I’m a firm believer in the age-old idea that a good/bad break-up can teach you something. For many people reading, it’s likely a lived experience, too. Granted, the thing you learn might be, ‘Making a relationship from a should-have-been-a-one-night-stand met at a Hello Goodbye concert is a terrible way of finding love.’ But it’s still a thing, all the same.
The Break Up in my story was no different in that sense; by which I mean, it taught me a lot.
In my early days of writing, I was convinced to my absolute core that I could only and would only ever write poetry. I took that mindset into a Creative Writing MA, by the end of which I was steadfastly falling over myself to write ever-so-slightly-experimental short fiction. Choose your own endings; second person narratives; all the footnotes you can possibly imagine. I was hooked. And it became my first ever book.
From there, I tumbled into a life of crime – and psychological suspense.
I studied, researched, wrote crime and thrillers like there was no tomorrow. I had found my place, I decided, and I started to make a writing life around it. Part of that writing life led me to teaching, which I love. But one of the first thing I teach many of my Creative Writing students is: Don’t pigeonhole yourself. When a student tells me they can only write one thing, I take a sincere amount of joy in watching their surprise when they realise, actually, there are lots of things they can be writing because there are lots of things they’re good at.
I wasn’t putting this advice to good use in my own writing, though, where I was only ever working in one genre. So I bit the bullet – and I wrote something new.
The Break Up – a book with a very different name when I first wrote it – was like nothing else I’d ever written. It was fun, flirty, easy; by which I mean, I didn’t drag myself away from my writing sessions feeling like I’d been clobbered over the head with bad feeling – which, yes, can sometimes happen when you’re writing from the POV of a psychopath, which in crime thrillers, I often am. It was like nothing else. Though that also meant it pushed me in new ways, too. The plot fell together one way, then another – then another, during editing – and the themes seemed to change from sexuality to self-care, to arriving at a mixture of both by the end.
Now, The Break Up isn’t only a self-assigned challenge – it’s an actual bloody book! With a publisher, a publication date, and readers who have found it uplifting, funny, and an all-round easy read. It hasn’t all been roses; though I don’t believe it is with any book, in one way or another. But it has been a massive learning experience in writing, representation, and pushing myself. And it’s paid off, big-time.
My takeaway from The Break Up, then, is that actually, even when we’ve settled into something comfortable, reassuring and familiar, there’s still something outside of that that can surprise us. Sometimes, outside the comfort zone turns out to be a really brilliant place to be.