A lot has changed in my life in the past three years, but there’s been one constant: my novel, The Girl You Left Behind. It’s been my shadow, growing and evolving from a dream-inspired scrawl in a notebook to a first draft, a second, a third, a fourth, and now, finally, into a finished product.
For the first time since 2015, I am no longer writing a book — I have written it.
A year is a big ol’ chunk of time. While 2017 easily wins the title of Worst Year of My Life So Far, these past twelve months have also been peppered with positives. Between the sobbing fits and long tearful walks and whole evenings spent pouring my heart out on Reddit, I did so much. I traveled. Danced. Made new friends. Reconnected with old ones. Went to shows. Saw movies. Played games. Read. Wrote. Learned to be happy again.
Somehow, in the midst of crippling situational depression, I managed to carve out a handful of distinct happy memories that no one can take away from me. And however lame or unimportant those memories may be, I think that’s something to be proud of.
I’ve spoken enough about the thing that made 2017 so awful for me. This time, in the spirit of 2018, I’m focusing entirely on the good, amazing, awesome things that happened while I was too busy being sad to notice.
I’m thrilled to announce I’ve been selected as a runner-up in this year’s Daily Mail First Crime Novel Competition for my psychological thriller THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND!
[Cue confetti, champagne, and a whole bakery of cake.]
The novel, which is set over a single day, tells the story of a troubled young woman taken hostage in her own home by men trying to rob her wealthy father — and her attempt to escape her captors before they uncover the dark secrets of her past.
Being a finalist is surreal. I didn’t believe it at first. I found out when legendary literary agent Luigi Bonomi called me on an ordinary Tuesday morning, praising my book and saying it has the potential to get published, and by the time the call was over I thought I may have dreamt it! But here it is. Officially. In the actual Daily Mail newspaper and online:
Despite being a heartbroken wreck who cries all the time and sometimes can’t pluck up the courage to leave the house, I made myself a promise in my last post. A promise that I’d try to enjoy my upcoming family holiday as much as possible. That I’d smile. Wear bikinis. Eat too many desserts.
And I did.
It wasn’t easy. I cried in the shower. In bed. In my dark room before the door even had time to shut behind me. I swam alone in the pool one morning, sobbing, because the “soothing” songs the hotel had picked were all about love and romance and happiness.
But I smiled, too. I laughed when my brother’s grumpy mini dachshunds gave up avoiding rock pools on the beach and jumped right in. I screamed in the crazy Atlantic waves. I basked in the sunshine and heat and good company. I cracked jokes. Took pictures. Dressed up. Did my hair. Ate SO MANY desserts.
For the first time in months, I had prolonged periods of not feeling depressed. Not hating myself. Not thinking about the thing I need to stop thinking about.
And it was fucking fantastic.
In a way, my imagination and ability to daydream is a gift. It lets me think up complex stories, work out plots and characters and settings, and fills me with joy when I get lost in a wonderful vision for a minute, an hour, an afternoon. It makes me a great storyteller. But it’s not just fiction I think about. There are memories, faces, people, experiences. Real ones. I like to replay good moments, imagine conversations in my head, think about the future and all the wonderful things it holds.
When I was happy and in love, this was amazing. Every day was full of exciting, real possibilities and smiles and hopes.
Now that I’m heartbroken? Not so amazing.
I met up with an old friend a few weeks ago. We chatted about a lot of things, reminiscing and swapping stories, and she mentioned she hadn’t seen any blog posts from me in a while. “Have you been too busy being happy?” she asked, smiling.
And I cried.
Because for seven months, that was the case. After years of loneliness and sadness and self-doubt, I had a boyfriend. A real, wonderful boyfriend who I adored. And that meant dates, doorstep kisses, tight embraces, in-jokes, late-night chats, hours and hours of eye contact, whispered promises, smiles, squeezed hands, ‘I love you’s, and a feeling of happiness and safety and worthiness I’d never, ever felt before.
And then he broke my heart.
I fought in Pitch Wars 2015. And I lost.
I mean, I got in. My name was on that list. I saw it at silly o’clock in the morning UK time, after feverishly refreshing my phone’s Twitter app in the darkness of my bedroom, and I thought, ‘This is when it all begins.’ I’d read the blogs, the tweets, the Facebook posts, and one thing was certain: Pitch Wars was going to change my life.
But it didn’t. Continue reading