WHEN I published my first short story collection, Close Call: Short and Bittersweet, I dedicated it to ‘the two Gerries, without the shadow of whose memory this my first book would never have seen the light of day’. My brother asked me who the other Gerry was and I told him it was a reference to our late mother’s schizophrenia (she was a Gerry too). Well, that was only partly true. My choice of words was designed to be ambiguous. So in effect, I lied.
There are things even my closest friends and family never knew about me that I’ve lugged around for years. I may have dropped little jigsaw pieces here and there, that is when I did feel inclined to discuss it. But the bigger picture was so mind-blowing and at times surreal that even when I tried, I could never find the words. The only way was to write it. And that has taken years and many false starts.
My biggest problem was never the writing but the perceived risks of attempting to get it published. It describes a unique inner journey and under normal circumstances, the right publisher would bite my hand off. However, it is loaded with legal implications and I can’t very well pass it around in the expectation of confidentiality. And I can only disguise my characters up to a point without killing the story. Particularly as it has an ethical and spiritual angle to it, it has been my goal all along to act with the best intent towards the individuals who co-created it. Which is all very well if you can get hold of them and they are not surrounded by a metaphorical barbed wire fence.
Another dilemma I faced was deciding who my readers were. The closest genre would be ‘spiritual memoir’. However, a wider readership, for whom some of the themes I touch on would have little or no appeal, might have altogether different motivations. I would rather sell fewer copies to a smaller audience, for whom the subject matter is meaningful and potentially life-changing. It is something of a paradox that to get people to read it at all, I have to play to the crowd.
And so for the past several years I have danced around the invisible elephant in the room. Pissed in the wind, if I’m honest, by trying to produce ‘other’ stories while the real, the important, the infinitely more sellable work grew arms and legs (two sequels are already underway).
That I now find myself about to publish the first couple of chapters in order to get the ball rolling and generate income to get myself out of the proverbial is deeply unsettling. I have had to weigh up not only my interests and those of my master catalyst but those of society at large. For a start, the full version of my story offers insights that may be helpful in gaining a better understanding of PTSD, possibly even Alzheimers, and I have a duty to share what I know. Having suffered a neurological condition for the last two years, I am only too aware of the role of the psyche in self-healing. Which brings me to the inescapable truth that in order to fully recover, and safeguard my mental and physical health, I must tell my tale. The risks of doing nothing outweigh the risks of doing something.
With the most recent plot twist in our collective fortunes, the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found myself staring at an opportunity – and justification – to act. With recession imminent and my options to keep a roof over my head running out, that’s one almighty stick. The carrot is the global appetite for stories of self-healing that capture the collective imagination – and potential readers have time on their hands. I have known for at least the last decade that telling this story was the sole reason for my very existence. If our hour of direst need is not the time to bring it to fruition, then my entire life will have been for nothing.
The course of action I am taking now, touch wood, is the most significant hurdle I am likely to have to deal with. Before a publisher will stake their reputation on it, I have to remove at least some of the risk. I will almost certainly need the broad shoulders of an established publisher to pull this off in the longer term.
Over the years I have remarked that the best analogy for my life is walking a tightrope with a noose around my neck and crocodile clips around my balls (I don’t have any but you get the drift). If I make it to full publication, you will discover just how accurate that statement – and warranted my occasional use of profanity – really is.
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M K MacInnes