You don’t have to be mad to be a writer…

June 1, 2019

I haven’t really talked about what happened to me back in December 2017.

It’s taken me quite some time (and quite a bit of therapy) to work it out for myself which means I can now cut to the chase and tell you that I had a breakdown. I was signed off work for three months with depression and spent another three months gradually building back up to working full time.

During most of 2017 I wrote not a word, save vomiting up the odd sanity preserving (or so I thought) piece of flash fiction. Each was a little darker than the last. Each a little harder to write.

Just before Christmas 2017 I started counselling with a fantastic lady called Julie.

For six weeks I cried like I have never cried before.

Crying is underrated – it’s incredibly cathartic.

Julie asked me what I wanted to get out of her sessions – I didn’t have an immediate answer, but eventually we got to the point where I knew what I wanted. I wanted my head to be empty of the noise that filled my quiet place and I wanted to be able to write again.

It seemed impossible. I could not see how I would ever find my quiet place again, my brain a constant, torturing buzz of angst and doubt and failure.

Julie knew I had my writer’s retreat just after our penultimate session together. Somehow, she got me to a place where the noise was at least subdued. A slim chance that I might be able to write something at the retreat. I didn’t know what, just something…

I decided that I was going to try and write a story for the Fantastic Books Publishing Fire and Ice Fantasy Anthology Competition. Somewhere, amongst the dusty shelves of stories long abandoned and jars filled with the pickled remnants of old ideas there was a flicker of life. There was an old story, a really old story, that was the seed for a novel that I started when I was sixteen (but never finished), joined WordWatchers twelve years ago intending to resurrect (I never have). It was a story about Fire and Ice and, to get away from the buzz, I went back to my childhood quiet place and there was the story – dusty, tatty, neglected, but still alive, waiting for some love and attention.

So, amazingly, I wrote that story. I’m a much better writer now and I wrote the 1500 words over the weekend and was confident enough to read it out to the rest of the group on our last night at the retreat. We literally told stories around a roaring fire…

The story was well received, sensible suggestions were made. Edits were duly undertaken and then, with nothing to lose, I submitted it to the competition …

… then … nothing. Months, indeed a year went by before I found out story had indeed made the longlist for the anthology. I waited with baited breath – would I make the final cut? It would take a couple more months, but yes, I would be in the anthology.

My edits came back from the FBP’s editors at the end of April. They were reasonable and very doable. Unfortunately they arrived exactly when I was also struggling with my mental health again. I procrastinated for a whole month. Eventually I begged for, and was granted a one week extension to the deadline for the return of the edits and, reminding myself of something important I had promised myself, I finished the edits one Saturday morning a few weeks ago.

So, that’s it. The Anthology ‘The Forge’ will be available in early August 2019, over 18 months since I wrote, ‘Elemental Sacrifice’.

I’ll be buying the usual number of copies to have on the bookshelf at home, but I’ll be buying two extra copies – one for my GP who has been amazing during the last 18 months (and only discovered I was a writer during our more in-depth heart-to-hearts in his surgery) and, of course, a copy for Julie, who got me writing again, when I truly believed such a thing was not possible.

Before I go, I’d also like to say that I could not have done any of this without the support of my amazing family and without my brilliant friends in WordWatchers.

I love you all.

Last week (at time of writing) it was Mental Health Awareness Week – but every week should be Mental Health Awareness Week – we don’t talk about it enough, it comes with all sorts of negative connotations, but, at the end of the day, Mental Health is just ‘Health’.

Take care of yourself and, as always, thank you for your time.

John Hoggard










UPDATE (24th July 2019): ‘The Forge: Fire and Ice’ was released on July 14th in Paperback: 

Author John Hoggard is smiling while holding up a copy of the Sci-Fan Anthology 'The Forge: Fire and Ice'

‘The Forge: Fire and Ice’

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