Why do you write? Go on, be honest, no one’s listening….Is it because you want fame and fortune – are you bit of a show-off? Do you feel you have a message, something to teach, and writing is the best medium for you to spread the word? Have you got a muddle of emotion inside and this is the way to release some of that tension? Is your head full of stories, and this is the way you choose to tell them? Or is it simply because that is what you do – you have always been a scribbler and now that you’re grown up, you write?
I guess for me, it’s a bit of all of them, though I didn’t actually begin to write seriously until 2014. I will tell you why – because I like to tell stories and because maybe, when you’re feeling like there is nowhere left to go, it might help. First, we have to go back a few years, to the early 2,000s. I was a wife, mother of three, and busy. We had lived for a few years in New Jersey, and now I was back in England, continuing my teaching career and sometimes preaching in local churches. I was pretty successful at what I did, a good communicator, doing okay. I thought I had life pretty well sorted. (I didn’t, but I thought I did.)
Then things started to slide. My Christian faith, which had always been very strong, began to be more head knowledge than real life. My children were older and less easy to control, and I began to feel slightly suffocated by their demands. Teaching had become political, less about helping children and more about keeping their parents and other staff members happy. And I started to have headaches and feel slightly ‘unfocussed’. I wasn’t quite on top of everything anymore. Which I decided was due to stress and so cut down my workload at school, and opted out of preaching. But things didn’t improve.
Then one day, when being scanned following a bump on the head, they told me I had a brain tumour. It was a colloid cyst, a benign tumour in the centre of the brain, know to cause intermittent hydrocephalus, which in turn can lead to migraines, memory loss and sudden instant death. Not hugely reassuring. Due to its position, the medics decided to leave it and monitor the symptoms (removing it would involve cutting right through the brain, damaging it.) For five years I lived with an almost constant migraine. But I learned to cope. They gave me some injections (like an epi pen) and if I needed to do something important, I could inject myself with pain reliever. I stopped teaching, but continued to help out at my church, and learned Mandarin (because being ill is mainly boring). I learned how to rely on God again. When you know that you absolutely might die tomorrow, you live today very carefully.
Now we get to 2014. In 2014, the tumour became imminently life-threatening, it could no longer be left, and my surgeon decided to remove it via a craniotomy. He cut a window out of my skull, cut through the right side of my brain, removed the tumour and patched me up with bits of metal and screws. I will never forget the walk from the ward into the operating room. It was completely unreal. I knew that the chances of not waking up, or waking with no memory, possibly no speech, were high. I also knew, without a hint of doubt, that God was with me and in control. I could feel him like a thick mist around me, and if I died, then that was what was best. I trusted him completely.
I didn’t die though (you’re not reading notes from Heaven!). I woke up, but a different person. The ‘capable Anne’ was gone – brain damage does that to you. The first few weeks were lived in a fuzz, but even after I was ‘recovered’ I was different. Instead of being a ‘wise advisor’, I was an emotional wreck. Even telly adverts could make me sob! Gone was my ability to work hard for many hours, because after an hour or two of concentrating, I was pretty much done for the day. I was also consumed with anxiety because they cut through the part of the brain that controls fear, so even leaving the house involved eating packets of immodium! My memory was shot to pieces and I could no longer multi-task (I had become a man.) I was, actually, useless. And I still am. Brains don’t really heal. They learn new ways of thinking, but the scar never goes, so the electrical messages that control thought, memory, emotions, have to find new, less efficient routes.
So yes, I was useless. Yet God still had a use for me. A friend suggested I wrote a blog, and another friend set one up for me. I began to write for other people, words I had previously scribbled in notebooks for myself. I discovered that I could still communicate, albeit in a different medium. I found that God was still giving me things to say, even if I have to take a break every couple of hours, even if when I try to talk about it my voice goes wobbly and my eyes fill with tears. But do you know what? I find that people cope quite well with the middle aged woman with a red nose and a terrible memory! In fact, some people even prefer her. I also discovered that I write rather well, that the gift of communicating when teaching or preaching, translates rather well to the written word. Strangers buy my books and come back for the next one. Gosh!
I have written four books and am working on the fifth. I haven’t been signed up by a publisher, so I publish each one using my savings from teaching, and when one has paid for itself, I can publish the next one. I could not write a single one without God helping me. Actually, I couldn’t do anything any more without God helping me. Perhaps I never could, but it took brain surgery for me to realise it. And when we know that we are useless, that the only things we can achieve are because that’s what God wants, then it takes some of the stress out of it. If God wants people to read my books, he will show me how to sell them. If he doesn’t, then he will give me something else to do. When you have to depend on God to achieve anything, and yet you manage to achieve things, it makes you love him in a whole new way.
So, why do you write? Actually, why do you do anything?
Do tell us why you write in the comments below. Do you write a diary, or secret poems, or stories for your children? It’s always interesting to hear what inspires other people.
Since I first began writing, I have been contacted by people who have recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour, saying that their experiences are very similar to mine – especially the first few weeks of worry. There seems to still be a lack of easily available information. I have therefore written a short book. It has extracts from my diaries, written at the time, and also all the things I learned during a seven year journey. It is available from Amazon, and I hope will be helpful. The UK link is below:
The book I am currently writing, Clara Oakes, is all about second chances. It builds on my previous book JOANNA. JOANNA was the story of a psychopath, and explores how you would feel if your child was really bad, how a mother would cope if her child did terrible things. I spent a few months researching psychopathy, learning the scientific studies of the condition and listening to family members of diagnosed psychopaths. While I was writing and researching JOANNA, I kept wondering what the spiritual implications were of the condition. Could a psychopath – someone with an underdeveloped frontal lobe, unable to feel love or guilt – know God? Could God use a person with the condition? I know from my own experience that God uses even the most broken person, he does not always heal them. A blind person who becomes a Christian will probably be a blind Christian, and God will use their blindness to reach those who wouldn’t otherwise be reached. So how could God use a psychopath? How could that weakness become a strength when used correctly? A fascinating subject.
JOANNA is available now, from shops and Amazon.
Hidden Faces is available from Amazon and bookshops:
Counting Stars is available as a Kindle book:
Clara Oakes is due to be published Spring 2018.