Why I'm using a pen name.


I went once to give a lecture in Doncaster. The hotel I booked upgraded me to a room that had a plate glass window stretching from floor to ceiling. On first walking in the room, I was delighted. Used as I was to cheap Premier Inns with views over carparks this felt decadently executive. And then I put the light on and realised everyone in the street could see me framed in my room like a show prostitute in the Amsterdam red light district. I hurriedly pulled the curtains and, for the rest of the night, sat sulking in what then looked like any and every cheap hotel room.


No disrespect to Doncaster, but I was glad to be there for only one night. This tension between the tantalising draw of high visibility and the intrinsic need for privacy, however shows up in my life daily. I am deeply introverted and bookish, always running one train of thought (at least) in my head whilst speaking a different one. I reflect and journal and ponder and generally live well below the surface even when standing openly on a stage. Yet, I crave to be truly seen and recognised, to belong. I want you to see the me that remains hidden.


I write to mediate this tension. Vulnerable feelings and secret thoughts get dressed for company and sent out into the world where they stand by a wall and hope to God that someone will engage with them. Writing is a way of showing myself without being there. It’s how I invite you to see me when, by then, I am somewhere else. My words are a vapour trail of who I truly was, but a little while ago.


It works, but it makes me prone to those one-night stays. I am forever sending off an article then packing my small wheeled bag of ideas and darting off to another fifteen-hundred word reveal. The dopamine hits that come from pretty much guaranteed acceptance from editors who I know and who need copy are enough to make me believe that here, in my curtained world, I am of value. The problem now is, I want to stay longer in one place. I want to grow as a writer and that means staying in the dark alone for a long time trying to figure out how to be a longer form fiction and memoir writer. I need the privacy to learn and reinvent and the publicity to feel connected while I do it.


This blog is my solution to that paradox.


I recently heard Jesse Burton author of the Miniaturist say that she wished she had kept a writer’s journal while she wrote that book because then she would be able to answer questions about how she had done it. I wish she had written it too because doesn’t every writer desperately want to know what’s going on with other writers when they write? Which is not quite the same as published writers giving polished five-minute interview answers to the question: What’s your writing process? We don’t see the five years of mess and learning that got them to that capsule answer.


I want to remember and I want to reveal. That’s the motivation behind this blog. It’s not the absolutely naked truth of how I became a writer. It can’t be. That’s so internal, so embodied, that by the time it’s in words, whether here or in a journal it’s already primped. And it’s not the suited and booted finished article reminiscing about how things started. It’s more like that moment after the general election in 1997 when a tatty-haired Cherie Blair opened the door in her dressing gown to let a florist in. Not least because I’m going to blog like we did in 1997, when blogging was personal and not about monetization and platform building. When there wasn’t the constant mosquito-buzz of Twitter or the plate glass window of Instagram.


This blog is a writing warm up and down for me; it’s a record of what I did to get where I got to, it’s a truthful model of one meandering path to publication either with a gatekeeper publisher or as an indie. But is not under my real name. It might be at some point but not yet because I want the freedom to transform in private whilst still sharing what the inside of the cocoon is like. I’ll write about my daily practice, about books I read, about classes I take, about joys and fears and joys and celebrations. Borrowing from memoir practice I may conflate incidents and disguise names and places to allow me to be private in public but I shall always tell the truth. It’s for me, to help me rediscover the joy of writing even when I don’t know if anyone is reading, but if you want to come and join me in my public hiding spot you are most welcome.