Monday, April 07, 2014

My Writing Process - Blog Hop

Blog hop! What a great idea, like playing the Wikipedia game of link-clicking and getting lost in a whole new world of knowledge, except here you get to meet some authors you might not have met before, so without further ado...

In this post I'm going to tell you a little about my writing process and what I'm currently working on. I was tagged by the fabulous Larry Benjamin, author of What Binds Us, Damaged Angels and Unbroken (shortlisted for this year's Lambda Literary Awards).

You can read Larry's blog post here: http://authorlarrybenjamin.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/my-writing-process-blog-hop.html

Larry's website is here: http://www.larrybenjamin.com

What am I working on?

I've just finished editing the second edition of my first novel, Champagne, and after a very drawn-out discussion with a reader last week about how much the story affected him, I'm thinking about writing a "sequel" that would bring resolution. I deliberately wrote the ending the way I did, and have puzzled for 10 years over whether there was more story to be told. Anyway, that's a discussion for another post.

I'm also at the 'step away' stage of my latest story, which is part of the Love's Landscapes anthology being published by the MM Romance Group on Goodreads (mmromancegroup.com) from June 2014 onwards. It starts with a prompt from a group member in the form of a "Dear Author" letter and accompanying photo.

Mine was of two guys meeting in the checkout queue, where one attempts to queue-jump, much to the chagrin of the other. It's been an amazing challenge for me, as I've written in first-person narrative, which I've never done before, and I had a remit to work to that set out some interesting stipulations. Great fun!

How does my work differ from others of the genre?

I'm one of those genre-crossers, so I don't fit anywhere, which is frustrating, as my Hiding Behind The Couch series as a whole only really fits in contemporary fiction and that's a HUGE, subsuming category to get buried in, but then each instalment also fits into other genres, such as romance (in all its forms), murder mystery, and even children's books.

What I write is character-based, character-driven fiction, focusing more on the psyche of the characters than their physical attributes, which means I switch perspectives within the narrative, and adjust narrative style accordingly. I try to write about people who are real, with flaws, insecurities, battling to keep their mental health - all the stuff we all experience all the time. It means that I can't really tell you what they look like, but i can tell you exactly how they think and feel at any given moment!

People tell me I also tend to suck my readers into the worlds of my stories. The characters become very real to them, which is pretty awesome!

How does my writing process work?

The characters make me do it!

I don't plan, but I may well have an ending in mind and certain events that I want to play out, so at the same time as writing the first draft, I'm thinking ahead of how I can get to a certain point in the plot, but if the characters veer off and take me on a different route, I'm happy to go with it.

For instance, No Time Like The Present starts with a murder, and I had no idea how it would conclude until I was halfway through the first draft. Also in that book, a new character called Sean Tierney suddenly appeared from nowhere! I really hadn't intended that, as I knew there were too many characters in book one, so I should have been trying to downsize. But anyway Sean got to stay around and plays a very prominent part in the subsequent instalments.

Having said that, writing this way can be a little precarious. I was writing a scene involving a cat a while back and had in mind that the cat would survive the story, but there was always the possibly it might suddenly run off and meet an untimely demise.

Why do I write what I do?

Honestly, I don't know. I was sitting outside a pub with Stuart Ayris (author tagged below) a while back, and he said he felt it was as if the stories were already written, and it was just a case of remembering them, which I can definitely go with.

Insane as it may sound, the Hiding Behind The Couch stuff almost feels like I'm being fed the story from somewhere else. The only way I can explain is to imagine that at some point their universe and ours intersected, creating a link between Josh Sandison and me. All I am doing is writing about the lives of Josh and his friends - maybe he's doing the same about me on his side of the incursion? I find myself writing about them for hour upon hour, day after day, and then suddenly run out of stuff to write about for a while, like I've caught up. I don't know.

Ultimately I write because I have to. It's the vent that stops me exploding. I've recently read a few articles about people surviving on desert islands - imagining myself trying to survive the experience my immediate thought is "How will I cope without being able to write?" I can see it now: Water? Check! Primitive spear for catching fish? Check! Crushed berry ink and dried leaf paper? Check... And the headline after my rescue: Woman washed up on desert island for eight years fills it will billions of words...

Next week, check out:

David E. Manuel (Richard Paladin series, Sudden Addiction and more in the pipeline)
killerprotocols.blogspot.com

Stuart Ayris (Frugality Trilogy, The Buddhas of Borneo and an amazing work in progress I'm sure he'll tell you about himself)
stuartayris.co.uk / stuartayrisblog.org

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex Roundtable (part two)

Welcome to Part Two of our Roundtable discussion on sex in gay fiction, with authors, Larry Benjamin, WS Long, Andrew Q. Gordon and Hans Hirschi, all of whom write gay fiction. Deb McGowan, author, editor and publisher is the discussion's moderator.

Miss Part 1? Don't worry, you can read it here. http://authorlarrybenjamin.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/lets-talk-about-sex-roundtable.html

Don't forget we are also running a giveaway of eBooks and a $30 gift card. Just click the Rafflecopter link on this page to enter the drawing.

You have until 12:00 a.m. April 8, 2014, to enter and winners will be drawn on April 9, 2014. Winners will be notified by email.



DM: Welcome back gentlemen. Let's just dive in and pick up where we left off, shall we?

What's your approach to writing sex?

WSL: The sex scenes should propel the story, involve the characters at that moment. That's the only reason to include it. If the sex doesn't add to the plot then don't add it.

HH: I try to be as realistic about it as possible. I've read far too many books to know that some writers have no clue what they're talking about and some of the sex scenes I've read were pure fantasy.

AQG: Typical for me is to get them to the bed, get them naked, have some playful banter that is a prelude to sex, but when it gets to more than kissing, groping, fondling, undressing, I generally fade to black. I will also at times add 'after' scenes. These would be where one character makes a comment about being too sore to walk, their jaw is sore, they ran out of condoms, etc. I'm not opposed to letting folks know what I see the characters preferred role or what they like, but detailing it in a 'blow-by-blow' account is not my approach.

LB: Here, I'll have to agree with WS; the sex only belongs on page if it propels the story or illuminates something about the characters that adds a dimension to them. Otherwise I think it can be led up to, then fade to black. When I write sex I try to make it realistic—the marathon sex sessions and positions requiring acrobatic agility in some books leaves me puzzled. When I write, I try to make the words beautiful and there is always a rhythm in my head. I try to keep that going through the sex scenes so it seems part of the story rather than a scene inserted randomly.

AQG: I agree W.S. (and Larry) too, it has to add something, but cycling back to a previous answer and comment by Hans and Deb–sex between characters is no different than them going out to eat in a sense, it's a glimpse into their lives and interactions so–in theory at least–all sex could add something to the plot, character development, mood, etc. But as Larry puts better than I can, the pages of detail and contortions and fabled, we always come together and multiple times every time, well that seems more gratuitous to me that necessary.

DM: When you write sex scenes, what are you hoping to elicit from your reader?

WSL: Hopefully, the reader feels the attraction between the characters, what each character wants from the other. Sex shows the dynamics of a relationship and those dynamics should be explored.

HH: A better understanding for my characters, what makes them tick, how they feel, how they love, why they love, or simply how they're horny. Whatever else happens in the privacy of my readers' homes is none of my business…

AQG: As I've said before, if I write a sex scene it needs to advance the story. Sometimes it can be to shown that one character is out of touch with the needs of his partner, or is in total sync with his partner.  If I were writing about someone's first time, I could see some merit to that, but again, the actual act itself doesn't need a step-by-step recitation for the characters reaction to be conveyed to the reader. The afterwards is generally a better time to get out those emotions. But again, I can see it being done while they're in the act. 

I also think that sex – or the build up and aftermath – can be a good way to add depth to your characters. Just like showing them in different situations can let the reader know the character better. But honestly, writing about one character plowing the other deep and hard, or sucking each other off, really doesn't advance the character development all that much. 

LB: Well, I want them to get a sense of the emotion underlying the action and a sense of the dynamics of the relationship. I always hope the reader is learning something more about the characters, seeing something revealed that they may not have noticed before. For me a sex scene is essentially seeing someone clothed, then seeing them naked—you see so much more, so much that was hidden and that gives you a fuller picture of that person.

DM: This discussion raises some very important issues as regards readers' expectations, given that there is a massive market currently for M/M Romance, and yet being labeled as such seems to carry a certain stigma, in the sense that the genre is seen as mindless humping with little in the way of plot. Reading through some of the Goodreads reviews for books listed as M/M Romance but with no on-page sex, I notice that many readers are now expecting this and feel they've been mis-sold if it's absent. I'm not sure how we get around this so that we can tap into the market without "selling out" and including sex simply because our readers (customers) have paid for it.

Perhaps, then, it is a question of personal sensibility and artistic merit—do we stop selling fast food because it's bad for people? Depends on whether we want to get rich or keep our conscience intact.

However, I suspect there is also a much bigger political issue here, akin to the one which was fought (and to a greater extent lost) by 1970s radical feminists against the objectification of women in pornography. This led to a distinction between "pornography" and "erotica," the latter of which was considered to have (the potential for) some artistic merit. Yet in terms of written fiction, erotica has been adopted to describe "PWP"—the textual equivalent of pictorial porn. There's a whole lot more than fifty shades of gray in the language we use for the spectrum of sexually explicit fiction.

In conclusion, maybe the only important consideration here is the MAIN genre of the work. Larry Benjamin writes romance; WS Long writes thrillers, Hans Hirschi writes about family life; Andrew Q Gordon writes science fiction /fantasy. The identity of the characters shouldn't come into it. If sex is crucial to the story, game on.

AQG: Deb, you bring up several interesting points. All Romance eBook (ARe) has a heat index for their books. That should be a staple for all 'Romance' books in my opinion to avoid the 'mis-sold' problem. Then if you're told the book is a 5 flame barn burner and it turns out to be a barely smoldering pile of kindle, you've got a legitimate gripe.

But the other issue is something Larry and I discussed a few days ago, the focus of LGBT Fiction seems to be romance. If there is a romantic pairing in a book, it gets the Romance tag – why? Because that is what sells. The market for LGBT fiction, the kind that doesn't have a romance or sex, isn't as developed. One would think there is a large enough market for LGBT fiction that is not romance focused, but this takes us onto a different topic – demographics of readership. By many 'studies' the largest segment of MM Romance readers are straight women. They are probably not as interested in LGBT fiction, just the romance element. So as you say, the need is to focus on the main genre: family life, mystery, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, etc and 'convince' those markets that the orientation of the MC isn't as important as the story. Mercedes Lackey did this with her Valdimar world, or Richard Stevenson did with Donald Strachey. But we also need to educate the LGBT readers who are looking for LGBT character driven, non-romance books, that these books exist.


I'd like to thank everyone for participating in this discussion.

Our readers are invited to join the conversation by leaving a message in the comments section.

You can learn more about our participating authors by visiting the links below.


Larry Benjamin: http://www.larrybenjamin.com

WS Long: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/wslong

Andrew Q. Gordon: http://andrewqgordon.com/

Hans M. Hirschi: http://blog.hirschi.se

Debbie McGowan: http://www.debbiemcgowan.co.uk


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex Roundtable (part one)

Here's something a little different, AND you get to enter a giveaway!


Awesome!

I recently moderated a discussion between four authors - Larry Benjamin, Andrew Q. Gordon, Hans M. Hirschi and WS Long - all of whom write gay fiction. If you're not familiar with the genre, the fact that these guys are, well, guys, makes them quite rare, as much of the work published as "M/M" (male/male) fiction is written by women, and is more often than not romance.

Not that I'm suggesting this is a bad thing (I've been known to write gay romances in my time), but it does mean that, for whatever reason, on-page sex is a common feature in gay fiction.

Thus, sex in gay fiction is the topic for this roundtable discussion, posted in two parts.

The first part can be found on Larry Benjamin's blog: http://authorlarrybenjamin.blogspot.com/2014/03/lets-talk-about-sex-roundtable.html

The second part will be posted here on my blog on Thursday April 3.

In addition, we have arranged a giveaway of eBooks and a $30 gift card. Just click the Rafflecopter link at the bottom of the post on Larry's blog for details and to enter the drawing.

You have until 12:00 a.m. April 8, 2014, to enter and winners will be drawn on April 9, 2014. Winners will be notified by email.



Here's a little teaser to get you going...

DM: Do you feel on-page sex is necessary? Why? Or why not?

WSL: On-page sex is necessary only if the story line involves adult gay men in the male-male romance. The idea is to show through the sex the emotions, the connections between the characters. Sex is a very intimate act and the use of sex scenes implies character change and development.

HH: It is necessary if it adds value to the story line, not otherwise. I add them to move the story along, e.g. bring characters closer to each other. Sex is part of our lives, so why not describe it? We have dialogue, car rides, dinners etc., sex is no different in MHO.

AQG: Can I answer with a qualified, "No?" No. Unless the scene is needed to advance a plot – for example, the MC has changed and is now more controlling or aggressive or passive or disinterested.  Or if the sex is meant to show a reconnection between two estranged characters, then some – some – on page sex is needed. But only as much as is needed to advance the plot. There is an entire genre devoted to on-page sex – Erotica.  Otherwise you run the risk of being PWP – Porn without Plot.

LB: I think it varies based on the story you are trying to tell. From my own writing, I feel it’s usually not necessary.  That’s just my preference. Nothing bores me more quickly than page after page of sex that doesn’t tell me anything about the characters or their situation, that is sex thrown in simply to titillate, to entertain.


Read More and Enter the Giveaway:
http://authorlarrybenjamin.blogspot.com/2014/03/lets-talk-about-sex-roundtable.html

Find out more about the giveaway here: http://andrewqgordon.com/ebook-giveaway

Friday, March 07, 2014

The Adrien English series, by Josh Lanyon - a review

In my head I'm screaming and kicking wildly.

No, no, NO! I will NOT become a Fanyon!

I'm in denial, because the reality is that I am completely in love with Josh Lanyon's writing. Yes, it's a little formulaic, and there are some parallels to be drawn in terms of characterisation between series, but it's well written and an easy read. What also helps is he's a bringer of Happily Ever Afters, and I like these. A lot.

Last night I finished the fifth novel in the Adrien English Mysteries series - there is a book six that's a kind of 'write it yourself' thing - I may take a peek, but I prefer to have the story already told. So, effectively, book five is the end of the story.

The full series, in order (links go to Josh Lanyon's website):
  1. Fatal Shadows
  2. A Dangerous Thing
  3. The Hell You Say
  4. Death of a Pirate King
  5. The Dark Tide
  6. Stranger Things Have Happened

I started book one on February 9th, and today is March 7th. Talk about getting sucked in!

The series is set in Pasadena, where Adrien English owns Cloak and Dagger book store. He's an amateur sleuth, and a writer too, of a bizarre murder mystery series about a gay Shakespearean actor and amateur sleuth! The story begins with the murder of Adrien's long-time friend and employee, Rob, soon after which Lanyon introduces the reader to the other star of the series, Jake Riordan, a homicide detective.

Each book in the series deals with a new mystery, although the relationships, between Adrien and Jake, between Adrien and his mother, and various others, develop throughout the series. There are road trips to old ranches, to visit retired cops, fateful voyages aboard boats, celebs, politicians, satanism, secret lives, stray cats - it's got the lot, but for me it's the characterisation and relationships that make a story.

The dynamic between Adrien and Jake is electric from the start, and where other reviewers have said they hated Jake early on, I didn't ever experience this. I did despise Adrien's mother for most of the series (loved the line in A Dangerous Thing - "She has her moments, does me mum." I thought, "Ah, she's from round our way."), but she suitably redeemed herself toward the end, and that's a sign of great penmanship, right there. We should only really come to loathe the baddies, and this she is not.

It's difficult to say more of Adrien's mother, or Jake, without spoiling the plot, but readers get to experience both of them through Adrien's eyes, as the writing is first person narrative, which Lanyon does very well - his standalone novel, Fair Game, is the only one of his I've read so far that's not in first person, and it's an excellent but more serious read than Adrien English.

Also brilliant in the cast of characters are Jean and Ted Finch who are part of the writing group that meets at the store, and Angus, who is sent by an agency to work at Cloak and Dagger in book one. His quietly spoken way, and Adrien's commentary on this, is hilarious. I kind of liked Guy too, but won't say more than that.

However, it is the main character that has made me fall completely for Josh Lanyon's books. Adrien is a lot like Christopher Holmes in Lanyon's ongoing Holmes and Moriarity series - both are dry, witty, sarcastic, whilst also being vulnerable and having experienced pain in their lives. I'm afraid I've fallen in love with 'Adrien with an e', which isn't good, as he's both a gay man and not real. Ah well.

So, my only issues with this series are thus: first, because Adrien's character is a lot like the main character in my own series there were times when I'd be reading, thinking, "Would Josh do / say / think that?" and then I'd remember what I was reading.

Secondly, I'm devastated I've reached the end. There's much to be said for knowing when to conclude a series, and this was definitely the right place to do so, but even so, I'm going to miss Adrien and Jake. I've been living with them for a month now, and I've got used to having them around.

In conclusion, the Adrien English Mysteries series is an excellent read - murder mysteries, the path of love running a complicated riot, dry, clever humour, and some of them even get to live happily ever after!

Thank you, Josh Lanyon. May your prolificacy continue.


For all of Josh Lanyon's books, visit: http://www.joshlanyon.com/the_works.html

Saturday, March 01, 2014

London Author Fair, Hans M. Hirschi and the curse of being a natural proofreader.

So, I'm utterly exhausted! I've been back home for just a little over an hour, and it's a real effort to type. Yesterday I was at the London Author Fair - the first event of its kind - held in Covent Garden, where I met up with Hans M. Hirschi, author of Family Ties, Jonathan's Hope and The Opera House.

Two weeks ago I wasn't planning on going to London at all. I used to live down there, and visiting always reminds me of why I moved away. I swear the water is just piped straight from the Thames (makes me ill and leaves a really yucky residue around cups - that can't be right, surely?). Then there's the whole 'cheapest' ticket for a return journey of two stops (Russell Square to Covent Garden) being a £9 travelcard. Seriously? Do you think you could maybe tell me Covent Garden was going to be closed later before I buy a return?

Anyway, gripes aside, I had a really good time. The London Author Fair was very useful - lots of seminars and workshops with agents, authors and Patrick Brown - the director of Author Marketing at Goodreads (a real show stealer).

As for Hans...well he did introduce me to other people as 'anal', which, I'll admit, I used first in reference to my ability to spot errors in books as I read them. It's a bit of a curse these days, and I wish I could read without seeing them, but I can't. However, he also said some lovely things about my editing / proofreading too, which makes up for my crying on a train full of people on the way down to London - the ending of Jonathan's Hope is beautiful and is happy, kind of, as the stoic southerner sitting opposite me witnessed secondhand via my emotional outpouring. I don't even do crying, or I never used to!

All of this is to say, in short, go and read Hans' novels. They're MM Romance / literary fiction with deep, emotional characters encountering many challenges and coming through the other side scarred yet victorious. He was talking of a box set of the three novels, which is definitely (or definitively? ;)) going to be a beautiful addition to any reader's library.

I also got to be a working class northern lass in an upper class hotel for an evening, which was...interesting! I'm not comfortable in these places and I don't fit, but I'm kind of proud of that, although the cloakroom attendants did mock my Nepalese woollen coat, but it's fair trade and warm, so I don't care!

Whilst there (having been sent to the wrong bar) I met a guy from Georgia who was 'vacationing in England' with his son. We chatted about his work and how one of his work locations had burned down in November (insurance had only just paid out), and my writing (he said he'd look out for me when I'm a bestseller...), and I taught him how to pronounce Conway (in English). At the same time, Hans was sitting in another bar in the same building, and called my husband and said, "I'm waiting for your wife in a bar in a hotel in London, and she's not here!" Ha!

What else? Went to a Jamie Oliver diner - not great, to be honest, and we felt for the waitress, who I can only conclude had reached the hysteria stage of exhaustion. She tried her best and served us well, and honestly. I don't think we made the end of a long shift easy for her and she'd finished by the time we paid - if you're reading this, thank you, George.

Finally, I got to experience dawn in the capital, on account of hotel beds being about as comfortable as those roll-up thin foam mats you take on hiking expeditions. It was kind of beautiful, in a "Go the f**k to sleep!" way.

In conclusion - it was a worthwhile trip, where I was reassured that I don't want to go down the traditional publishing route any more than I ever did and still don't have the coordinates for the holy grail of marketing success, but I am most definitely not alone.

And I'm most definitely glad to be home!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In The Stars - Episode 3 (Pisces) Out Now!



I'm releasing each episode of In The Stars separately, via Smashwords and Amazon, and it's turning out to be quite labour-intensive, but hopefully well worth the effort.

I've just made episode 3 (Pisces) available, as I will be on my way back from the London Author Fair on March 1st, which would be its 'official' launch date. This follows the release of episode 1 (Capricorn) on January 1st, and episode 2 (Aquarius) on February 1st.

The episodes are available from free-1.49 USD (reader sets price on Smashwords), and the full novels are 6.00 USD in ebook format - paperback also available.*

To set in context, In The Stars is part of my series, Hiding Behind The Couch. In its full form, In The Stars consists of two hefty, full-length novels (books 4 and 5 of the series), spanning the period of one year in the life of The Circle - the nine friends central to the series.

What I wanted to do with this particular instalment is give new readers an opportunity to get to know The Circle, so even though starting reading from this point will 'spoil' some of what has gone before, it is possible to pick up from book four, and perhaps go back to the earlier instalments at a later date. I'm encouraged by having picked up a small set of readers on Smashwords too, who are downloading each subsequent instalment of In The Stars - for free, but hey! They're reading it!

The theme: well, I'm not religious, and I have very little belief in the value of horoscopes, so it may seem strange I should structure the books around the signs of the zodiac. The happenings within those twelve months are the kinds of things that have us all questioning how much free will we have over the direction our life takes - relationships, health, illness, celebration - sometimes we seek solace in the belief in a higher form of some sort. With nine main characters, such beliefs (or lack thereof) can lead to conflict, and I wanted to explore how friends get through these conflicts, hopefully with friendships emerging intact.

So that's all I wanted to say, really. Episode 3 is available now. Us authors are always eager to hear from our readers (especially if you have good things to say), so if you do read, please take a little time to review. It really does matter a great deal to us on both a personal and marketing level.

And thanks for reading!

*In The Stars Part I: Capricorn-Gemini released January 1st, 2014
In The Stars Part II: Cancer-Sagittarius coming June 1st, 2014, along with Breaking Waves - a short story (25K) interlude.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Fat Black Dog

So, you've heard the black dog metaphor?

For the past couple of months or so, he's been the spectre of a Cairn terrier - tiny snatched glimpses of a fairly benign little feller, just visible out of the corner of my eye.

Yesterday he was a Staffordshire bull terrier, sitting in the hallway, panting, impatient: "Come and take me for a walk," he goaded. Pant, pant, pant, pant...

"No, you're OK. I'll just sit here and write, and maybe you'll go away, or someone else will take you for a walk."

Which they did - thank you, Jose.

Today, he's back. He's grown some overnight, too. By now he's looking something like an underfed Newfoundland: a bit scrawny, all fur coat and no...meat on his bones.

(See, even I can manage a little attempt at humour in these dark moments.)

I'll pick up on that ole black dog visual contact again in a minute, but I want to mention something else (yup, mental health's a bit haywire, so don't expect logical flow and structure. I mean, I have enough problem with that when I'm feeling OK!)

A couple of something elses, in fact. Firstly, the whole paradox of the thing.

When I'm depressed, I don't eat.

Why am I depressed? Lots of reasons. The final straw was probably not being able to complete my tax self assessment on Friday, because I couldn't find my P60, so now I'm going to be hit with a £100 fine for late completion. Oh well. <= that's the depression-related apathy kicking in.

The other major reason (on this occasion - I have frequent flyer miles):

I'm depressed because I'm fat.
That's the 'secondly' to go with the 'firstly' up there.

Putting it together...

When I'm depressed I don't eat.
I'm depressed because I'm fat.
If I don't eat, I'll lose weight.
If I lose weight, I'll become less depressed.
I'll be less depressed, my appetite will return.
I'll start eating again, get fat again...

Ah, the never-ending story.

To put it simply, if the only reason for my current, temporary dark state of mind is my BMI, then there's also only so long that the two can co-exist. However, it's enduring, repeating...more on this later.

So back to the black dog of doom and gloom whimpering at my table. He wants food. God knows, he's hungry. As I feed him he gets stronger, bigger, fatter, greedier. He wants more food. I give him more food. The more food I give him, the less food there is for me to worry about.

And that's a good thing. Yay!

If you've read this far, you're maybe thinking I should go see a doctor, get some treatment for this. Yeah, me too. Add that to the list of 'more on this later'. But for now maybe a little context will help.

I'm a fat person.

I don't sit around watching Jeremy Kyle and eating chocolate all day. I don't drink sugary pop / soda / whatever you want to call your carbonated drinks. I don't even have sugar in my coffee. I'm not overly fond of chocolate, or cake, but I do like the occasional bit of chocolate cake. I don't eat crisps. I'm not a snacker, or an in-between meals eater. I can skip breakfast and lunch without any trouble at all.

However, I don't exercise enough, even when I don't have crippling back spasms, because I find it extremely boring. I have a very active brain. I think and create all of the time. Walking, or cycling, or doing anything where I can not occupy my brain makes me go (even more) insane. Boring.

And I do have a sedentary job. I teach, mostly online and through distance learning. When I'm in the classroom, my subject is academic (social science) - lots of mental agility; not so much of the physical variety. The rest of the time I write, edit and publish.

I have really, really fit fingers! These babies could run marathons!

The rest of me? It's going to the dogs.
The black dogs.
Of doom.

What I also have is a lifelong abusive eating pattern - not an eating disorder in the recognised sense - I don't binge and purge; I don't starve myself, other than when depression leaves me without an appetite. OK, maybe it is an eating disorder, but it's not enough of one for doctors to acknowledge it as such, and I'm not alone in this. Au contraire! I'm betting a significant number of people who read this will be saying to themselves right about now, "I hear ya!" Because it's endemic. Obesity is a major problem in contemporary, western society. I'm going to skip the evidence to illustrate, as you can go and read it elsewhere, but you know it. Being overweight is being normalised. We expect it. Over-eating is a common problem, along with lack of exercise and eating the wrong kinds of food (processed, instant junk with too much salt, sugar, saturated fat).

We all know all of this, us fatties. So what the hell are we doing?

Good question!

The social scientist in me has a few theories on this:

1. The easy one that's well known, is that it's due to the busy, modern lives we have. We work too many hours; we don't earn enough money. We're tired, the takeaway is less effort and cheaper than buying raw ingredients we don't have time to prepare. We take the logical option - in the short term. Long term? We live in a culture that is all about the here and now. Who's thinking long term? We're going to work until we die - no nice retirement package these days, so really, does it matter?

2. It's a class thing. It's true that poorer people don't have the money to buy good quality, fresh food. They're also more likely to be working long, long hours for very low wages. No time to exercise, plus high calorie, cheap, filling food leads to obesity. Obesity leads to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc. etc. We know, we know. Help? Please?

3. We are still living in a post-war society where people remember rationing, where they recall what it was like to not know where their next meal was coming from, sharing one egg between a family of four. They passed on their lessons to us, and we listened well.
"Eat your dinner and you can have pudding (dessert)."
"Don't waste food!"
"There are people starving in [some developing country, probably on the African continent]."

4. Food addiction is a major psychological problem that health care professionals are failing to address, unless you pay for private treatment, in which case they will tell you whatever you want to hear.

There are lots of other possible factors, but I want to stay with the personal, so here's the deal.

I am from a family where the women are big, and more often than not, die in their seventies from weight-related illnesses.

I also grew up in a household where the mealtime ethos was eat your dinner if you want your pudding. You've heard of Pavlov's dog? Not the same as the black dog, although cunningly alike from where I'm sitting.

Assuming you haven't heard of 'Pavlov's dog(s)', here's a quick summary:

Back in the early 1900s, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov noticed that the dogs in his lab salivated (mouths watered) when the assistant who brought their food entered the lab. He reasoned it wasn't the assistant they found mouth-wateringly delicious, but the association of the assistant with the arrival of food. Pavlov ran some experiments, where he rang a bell and gave the dogs food. The dogs would naturally salivate because of the food, but over time, he was able to show that this natural response would occur if he just rang the bell.

We call this phenomenon 'classical conditioning'. Our natural responses (salivating, sneezing, feeling tired) can be triggered by unnatural things (ringing of a bell, the smell of flowers, the arrival of your normal bedtime, even if you were perfectly wide awake a moment ago).

Back to the 'eat dinner, get pudding' scenario.

We all have a built in physical mechanism that tells us we've had enough food.
- Eat food
- Belly gets full
- Belly sends message to brain to say it's full and to stop eating
- We stop eating

Except...

If you reach a point where you're full, but there's a delicious sweet treat, your brain is up for a bit of that sugary feel-good, so you crave the sweet treat. That's natural too.

And that would be OK, unless you're in that 'eat dinner, get pudding' situation.

In which case you ignore the message that your belly is sending your brain and you keep eating, even though you're full, and you're feeling a bit sick, because that high you're going to get from the sweet treat is worth it. You finish your dinner, you get your pudding.

Win!

Alas, not.

Over time, your belly and brain's natural response of 'I am full' is insufficient to stop you eating. You learn to over-ride it, and just as Pavlov's dogs had no conscious choice over their bell-related salivations, so too do you have no conscious choice but to over-eat.

You do, however, have consciousness. Self concept. Higher cognitive processes, like rationalising, thinking, reasoning, understanding cause and consequence.

There are some fat people who might not recognise this in themselves. There are some fat people for whom this is NOT at all what is going on.

For THIS fat person, that is PRECISELY what is going on.

What's it like?

Here's a real example to demonstrate.

A while back I went to a friend's birthday party, where there was a hot buffet, which wasn't set out when we arrived, and I, like everyone else, was thinking, "Great! Can't wait for some of that delicious food."

Up to this point it's a rational, normal response.

So they bring the food out, and we all go and get some. I'm not first in the queue, as I'm still in the realm of sensible, rational, normal eating at this point.

I sit down and I eat my food.

I can feel the distant, weak message within. "You're full! Stop eating."

But there's another thing going on.

"There's still food on the table. There's still food on the table. THERE'S STILL FOOD ON THE GOD-DAMN TABLE!"

And all the while everyone else is dancing and chatting and drinking and generally having a great time celebrating, all I can think about is the food.

On this occasion I resisted. It's a bloody miracle I did, because usually I don't. Once I start eating I can't stop. If there's food there, hungry or not, I have to eat it. I can't help it. My natural, "You're full. Stop eating!" is a pathetic little tug at the fat elbow of, "There's still food left. Eat it! Eat it! EAT THE FOOD NOW!"

It is awful. It is horrible. I hate it. I hate food. HATE it!

What is this comfort eating of which you speak? That's what fat people do, isn't it?

Believe me when I say I get no comfort from food. It starts out as a necessary evil; it becomes unnecessary, and then it's just evil.

I hate food.

Talk about self-perpetuating. I hate food and I hate shopping for it. I'm quite close to hating cooking it, looking at it. I don't want to think about it, because when I start thinking about it, I can't stop, which means I leave the food preparation to the other people in my life, who do me no favours by saying, "Let's have a takeaway," or making unhealthy food. Yes, I could choose to buy healthy food and eat that, but that means engaging the enemy.

All of this is not new. I'm 44 years old. As I told my GP a couple of months ago, I've been fighting this demon for 30 years. And I'm tired. Really, really tired.

Back in 2002 I went to a gym for the first time, and the gym owner got me on the scales. I'd been busy with bringing up children and studying for my degree, so I'd ignored the gradual growth of girth for a few years.

I was 19 stone 4 pounds.

That's 270 pounds, in case you're in the US, or 122 KG, if you're a metric measurer.

"My word," says she who owns the gym, "I don't know where you're hiding it!"

Which was pretty much the response I got from my sister last week when I told her I was now 18 stone 4 (256 pounds / 116 KG). I might not look as heavy as I am. Maybe I''m good at disgusing it. Who knows. But it's still too damned fat!

And the thing is I've been down to 15 stone in between those times. It was a killer! Five years to lose 4 stone, with three 2 hour workouts a week. I was feeling awesomely fit and motivated. I swore I'd never let myself get back to this state. I'd keep putting in the effort, concentrating all the time on how much I was eating, checking I was getting enough exercise to burn off the calories, change my lifestyle forever...

I plateau-ed at 15 stone. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't pass that mark on the scales, and the motivation fled. From 2007 until 2012 I kept my weight stable. I did visit the gym on average once a week, walked the dogs most days. I focused on what I was eating. Then my weight started to go up, until...

November, 2012! Enter that old friend of mine, the black dog.
My weight plummeted.
I started eating again.
The dog went away.

January, 2013: I gave up smoking. 15 stone 12, and steady.

August, 2013: 16 stone 8 and needing to seriously deal with this. I want to go surfing. I want to go snowboarding. I'm going to get back in that gym, sort out my diet.

August, 2013, some gym trips later. 17 stone 4. Ah, fuck it.

December, 2013: my back went into spasm. Serious spasm, and I knew my weight was at least partly to blame, but the spasm meant I couldn't even walk the dogs, never mind exercise. I went to a bariatric clinic. They weighed me (17 stone 8 - not bad in four months, that). I decided I was going to have a gastric sleeve procedure.

People said, "WHAT?????"

Yeah, they be mostly people who've never been through this hell.

There was just one small stumbling block. Well, 10,000 small stumbling blocks, in the form of Great British pounds. I don't have them. I went to my GP, for my back, and to ask for help with my weight. I told her, "Before you say, 'Here's a diet sheet,' I've done diet sheets for 30 years. They don't work. I know what I'm supposed to eat. I know what I am supposed to do. This is NOT a lifestyle choice. It is a health problem."

She said, "Let's sort your back out and then come back and see me. I'll refer you to a bariatric clinic, but they'll make you try the diet first.

"It does work for most people."

I AM NOT MOST PEOPLE!

Those who are close to me will have heard me say this many times of late, but giving a fat person a diet sheet is like giving a depressed person a picture of a smiley.

"See that? That's how you're supposed to feel! Now be happy!"

January, 2014. Still got the back spasm. Can't fit into my clothes.

Buy bigger clothes? Accept this is my fate? No.

Back to pondering the bariatric surgery.

My sister, said, "But it's so permanent!"

Yes, indeed.

"I can't imagine never eating a lovely meal again."

I can. To never have to be tortured by food, ever again! Ah, bliss!

February, 2014. Still here, still got the back spasm, tight clothes...

So why am I writing this?

Well, it's a gloomy, doomy, fat, pyjama wearing because my back hurts too much for me to go to work and my clothes hurt because I'm two sizes bigger than they are, don't want to eat because the black dog is licking its lips and giving me the evil eye kind of day.

It's catharsis.

It's a shout out to other fatties to say, "You're not alone."
Maybe.
Probably not, actually.
I'm feeling a little too apathetic for that.

I don't want sympathy. I don't want judgement. I'm fat because I eat too much of the wrong stuff and don't exercise. I'll get type 2 diabetes, more than likely, and heart failure, if I don't do something about it, and soon. But I can't do the whole 6 hours of working out, plus 7 hours of dog walking a week, and thinking about food and calorie intake all day, every day lifestyle, which is what it took to lose 4 stone in 5 years. Who has time for that? Realistically?

So, again, why am I writing this?

Because I need to. That's all.