Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Physical and Mental Illness: Fiction Writing Perspective — November 28, 2019

Physical and Mental Illness: Fiction Writing Perspective

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I’m in the middle of creating a series of posts, relating to mental health, from a fiction writer’s perspective. See my previous post, in which I shared some thoughts regarding research. Now, I’m going to cover an area that’s particularly close to my heart.

As someone with both mental and physical health issues, I face many specific difficulties: one of which is feeling that I’m never quite represented, by organisations, awareness campaigns, and so on, which tend to focus upon one or the other.

And the fact is that, at this point, there is actually more of a tendency, within mental health communities, to be tactless and insensitive about physical disability, than occurs the other way around. Yes, I said that.

I’m not a wheelchair user myself, but do have multiple physical health issues, and am fed-up, to put it mildly, with seeing images of crossed out wheelchairs on social media images, relating to mental health awareness.

Yes, it’s true that many people out there do assume that terms such as “disability” refer exclusively to physical disabilities, and of course that is wrong. But, as the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right. In this case, that is certainly applicable.

Making people with physical health issues feel unwelcome within mental health communities is simply not acceptable.

It is also an unhelpful generalisation that all physical illness is visible, and that the opposite is true for mental health.

Can you see a migraine? Would you necessarily know, simply to look at me, that I have dyspraxia?

And are self-harm scars invisible? Or the extreme weight loss associated with anorexia nervosa? In fact, eating disorders, and many addictions, such as drug addiction and alcoholism, are, by definition, both physical and mental health conditions.

Cancer doesn’t avoid us because we have a mental illness. People who use wheelchairs may also be struggling with mental health issues. Assumptions are harmful.

And how does this relate to us specifically, as fiction writers?

Well, we should ensure that we take this into consideration. I myself feel that I probably neglect physical illness in my stories, certainly compared to mental illness, and hopefully, simply becoming aware of this, will plant a seed in my mind.

I would like to be able to say that I cover both, and that I represent the challenges faced by many of us, who struggle daily with mental and physical health issues. That matters to me.

 

Why Address Mental Health Themes in Fiction? — November 27, 2019

Why Address Mental Health Themes in Fiction?

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Let’s begin at the logical starting point, and ask why.

Why should we address mental health themes at all, in our fiction?

The subject tends, after all, to be controversial, and often dark. And in truth, not every work of fiction does need to address mental health themes.

Yet, mental illness is a part of life.

It happens. It has a huge impact upon, not only sufferers but carers, and many others. It has an impact upon both individuals, and society in a wider sense. It needs to be addressed, and to ignore it is damaging, and potentially dangerous.

Fiction, whether it takes the form of a novel, novella, short story, screenplay, or any other type of story, is a powerful art form.

The need for characters, within our fiction, to reflect the true diversity of people that make up society – in terms of, for instance, race, religious beliefs, sexuality, and class background – is, increasingly, being recognised.

We all deserve to find characters, within the fiction we consume and enjoy, with whom we can identify, for a variety of reasons.

The fact is that, within real communities, people do struggle with mental health issues. If far fewer characters apparently deal with similar challenges, we need to examine why this is – and begin to rectify the situation, through our own stories.

 

I aim to address the subject of mental health in fiction in future posts, on this blog.

I continue to make slow but steady progress on revisions for my novel, Distorted Perceptions, and this novel does address mental health themes.

Health Issues, Self-Acceptance, and Being a Writer — August 9, 2018

Health Issues, Self-Acceptance, and Being a Writer

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I recently rediscovered a chronic illness blog that I maintained for a while, and it reminded me how incredibly open I have tended to be about my health issues.

I would say that I’m still open, but perhaps slightly more guarded about certain aspects. I’ve been burnt too many times – and I’ve also learnt the harsh truth, that most of the time, most people don’t want to know, especially about the “not so pretty” aspects of the illnesses, with which many of us struggle.

I’m definitely struggling with self-acceptance right now.

I’ve been through changes, and don’t know how to be okay with the way I am currently. I can definitely improve in many aspects, but need to find the inner strength to fight – and hold on to this strength, when it does appear that I’m being pushed to breaking point, and having more hurled at me, continually.

I received a diagnosis yesterday, a more severe form of a diagnosis I had previously.

The news has left me reeling. I have a couple of ongoing health issues that I don’t feel I can discuss with many people at all, and this is one of them.

I have edited out a significant portion of this post, because I found myself specifically discussing my family circumstances, and it doesn’t seem appropriate, in the context of this blog.

I don’t defend many of the people’s actions and attitudes, but to go into it would take the blog in a different direction, and that’s not my aim.

My health issues, along with various social and housing problems, are making it extremely difficult for me to keep going with my various projects.

I haven’t been able to make my novel a priority, as I would have liked.

In a recent post, I discussed my struggles with social media, and the need to remain both positive and authentic.

I subsequently added to some of what I had said in that post, in another about positivity, challenges and hope.

Both of these posts relate strongly to this one.  Also, refer to my posts about mental and physical health issues, and being a writer, and my personal writing journey.

Again, apologies to anyone who is waiting to read more from me about writing craft. Hopefully, I will return to those posts, in the future.  Meanwhile, if you missed my POV post, that might be of interest.

Follow me on any of my social media sites.

Positivity, Challenges, and Hope — July 22, 2018

Positivity, Challenges, and Hope

paula-writer

I feel the need to expand upon my recent post, entitled When Positivity Feels Fake.

The fact is, I continue to go through extreme challenges, health problems, and so much that I find terrifying and overwhelming. My positive outlook is 100% authentic – and yet, sometimes I don’t feel this way at all, or even close. The future appears dark and uninviting. At times, it’s hard to even see a future. And yet, I do – of course I do.

In terms of consciously appearing more positive online than I really feel – yes, I continue to do this. In many respects, it helps me. And I haven’t particularly reduced the time that I spend on social media, as I indicated I might. Social media can be draining at times, but on balance, it benefits me, and I deeply value the connections I’m able to make, in this way. It’s also a distraction. So, I don’t know which way I will go with it all, but for now, I will remain active online, as and when.

My novel? Not forgotten, but it’s not easy right now. I definitely don’t plan to abandon the project, long-term.

And the blog – well, here I am, right? I hope to start producing more writing craft related posts, in the future. Whatever happens, it would be good to continue with the blog, in some form. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who gives positive feedback, about the blog’s content. It means the world to me, and encourages me to keep going.

I would just like to mention how amazing I’m finding Pinterest. In recent days, my traffic has reached an all-time high, and almost all of it is coming from Pinterest. If you’re a blogger, and you aren’t on there yet, then you should start up an account right now. That simple.

More from me soon. Sending love and best wishes to you all. I appreciate you so much.

My post about health issues, self-acceptance, and being a writer relates.

Find me on social media.

When Positivity Feels Fake — July 15, 2018

When Positivity Feels Fake

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I’m going through too many issues right now, that are terrifying and overwhelming. It’s been one thing after another, to the point where I’m reeling.

And it does become increasingly challenging, to authentically share positive messages, via my blog, and various social media networks.

I can only do authentic – and equally, can only do hopeful and inspirational. At least, on balance – as I have never denied the darker aspects of life. To do so, would not, in fact, be true positivity.

I deeply appreciate the encouragement that I do receive, but sometimes the lack of support and acknowledgement from people, claiming to be “family” and “friends”, is hurtful. Maybe, according to their “tick box system”, I’m not seen as contributing much to society or “working hard”. I think that says more about any of them than it does about me.

I hope to resume blogging at some point, and am aware that I haven’t written much about writing craft lately. Right now, my WIP is not progressing much at all, and I don’t work consistently on the project. I’m scared, for many reasons, to officially put my novel on hold, but I’m making so little progress that, in some respects, it already is. As for my blog, I feel that an “Out of Office” sign is appropriate right now – and that’s, effectively, what this post is, or feels like.

I’m also going to be less active on social media. I don’t know to what extent, as yet. I’m sure that my follower counts will feel the impact, but that’s life. Those who truly care, and enjoy my posts, will stay.

I’m not going to add many links with this one – only to my posts about mental and physical illness and being a writer, and my personal approach to writing about mental health in fiction.

Update to this post: Positivity, Challenges and Hope.  And you are welcome to find me on social media.

Why Write About “Depressing” Subjects? — February 5, 2018

Why Write About “Depressing” Subjects?

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This post was originally published on my previous blog.

So, why would anyone love writing or reading dark fiction?  Or survivors’ poetry?

In December 2017, I did publish slightly revised versions of two other posts: one regarding my personal writing journey, and another about writing modern historical fiction.

I considered also republishing this one, but decided against it, at the time. I didn’t see it as a priority, because I have other posts that cover much of the same ground, including one regarding my approach to mental health issues in my fiction, and another about the process of writing dark fiction. There are also elements that overlap with my post on character development.

However, on balance, I have decided to go ahead, and share it again.

I feel that there is enough here that could potentially be of value, and it doesn’t do any harm, in my opinion, to revisit some of the same subjects, when they are ones that are close to our hearts. So here goes…

I don’t know where to start with the subject, but it’s an important one, so I want to address it.

I know that more people are familiar with my poetry than my fiction, as there isn’t much of the latter “out there”, as yet. The fact is that I deal with dark and controversial subjects throughout all of my writing. I am focusing more upon my fiction here, although much of what I say applies across the board.

Firstly, my fictional characters are not me.

They each contain aspects of myself, to varying degrees, but none are me, as such. That isn’t how fiction works.

Some experiences of certain characters are heavily autobiographical, but there will always be fictionalised aspects, and it shouldn’t be important for a reader to know what is based on my actual life experiences, and what is not.

That’s not to say that readers won’t, or even shouldn’t, be interested – and often, I will be happy to clarify and share my own stories, since I’m a naturally open person.

There is definitely an element of therapy to writing for me, that is essential to my survival – to my sanity, such as it is.

I do write to explore subjects and situations because I’ve been through them myself, or something similar.

Yet, this is not always the case.

I have had, for my writing, to research subjects, including heroin addiction and abortion, and many others, of which I have no direct, personal experience. Is it “depressing”, if you like? Yes, at times. I would say it is deeply painful, and also makes me more compassionate – and, at times, paralysed by my own inability to fully understand, and do justice to the subjects.

The social issues won’t go away by ignoring them.

That said, is it sufficient that many of us attempt to write about them, in our fiction? Isn’t there more that we can and should be doing? Sometimes it isn’t easy to know what to do, but I can’t close my heart or mind to these themes, to which I feel drawn.

I’m so restricted by my own health and circumstances, and I don’t have the answers – only more questions, and they replay, on an endless loop, inside my mind.

I think that the best answer is that I would find it more depressing to ignore the issues, and I don’t know if I will ever achieve what I ideally want to through my work, but I just have to keep going. I hope that this made at least some sense.

Follow me on any or all of my various social media sites, where I regularly share writing related posts.

When Life Happens, and Writing Doesn’t — January 11, 2018

When Life Happens, and Writing Doesn’t

The title says it all, about where I’m at, right now.

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Health issues are happening. Stressful life events are happening. Writing? It will come. Pressure from within is the last thing I need – and guilt.

Baby steps are the way forward.

Starting somewhere, as opposed to either everywhere or nowhere.

New year, new start.

It isn’t exactly working out that way. Yet, now and again, I hear my characters’ voices, letting me know that they are still there, inside my heart and mind.

As for the blogging – well, this is my second post of 2018.

Such as it is. There will be more, and they will be better.

It’s okay to struggle sometimes.

That’s what I would tell anyone else, after all. It isn’t always easy to believe in yourself and your dreams, but since when has anything worthwhile been easy, right?

Previous related posts include one about procrastination, and another about slow progress.

Find me on social media.

My Writing Journey — December 20, 2017

My Writing Journey

paula-writerwriting-Gloria-Steinem

Before I could physically write, I was already, in a sense, a writer.

I invented people, worlds, and situations. I daydreamed, and also “played games”, assigning roles to my brother and friends. I talked to myself, as well. Past tense…? Well, not entirely – because I’m a writer, and writers are weird. That’s my excuse, anyway.

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When I was five or six, and able to go beyond the formation of individual sentences, I wrote my first stories.

I was that child who loved writing stories at school, so much that I wrote my own, out of choice.

I found Maths boring and difficult.

I have the co-ordination disorder dyspraxia – which, at the time, was undiagnosed – and was, therefore, useless at the so-called “fun” activities. This covered pretty much every sport, basically. Yes, that’s right – not a fan of PE.

I was bullied relentlessly, right through school, and struggled with depression and anxiety, from a very young age.

I never fitted in, and longed to, but if I had, then maybe I would have been happy but ordinary, and not a writer. It was the one thing that I was able to do better than average, and I focused on that.

I do have periods of writers’ block, for want of a better term.

I also have long reading slumps.

I don’t write every day. I would like to say that I do, but I don’t. That’s just the truth.

I currently have many health issues, physical and mental health.

I have also been let down many times, by people I thought I could rely upon – family members, who have been less than supportive, to put it mildly – and so-called “friends”, who have hurt me deeply.

Poetry, although not my original passion, has often helped me through.

I will probably write a post specifically about my poetry journey, at some point.

I do also have a novel that I’m working on, sporadically – an old project, which I revived in recent years.

I’m making slow progress, but getting there. It’s a project that means so much to me, more than I can express – and yet, I’m terrified of failure. Sometimes, the fear leaves me paralysed, and I don’t get anything done at all.

However, I believe in what I’m doing, with all my heart, and know that I have to finish my book.

I did finish another, and shelved the first draft, without revising, which I am okay with. I felt, and still do, that finishing was enough, in that instance.

This post was originally published on my previous blog, and I simply made a few minor adjustments.

Since then, I have developed more of an interest in blogging. I plan to focus much more on this aspect of my writing in 2018 – and do also hope to make more progress on my novel, than I have in previous years.

If you would like to know more about the themes and topics covered in my fiction, I would suggest reading a recent post of mine, concerning my approach to mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction, in my work.

Also, my piece about writing dark fiction, may be of interest.

Writing is my life.

I’ve been in some dark places, and I truly believe that I wouldn’t be here without my fiction and poetry – and increasingly so, my blog.

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Find me on social media.

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Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach — November 15, 2017

Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach

paula-writes-an-imageAs someone who suffers from both physical and mental illness, my own experiences definitely influence and inform my writing.

I deal specifically with many issues, including drug and alcohol addictions, and rape and sexual abuse, in my fiction.

Not every subject that I write about is one that I have experienced personally, although I can always relate, on some level. I have never had drug addiction issues, for instance, although I have had problems with alcohol, in the past.

When it comes to mental illness – yes, definitely, I cover that too, as a writer, but not in the usual, neatly packaged way. For myself, it’s a priority to reflect realities that are not usually represented.

Most of my characters are either not diagnosed with mental illnesses, or the diagnosis is not mentioned.

It’s idealistic to suppose that everyone who has a mental illness is diagnosed – and correctly diagnosed, at that – and also, that everyone who is diagnosed with a mental illness necessarily has a mental illness at all.

I refuse to endorse the psychiatric system by going along blindly with the “this diagnosis treated by this type of medication”, textbook version.

I have also had enough of the myth that, following a suicide attempt, people are routinely admitted to psychiatric hospital.

I have never been an inpatient in psychiatric hospital. When I have taken overdoses, for the most part, no-one has actually realised at all. My parents, and others around me, have assumed that I must be sick from drinking too much.

On the few occasions when I have been treated for the physical effects – far from being admitted to psychiatric hospital afterwards, I have simply been sent straight back to full-time work, as soon as physically able. Literally. In fact, it was the same after being raped.

I have not had therapy, and any dealings with the mental health services have ended up causing more distress than if I had simply “got on with it”, and not sought help at all. And, yes, there are others in similar positions. Mine is, by no means, an isolated case.

The lack of support received is effectively then used against those of us who have been denied help, since we receive fewer “illness points” than others who have received medical attention – which, in turn, affects subsequent decisions about medical care, or lack of.

I do have a character who attempts to take her own life, and others who experience suicidal thoughts, and my characters don’t receive the “textbook” version of the NHS service, which is not the reality, for most of us.

I understand that many people have traumatic experiences within psychiatric hospitals, but this is already represented in literature. The experiences of those who are forced to “get on with it”, and offered no support whatsoever, need to be portrayed, as well.

My protagonist, Lucy, has symptoms of anxiety, which I convey in the “show don’t tell” tradition.

The subject of whether or not she has a diagnosis isn’t mentioned. She doesn’t.

Her mother, Helen, does have anxiety too, and is diagnosed – and this can be seen through the fact that she is addicted to prescription tranquillizers.

I have the benefit – the extreme privilege – of being a writer, and as such, I believe, a responsibility to speak out, on behalf of others.

I have done this, at times, through my poetry. As a writer of realistic, modern historical fiction, I hope to achieve more, in this respect. I shall certainly try.

Writing is my therapy and my passion. It has enabled me to survive. There is no greater blessing.

 

Believe in yourself and your dreams – always.

Find me on social media.

My post about Sylvia Plath, and my feelings regarding the term “suicide poet”, might be of interest.

Some thoughts on addressing controversial subjects in our writing

hemingway-quote

 

Writing Dark Fiction — November 11, 2017

Writing Dark Fiction

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I wish that I could write consistently, but this isn’t possible for me, for various reasons.

Apart from anything else, there is one week in every month when I cannot write, due to the severity of my PCOS and endometriosis. I also have other restrictions, caused by my physical and mental health, and personal circumstances.

There is another reason for the slow progress on my novel, and believe me, this is frustrating – but I do have other ongoing projects, and everything ties in, anyway – so I’m not achieving as little as I myself often feel.

The other reason for my lack of progress is that I do write dark fiction.

I wrote a post some time ago, on my previous blog, regarding why I write about so-called “depressing subjects”.  Note: Updated version, on this blog, now exists, also.

I know that I can never make it “easy” for myself, because my heart is in control, and insists that I write about what really matters – that I do not ignore the darkness, but face it, head on, in my fiction. I will never churn out cutesy romance novels – and, no, I have nothing against such novels, and part of me might even envy authors who can write commercial genre fiction, that fits in and sells. It isn’t me. My plots and characters do overwhelm me, and I don’t feel able to write every day.

I’m terrified that I won’t be able to do justice to the stories that I have to tell, but I must try.

It’s my vocation, my passion – so much more than a career, which it is not, as yet – and definitely more than a hobby. Please don’t refer to anyone’s writing as a “hobby”, unless you know for a fact that the writer in question regards it as such – because it is honestly the ultimate insult, for most of us.

I feel that this was “all over the place”, but hopefully it made some sense. I wrote a short post recently, which included details of my various social media sites, and this is currently the best place to find out where I am online: my different pages and projects.

Keep believing.

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