I was on the gloriously gale-force-winds Black Rock Sands beach in Morfa Bychan, North Wales when I took the call on my mobile. We were virtually the only people on a stretch of beach miles long, attempting to have a summer holiday whether there was a summer or not; me, my husband, his parents Betty & Neil and the kids. We’d hammered in the windbreaks which almost flew off. My husband lay on the sand in his coat and a blanket, it was absolutely hilarious. Neil was telling us a story about how his mum thought he was from the chemist’s, big and loud, VERY loud in fact, and Tom phoned and said ‘I have some very good news for you!’
It was very hard to hear what he was saying, but when it all made sense all I could say was ‘Wow! YOU’RE KIDDING.’ I didn’t have any idea that the NextGen list was coming out if I’m honest. Neither did I have any idea I’d been entered for it, so as you can imagine, the surprise was huge and I really had no idea even what it meant, could mean, should mean, and I got on with our holiday, though I knew it was the most important news of my life.
The build up to the photo/videoshoot for the PBS and Guardian was hard for me, I won’t lie. I haven’t had a single week of stability in the last two years, certainly not without diazepam, and a list of other medications, and placing huge limitations on my life, my social life, even making phone-calls and using social media. I’d been really high, the pressure building, with the fear of what would happen when I got there or if I’d know or recognise anyone, or if I could hold it together.
I live a very isolated life and don’t really spend much time with other poets or even anyone at all, socially. In the end my husband decided to travel with me because my thoughts were constantly racing, I was finding it very hard to concentrate or remember things, and we were concerned I’d become very overstimulated in London, and me, manic, with people I don’t know and a debit card, is not a recipe for a safe, enjoyable and fruitful excursion.
As it happened I recognised a few people, who were all fantastically funny, lovely, animated, compassionate and friendly and I enjoyed what little time I spent in their company; others weren’t as welcoming, but I figured they were just nervous too. The filming was fine, the poems, however, made me shake. That’s what they do, they always make me shake. These poems are all autobiographical, all for real. All for YOU.
I took the tube to the Natural History Museum, and met my husband. I queued for ten minutes all the while going out of my mind, shaking, eyes darting around, finding nothing to hold onto, my thoughts churning and churning. It was too hot, I was sweating and I felt like I might scream. I didn’t enjoy the dinosaurs.
I sank. I tried to gain some kind of composure again after a long train home which stopped in the cold and dark for nearly an hour because someone on the train took ill. I told myself I could sit back and enjoy it now, I’d done the hard work, I’d written the book for Christ’s sake. I didn’t tell anyone and I imagined my friends all enjoying the excitement with me and being happy for me. I imagined the poetry community being supportive. That brought joy to my heart. Too often all I ever have to report is that I’m ill, or I can’t cope.
On the morning of the 11th I got at text from Tom at 1am, to say it had all been announced and I should enjoy all that comes next. I fell back asleep like it was Christmas. At 4am, Steven woke me to tell me he was too excited to sleep and started checking social media; we drank tea and ate biscuits in bed and come morning there were some lovely comments which warmed my heart. Later in the morning, I posted my ‘announcement’ on Facebook.
When I got the news I felt my life had changed. I had no strange or stupid ideas about becoming part of the ‘Establishment’ or achieving ‘fame’ or rubbing shoulders with influential people or any fucking bullshit like that. I honestly felt as though, if I didn’t survive the oncoming depression I would have achieved something beyond anything I dreamt possible.
You have to understand, I have never had hopes or dreams of any award or accolade. Never. I never felt I was ‘valid’ enough to be taken that seriously. I never had the privilege of a university education and I guess I wrongly thought these honours were reserved for the more successful academics. I feel, even in this post, that I have to justify myself. Writing through the endless, endless pain of manic depression, writing not for money or recognition. Writing with no-one but my poor husband to read my poems and help edit them, for a decade.
So then it kicks off. My mood drops because I’m tired for having little sleep. I know it’s been coming for weeks. When people started to get angry I sent this text to a friend:
‘I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for this accolade, but I also know it’s only a moment and will pass as moments do, and it is only really the writing that matters. The idiots can fuck off. My friends’ support is worth more to me than any accolade and will outlast any moment of recognition.’
Some of the vitriol was so absurd I was quite frankly stunned. Some of it was so funny I laughed out loud. I felt as though I would have to step in and defend myself. I was warned that there would be many angry, jealous people. It was as though I’d done something seriously awful. It needs to be said that people I didn’t know contacted me with words of support which were profoundly felt. But it’s fair to say Facebook knocked me down a peg or two.
Steven was working last night and I sat in bed and wrote a suicide note. I couldn’t do anything because of the kids but I was very tormented. It wasn’t the day I had expected. Friends had failed to even say ‘well done’ as though they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. I felt stupid for even thinking it would all be fun and celebration. I felt like people were slamming this thing that I’d held on so tightly for weeks with such a happy heart. I WISHED no-one knew, that I could walk around at night with my dog and a lighter heart. I soon realised it mattered to me more as a personal achievement than something to tell the masses about.
I have since tried to avoid Facebook but today noticed a winding-down thread, the general gist of which was:
NextGen is bollocks anyway so we don’t need to worry about it. No-one will ever be interested in the NextGen books. Other writers with no accolades are all better and none of them will be remembered in ten years’ time. Plus: It’s all about the art! (Who knew?) It’s all about the FUCKING ART. And how could anyone on the NextGen list know that???
I feel like I’ve been punished for something nice that’s happened to me without my control that has brought much joy to my desolate world. That it has been torn apart and belittled by (some) writers I thought well of.
I don’t want any sympathetic comments AT ALL but I would like to say that people posting things online slamming those who have done nothing to deserve it, is not without consequence in the hearts and minds of those you are berating. Just because you can’t see them, they are real, they are there and they have feelings.
After all is said and done, I’m just as sensitive, average and fallible as everyone else. Thank Christ.