Friendly Ghosts

“That thing is pretty old, isn’t it, Dr Hall?” Eve gestured towards his tatty leather-bound folder with the lightest little smirk on her face that he did not notice. “If that thing could talk, eh?” After a moment she wondered if she had actually cracked that joke out loud because he made no response. And that’s probably why she was sitting in the psychiatrist’s office in the first place, she decided. Because she was fucking crazy.

Eve had been sitting opposite Dr Hall for ten silent minutes while he scribbled furiously in his once-upon-a-time-fancy folder. The man and his folder were so connected, had such shared history together, that they were as good as married.

“Eve, I’d like to talk a little bit about your time in university if you don’t mind… We didn’t really get to discuss it as much as I would have liked in your last session, but you have mentioned some of the anxious episodes you experienced at that time, and I feel that we ought to explore them a little more here today. Would that be okay? You studied… Sociology.”

“Psychology…”, Eve corrected him sheepishly. She was mortified having to admit that subject choice to her psychiatrist but she wasn’t entirely sure why. She was perpetually sorry about everything, especially around Dr Hall. She regretted him having to go to the bother of scribbling on his tidy notes just to edit her pathetic little story.

“Oh I beg your pardon, Psychology, yes, very good. So, you had some concentration difficulties back then, and you mentioned that you used quite a bit of marijuana, isn’t that correct…?” He placed his index finger to his lips waiting for…something.

“Yes, that’s right. I found it helped me sleep so I used it daily, but after a while I felt like I couldn’t sleep without it and then I would start to feel anxious and then of course I couldn’t sleep so it was like a vicious cycle really. I don’t smoke it anymore. I haven’t for years.” Because I’m fucking great, give me a gold star, Dr Hall, Please! She thought sadly.

“Yes, I understand that, but I am painting the history, you see. Your history…of addiction and substance dependence. Do you follow me,?”

He hadn’t stopped writing since she had mentioned the word Anxious. It must be like a buzz word to this guy, she mused, like the steadfast rules in a drinking game, write like a maniac when someone says the word Anxious. Maybe he was still stuck in some kind of hypnotic trance from his university days… Eve tried to bring her attention back to the session but she just didn’t feel much warmth in the room today.

“Oh yes, I see. Well, yes I did experience many anxiety attacks while I was studying. I don’t know why, really, well, there was the weed, but I just felt scared all the time…. I was scared I would fail. I had a lot of terrible nightmares back then”

“Well, you know Eve, a fear of failure is a very common….”

Eve had stopped listening to Dr Hall completely. She was away dreaming again. She spoke when prompted and gave him whatever it was he wanted to hear so he could tick his boxes and send her back home to herself.

Eve wished she was talking to Mary instead of Dr Hall, but Mary was dead. Such a wonderful woman, Mary. She was her friend’s mother, a trained psychologist who never acted like one, and just had a gift of drawing pain from people as if she was merely pulling errant hairs from their coat. She made Eve laugh and cry at herself many times, and even though she must have known she was talking to a totally disturbed soul, she never looked worried about her, she had better sense. When doctors or nurses or anyone in healthcare look worried, people get scared and shut down. Mary must have known that.

Eve still talked to Mary all the time on her walks and in the car and she always felt more hopeful talking to her friendly ghost than any other mental health professional. She was glad to have her in her life, even if she had been dead for ten years.

“Well, yes, I did drink a lot in college, but we all did! Oh… I’m doing it again, aren’t I? I know, I know! I have to stop trying to justify my actions and I have to take responsibility for myself and my choices. Sorry.” Eve knew he had asked about alcohol use and assumed it was to continue to paint her as a failure in an effort to understand her better and earn his crust. He gave a lengthy reply, reiterating what she had just said undoubtedly, but as usual she was only scanning the exchange and responded when given her triggers and cues. She nodded obediently.

Eve learned to converse with people while simultaneously dreaming of the past, hanging around her happiest memories for long periods of time without anyone being any the wiser. She was rarely present with anyone having learned how to carry out exchanges in auto-pilot. She rarely remembered conversations but the buzz words could still upset her during sleepless nights, interrupting her safe, habitual dreams.

“Yes, I had a few brief romantic relationships at that time but nothing serious,” Eve heard herself lie to Dr Hall. The truth of the matter was she spent her college years dreaming of her first boyfriend from home, dreaming of their baby that didn’t make it to birth, and dreaming that somehow, she could get back to that time before she fucked herself up. Dreaming and having sex with too many strangers.

“Yes, I was dating a little here and there. I once had a short romance with a trainee doctor, you know.” Here I go again seeking his approval, Mary. Why the fuck do I play these stupid games?

Daddy Issues! – Eve and Mary concluded at the exact same time. It was very funny to everyone in the room, except Dr Hall… evidently.

“Right, Great. I think we will leave it there for today, Eve and I will see you on Thursday. Thank you. Take care, now” He pretended to pat her shoulder but never touched her as he breezed past in the direction of his surgery door opening it wide. She thanked him for absolutely nothing and scrunched herself up before gliding into the dark and rainy Dublin streets.

Retreat

No Turning Back beyond this Point, the angry red security sign bellowed.

“No fucking kidding, Mr Sign” Eve thought. She hadn’t been very well on the flight; not well at all. She was wired, agitated and nauseous. Eve had made that journey a dozen or so times before, but Mr Sign’s emphasis on the word NO was panic inducing on this particular visit, like she was being robbed of her free will with every step forward. Where was that damn sign hiding two years ago when the pain started and the drugs flowed from every drugstore with no questions asked? She wondered, broken.

Before she got out of the car at Dublin Airport, her mother squeezed her right hand and told her it was going to be absolutely fine this time, but if for any reason it didn’t feel fine, she was to come home immediately. Eve didn’t even entertain the notion that it would come to that. It was just one of those things people say when they can’t hold your hand and do the hard part for you. She was a grown woman. She wasn’t going to run home to Mammy.

Eve couldn’t deny that she really really didn’t feel fine though. It was so hot in the airport with the manic crowds and their tired sweat.  She stopped dead in her tracks and pulled off her jumper like it was on fire, causing the man behind her to trip over her wheeled case, and his toddler to run head first into her bum. When her head was free from the fire pit, she looked behind and saw a spate of other minor casualties she was entirely responsible for. All because she felt like her jumper was on fire, yet another classic example of how her “selfish actions had directly, or indirectly hurt others”.

“I’m so sorry”, Eve whimpered to herself, burying her sweaty face into her jumper. Feeling the crowds close in, she couldn’t bear to look back at her victims again. Angry voices rumbled around her ears until it occurred to her that if she simply started walking that would make them all go away. She put out her right foot and started off slowly, then it seemed like everything and everyone she was running from got her scent and gave relentless chase. Eve pounded up the escalator, panting hard, flying away from the carnage below, and finally some distance was born between herself and her latest mistake. She spotted the Ladies’ Bathroom and slipped inside.

Eve pushed on the nearest stall door and toppled into the glistening cubicle. She sank to her knees and opened the lid with a bang, certain she would vomit but nothing happened. She rested her cheek on her flattened knuckles, took a series of the deepest possible breaths and hummed along with the white noise of the hand-dryers. She didn’t care that the bathroom was chaotic and she didn’t care that she couldn’t get sick. She didn’t care about anything as the soothing hum kept her together in that increasingly tolerable then and there. Taking yet another deep breath, Eve decided she needed to find her way to the Departures Hall to steer herself back home…to Mammy.

“Not today, U.S.A.. I’m not quite ready for you,” Eve softly whispered out the window of another crowded plane hours later, as she headed for familiar airspace; an exquisite, white flagged retreat.

 

The Backdrop Challenge.

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I have an idea for a new play that has stayed with me for slightly more than a week now. Such longevity usually means it shall come to pass on paper in the near future! This idea presents a welcome challenge, in that it will have an element that I have never been able to devise with any clarity before; the backdrop. I am not referring to a piece of printed cloth physically hanging down the back of the stage. I am referring to the world of the play; the context.

This play will occur in a room that conceals the action and drama of the outside world; a world that will be the cause and effect of the characters’ lives (seen only within the confines of stage-dimensions, or the room). That is the tricky part for me. I have never written characters that have given a damn about what is happening ‘out there’. There has never been an ‘out there’ to concern themselves with. I am eager to change all that and put imaginary people in an unhinged world they cannot control, but can only react to..

This much I do know; these characters are based on a group of individuals who rose up and claimed their own identity in protest to their outside world. The action of the play will be driven by what has happened ‘outside’ and the aftermath will occur in this room I have the main set imagined. I have a few characters buzzing around in my head and have started research into my chosen historical backdrop. It will be colourful, rowdy and even has a soundtrack. Still, the notion of blindly exploring that outside world is intimidating. How do I bring it all centre-stage effectively? How do I engage an audience through hearsay? I have always found it easier to create the character and then build a world up around them, but for this piece, I will be doing the exact opposite. This is my challenge…

I would love to hear from any writers out there who have mastered the art of the backdrop.

I will share my opening scene as soon as it happens!

Happy scribbling,

Leah.

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Rejection.

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I began sending my work to publishers about fifteen million years ago… Well not quite, perhaps it just  feels that long! It has actually only been about four years. My success rate is usually dismal, but I did get one rejection letter that was, believe it or not, quite special to me.

After The Moogles Theatre Company produced a play I wrote I decided to take the script and send it for publication. I sent it to four publishers that primarily publish plays and poetry, and a particular target was one of the best known publishers in the country. (I won’t name names). Immediately after I let the envelope drop from my optimistic fingers and into the dark depths of the post box, I  accepted that the odds of getting a reply were slim and I decided it was best not to dwell on it.

A month later, I got a hand written letter from the Commissioning Editor of that holy grail of Irish publishers. I knew immediately it was going to be a rejection, but it was neatly hand written and warmly encouraging. The letter said he personally enjoyed elements of my play (he detailed them) but overall didn’t feel it was right for that house. He wished me great success and told me to keep writing. I genuinely appreciated the letter and I will always hold on to it.

A rejection letter means that somebody has at the very least taken the time to read the work, considered it (to some extent), and made a commercial judgement call. A reply is rare, because the slush pile my work was plucked from was probably huge, varied, and contained the work of writers who have more experience and talent than I do. Basically, it’s a lucky dip because sometimes life just isn’t fair!

I try to send out some work to publishers at least once a year now. I have also self-published a book on amazon, which has been an interesting learning curve.  I may never know mainstream publishing success but I will probably never stop trying to achieve it either, because despite the best sugar-coated rejections, some of us just refuse to take the hint!

Happy scribbling!

 

Leah.

Do Write By November.

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Yes, it’s that time of year again when my feet are freezing and my email inbox shudders with messages gently reminding me it’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

The challenge is to write a novel in a month and I played along a few years back but failed miserably for two reasons; first, I couldn’t meet the daily word count without repeating the same sentence over and over again (Bart Simpson’s blackboard style), and second, I couldn’t bring myself to finish the story until May. I believe most people do take the challenge and make it work for them, but it just didn’t seem to suit me, or I didn’t suit it. That’s neither here nor there. The point is I signed up for the challenge, totally broke the rules, and still ended up with a first draft several months later. So, I am all for NaNoWriMo. I’m just not very good at it.

Instead, I decided to set a different challenge for myself this year and well,  you’re reading it right now.. ta-dah! A few writers I know told me I had to set up a blog so I pretended I would and then I didn’t. It all sounded tech-heavy and scary as hell so I just thought about other things for a few years. Then, one day not too long ago I googled it and changed my mind, and now I have a blog (the stories I write are a bit more exciting that this one, but I just wanted to give you the background).

The other reason for my reluctance was that I didn’t really know what a writer’s blog should look like or say. I am not a  How-To guru so I felt I probably wouldn’t have much to contribute. I looked at a few well-established writers’ blogs, like Hanif Kureishi and Marian Keyes, and they were full of tips and tricks that come from years of writing experience, phenomenal publishing success and all round excellence in their field. I won’t lie, I had major blog-envy, It was my own fault for aiming my search too high. so I ran away from the computer for a few days, and thought about it some more.

I have had stories published and I have also self-published (a novella). I have been writing for as long as I can remember and I am learning all the time. There are millions of writers out there just like me who have some experience but need support because writing is a lonely little task. That’s just the nature of the beast. A blog could be such a positive influence,  a little fiber optic fist-bump when you feel like your writing is nothing but a joke, which we all do from time to time.

I will share my stories and stories about my stories, I will get gushy about my favourite styles and authors, I will rant about my frustrations (ooh lucky you!) and I will also invite guest writers to get involved. I already know so many excellent writers I would love to talk to and hope to know many more.

So, there it is. This is my blog and I hope it proves useful.

Happy November!

Leah.