Permission to rest?

 

Permission to rest?

It’s almost the end of January as I write this; Imbolc/Candelmas will be upon me in a few days and I was thinking, I ought to write something. I ought to do another Cave post. I ought to celebrate the slow return of the light and the changing of the season. But I’m not going to. Not today, anyway. I may change my mind in the mean time but right now, I’m not going to do it.

It occurred to me that it’s nearly six years since I last completed a full-length novel (the third in the Ashurst series) and since then I have limped along with a number of works-in-progress. One is over 60k words long. I had hoped/intended to finish it last year. But every time I thought about opening the document to work on it, I had this sinking feeling and I thought, “Why bother?” and couldn’t find the impetus to start. It’s the same with four other projects.

I am so tired, so bloody tired, and I can’t let myself rest. I keep thrashing away, trying to recover my inspiration and energy for writing; I write the odd short story, essay, poem or add a few thousand words to one novel or another. I’m doing corrections for the new novel, after the first proof reader has gone through it; I’ve done around a hundred of the three hundred pages. It’s like squeezing blood from a stone (well, not quite like that; the blood comes from injuring your hand, not from the stone. Maybe a better metaphor than I thought). I keep feeling that if I stop entirely I will never get going again and all the hard work I’ve done to create a writing career for myself will be for nothing. If I let go, do I stop being a writer because I stop writing, or can I be like an actor, who spends time doing other things and calls it resting? And what would I do, what would I be, if I did?

I want to rest but I cannot seem to be able to give myself permission.

Writer Burn-Out and Other Things.

Writer Burn-Out and Other Things.

Writer Burn-out, and other things

Burnt-out.

Conjures images of forests devastated by wildfire, of cars reduced to shells of blackened metal and puddles of melted rubber and plastic, of electronics smouldering and going “pouf” before expiring in a spiral of evil-smelling smoke.

In the case of a writer, it’s often nothing visible. They just go very quiet. Or they become very noisy, bouncing around social media being terribly cheerful. But there’s a brittle nature to the good cheer, hiding an edge they’re often aiming to conceal at all costs. The edge is a sharp one, a foot sticking out of a shallow grave, ready to trip you up and reveal a horrible secret: you can’t write any more.

People suggest tips to get you writing again. Writing prompts, courses, a break away from writing, a holiday, time spent reading instead.

I’ll let you into two secrets. The first you may have guessed: I can’t write any more. The second: I don’t think I want to, either. It’s the second that’s the killer.

I stopped writing once before, stopped it dead in the water, in 1995. Following the stress of (among other things) trying to do rewrites of a novel for one of the Big Six (as it was then), I became almost fatally ill. Something inside my brain said, “Blow this for a game of soldiers!” and popped. When I recovered enough, I finished the rewriting as requested, waited, and after a committee discussed it, it was dismissed and that was that. Contrary to what I have believed in the years since, I don’t think I made a conscious decision to stop writing. I just…stopped. It became a memory, part of my past, something I didn’t do any more. I think now I shut down the vaster part of my psyche, because I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t face the inevitable failure and loss of hope.

You see, me and stories go back a long, long way. Pre-literate me wrote stories, in my head, and used my father’s typewriter to try and get them onto paper. Didn’t work, obviously, but full marks for trying, eh? My whole childhood and teens, I worked on stories. I didn’t do anything much between going to university and becoming a mum, but that was as much circumstances as anything else. My first round of trying to get published, I was in my late twenties. My second round, late thirties. There wasn’t and won’t be a third round. I still believe that self-publishing is the only route for someone like me; on a practical note, now I am in my fifth decade, publishers aren’t generally interested anyway. Youth is what interests most of them. I’m not sure if it’s because a young author has decades of writing ahead or whether they believe they can mould a younger person.

But my God, I am TIRED. Tired of trying to do things that I’m not cut out to do, of trying to understand things that are beyond me, and of the entire landscape. Books are mere commodities, nothing more. Or so you’d believe. I don’t. I believe that a book is a holy, sacred thing, a wonder of the civilised world, a joy and a gift. I’ve loved that the e-book means I can carry a whole library round in my handbag, but the down-side is that there are now millions and millions of books out there and no way to easily find ones I might value. It means that good books and great books whose authors (whether self published or not) are not able to do the right kind of hustling, schmoozing, and generally selling of one’s assets now required to get a book in front of potential readers, fail, sink and disappear without trace. Heaven only knows how many beautiful, life-changing gems have gone unseen, their authors losing heart and finally faith. My own did well at first but have started to sink and disappear and the only thing that has even a tiny chance of raising them is to put out more books. I’ve got more books on my hard drive, written in the productive frenzy ten years ago that followed the unexpected return of my mojo. Yet the process of polishing, of editing, of producing a cover, blurb, publicity and so on, daunts me more than it did, because it feels futile. I can’t kid myself that this one might be THE ONE; I’ve done so for each and every book I’ve published, and each time the results have been poorer than the last. The market is saturated and making an impression sufficient to not only generate but also to sustain sales is now impossible for me. I know I have wonderful people who buy and read and love everything I’ve ever put out. It should be enough. But it isn’t.

At this point, some are going to be thinking, just take a break, stop for a few months, do something else instead. These are things I have tried. Writing is not only part of me; it’s who I am. It’s so interwoven with my essential being that I will break if it is taken from me, even by my own hand. The picture here is of what happened when I stored a long thin vase inside a bigger one; when I came to need the smaller one, the glass had shifted ever so slightly, (glass is a strange thing) and it no longer slid out. In removing it, the bigger vase shattered in my hands.

Big vase little vase

Big vase little vase

Message in a Bottle

Message in a bottle

On Friday I managed to tick off an item on my bucket list. Except I don’t have a bucket list, but you know what I mean: a much cherished hope, dream or ambition. For some my little tick would seem a bit tame but for a book lover or any author, it was a real thrill. I went to a bookshop. Not just any bookshop but a world famous bookshop.

Shakespeare & Company in Paris, less than fifty yards from Notre Dame cathedral has been on my personal radar for some years now. Working in Paris several times a year for umpty-ump years, I’ve never had any personal free time where I’ve felt it was possible to slip away for half an hour. Not even for five minutes to just take a photo and look longingly at the window like a kid at a sweet shop.

But last Friday I did. I managed it. You aren’t allowed to take photos inside so I must tantalise you with a shot or two of the exterior.

DSCI0198

DSCI0197

They have a Lucky Dip selection where for five euros you can buy a book, sight unseen, boxed neatly in a cardboard box with their famous stamp on it. Books are more expensive in France than in the UK, so taking a risk for a small sum was all right. Alas, my Lucky Dip was not (for me) lucky, as I got a James Joyce.

But I went in and had a browse. Floor to ceiling shelving, slightly dishevelled by the number of customers who have taken books out and put them back only to pounce on the next offering, and the lovely smell of books old and new: paradise. I heard customers asking for specific books: “Do you have a copy of The Prophet?” “Yes, I believe we do!” “I’m looking for The Bell Jar…” I catch the eye of the assistant and ask sotto voce, “Do you supply it with Prozac?” and she giggles discreetly as she goes to help the customer find it.

I looked, and found I was overwhelmed by the sheer mass of brilliance, of skill with words and with ideas, of the authors whose works surrounded me. I wanted to buy a book, a proper book, something I’d never normally find. Something different. After only a tiny bit of scanning of shelves I found a novel by George Sand, a little known work called Laura: the Journey into the Crystal. I had only a very short time to decide, so I bought it and the Lucky Dip and returned to my working day.

Yet a part of me remained with those shelves of books, those repositories of voices, some long, long dead. It made me realise my own voice was there, too, somewhere, on the shelves of those who have bought my books, and on the virtual shelves. George Sand would not have imagined that her books would still be being read more than two hundred years after her birth; she would surely have been delighted to see a modern woman seizing with delight one of her lesser known books.

My books are my messages in bottles, cast into the vast ocean of literature. Where they end up, I will never know. I’d like to think that they will pitch up somewhere rather than sink to the bottom of the sea. The act of casting a message in a bottle into the sea is an act of faith, and for the finder, an act of grace.

Perhaps I need a little more faith to keep chucking them out there, and believe that they may wash up on the right beaches, one day.

Mind-worms ~ The Spotters’ Guide

Mind-worms ~ The Spotters’ Guide

We all know what ear-worms are: that annoying phenomenon when a song or jingle lodges in your consciousness and keeps on playing over and over and over again until you want to scream. You can’t turn it off and if you liked the song to start with after half an hour of it morphing into an ear-worm, you hate it.

Let me introduce you to the ear-worm’s frightening big brother: the Mind-worm.

A Mind-worm is an intrusive, unwelcome thought, image or idea that pops up into your head one day and stays there, raising its ugly head every time there’s an opportunity to do so. They’re a feature of some forms of mental distress and they can be devastating. Most of us get the odd one now and then but not to the extent someone in the throes of a mental breakdown can get.

I’ll give you an example of a recent one that burrowed into my brain a few months ago. I’d been doing a tour of Norwich with a group of French students and we’d got to the castle. For a lot of my tours, the only thing the kids find of interest is the gruesome stuff so I did my spiel about the hangings off the bridge in the days when the castle was the prison, and seeing the group engaged I continued. “Of course, our method of execution was much slower than your Guillotine, at least until we mastered the drop technique where the victim’s neck was broken instantaneously. During the trial and error time where they tried to get the ratio between rope length and body weight right, there was one occasion here where the hanged man lost his head…..But the Guillotine was quick and they had a basket for the head to fall into….whoosh, thwop, thunk!” They all winced and laughed. I finished the talk and we went on….but as I stepped out, I had a sudden and all encompassing vision of putting my own head on a curved recess, then hearing the swoosh of a descending blade…. then total and utter darkness and silence. I staggered a little as I walked, returning to the sunlit city shaking and instantly about to burst into tears. For the next couple of hours, it kept coming back, not even when my mind was idling along, but when I was talking with people or trying to give a talk. I don’t know how I got through, to be honest. For the next few days, it came again and again, and even writing about it makes it closer.

Other Mind-worms I’ve had have been less vivid to express: a creeping sense of total looming personal disaster, surety that people I thought love me, actually hate me. I’m not going to detail them all. They all contain the element of it being beyond my control, beyond my power to eliminate them.

I did a kind of poll on Twitter and asked how others deal with them. Kev @Atomic_Honey said he used a mantra, about being Swiss cheese and it passing through him. Marc said he uses white noise to block them out. Universally, this is a feared and loathed experience of all who’ve ever suffered with them. Often they are what people find the hardest to deal with of all the symptoms of mental and emotional distress.

I’ve been thinking about how I deal with them. Initially I recoil, in horror and repulsion. This can go on for a long while. The Mind-worm usually retaliates by becoming more intense and more scary. This can be especially awful at night. If it pops up at a time when the world is sleeping, it’s much harder to deal with. Then I found that if I let it just do its thing, and not try to suppress it, I found something interesting. The intensity burns out quite quickly. In the case of my guillotine vision, the effects on me lessened, until I could see what was at the core of the vision and its message.

I’ve always said I didn’t fear death itself but more the process of getting there. Turns out I was wrong. I’m scared witless of both. My own existential doubts mean that instead of being able to imagine anything after that moment of personal extinction, all I could imagine is blackness and eternal silence.

Most of my Mind-worms are about fear. Deep down, hidden fears. Fear of being unloved, misunderstood, reviled. Fear of final, personal extinction, fear of all my beliefs being so much moonshine and lullabies for children to sing against the Dark. Fear.

Now fear is an odd thing. It has much to tell us about ourselves and sometimes about the world, but we’re all so bloody busy trying to be brave and fearless that we become incapable of listening to our fear and addressing some of the deep down issues.

Time to make time for my Mind-worms.

So what now? ~ every ending is a new beginning, isn’t it?

 

So what now? ~ every ending is a new beginning, isn’t it?

 

Yesterday I taught my last ever lesson in my current job. It’s not even current, so I must get used to that first. I’ve known this was coming, since last summer when a little voice in my head said, “This is the last proper summer school you’ll teach.” I tried to dismiss it but it turned out to be true.

I’m not sure how I feel, to be honest. There’s an undercurrent of relief; there have been aggravations galore I shan’t go into here in detail. But after five and a half years, I wish it were ending better. It feels like a damp squib, this tiny slice of previous glories. The first summer school I taught at we had probably about three hundred students over the July and August, sneaking into September. This year we had just thirteen students over three weeks. Three were Spanish and the rest were Chinese, who had three hours of morning teaching five days a week, and three hours of afternoon teaching four days a week. I did all their tours too. It wasn’t easy. So much of English history and culture is a total blank to Chinese people. And since the kids were all aged about 14, their interest in either culture or history was limited. I felt much of the time I was talking to myself.

So I came home yesterday afternoon and felt flat and a bit underwhelmed.

I’m moving in a few weeks time to somewhere inland, too far to drive back for the money I get offered, even allowing for the fact that I’ve heard only of a possible week of work next March. So time to draw a final line under it and start again with something else, something new.

But what? I’ve tried looking ahead and I can see only a blank, a void. This worries me, though from past experience it tends to mean that the future is still shaping itself, and elements are coming together but not yet enough to see a coherent whole.

I’m looking forward to having a nice view from my study window and a bigger house in what looks like being a lovely place. But work? I can’t see what I’m going to be doing.

My own plans include releasing a new novel at the end of September. Two good friends with eagle eyes are proofreading for me at the moment, my dear friend Andrew has done me a fabulous cover.

 

It’s a novel I am deeply proud of (not that I am not proud of the others at all, but this one is….. well, it’s different) and one I hope that people will like. I’m not sure what genre it fits into. The cover suggests a mystery or even a horror/ghost story, and while there are certainly elements in it of those genres, it’s not really either. It’s not a romance, though for some there may seem to be elements of it there(at least on the very surface). The only description I can give is of a psychological drama. For those who have read Away With The Fairies, the sequel of this new novel, The Bet, also has Isobel in it, but The Bet can stand alone. (It has two sequels, just so’s you know) Here’s the current blurb/synopsis:

 

The Bet

by Vivienne Tuffnell

 

 

 

Jenny likes a challenge and Antony is the biggest challenge of her life….

 

 

Boys like you get preyed upon,” Antony’s father tells him in a rare moment of honesty and openness, but Richard can have no idea just how vulnerable his eighteen-year-old son truly is. From a family where nothing is quite as it seems and where secrecy is the norm, Antony seems fair game to the predatory Jenny. Her relentless pursuit of him originates in a mean-spirited bet made with her colleague Judy, Antony’s former history teacher, who has challenged Jenny to track him down and seduce him.

 

Jenny is totally unprepared for Antony’s refusal to sleep with her or to have any sort of relationship other than friendship. She’s never met anyone quite like him before and her obsession deepens the more he rejects her. She’s no idea what he’s already been through and as far as she’s concerned it’s irrelevant.

 

Pretty soon, for both of them it becomes a much more serious matter than a mere bet and the consequences are unimaginable for either of them.

 Anyway, I’m aiming to get this out around the 28th of September, if t

he move goes smoothly and I’m able to get all the other things done that need doing. In the meantime, if anyone would like to contribute a guest post (I have one awaiting the autumn from a regular commenter Jonathan), I’d be very happy to host it. I’m finding it hard to string words together right now.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, my friends. I’ll try and get myself back to my twice a week blogging as soon as life settles a bit.

 

 

The myth of permanent growth ~ or what goes up must come down

The myth of permanent growth ~ or what goes up must come down

Recent news reports on the British economy have been pretty depressing lately. I really don’t find either politics or economics even vaguely interesting but I was struck by various things recently. The concept of growth, for example.

Some years ago, I was asked by an editor at one of the big publishers to put together a proposal for a book about the decline of the Church of England. Short version of this is that after six weeks of research I submitted my proposal and a few weeks after that had it turned down on the grounds that the committee didn’t think there would be enough people interested in buying such a book. That was that; I wasn’t even much disappointed. I’d written very little non-fiction at that point and wasn’t sure I was capable of it. The reason I mention this was because the research I had to do for the proposal involved looking at publicly available information concerning the finances. Even without a financially astute brain I could read the spreadsheets and see there was a fundamental flaw in their projections at this time. With the average age of contributing parishioners rising and the number of younger people joining falling, I could see that the income levels being predicted were fatally flawed. Sooner or later those increasingly elderly people would either pass on, or they would themselves begin cutting back their giving as the economy squeezed their pensions till they squealed. The secure future for Church income was not as secure as the forecasters seemed to think. As the ratio of male/female priests also began to skew heavily to middle-aged women working without a stipend, it became clearer that the church was planning on relying on more priests working without being paid. Since this relieves some of the financial burden on parish giving, I did wonder why this was not mentioned in the reports (perhaps it was and I missed it) but since then, I have continued to wonder why this trend has not been more openly explored.

Growth is an odd thing. Many years ago when I worked on a nature reserve as an education officer one of our visitors with a school spent some time talking with my boss about some software programme he’d been playing with. It basically was intended to map out and chart a graph of growth based on entering certain figures for known and probable growth of certain plants. He used the example of an oak tree. My boss listened patiently and then carefully told him why the programme couldn’t work. Too many variables: oak growth is dependent on issues like rainfall, overall temperature, pests and so on. The teacher said, well, it’s only a rough guide, if you can put the data in it’ll give you a figure for 200 years ahead. I started to walk away at this point because it got quite heated, my boss trying to point out that while you might be able to do this for a long-lived being like a tree, it was impossible to be accurate and also somewhat pointless. “We already know how high an oak tree is likely to grow,” said my boss. “Daisies, then,” said the teacher. “You can put the figures in for daisies and see how tall they’re going to grow!” “But we know that. You don’t get constant growth for 200 years. They grow so tall and no more. It’s in their genes.”

By this point I was too far away to hear.

But the upshot of it is that things have inbuilt lifespans for both life and growth, whether they are oak trees, daisies or economies. Things that boom often go bust just as quickly.

Sustainable growth is what we need to aim at. Growth that is essentially maintaining a healthy level of activity. Not just in our global or national economies but in our personal growth. What can you achieve that you can hope to maintain, come high days, holidays, slumps, sickness and the rest? What things can you aim to achieve that are not one-hit wonders, that once in a lifetime marathon but the brisk walk every day? What can you guarantee to be able to keep at even when the momentum is lost?

Many blogs for example start off well, taper off and then die because the level of commitment needed to keep going demanded too much from the blogger. It’s the same with writing books. There must be a million partially written MS stuck in drawers, real or virtual because their authors simply couldn’t keep up.

And then there’s sales. It’s a bit over 6 months since I first got a book out on Kindle and I have seen sales climb, and that’s wonderful. But just as things can go up, they can also go down. I see plenty of Indie writers whose sales figures make my jaw drop to my chest with amazement, and I take my hat off to anyone who is making real money this way. It’s the dream of most writers to make a living from their writing. Yet even though I’m doing OK, there are two spectres that haunt me. One is that however hard I try and however hard I work I’m extremely unlikely to pen a book that screams best-seller; literary fiction rarely gets into those sorts of lists. The second spectre is that the hard-won growth is going to be destroyed and tail off into nothing. The situation is precarious. Thousands upon thousands of authors have signed up for the Select programme, which means they are able to give their books away free as promotion. I’m not criticising anyone who has chosen this route but today I had confirmation of something I’d been wondering about.

My good friend Andrew commented that a friend of his wife’s had refused to shell out the £3 or so needed to buy his book, on the grounds that they thought they shouldn’t have to pay for e-books at all. There are so many books out there now that are free to download that many folks simply don’t buy now; they wait till the author puts the book on promotion and grab it then. I know money’s too tight to mention, I know we none of us have much dosh right now. But think about it. A book someone has laboured over for months or years is surely worth a few quid. If you’ve read the sample, and liked it, then why turn up your nose because the author is asking for some recompense for their work?

Too many are doing just this. Too many are stuffing their e-readers full of goodies that are being given away by authors who hope that by doing so, the reader will come back and buy their next one.

At present, I have no plans to do this. It is for me counter-intuitive and in terms of my growth, both as a writer and as a person, it’s more like herbicide. But if there is a reader who genuinely cannot afford to buy one of my e-books reading this then contact me and I may well gift you a pdf of it. It’s not that I refuse to give my work away; I’d just prefer to be able to do so to someone who will truly value it.

That way I have a hope of continuing to produce good work and not be overwhelmed by despair. That way I have a chance to create a sustainable pattern of growth for my soul and for my writing without the all-or-nothing grand gesture my diva-ish nature sometimes prompts me to demand.

“The Black Mist Descended” ~ a guest post by the legendary Jake Barton

 My guest blogger today is the amazing Jake Barton, enigmatic author of Kindle bestselling thrillers Burn, Baby Burn, its sequel Blood and a number of others (one of which is FREE currently). Do go and look him up on Amazon or at his blog:  Ramblings of a Deluded Soul 

The following bio is written by Jake at my request:

Jake Barton lives a determinedly unpredictable life. By design. He makes minimal use of planning, acts on impulse and yet, somehow, manages to make it all work. Most of the time.

He used to be someone completely different – this present incarnation is a massive step down. Jake was known by another name for many years. He was younger then, clever, hirsute, handsome, good company, sensible and superbly fit. Sadly, none of the above apply now.

He writes crime fiction with a hard edge, making use of a life which frequently brought him into contact with major drug dealers, gang leaders, heroin addicts and many other denizens of society’s underbelly. Many of them were fascinating company and regarded him as a friend, albeit a one-sided friendship doomed to be short-lived.

During the course of an unconventional life, touched by wanderlust, involving much movement around the globe, he has been a labourer in a steel-works, taught English and History, been a work-study engineer, a restaurateur, civil servant, Nightclub bouncer, antique dealer, owned a small French vineyard and also had another job that he’s not supposed to talk about where most of the background for his crime novels was learned the hard way over the course of twenty hard years.

To define Jake Barton in one word would be difficult. “Wastrel” comes pretty close.

He writes, sporadically, but doesn’t think of himself as a writer, even though he’s somehow managed to sell in excess of 60,000 books, so far, in 2011. He’s about to set off again, wandering the world, sans map, compass or any idea where he’ll end up. As plans go, it’s rubbish! Sounds about right, then.

The Black Mist.

I used to have a very stressful job. A very specific job for which very few are suited and even fewer stay the course. It involved undercover work, befriending criminals and drug dealers to gain access to gang bosses and major importers. Myself and my colleagues worked in different areas to avoid become known and I met my fellow workers perhaps only once a year. There were eight of us at the ‘sharp end’ and about fifty behind the scenes. Of the eight who did the job at the same time as myself, over a period of twenty years, only three are still alive. Including me, well, obviously!

The constant danger, the retribution meted out if the carefully planned cover failed, the difficulty of adapting to life after the job ended all contributed to this high level of attrition.

I wrote in my own blog recently about meeting a former colleague in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the spinal injuries unit. He’d been beaten so severely he’d been presumed dead and thrown from a speeding car by his assailants. Despite being paralysed from the neck down his positive attitude was massively uplifting.

I’d kill myself, if I could’, he said to me, but then laughed out loud. ‘Nah, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t stand the idea of my wife finding me and thinking, you selfish bastard, what’d you do that for?’

Selfish. The word he chose resonates with me even now. My friend died, in his sleep, three years after I last saw him. His wife gave me his watch, ‘to remember him by.’ I can’t imagine ever forgetting the bravest man I ever met.

Depression has been in the news lately, prompted by the tragic death of a fine man, Gary Speed. I’ve known a few people who’ve taken their own life. In only one case can I honestly say I ever saw suicide as a possibility. That exception was a young man I’d met when I was still playing rugby. Jason was nineteen and a prodigiously gifted athlete, but in desperate need of direction. He’d never played rugby, but I persuaded a friend to offer him a job and begged him to come to training, learn the rudiments of the game. Within two months I was picking him in the first team, on the wing where his inexperience would be less obvious. His pace and enviable fitness stood him in good stead, but it was the friendship of his team-mates, the social aspects of the sport, that made the biggest difference. He was a changed person; no longer drifting through life, but happy and contented with a new job, a girlfriend and a group of mates who thought the world of him.

On Boxing Day, on a pitch that was beginning to freeze, he turned, slipped and tore his cruciate ligament. I’ve had the same injury. It’s painful and restricts your movement for a long time. Unable to play, he came to the clubhouse less and less often. I was worried about his fragile nature, but had, myself, received a serious injury, and was out of touch with my team for a few weeks. When I was fit enough to get out I went to see Jason at home and found his mother in tears. She’d found his body less than an hour ago and the doctor had just arrived and pronounced him dead. I stayed with her, trying to find words suitable for occasions like this.

There aren’t any.

He’d been so good,’ she said, ‘then the black mist came down again.’

The black mist. Depression. We don’t understand it; can’t rationalise it, yet it can disrupt a person’s life to such an extent they can’t bear it any more.

Two former work colleagues took their own lives. Apparently, without anyone close to them having the faintest idea of how bad the situation had become. I knew them both and was shocked to the core when I heard the news. Yes, the job played a part. I’m sure of it. Twenty years on, some memories will never leave me. I’ve recently started to write, in very general terms, about my work experience. It’s hard. The recollections are buried deep. That’s my safety valve. I’m a positive person. I don’t ‘do’ depression, but I understand it. As for suicide; I can’t imagine the level of despair that brings about this decision.

Is it ‘selfish’ as my friend in Stoke Mandeville said? In a way, yes. Of course it is. The people left behind. Those closest to you who love you, care for you. Their despair, that feeling they could have done more, prevented this. I know they feel that as I’ve felt like that on three separate occasions. The problem is: the decision to end one’s life is made under conditions where all rational thought has fled. The ‘black mist’ is control.

I’ll never forget my friend’s cheeriness as I fed him a meal. His nature wouldn’t permit regrets or sorrow at his condition. He shamed me. I’ve never felt so inadequate as I did that afternoon. He was bearing up under conditions that would surely have battered me. We laughed, a lot. He told me everything I needed to know before I took his place within the group of men who’d almost killed him. He also told me about a prominent disk jockey who worked part-time at the hospital and also died recently. My friend said, ‘never met such an arsehole in my life.’ Ah well, there you go!