One of my biggest regrets was that I cancelled my driving test when I was eighteen. My nerves got the better of me but, looking back, it was just a few jitters that I could have easily overcome rather than the full blown anxiety that I have now. Had I persevered, it would have opened so many doors for me (and the odd escape hatch). Then, over the years, when I tried again, lack of money or M.E. got in the way. Last year, when I finally made the decision to go back to the dentist (and see the one who specialised in scaredy cats like me), I told myself, ‘If you can do this, you can start your driving lessons again.’ So that’s what I’ve been doing. It hasn’t been easy, despite my incredibly patient instructor, Freedom Automatic Driving School. This week, I secretly took my driving test. Only my instructor and I knew about it so I had to think of ways to hide the extra lessons just before the test. I’m used to failing but not good at it, so tried to pre-dash my own hopes so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. So, yesterday lunchtime, I sat my test. All the additional lessons were on and around the Team Valley – my test route went around Newcastle and into the city centre…busy, busy. Kamikaze students finding their phones more interesting than the road didn’t scupper me, nor did the lorry driver who didn’t want to let me merge (god, that was hairy). The thought of failure actually relaxed me (marginally). The examiner was fabulous and put me at ease. He didn’t think I seemed nervous at all. At the end of the test, I was braced for the words, ‘I’m sorry…’ and promptly burst into happy tears when he said I’d passed with one minor. That surprised me as I hardly ever cry but it was such a relief after so long. I can’t afford a car yet because, seemingly, nobody wants to hire someone with M.E. (even the M.E. Association) but that hasn’t lessened my happiness. As an aside, my instructor and I stopped off at Valley Farm for a small bottle of Coke and a glass of lemonade so I could have a break: £6.20 – shocking prices.
Anyone who follows me on social media will know that I’ve been having lots of dental issues, which caused much anxiety which, in turn, stopped me from writing. When I finally plucked up the courage to see a dentist (who was lovely), it led to a LOT of appointments with fear! I’m genuinely grateful to him because a lot of things, that I’ve since achieved, hung on that visit, unbeknownst to him.
Let’s get to the root (pardon the dental pun) of the issue.
When I was younger (and occasionally since), I was teased about my teeth. Now, that stuff, even though you laugh it off, stays with you. Even when you’re my age (older and wiser). Add to that a dodgy dentist and a bad experience with a hygienist, and it mounts up. You might notice that I have no author photos on my books and very few pics on social media (unless I’m dressed up for Halloween or Christmas). Well, before my first novel was published, our local paper did an article on me. I thought it would just be a little column somewhere near the back but it must have been a slow news week and they did a HUGE four-page pull out thingy and there were photos….BIG photos. They’d been taken from a jaunty (artistic?) angle and I looked terrible. I cried as I was so embarrassed.
I rarely look in the mirror so being confronted by photos of my teeth (even x-rays – I know, right?) is difficult. I’ve just had a video appointment with an orthodontist and they were very lovely but it’s SO daunting to face your phobias and actually get work done (and it goes without saying that it costs a small fortune).
I’m trying to deal with my anxiety in my own way but not discussing it internalises things and makes every tiny issue worse. So, I’m telling you about some of mine. And I’m writing about it in a book. Coming up, I have two further dental appointments, this month alone. I have a driving test in the summer. I am going to do a couple of things that other people class as fun but they scare the hell out of me. Maybe there will be photos (because I sure as hell won’t be smiling). Tomorrow, it’s a Mental Health Awareness Day, so do talk about your issues/anxieties/phobias/glitches/fears – whatever you call them. Being embarrassed about things gives them power.
I’m going to need to sell a lot of books to get this particular journey to its destination!
2022, what a weirdo you have been! I’ve mainly been dragged through it in a haze of dental pain and anxiety. We lost two of our eldest dogs this year, one in May (just before her 14th birthday) and one during Christmas week (just before her 12th birthday). Dogs to us are like children to more conventional families, so it’s take a toll. However, we started the year with five dogs and have ended the year with five dogs. In June, we welcomed a crazy puppy into our family. Violet certainly reminded us that puppies are hard work and not to be taken on lightly. She is still reminding us that, daily. On the day Penny left us, a dog popped up on our Facebook feed. She was in a rescue after being rescued from her previous rescue who rescued her from a puppy farm (confused?). We’re not sure exactly how old she is but we collected Lottie on the Tuesday after Christmas. She is huge. And terrified of people. She loves our dogs, though, so hopefully she’ll grow to trust us, too.
In other things, as you know I finally decided to confront two of my (many) anxieties: dentists and driving. The dentist thing is ongoing. As for the driving, I passed my theory test first time, in October (much to my surprise). I was quite glad to find that the wait for a practical driving test is long. I do not expect to pass that first time. Or second. What else? Oh, I signed up to volunteer for a charity that helps children with their reading. I became ‘official’ just before Christmas, so should get my first child reader in the new year. I hope it goes well, as children aren’t shy about telling you you’re rubbish!
Writing-wise, my book is finished but, in a similar way to Eric Morecambe’s music, it has all the right words but not necessarily in the right order! Editing will take some time and, once again, it doesn’t really fall into a specific genre. I also won an award in a national competition, for my romantic fiction, which I was thrilled about as I loved the story and romantic fiction is probably my favourite genre to read. Plenty of long and short lists, as well, which lets me know I’m not as bad as my ego tells me I am! I’m still considering my PhD options. Not entirely sure I fit in academic circles. I’m more of a square. Still going to Claire’s writing classes (ask me for details via Facebook or Twitter) and always learning more.
Wishing you all a healthy 2023, because if you have that, you’re blessed and can work on everything else. Whatever you’re doing tonight, I hope you’re safe and happy. Speak soon. x
I keep promising myself that I’ll keep up this blog (as it’s the only writing I currently seem capable of, yet….)
So, the driving is going OK. I’m still anxious. I’m still terrified of many aspects of learning but I’m doing it. I think I’m more scared of the other road users than the actual driving! There are some idiots out there (not including myself, of course).
And the dental treatment continues. I went for a sedation appointment last week and I was sure I was going to say something crazy, as my sister kindly filled my head with terrible things – I’ll not tell you what one of her friends told the dentist but it made me blush just hearing it. Now, I don’t remember much, but I have a feeling that I sang. If I did, I’m surprised they didn’t strike me off their books instantly, as I don’t sing well. I felt quite relieved when I got home until I saw the letter for the next step: dental hospital. Urgh.
It must feel lovely knowing you can smile and not have people make mean comments – I’ve been teased my whole life. There are no photos on the back of my books for good reason and face masks have definitely been my friends over the past few years (still are). I’m hoping I’m not a lost cause.
As for the alleged writing, I’m considering joining NaNoWriMo this November, just to get the book finished. It’s been stuck at half way for too long. I’m waiting to hear about a competition I entered a while back – I think it was out of my league but I’ll find out for definite on Thursday. A cash prize would be very welcome!
Oh, and I turned 48 yesterday. Spent it with a friend, nature and some seaside chippy chips. Returned to cheesecake and dog cuddles. Not too shabby, as birthdays go!
So, there was a NAWG award ceremony at the weekend and, hearing nothing, I assumed I didn’t get anywhere in the two categories I was shortlisted for: Romantic Fiction and SciFi & Fantasy. However…they posted photos from the event and I thought I saw my name on a trophy, so I did what anyone would do: I tweeted them to ask the results. They wouldn’t tell me! They just said that winners would be contacted by email. I wasn’t, so assumed (as I do) that I was wrong. Yesterday, after a scary impromptu dentist trip (more about that later), I got an email from my creative writing tutor to say there was an award there, with my name on it. I won the Romantic Fiction award, with my story ‘Wingman’ (and was second in SF&F). I was so pleased as the piece had some lovely characters and I almost felt like THEY deserved a win!
On to the scary dentist trip – not so much about the appointment (which was stressful due to my phobia but made easier by the nice staff): people ask what I do. I hum and hah because I don’t really do anything and then I finally say ‘writer’. Curiosity gets the better of people and they Google me. They did not find the right me. Two problems occur when someone looks me up: this is a pen name. When I won my publishing deal, I didn’t want to write as me, so chose the names of my pets at the time. My dogs, Holly and Amber, and my rescue budgie, Harvey – Holly A. Harvey. Now, I’m not a (complete) idiot. I didn’t want a name that another (better?) writer had, so I went on to Amazon and checked out authors called Holly A. Harvey. None! Yay! What I should have done was Googled…but people didn’t Google so much then. Had I done so, I would have seen the name without the A and the connection to a serial killer. You couldn’t write it… I got some interesting emails in my early days.
The other problem is that people Google my real name. You’d have to trawl the search results for quite some time to come up with articles that connect my pen name and actual name – mainly articles in the news to do with anything from M.E. (unsurprisingly) to dogs (we have a few) and I’m even referred to in The Times, as a writer, in an article on Reverse S.A.D. (no, my family have never suggested that I’m a ‘vampire’).
What I should do is give out one of the many (oh so many) business cards that my sister had printed for me when my first novel was released. There were 5,000 (can you tell my sister and I are opposites and she is the more optimistic of the two of us?) I think I still have 4,995. The thing is, I still feel like I’m pretending to be a writer. I’m half way through book 3, have two published novels, several awards, many pieces in anthologies or published online and I still feel like a fake. I admire people with a lot of confidence but it doesn’t come easy to me, to have faith in my abilities. I always feel like an outsider and that I should say, ‘I’m a writer – not one you’ve heard of’ when I’m asked what I do. But I’m certainly not a serial killer (although I’ve killed a character or two) nor did I write a book about Lyme disease nor am I a singer. I am really not a singer.
My one and a half hour lesson turned into a two-hour lesson and involved a trip around (some of) the Team Valley. I haven’t been down there since the pandemic began and haven’t driven down there since I was at school. That was a VERY long time ago. Things have changed quite a bit. There’s a bus lane that wasn’t there, for a start, and a lot more traffic. I parked up a few times (and didn’t hit the kerb nor appear to have abandoned the car rather than parked it, which I took as a bonus), I got a message from my sister, asking how it had gone. My response was that the instructor hadn’t grabbed the wheel or screamed so it seemed fine. There was talk of a 40mph road next week…
I’m starting to feel a little prickle of anxiety ahead of tomorrow’s lesson (lesson 2). I’m not in a hurry to tell my family that I’m learning to drive as it will put more pressure on me, but my mam is bringing her dog to be doggy-sat just around the time my instructor is due. Adds a little stress.
Still haven’t done any writing. I’d rather not work on the novel than do something below par. Not feeling it.
I haven’t done a lot of writing lately. I’ve done a lot of worrying instead, which seems to occupy the creative section of the brain. My anxiety has been an issue…so much so that it caused a dental problem (stupid sleep-teeth-clenching). I have a phobia of dentists (among many other things) but it got to a point where I realised I need to do something. So, I found a patient dentist. Baby steps – ongoing (two appointments so far). Anyhow, while I was already terrified, I thought I should look at another fear: driving. So, I added myself to a waiting list with a driving instructor, expecting it to take ages. Much like the dentist, it didn’t.
Today was my first lesson. When I was young, I was learning in a manual car and was in for my test but chickened out (stupid anxiety). It is one of my biggest regrets. This time, I decided to try an automatic and take the scary gear changes out of the equation. I was mildly anxious beforehand (let’s just say I paid one or three visits to the loo before the lesson) but the instructor put me at ease…a little. She drove me to an industrial estate, explained the car controls and let me loose. 30mph is FAST when you are just learning. I don’t remember 30mph feeling fast when I was 18. I do remember driving about 50mph and not feeling too scared. Another weird thing is not having an engine noise (the car is a hybrid). It’s taking some getting used to. I did a lot of left turns on two roundabouts, which weren’t too busy, so not too worrisome. However, it still felt a bit overwhelming. I think I thought I’d climb into the driving seat and everything would come rushing back to me. Even after 20+ years. It didn’t. I’m not dreading my next lesson but I’m glad I didn’t have to drive home (even though I pictured myself doing this). I think this will be a slow process but I’d rather that was the case and I became a safe, confident driver.
I thought I would document this, like I did with the launch of my book. I’m sure there are other anxiety-ridden people who will benefit from knowing that they aren’t the only one that feels like they’re scared of the world.
I’m surprised that I’m blogging, as I haven’t been able to log in for months. Randomly, my password has appeared and here I am!
As for most people, 2021 has been a stinker – pretty much a twin to 2020, except we’ve had vaccinations every few months (or so it seems). I’ll talk about important stuff first, before the writing things. Sadly, I lost my grandma in August. She was in a care home, so I didn’t get to see her for the last sixteen months of her life. Thankfully, we were able to speak on the phone. I feel pretty cheated that she didn’t spend her final year (aged 95) drinking tea and eating cake, surrounded by her family. I’m not a political person but I do think that those in authority should have some experience in areas related to the roles they have. Years ago, I was offered a position running a genetics lab (they did interview me – I wasn’t just stopped in the street) but I knew that I wasn’t experienced enough to do the role justice, so I turned it down. That doesn’t seem to happen in government.
So, on to writing. My creative writing tutor talked me out of doing a PhD and suggested I start putting my writing out there. Reluctantly, I did so. There were many nos. Some didn’t even have the courtesy to respond. Some real shots in the dark. But then there were longlists…and shortlists. There were invitations to read. And, most surprisingly, my poetry (I still don’t understand the rules) started to get recognised. I was shortlisted and invited to an awards ceremony for the National Association of Writing Groups (although didn’t attend due to being hyper-nervy about Covid). I was surprised to get a runners-up place for a travel article but shocked to win the Formal Poetry award for my Rondeau (we only learned about that in our writing class, just before entries were due). I got a lovely trophy and a few certificates signed by THE Julian Fellowes (of Downton fame, among other things). I can officially call myself an ‘award-winning poet’! I’ve also had a short story included in Cranked Anvil’s first Flash Fiction Anthology. Nice to have something else to add to the bookshelf.
And what of the novel? It’s a difficult one to write as there are so many threads and there’s a crime element that I need to get right. I used to have friends in the police that I could ask but they have drifted off over the years. My husband got me some excellent books about crime and being a detective, so I’m hoping that will motivate me.
I’m logging off now, as we’re awaiting an Indian food delivery. We know how to do New Year: food, dogs, duvets, comedy and coffee! I find the New Year makes me uneasy and anxious – too many unknowns. Like a blank page at the beginning of a story…
Happy New Year to you, whoever stumbles across this page. I hope it’s everything you wish it to be.