Ringing Some Changes

Ringing Some Changes

Sometimes I hate trying to think of titles for blog posts. After more than a thousand, it gets hard not to repeat myself, and to be honest, this one is just a sort of round up of my own news. Possibly a tad tedious, but maybe not.

First bit of news is good(ish). After over six years of some pretty extreme symptoms, finally it feels as if there might be an end in sight for my hideous menopause. One of the worst was something that for many women is a mere inconvenience: hot flushes. For me, they became life-threatening. Not in themselves, though at times I did wonder whether spontaneous human combustion might be more than a myth, but rather because they were so extreme and so frequent life became almost unendurable. Drama queen you might think. I wish. At their very worst, they came at a frequency of up to 20 PER HOUR. You read that right. They were of an intensity that made my skin feel as if it were burning; the moment before it happened, it made me feel sick, as if I had stepped off a precipice. That feeling you get when you bite into a proper chilli pepper? Imagine that over every inch of your body. It meant that for about a year, I slept in perhaps 20 minute bursts if I were lucky. To say it was hell is an understatement. Given the way my GP surgery has treated me, I did not seek medical help; the idea of even speaking to one of the doctors here reduced me to a shaking, weeping wreck. So I endured. I tried many, many things to no real effect. I considered filling my pockets with rocks and walking into a river or the sea; lack of local rocks, lack of a shoreline or a river deep enough and close enough for me to get to are probably the only things that stopped me. But slowly the situation began to improve. I still get hot flushes you could power a small town from; I still get woken two or three times a night. But the intensity has reduced and the frequency too. Recently I experienced three or four days in a row where no flushes occurred during the hours of daylight. I have hope that I might have survived.

For anyone reading and thinking, “pshaw, what a fuss she makes!” and feeling smug that because they do yoga/sports/are vegan/insert reason it won’t or didn’t affect them, let me say this: it’s luck of the draw, not virtue, that means some women have a bad time and others don’t. I may write more on the topic another time.

Second bit of good news: I did a new edition of Away With The Fairies in paperback. The original edition was done via Lulu who don’t offer a matte option for covers; I’ve not been happy with their services for some time, for other reasons. One is the sheer glacial slowness of their reporting of sales. So I’d redone Strangers and Pilgrims a couple of years ago, and now Fairies. I’m pleased with the new edition; I wish I’d had the energy to do it sooner.

Third bit of good news: I sent the latest short story collection to some beta readers, and those who have had a chance to read and report back have been not only very helpful but also very encouraging. It would seem that contrary to how I feel about my abilities, I can still write. I’m waiting on the feedback of the others, then I’ll set about some edits and on with the process of getting them out. Unlikely to be before Christmas but given how small fry like me get drowned out in the big noise of promotions for key periods for sales, trying to launch a book for Christmas or summer holidays is folly.

Fourth bit of good news: for the period that begins at Samhain (Halloween/All Saints/All Souls) both Away With The Fairies and Strangers and Pilgrims will be on offer at £1.99 or local equivalent, and my short novella The Hedgeway will be on flash sale for 99p for the three days of Samhain itself. Billed as “a chilling tale for Samhain” it’s the perfect read as the nights draw in and the clocks go back (it’s a spooky story but it’s more unsettling than terrifying). For a scarier read, perhaps try The Moth’s Kiss (a collection of ten short stories, perfect for the season). I’m considering whether to also make that 99p for the Kindle version for the same period.

Which brings me to point five, which is the not so good stuff. If you are an author, especially an independent author, you’ll have spotted that it’s much harder to sell books now than it was a few years ago; virtually all the indy authors I know have seen a steady slide of lower and lower sales, with the occasional blip when a new book is launched. It’s depressing as hell. Lowering prices seems to be a way of potentially enticing a reader to take a punt on a book, but how low can you go before you are not meeting even basic costs? Lots of authors still tout the route of give a book away free (especially in a series) but there’s evidence that this tactic that worked a few years ago, is now bringing in very diminished returns. Readers have quite literally MILLIONS of books to choose from, and many pride themselves on never actually buying one. Again, depressing. Some respond by writing and publishing much faster, so that there’s always something new to tempt readers with; the risk is that you can potentially rush things and lose both quality and originality in the process. This year I have published one novel and two collections of poetry; I’ve finished writing a novel that I’m sitting on for a while. My mental health in particular means that even getting books out from my extensive “back catalogue” of books on my hard drive has become the equivalent of climbing Snowden or Scafell Pike (not Everest or K2): difficult, dangerous, and while not impossible, will take much preparation and training.

Sixth point: mental health. The current deep dark valley sometimes feels like the valley of death itself. Everything is such an effort and I find most things are not worth the effort involved. If you’ve never felt the tentacles of depression, you probably might find it hard to believe quite how debilitating depression is. You cant just cheer up, make an effort to focus only on the good things (and every other cliché people suggest). I feel paralysed by it. So the projects I would like to work on gather dust (real or virtual) and I stand in danger of slipping away as an author and poet because I cannot compete in the bright, immediate, throwaway world out there that is the world of books.

So, a mixed bag, really. I’ve put the good stuff first and in the spirit of making a proper shit sandwich (a fabulous term, that you can probably work out) I’m going to end on a good bit too. I’ve always found that autumn is the best time for my own creativity; I’ve never felt much like joining the whole NaNoWriMo that goes on in November. But what I am going to try to do is to focus on short fiction; I began a collection of short stories, each based on a famous perfume. They’re good fun to write and it indulges my love of fragrance. I have also several sets of Storyworld Cards as story prompts and I’ve got plenty of journals to dedicate to them. So even if I can’t come up with a new novel that grabs me by the throat, I can spend time honing my skills in short fiction.

I might even share some here…

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17 thoughts on “Ringing Some Changes

  1. Thank you for your honesty about the menopause. I too am going through it and right now, having a HOT flush!
    Carry on with your creativity, it is an inspiration to me.
    I love your writing.
    Sharon xx

  2. So pleased to hear of the lessening of hot flushes Vivienne! Long may their absence continue. Good luck with the November challenge! And to do this in autumn sounds excellent.

  3. Brave stuff. Thousands of books, millions of them – but an awful lot of what’s out there isn’t much good, is unsatisfying, is not worth finishing … I know the ‘not selling much’ thing well, but … it;s quality which counts and you do that so …

  4. So good to hear all your news, Vivienne – even if it is a ‘shit sandwich’ … hee-hee, love it!
    The way you’ve described the hot flush experience sounds horrendous. I had awful pre-menstrual tension when I was younger, and other gynecological problems, though I consider myself so fortunate not to have suffered an uncomfortable menopause. Everything just stopped and that was it. I hope you are beginning to see an end to this horrible condition. It makes it a hundred times worse when you feel that you can’t get proper support from your doctors. I know how frustrating it can be going to see them … in fact, I’ve put off going to see mine because it just seems so useless. I’ve been seeing a consultant recently who makes Doc Martin seem like the friendliest doctor in the world! The stress leading up to an appointment is almost unbearable. Anyway, good to hear you’re busy with your writing and have lots of stuff coming up.

  5. As someone who suffered hellish period pains throughout my reproductive life (having babies – even a breech birth was a relative doddle as I’d already experienced similar pains to being in labour during my periods – without kindly midwives and the option of gas and air…) I went on to have a fairly grim menopause – very heavy periods and although my flushes weren’t anything like yours in frequency, they were prolonged affairs often leaving me with wet hair and underwear. I also found my energy, memory and concentration were badly impaired which was both frightening and depressing.

    The symptoms dragged on for three years – but they have steadily declined and during the last couple of years, I have never felt better or more energised in the whole of my life. No more acute dragging pain every month that would leave me wiped out for a couple of days, weepy and emotional… no more memory lapses… no more hot flushes… My body is now my VERY OWN. And I love it. So without trying to minimise or gloss over your current miserable state in any way – I’d like to offer you light at the end of the tunnel. IT GETS BETTER!!

    • I hope so. I have heard horror stories of ladies for whom it has gone on for 20+ years.
      I had a hideous reproductive life too: severe endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids, the whole she-bang (see what I did there??) and I had the last few years with heavy periods and flooding, but, given I could actually sleep and function reasonably well, precautions and pain killings allowing, I think the menopause has been worse. I had the drenching flushes for about a year; it was touch and go for my hair, because having such long hair (it’s mid thigh in length) that is very thick, added to the problem, but I somehow got past that. I’m glad you’ve been able to reclaim your body; that sounds wonderful.

      • Oh yes! It also seems to be a well-hidden secret that post-menopausal women have a WONDERFUL time! I’ve chatted to many of my contemporaries and we all agree that now we’re past all the misery of the repoductive stuff, Life is better than ever. Not the general message you hear, is it? Apparently we are all supposed to be sad and shrivelled…

  6. My word, your menopause experience sounds like hell indeed. I can only take my hat off to you for still writing, still plugging away, still doing your thing, despite it all. I would have curled up in bed and turned my face to the wall, I know it.

    • I very nearly did, Fran, but it was too hot under the covers.
      Seriously, I was still doing my TEFL job when it began and working with teenagers when you are sweating and skin burning up every few minutes… well, it was horrible. I showered obsessively, used the strongest deodorant I could find (Mitchum’s Powder Fresh roll on; better than the spray!) and was terrified I’d smell. Trips were hell, especially in summer, but even in winter, you’d layer up to keep out the cold, then have to shed layers like a loon. Then I’d not sleep at night: covers on, covers off, flapping the duvet every half hour. And when you’re in a hotel room, you can’t just wander somewhere else to cool down. The rooms that had a bath and a shower, well, I almost slept in the bath a few times.
      I wish people knew more about it and were more sympathetic but there does seem to be a culture where if you are a middle-aged woman on the plump side, everything is your own fault.

  7. Utterly with you on the GPs (Bevan should’ve found something more appropriate than gold to stuff their mouths with) and so glad your menopause symptoms are improving. It wasn’t until I was hit by peri-menopause that I realised just how little it’s talked about, or how little is really known about the how or why. Fingers crossed that as you come out the other side of it, the mood also improves – oestrogen seems to effect serotonin, which might kick off a depressive episode, especially on top of everything else that you’ve had to cope with over the past few years.

    Thinking outside the box on the book thing – would there be any market for small runs of artisan-printed books, perhaps of the poetry collections? Perhaps people who love real (physical) books will be more likely to shell out for something special?

    • Thank you. Improving for sure but still at a level that is classified officially as severe! I take 5htp which is a percursor for tryptophan which in turn is what the body uses to make serotonin; I think it has been the only thing that has made any difference whatsoever. And yes, it is so little talked about; there is immense ignorance even among medical folks. I get angry when people say they sailed through their menopause because they did X Y or Z, because when I have gone to investigate, there’s actually little to no evidence for the claims.
      As for the artisan books, it’s something I’d love to do but the costs are prohibitive and the risks of having a box of extra expensive books is high; people do indeed buy special editions of books, but they’re almost always ones that are by folks already famous and well-loved. A friend did a limited edition hand bound version of one of his books; I think he sold a single copy.
      By the way, if you are the same Sarah I think you are, I spotted you’d vanished from Twitter and wondered what had happened and hoped you are OK.

      • Yes, it’s me – split the Twitters into work and personal, and changed the name of the personal one, but you should still be able to see it. Sent you a DM. 🙂

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