could still look after my baby without worrying about an ‘absence’ when we were at the park or crossing the road or whatever, I could handle that.  We sent off for some leaflets, had a look about online, tried to remember what I’d studied at Uni on the subject, and kept our fingers crossed it wasn’t something degenerative.

We went to see a neurologist who ran some tests.  It was an unusual form of migraine.  A lot of my family have them, though theirs are far more painful than mine, so there was nothing too mystifying there.  I told him about my writing and he suggested it was a symptom.  Since it was ‘going well’ rather than interfering with my life, there was no need to worry about it (not that I was).  But he advised I start taking medication before the migraines got much worse, as he strongly suspected they would.  He couldn’t say whether the medicine would pick and choose which symptoms to reduce or get rid of – or whether I would lose the writing if I tried it.

So I didn’t.  My writing career took off and the migraines got steadily worse.  I am now symptomatic every day, and have been for nearly six months.  I’ve also moved house and country (boo), become co-editor of Spilling Ink Review (yay!), and have my first book [Wild: a collection] coming out in July (hip hip hooray!).  I have the 24 hour non-pregnant version of morning sickness every single day.

Tonight I will start taking a beta-blocker and see how it goes.  I’m to take it for a month, every night.  I’m really really scared, and I feel guilty about being scared about something like this – we have so much going for us and I’m grateful for all of it.  But to lose the writing?  I would no longer be me.  Bring out Donald Sutherland and the rest of the pod people, let me join the ranks of fake faces and false bodies.

I also have a very important deadline to meet: I have a month to write the first draft of another book.  With my previous two [a supernatural thriller and a crime thriller] that was no problem.  Our circumstances have changed since then – quite apart from the meds – so this time I’m not so sure.  No pressure then (!).

So… this blogpost is my goodbye to nausea but, I hope, not to writing.

It is also my statement of intent.

I’m going to do this.

I am.

I have to.

A blogpost of gaffes and errors for Abha Iyengar’s ‘Other’ themed >Language>Carnival

I once called a child a paedophile by mistake.  Now, don’t get me wrong: some of the young people I worked with were sexual predators; some molested younger children or were guilty of sexual assaults.  Not many, thank goodness, but a few.  The boy I was chatting with in the Children’s Home I’d just started work in wasn’t one of them.

He blinked at me and the lounge fell silent.   I could tell I’d put my foot in it, but I didn’t know how.  He was bigger than me by almost a foot, solidly built, and a year away from being turfed out of his poorly personalised room and deposited in a Bed and Breakfast, hostel, or if he was very lucky, a 1 Bed flat.  His fingers flexed and I could smell the sweat breaking through the body spray they all used, children desperate to be popular men.

“What did you call me?”

“A dirty beast.  Your room’s a pigsty, I can’t tell the colour of your carpet, and you’ve half the home’s mugs lying about growing mould and God knows what.  Get the vacuum cleaner and sort it out.”

“I’m no a beast.”

The other kids, aged between 10 and 14, were widening their eyes at each other.  Some giggled nervously and shrank back into their seats, clutching cushions as if for protection.  I was standing by the fireplace, where he’d been leaning against the wall and bitching about the rubbish on TV.  He stood over me now, not quite ready to punch me, and I had no idea why.  The rest of the staff were in the office or checking the rooms upstairs for petrol bombs and the like, while I chatted to the residents, teasing them and enjoying their banter.  Somehow I’d offended the biggest one, and I had no hope of building relationships with them if this turned into a fight.

“What should I call you then?  Your room’s dreadful.”

I was still smiling, still keeping my voice light and friendly, still wondering how the hell to calm the situation.  Generally, I have an air of naivety about me which leads to folk sometimes taking advantage or pulling my leg.  On this occasion, it stood me in good stead.

“D’you know what you just called me?”

“Yes, a beast…  You know, like an animal.”

He shook his head at me, glancing at the others still frozen on the sofas, who were giggling and muttering “Whit?  Naw.”

“Where d’you come from?”

I could tell he was trying to gain a measure of me and why I’d said what I’d said, and I smiled a little bit wider (don’t lash out, don’t hit me, whatever it is, it’s not worth it) running through my mind.

“Ayr.  But I’ve been working in the south of England till just there.”

“Your accent’s funny.”

“My mum’s English.”

He stared at me for a little longer, then ran one of his big, scarred-knuckle hands over his super short hair.  He wasn’t quite a man, but he wasn’t far off it.

“You don’t talk like us.”

“No.  But just say if you don’t get what I’m saying, and I’ll ask you if I don’t understand.  Fair enough?”

He smirked at me, and there were a few catcalls of ‘muppet’ from behind the cushions.

“The first thing you need to know – don’t call anyone, anyone, a beast.  D’you no know what that means here?”

I shook my head, wondering what the fuss was about, but willing to learn.

He sighed.

“A beast is a paedophile.  You’re lucky you didn’t get battered there.”

I bit my lip, horrified.  Blushed scarlet and clapped a hand to my mouth as if I could pull the word back in.

“I’m soooooo sorry – to me it’s just another word for animal.  I won’t use it here again.”

He was right.  I was lucky.  In more ways than one.

There’s only so much a thesaurus can tell you.  Only so much a guidebook will show.  Nowhere in my research prior to moving ‘Down South’ again was the word ‘cock’ mentioned.  In Scotland a lot of people will call females of any age ‘hen’, but ‘cock’ is really quite rude, used – unless you’re a poultry farmer – in the same way as ‘dick’ or ‘knob’.  I was quite surprised when charming pensioners with gleaming dentures would call me cock in the street, but I soon got used to it and the other ways of using the same language I’d known since childhood.  I’m quite gaffe-prone by nature, and wrote a crime thriller ‘In her skin’, (recommended for shortlisting for the 2011 Virginia Prize), about a Scottish police officer who moves to Warrington and experiences culture shock.  A lot of her experiences are based on mine, including this one:

“So why did you ask for some for supper?  It’s only down the street from you, you could go back later, you lazy git.”  Wigwam was rooting through my glove compartment and tutting over the CDs as I drove through town to the modern monstrosity that served as Warrington’s A&E.

“I didn’t!  It just means ‘and chips’.  That’s all.  I’m hungry, I wanted fish and chips, that’s what we call that combination where I’m from, a fish supper.”

I was a bit gutted that when we’d torn into the clean white paper to get at the grub inside, mine had held three golden slabs of battered fish with not a chip in sight.  Wigwam, ever the gentleman, had given me some of his.  The ‘bad chips’ as he’d called them, the ones with a wee bit of green, or bits of hairy root still attached.  I wasn’t fussy, they tasted just as nice doused with salt and vinegar as regular ones.  Bit chewier maybe.”

Now we’ve moved back to Scotland after eight years ‘Down South’ we’re adjusting once again.  My son has only heard Scottish at Christmas and on the occasional holiday home, though we did play The Proclaimers to him as a baby, so he’s experiencing our initial shock in reverse.  When my stepdad told him to clap the dog to stop her bouncing up for attention, he looked puzzled for a moment before bursting into applause.  In Scotland it means to ‘pet’ or ‘stroke’.  A lot of the time when people speak to him he doesn’t understand a word of it.  But it’s the same words, mostly, just used in another way.

We’re getting by, and he understands a bit more every day.  So long as he doesn’t call anyone ‘cock’ or a ‘beast’, I think we’ll be alright.