December 2018 Newsletter

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Welcome to my author newsletter. Yes, that one you signed up to two years ago and never heard from again. But today, writing to you felt like a brilliant idea. Partly because I promised I would, and partly because I’m at the fabled 30,000 word mark on my next book and I need a distraction.

Something happens to most writers around 30,000 words. Fatigue, despair, a desire to jack it all in and retrain as a florist. Why 30,000 words is the number of the beast I don’t know. If a book is a relationship, this is the point at which you’ve started to realise that, oh dear, this one actually isn’t actually a flawless enchanting human who will bring out your best self after all but someone who farts, stacks the dishwasher all wrong and is making a right mess of your Netflix algorithm with loads of niche documentaries about shipbuilding. At 30,000 words, you’ve gone from the perfect shining potential of your original idea to plot holes and fatigue and the feeling that the jigsaw you’re trying to put together actually consists of three different pictures, none of which you particularly want to look at anyway.

This, then, is the stage at which the procrastination really kicks in. So far today I have:

  1. Done a spinning class at the gym
  2. Cooked a Spanish omelette that was supposed to last me for three days and eaten it all, standing up at the hob (see: 1)
  3. Written this newsletter.
  4. Spent an hour caught in a triangular bounce between three social media apps on my phone.
  5. Installed some software to stop me wasting my life on the internet.
  6. Gone to a different computer to research hacks to override the internet-blocking software.

Why do I do it? Why don’t I just write my damn book? Wouldn’t it be easier, more efficient? I’m slightly obsessed with the psychology of procrastination. I believe that what looks like laziness on the surface is actually fear: in my case, I’m scared of another experience like the one I’ve just had.

I finished Stone Mothers early this year. It’s October and I still haven’t quite recovered from writing it. It’s a psychological thriller (of course), about an old Victorian asylum in Suffolk and the various women who pass through its doors over the years. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the subject matter that did for me (although I did uncover some pretty grim stuff during my research) but the plotting. I had an idea in mind of the shape I wanted it to take: the twist I wanted to include. And halfway through writing it, I realised that I could only make that twist happen at the expense of everything else in the book. Letting go of what was ultimately a cheap trick was the right decision. I’m very happy with and proud of the result, and quietly reassured by the observation that the harder a book is for me to write, the more you sadists seem to enjoy it.

I swore that my next book would be a quiet little chamber piece, something that required hardly any research, something without the kind of plot pyrotechnics that keep me awake at night and make me forget to lock my front door. 30,000 words in and it’s the usual twisting nightmare. Topics I need to learn about include tendonitis in ballerinas and the annexation of Crimea. Will I ever learn? Doesn’t look like it. Wish me luck, and I’ll see you on the other side.


A Book In The Bath
What I’m reading this month

Under The Ice by Rachael Blok (Head of Zeus)

I’ve loved dark Christmas stories ever since I was a child and fell in love with The Box of Delights by John Masefield. This debut psychological thriller is set in a quintessentially English Cathedral city; a few days before Christmas, a young woman’s body is found in a frozen lake. New mother Jenny doesn’t know whether her visions are post-natal exhaustion or something more sinister. Memory gaps and past traumas have been covered extensively in psychological thrillers so it takes real skill and talent to pull the rug from under the reader’s feet: Blok does this several times, in a story that’s wrapped up in lyrical, haunting prose that builds to create an atmosphere as rich and convincing as the plot.

Pair with: Molton Brown Frankincense and Allspice Festive Bauble.


 How She Does It: Ruth Madeley
Inspirational women in the arts

Each month I’ll be talking to an inspirational woman in the arts. Ruth is a Bafta-nominated actress and documentary maker who I met on Twitter about five years ago. As well as starring in Don’t Take My Baby, she’s appeared in Fresh Meat, The Level and Cold Feet. This year, she made a documentary ‘Spina Bifida and Me’ for the BBC’s Horizon series. 

I never trained professionally – I actually fell into acting by accident. I studied script-writing at university and I always thought that would be my role in the industry but, after hearing that the BBC were looking for a wheelchair user for a children’s drama, I met with the producers, auditioned and I got the part. From the very second I got on set, I knew that was where I was meant to be.

In 2015 I was cast in my first lead role for Jack Thorne’s BBC drama Don’t Take My Baby.  A young disabled couple fall pregnant: the drama centres on whether social services deem them capable enough to keep their baby. The audition process wasn’t easy. The piece had some really difficult scenes and, as the drama was a true story, the producers really wanted to ensure the casting was spot on, so the process was long – in total I did 3 months of auditions. I was very new to the industry and had never done a lead role before. To have the director, producer and Jack Thorne trust me with such an important story is something that will stay with me for the rest of my career. The drama went on to be really well received at the 2016 BAFTA Television Awards where it won Best Single Drama and (unbelievably!) I was BAFTA-nominated as Best Actress. Getting such recognition so early on in my career was an incredible honour and something I never expected – not bad for a normal girl from Bolton!

Growing up, acting wasn’t something I ever thought I would be able to make a full career of so I feel very lucky. The industry isn’t always an easy place to be but, as a woman, and as a woman with a disability, I’m passionate about helping other young actresses who have disabilities and ensuring that they have easier access to different casting opportunities. Acting and having the chance to be creative in my work every day is a dream job and it’s really important to help bring more diversity and awareness to the forefront of the industry. Growing up there wasn’t really anyone who looked like me on TV and I always thought you needed to be perfect to be in this industry. But now, I feel so privileged to be in a position where I’m able to help change that perception. If I can inspire one young person to feel more empowered then I’ll be doing my job right.

Follow Ruth on Twitter – @ruth_madeley or ruthmadeley on Instagram
Years and Years airs on the BBC in 2019

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