Tag Archives: memoir

Getting to Know You: Lucy Nichol

I’m delighted to host Lucy Nichol, author of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes‘, to the blog.

My thanks to Lucy for taking the time to chat to us today and for her honesty. 

Vic x

Lucy N - headshot - colour.JPGTell us about your book.
A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes is a memoir that’s packed with comment about mental health stigma and how it has influenced my thinking over the years. I tried to write it humorously and accessibly, as I’m an expert by lived experience when it comes to mental health – I am not a professional. So the views on the book are simply based on what I have soaked up and how I feel about it all.

It takes us through a range of stereotypes linked to mental health, and compares them to the reality. 

front cover - a series of unfortunate stereotypes

What inspired it?
I started writing and blogging in 2016. I started working as a media volunteer / champion with Time to Change and I also when started writing regularly for a range of media titles. The title of the book came to me when I wrote my first piece for Sarah Millican’s Standard Issue magazine, which was almost a summary of everything that is in the book. It was all about stigma and how we perceive anxiety disorders, specifically, as that was what my personal experience was based on. 

I love the Lemony Snickett stories, but Aunt Josephine sprung to mind when I was trying to think of a fictional well-known character with anxiety. And I thought – Christ, I have anxiety and I’m nothing like Aunt Josephine. I was convinced she was a pretty poor role model for anxiety.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I find writing heaps of fun. I have a real thing for nostalgia, which is why I write so much about the 80s and 90s – not just my experience but everything that was happening around me – from food and TV shows to government safety campaigns and pop music. It always makes me smile and gives me context as to why and how my opinions on life have changed over the years.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I never stop! I’m currently finishing Lost Connections by Johann Hari which I can genuinely say is quite the life changer and I urge anyone to read it.

When I first started reading I was apprehensive, as I have naturally always yearned for quick fixes in everything. I think that is why I rely solely on taking anti-depressants and going for therapy, rather than adding self care into the mix as well. This book is a real eye-opener and I believe it’s good to challenge our own beliefs.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I love Caitlin Moran’s no-nonsense humour and focus on music, as well as Aaron Gillie’s (aka Technically Ron) hilarious reflections on living a life with anxiety. But I think overall the biggest influence on me was, and still is, the Standard Issue community. Sarah Millican set that magazine up (which now runs as a podcast) as a no-bullshit magazine for women. And all the contributors – from comedians to every day peeps like me – have a real authentic feel about them. It’s refreshing and it helped me find a voice. It made the in-crowd inclusive, rather than exclusive.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I look around me and I consider how pop culture / society has impacted me. I can’t comment on other people’s relationships with it, but I can share my own, and it seems to have rung true with a good few people so hopefully it is relatable.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I’ve just started experimenting with fiction, and I have created a character I would love to hang out with. She has elements of me in there but overall, aside from her anxiety and taste in music, she’s a very different character. Far more confident, I’d say. I wrote a scene about her trip to her local pub with her best mate, who is made up of lots of people from my past, and it was so much fun to write.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the fiction project mentioned above, as well as a series of short stories I’m working on together with my husband, actor Chris Connel. It’s been interesting so far, we’ve had to be very careful to avoid the bickering, so we have set out clear boundaries – I’m doing the research and overarching concepts, he’s doing the characterisation and creative scriptwriting!

Me!.jpg

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
I arranged a manuscript assessment recently via The Literary Consultancy and author Angela Clarke was my assessor. Her review was honest and helpful, giving me some technical advice, but also getting me to think more about the bigger picture. It helped no end – giving me encouragement but also making me realise how commercial I need to be, and how I need to keep at it until I get it right (remember what I said earlier about always wanting the quick fixes – this was a reminder that I needed to hone my ideas before pitching them out).

I also remember, when I very first started writing a proposal for my book, A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes, author and blogger, Claire Eastham asked me some tough questions to help me to craft the proposal. She apologised for being so challenging, but it was her most challenging questions, I believe, that have helped me the most.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Ha – probably a pantster. I just write and write whatever comes into my head. In experimenting with fiction, I have, however, done a bit of planning with regards to characterisation and an outline structure, which has been immensely helpful. But for blogs and comment and my own memoir, I fire up the laptop and see what happens.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I still see myself as very much a fledgling writer, so I am learning all the time. But I think the most important things I have picked up are to keep at it. I’ve had rejection after rejection – and I’m still seeking a literary agent to this day. But I am not giving up. I read somewhere you have to enjoy writing and writing for yourself. That way, regardless of what comes of it, it’s time well spent.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
I could go for the big one and say it was when I was invited to Buckingham Palace with the Time to Change and Mind teams for World Mental Health Day in 2016. It was pretty amazing to be part of that and sit on a royal throne (of the lavatorial kind, of course). However, I think the proudest moment for me was seeing the impact that my writing has had. One person, who I won’t name but she knows who she is, has made me feel that every single hour put into writing and trying to get my work out there has been worth it, after messaging me to say she was close to calling an ambulance during a severe panic attack, but she asked her husband to read my blog out to her and it helped to calm her down. There’s nothing that can beat that kind of response to your work. That has to be the proudest moment for me.  

Review: ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

What is it to be educated? Is it to have spent every day of your life from the age of four until the age of twenty-one in a classroom? Is it the ability to read and write? How about being able to reflect deeply on your own personal experiences? 

Tara Westover was not educated in the way one might expect. She did not have school records. In fact, she didn’t have medical records. Tara Westover didn’t even have a birth certificate – officially, she didn’t exist. Tara grew up in Idaho with a father who didn’t trust in intervention.

From the moment she was born, Tara was to be taught to prepare for the End of Days. Her mother ‘home-schooled’ Tara and some of her siblings while their father proselytised about the dangers posed by doctors, teachers, government and law enforcement.

At the age of sixteen, Tara decided to educate herself. That decision took her to Harvard and then to Cambridge.

Having recently heard Tara talk at Forum Books about her experiences growing up a Mormon with an increasingly radical father and erratic brother, I was moved by the erudite way in which she spoke about her unusual childhood and her decision to make a change in her life.

Educated‘ is a beautifully written memoir. Westover’s prose is almost lyrical, featuring evocative descriptions of the rolling hills. Her gorgeous writing is juxtaposed with the terror I felt when reading about some of the things she had lived through. At times, the events were so out of my sphere of understanding, I had to check online that this was a memoir and not fiction! 

Throughout ‘Educated‘, there is a sense of not quite knowing what will happen next. At times, the tension was almost too much to bear. Westover masterfully allows the reader to tread the fine line she walked on a daily basis. There is also a feeling of sadness and grief that pervades this memoir. Ultimately, though, ‘Educated‘ is a hopeful book about the power of taking control and never giving up. 

Tara Westover is my hero.

Vic x

Review: ‘I Am, I Am, I Am’ by Maggie O’Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am‘ is a memoir told through near-death experiences. 

Maggie O’Farrell is a beautiful writer, she frames every incident with emotional sophistication. The drama inherent in every chapter is balanced with O’Farrell’s exacting attention to detail. I have cried numerous times while listening to this audiobook as well as marvelling at the insightful and intelligent storytelling. 

Separating each chapter with the part of the body that was responsible for her almost-demise, O’Farrell bucks the trend of the chronological autobiography. This is possibly one of the most inspirational books I have ever read. In the dictionary, beside the word ‘resilient’, there should be a picture of Maggie O’Farrell.

From the first chapter, I was absolutely enthralled. Even when I wasn’t listening to it, I was thinking about it. I’m not sure I will ever stop thinking about it.

As someone who rarely revisits books, this is the biggest compliment I can give: I will read ‘I Am, I Am, I Am‘ again.

Vic x

Review of 2016: Helen Anderson

In 2015, I had the honour of copy-editing Helen Anderson’s memoir, Piece by Piece. That book has gone on to receive fantastic reviews as well as providing support to many other people who are going through difficult times. 

It is a real joy to have Helen reviewing her 2016. Many thanks for being involved, Helen.

Vic x

Helen Anderson

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Much of the year been taken up with letting people know about my memoir about losing my beautiful daughter Georgina to cancer, three years ago. Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir is still available as a paperback or e-book and has over 60 amazing 5 Star Amazon reviews.

When the book was published at the end of 2015, I had no idea if it would sell 10 or 100 copies, but I am thrilled to have been able to donate £1,000 of profits, so far, from the sale of the book to Make-A-Wish UK. I have had wonderful feedback from readers, and I have enjoyed reading at events and talking on radio shows about Georgina and my memoir. Emotionally, I have been sustained by all the support I have received with this venture, and I hope that my writing is also helping others experiencing child loss or bereavement, generally. 

make-a-wish

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I have been invited to some amazing fundraising events in Georgina’s memory, and these are always a bittersweet mixture of happiness that she is still so loved, and sadness that’s she’s not here with us.

My writer’s notebook has been well-travelled. We have been lucky enough to enjoy some soul-nourishing holidays to Tenerife, Languedoc and Lindisfarne, as well as managing to get our beloved VW camper Daisy Blue back onto the road, for a few local forays.

At the beginning of 2016, I put out feelers to see if any local writers would be interested in meeting up. The response was very positive, so Saltburn Writers Group has been meeting once a month since March. It is such a friendly, vibrant group – I hope that it will continue to go from strength to strength.

Favourite book in 2016?
I have been reading quite voraciously, recently. I have just finished reading Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, which is so dark that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. My (as yet unpublished) novel Gloriosa Superba also has a deeply disturbed central protagonist, so it was a relief to see I’m not the only one who creates twisted characters.

I also love Shelley Day’s The Confession of Stella Moon, Kit de Waal’s My Name Is Leon and Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave. All these books are thought-provoking, populated by well-observed characters, and beautifully written.

Favourite film in 2016?
I don’t think I’ve been to the cinema at all this year. I’m thinking “That can’t be right!!” but it seems it is. Perhaps that should be my resolution for 2017 – to get out more. I’ve enjoyed some cracking TV dramas, such as The Missing, The Fall, Paranoid and Dark Angel (as well as my guilty secrets like Home and Away) so I’m obviously more of a sit-on-my-own-sofa-and-gawp-at-my-own-screen kinda gal.

york-22-october-2016

Favourite song of the year?
I like to listen to golden oldies – 80s, 90s, Noughties –  when I write, and I love to listen to my daughter Georgina’s own song Two Thirds of a Piece.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
In October 2016, it would have been Georgina’s 18th birthday. That was a very hard day to get through, as was the third anniversary of her death in November 2016. However, we have survived so far, thanks to the love of friends – old and new – and family.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I should resolve to be more disciplined with my writing, but I don’t really ‘do’ resolutions, because they just make me feel rebellious! I’ll aim to keep on keeping on, I suppose (not a very specific goal, I know).

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Writing-wise, my first chapbook of poetry Way Out is due to be published by The Black Light Engine Room Press early in 2017, so I am excited by that.

I would also love to secure representation for Gloriosa Superba – I have had a few near-misses, and I need to steel myself to send it out again. I plan to finish the final draft of my new novel, All Hushed, and to start the process of finding an agent who loves the story and characters as much as I do.

Personally, I just want my family to stay as healthy and happy as possible. Georgina wanted us to be happy and make the most of our lives, even in her absence, and I am going to try to seize opportunities and enjoy the little things (and some medium-sized and big things, if I’m lucky!)

Review of 2015: Andrea Anastasiou

I’ve known Andrea Anastasiou for over ten years now and her bravery has always been a massive inspiration to me. Andrea never lets fear get in her way and I really admire her for that. She’s here to share her 2015 with us today. Thanks Andrea! 

Vic x

Andrea Anastasiou

2015 has been quite the year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?
Finishing the first draft of my memoir was a big moment for me, as well as ‘winning’ NaNoWriMo. I cried tears of joy! I’ll always remember 2015 as the year I finally started to write books.

And how about a favourite moment from 2015 generally?
Finding out that my sister had beaten cancer was definitely the highlight. I also spent a lot of my time travelling in countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Greece, Spain, Germany and Austria. A highlight of the travels was the writing retreat that I did in Skyros; I made friends for life and rediscovered my love for creative writing. It was magical! I’ve also enjoyed documenting my travels on my blog, Scribble, Snap, Travel. 


Favourite book in 2015?
I’ve read loads of great books this year, but if I had to choose one it would be Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I cannot believe it’s taken me so long to find Kate’s work – I love her writing! I’m utterly mesmorised by this book.

Favourite film of 2015?
I’m not big on watching movies (I’d rather be reading!) so I have probably only watched a handful of them this year! I recently watched The Descendants, which stars George Clooney, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And no, it’s not just because he’s in it! Although admittedly he doesn’t hurt the eye.

Favourite song of the year?
It’s extremely difficult for me to pick a favourite song, however, I’ve written to Josef Salvat’s remix of Rihanna’s Diamonds a lot this year. It reminds me of writing from a branch of Starbucks in Saigon every morning back in February; I then subsequently found myself writing to it while I was briefly in Salzburg this month, and it brought back a lot of memories. So I guess this song defines my year in some roundabout way. 

Any downsides for you in 2015?
My life completely changed over the last six months – my long-term relationship ended unexpectedly, and all the plans we made together went out of the window in the space of a week. But I now see it as a blessing; the breakup has set me on another path, one in which I’m focusing solely on myself and my career, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m really looking forward to focusing on my writing and my wellbeing in 2016.

Are you making resolutions for 2016?
I don’t really believe in NY resolutions, as I don’t think you need to wait until January the 1st to start making changes. However, saying that, in the New Year I’m going to start learning German, and I’m also vowing to continue to write every single day. I guess these can count as resolutions.

What are you hoping for from 2016?
I have so many goals for 2016 – it’s unreal! However, the main thing is to be happy. I also have plans to move to a different country in a few months, which is really exciting. I’ll be revealing more on my blog over the coming weeks! 

Review: ‘Possible Side Effects’ by Augusten Burroughs.

I’ve been a fan of Augusten Burroughs for a few years now, having read about his dysfunctional childhood in ‘Running with Scissors’ and then the memoir of his abusive father in ‘A Wolf at the Table’.

This, a collection of short anecdotes about Burroughs’ life, is a pleasant read. The tales are generally very short and are told with his usual acerbic wit. Although some may feel Burroughs is milking his childhood dry but this collection is perfect for people who want a laugh but are short on time. It also delves into his adulthood, which appears to be as full of Schadenfreude as his youth.

Some of the stories have stings in the tale though so be prepared to be shocked or saddened.

Vic x

Get your copy of ‘Possible Side Effects’ on Kindle here: http://amzn.to/z5bHIE

No Kindle? Get your paperback here: http://amzn.to/yAz6oC