The Quarter Life Crisis

I find myself, I think, in the throes of a quarter life crisis. The realisation hits in the back of a car, where the two women in front are talking about the rising price of cocaine in the city, the perils of having sex with bartenders on their breaks and whether the mainstreaming of all night warehouse raves has made the whole thing feel a little less authentic somehow.

Oh god, I think, I’m wasting my twenties.

This thought comes at me with force, ignoring the reality that I’m both too much of a suck up and too much of a control freak to do drugs, that I have a wonderful partner, that every time I’ve been to an all night party, I come home exhausted by the effort that everyone is putting in to prove they’re having the best time. That I don’t want these things does absolutely nothing to quiet the clanging certainty in my head. I’m wasting my twenties.

In my hometown, my classmates have been adults for what feels like centuries. They have cars and mortgages, are confidently negotiating their second kids, their second marriages. I think about the money that I pour into the city, carving out a life in my tiny flat, buying lipsticks and dim sum and tickets to drag shows. That this life is glorious and raucous and everything I want also does nothing to quiet the thought. I’m wasting my twenties.

Which is where my other half finds me, gently putting a cup of tea down beside me and enquiring as to why I’m lying on the living room rug. I sigh and tell him that I think I’m having a quarter life crisis. He takes my hand and muses that at 27, it’s probably closer to a third-of-a-life-crisis. This does not help matters.

For Christmas last year, my sister bought me a box of pencils, the words “Get Your Shit Together” emblazoned across them in gold. My sister is one of those extraordinary people whose empathy gives them an air of clairvoyance – she often knows what people need long before they do and gives it to them in small, quiet ways. Lying on the rug, I spot my box of pencils. And I do the only thing I know how to do when my head gets too noisy to make sense of. I sharpen my pencils, light a candle and I write.

I think about this strange new panic that’s enveloping me, impossible to reason with or make sense of because it’s filled with paradox and contradiction. I want to go to illegal warehouse parties but also to put down a deposit on a house, and if I really think about it, I don’t actually want either of those things. I’m seized with the thought that I’m running out of time somehow, but also with what feels like a kind of agoraphobia. I can make my life into anything that I want, go anywhere, be anything, do everything but everything is too many. As a lifetime overachiever, my brain struggles to comprehend the idea that there’s no right answer, no winning choice. I look helplessly around at the choices other people are making with surety and ease, and I have no idea what I want.

And then the epiphany hits, in the same way that almost all epiphanies happen – with a pencil in one hand and a glass of wine halfway to my lips. Like many storytellers, I am at heart a total narcissist, believing my thoughts and feelings to be unique, original. But it suddenly strikes me that like Imposter Syndrome, social anxiety and not understanding the works of Harold Pinter, it’s likely that everyone feels how I am feeling but no one is talking about it.

So here I am. Talking.

I started the Escapologist’s Daughter almost six years ago, with a blog post confessing that having just graduated from university, I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I was terrified as I hit publish, terrified of my own feelings, terrified that everyone else would look at me and feel some kind of baffled pity. I was immediately buried under messages from my fellow graduates, giddy with relief that someone else was feeling the same as they did. We all felt caught between our dizzying new freedom and the ingrained desire for someone to come and tell us what to do, tell us what the next step was.

Six years later, I still don’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to be doing. I still don’t know what the next step is. I hate not knowing things. So here is a collection of things that I know.

I know that not knowing who I am is okay, because I am a glorious, flawed work in progress, building myself piece by piece, erasing and evolving every day.

I know that if you are living with kindness and with joy, you can’t go too far wrong.

I know that neither of these very sensible thoughts will completely silence the panic that I’m missing out on something somehow, and that this is also okay because brains are strange and berating them for being strange helps no one at all.

I know that I’d rather hunker down with a bottle of wine in a pub with sofas than spend all night doing cocaine in a warehouse.

I know that if I was given the chance to trade my frivolous, glittering years in London for the stability of a house and a career path, I wouldn’t make the trade.

I know that lots of people would choose differently and that none of us are right and that all of us are right.

I know that no one ever feels like a real grown up and that no matter how confidently I build my life, I will always contain shades of that twenty one year old graduate, blinking in the sunlight and asking what the hell do I do now?

I know that the increasing unlikeliness of me landing on a thirty before thirty list doesn’t mean that I’ve failed my twenties.

I know that when I inevitably find myself lying on the living room rug again, I’m lucky enough to have people who will bring me tea, buy me pencils, or just lie down beside me and tell me that they understand what I’m going through.

Hey, you. From my living room rug to yours, I understand what you’re going through. Take my hand. We’ll go together.

Preaching to the Choir

There are few sentences that can strike fear into the heart like “I’m not sure if you just said this because you were drunk, but…”

Reader, I enjoy a bit of a tipple. And sometimes, when I have been tippling a little too hard, I do and say things. From eating McNuggets out of my coat pocket on the 73 bus to inexplicably treating a group of my friends to a full rendition of Sweet Transvestite from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s fair to say that I have experienced my share of post-night-out blushes.

Meaning that when my friend uttered the above, I was ever so slightly apprehensive. I braced myself.

“I don’t know if you just said this because you were drunk, but do you remember us deciding to join the office choir after Christmas?”

I did not remember. And I had absolutely, 100% just said it because I was drunk. I burst out laughing, took another sip of my wine.

“Let’s do it.”

Which is how I found myself spending my Tuesday lunchtimes crammed into the hottest room in the world with forty assorted colleagues, trying to read the words to an 80s ballad off a fuzzy projector. And friends, it is an absolute joy.

One of the greatest things I’ve found about being a grown up is that the concept of “cool” starts to lose its grip. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been cool. But when I was younger, the idea still seemed important. As a teen, I didn’t much care about fitting in with the popular crowd, but my purple eyeliner, green converse, one-of-the-lads schtick was just another version of “cool”.

When I started blogging in my early twenties, I was floored every time I realised that while people love quirky, weird little you on the internet, they don’t expect you to actually be like that in real life. I’d go along to events, sure that being cool didn’t matter anymore, only to be devastated when I was met by a wall of glossy-ponytailed sneers.

Jesus. Cold sweats. Anyway, where were we?

Oh yes, choirs. And coolness.

Being in a choir is not cool. It is just not cool. Bless Pitch Perfect and their little acappella hearts for trying but it is not cool. Because at the heart of the thing, almost every variation of cool is about not giving a shit. And being in a choir is inherently, unavoidably earnest. There is no way to appear nonchalant or aloof while singing “Only You”. It is a space entirely free of irony.

At first, this is debilitating. As soon as you enter that room, there is no way to pretend that you’re not keen. The terror that someone will notice that you’re in a choir because you want to be in a choir and not because you just, like, happened to be in this room, so whatever, is overwhelming.

Then an amazing thing happens. Once you realise that there is no point even attempting to appear cool, you’re free to completely lean in the other direction. The pressure goes.

You start to spontaneously click your fingers. Maybe you throw in a little shimmy every now and then. You high five people. You admit that “Only You” is an absolute stone cold banger. This is the least cool thing you’ve ever done, and it delights you. The whole idea of “cool” starts to loosen and rinse away.

We make happiness very complicated sometimes. In our hobbies, in our work, in food, in sex, in exercise, in our choice of books and clothes and words, we carry this bizarre idea that doing something just for the sheer, unadulterated joy of it is frivolous, undignified, maybe even a little embarrassing. We’re frozen with the worry of what other people will think of us. And there’s something blissfully freeing in knowing that people already think you’re ridiculous, so you’ve got nothing to lose by screaming the high notes of “Walking on Sunshine”.

And that, pals, is very cool.

Weeding, Planting, Flourishing

Hello, my darlings. Long time no see. Have you done something different with your hair? It’s really working for you.

Well here we are. 2019. The glitter of New Year’s Eve is behind us and hopefully the hangovers are too. We’re trying to readjust to eating three meals a day, instead of three cheeseboards and a Baileys before noon. We’ve all been reminded of the horrifying truth that keeping a roof over our heads requires us to get up in the middle of the night, wrestle our way onto public transport and deal with the mountain of things that have been piling up since November, when we started to say “Oh, probably not worth starting this until the new year, really”.

MANY FREAKING THANKS FOR THAT ONE, PAST FIONA. Jerk.

We’ve got a brand new year stretching out in front of us and boy, are we ready. We’ve got everything we need: the enticingly blank planner, the sexy new workout gear, the to-be-read list, the vegan cookbook, the enthusiastic list of resolutions. January is a brilliant time for a complete reinvention, apart from that it’s January. It gets dark at 3pm. We’re all still 40% chipolatas and 50% trifle. We have literally no idea what our work email password is. And now, as the glamour of New Year’s Eve fades into last week and the new year descends fully upon us, we are possessed with one single, unifying thought.

Bollocks.

So, in the face of all this adversity, what’s a girl to do? Here’s what I think: instead of putting your existing self in the bin, put the idea that you have to reinvent yourself in there instead. That’s not to say I don’t love a resolution, I do! In fact, I’ve written extensively about my love of the promise that a new year brings. But when we’re making our resolutions, I like to focus on the parts of myself that we want to make bigger, not smaller. We should be looking at the new year, not as an opportunity to chop ourselves back, but as an opportunity to grow. To bloom.

Come with me, lovely readers, as I kick the absolute arse out of this metaphor and tell you all about how I plan to fill the garden of Fiona with endless flowers in 2019.

Does that sound like an innuendo? Whatever, we’re going with it.

Weeding

Hold your horses, before we get excited about floral borders and blossom trees draped in fairy lights, we have to do some ground work. We need to do some personal weeding.

Goddammit, why does everything sound like a euphemism? I’m trying to be profound.

Weeding falls very much into traditional new year’s resolution territory. These are the bad habits, the timewasters, the energy drains that take root and grow out of control. These are the things you want to cut down.

But Fiona, didn’t you just say we weren’t focusing on chopping back? Quite right, dear reader, I did. But we weed because we love our garden, not because we hate it. We weed to make space for the things that make us happy.

Some weeds take up lots of space but are easy enough to dislodge. Spending five hours a day scrolling social media at the expense of things you actually want/need to do, for example. Buying a tray of shots, even though you’re already living in your overdraft. Others take root deeper and are harder to pull up. An alcohol problem. A relationship that makes you feel small. A job that you hate. These are weeds that burrow and spread their roots through your whole life, choking out everything else, starving and wilting everything around you. When we pull them out, we’re probably going to drag up a lot of other stuff too. The garden might look worse than when you started. But weeding out these consuming, destructive parts of your life gives you the space to flourish. And my love, you deserve to flourish. Take your time. Go gently. But go.

Weeding isn’t a reinvention, it’s a tidy up. When weeds grow in a garden, we recognise that the garden still exists underneath. Even when things get really wild and overgrown, the garden is still there, just waiting to be unearthed when you’re ready. We don’t berate a garden for growing weeds, we know it’s impossible to keep a garden perfect forever. It’s a process, a project, just like we are.

All of us have bad habits, annoying tics, vices big and small. That’s okay. We don’t need to be perfect all of the time. We just need to keep gently nudging ourselves in the right direction, tugging up weeds when we can.

And when we can’t? We stick our chins in the air and say that it’s a deliberate wildflower meadow, actually.

Planting

Now that we’ve made all that lovely space, it’s time to start filling it up again. We weed, and then we plant.

Planting resolutions are both the best and the worst kind of resolutions. They are the resolutions that are most likely to change our lives, but they’re also the ones we’re most likely to give up on because sometimes, they take a long, long time to show any results at all. Some planting resolutions are like rhubarb. You half arsedly tend to them and suddenly, you have rhubarb coming out of your eyeballs. Others are like that bamboo that just chills out underground for four years and then grows 30 metres in six weeks.

God, I’m rambling, aren’t I? It’s because my brain is still mostly trifle post-Christmas.

Planting resolutions are the ones that will literally sow the seeds of your future, in big and small ways. Opening a savings account. Washing your damn face every night. Learning a language. Making a friend. Taking a class.

I like to think of these as planting resolutions, because it helps me to be patient. Anyone who knows me, or who has been reading this blog for a while, will know that patience is not one of my strong suits. I want instant results. I want immediate change. I want to be the best at the thing right now, or I’m not interested.

Thinking about these kinds of resolutions in this way helps me to relax. Just because I’m not seeing results right now doesn’t mean that I’m wasting my time. It doesn’t mean they’re not working. Sometimes, they’re just getting themselves together underground, waiting for the right conditions to blossom. When I think about them like this, it gives me faith.

Flourishing

Oh hell yes, now we’re getting to the good stuff. You’ve cleared your space, you’ve put in your planting work, now it’s time to harvest that good stuff.

Flourishing resolutions are the ones that allow you to exploit all that hard work you’ve put in. They’re the ones that dare you to be the best version of yourself, to go out and grab the life that you want. Pick those flowers that last year’s resolutions planted.

Did you give up smoking and put all that money into a savings account? EXCELLENT. Time to book an amazing, life altering holiday.

Did you limit your social media time and take a class in creative writing? Then it’s time to sit yourself down and write that novel you’ve always dreamed of.

Did you move away from your controlling parents and go to therapy? Then maybe you’re ready to invite some new love into your life.

New year’s resolutions tend to inspire feelings of guilt, of absolute drudgery. Too often, they’re based on the idea that whatever you were doing last year, you were doing it wrong. Whatever you were doing, you were doing it too much. Or maybe not enough. But whatever it was, it was definitely wrong. I hate this.

Thinking about resolutions like I do lets me get excited about the prospect of new year. It gives me a brilliant chance to stop for a second and see where I am and where I want to go. My new year’s resolutions give me the chance to purposefully and unabashedly bring as much joy into my life as I can.

Yank out that draining frienemy. Plant those gorgeous career window boxes. Dance under your canopy of inspirational blossom trees. Stretch a metaphor until it snaps and then stretch it some more. Structure a whole entire blog post around it and laugh because this is your life, my love, this is your garden and you can do anything you want to with it.

Long may your garden grow.

What Ten Years Clear Looks Like

It’s just two weeks until this year’s Race for Life, and I’ve decided that we’re raising a thousand pounds this year. We are currently in terrible shape to hit that goal, but we’re going to do it. I can feel it in my bones. I’m sending it into the universe. Manifesting it like a boss.

Donate.

This year is a big one, pals. My amazing, excellent, unstoppable mum celebrates her ten years clear this year. And that deserves £1000. It just does.

Our Race for Life journey has been a long one, spanning seven years so far, and some of you have supported us all the way. I love you, from the very bottom of my heart. But after seven years, I can imagine that you might be feeling a little…what’s the diplomatic phrase…sick of the sight of us.

So! To combat the inevitable Fiona fatigue, I thought this might be a good chance to have a chat about what the heck your money has actually been achieving over the past seven years, other than stroking my ego. And for that, I’m going to get a little help from my glamorous assistant…

It’s my mum! Hooray!

Donate.

Cancer is a thief. It steals our friends, our loved ones, our heroes. But it also steals time. And the money that you have donated over the past seven years is helping families steal back time every single day. Ten years clear sounds good, doesn’t it? Ten whole years pinched back after cancer tried to take them away. Here’s what that really means.

My mum got to see me turn sixteen. And then eighteen. And then twenty one. And then twenty five. And now I’m old, so who really cares what comes next. But thanks to advances in cancer treatment, she got to see me grow from a gangly, awkward teenager into a gangly awkward young woman.

She got to see Sophie turn thirteen. Isn’t that wild? She could have missed those sweet, sweet teenage nightmare years. And then sixteen. And then eighteen. And then twenty one.

Donate.

And just as Sophie turned twenty one, she got to turn fifty. Chaos ensued.

She got to see me graduate. Later this year, she’ll get to see Sophie do the same thing.

She got to marry this old devil, after we’d all given up hope that he’d ever get round to asking.

She got to meet her first grandchild.

She got to see our football team lift the Scottish Cup. I think this might have been as good as the grandchild.

She got to meet the boys who’d make her girls so very, very happy.

She got to see me realise a lifelong dream and write a book. She got to see that book win a competition. She got to see me sign with a literary agent because of that book. And hopefully, someday in the not so distant future, she’ll get to see my book published.

Donate.

She got ten years of Monday mornings, Friday nights, crazy parties, cups of tea, shopping trips, holidays, Facetime catch ups, bickering arguments, raucous laughter, kitchen dance offs, walking her dog, snoozing on the sofa, baking cakes, drinking in the sunshine, watching TV, clock watching in the office, sitting in traffic jams, eating in restaurants. Ten years of living her life that she almost had stolen away from her.

I cannot even begin to tell you what a gift every single day of those ten years has been. The big ones, the little ones and everything in between. Every single day has been a priceless, indescribable privilege. I race for life because I have a debt that I can never even begin to pay back. All I can do is try to pay it forward.

Donate.

Sister Act VII

There are some sights that just can’t help but put springtime on your mind. Buds aching with blossom, lambs frolicking in the sunshine, Fiona in bright pink warpaint.

*record scratch*

Well, would you look at that! That’s right folks, the other signs of springtime may be lagging behind but the Sister Act Race for Life team are right on schedule, ready to kick cancer’s ass and clog up your Facebook feeds until you give us some money.

Donate here.

This will be our team’s seventh Race for Life season, and it’s going to be a big one. If you’ve been here through all seven years, you might want to go stick the kettle on and catch us in a couple of paragraphs. If you’re joining us for the first time, welcome to the party! Grab a french martini and settle yourself down on the cushions with us. Come on, scootch in closer, we’re all friends here. Alright, good. As always, our story starts with this cracker:

When I was fifteen and my sister Sophie was just eleven, our mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer. This was, and remains, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to live through. Anyone who knows Sophie or me will know that our mum is the biggest and most important person in our lives. From her top notch dancing skills to her fondness for needlessly extravagant party organisation and her ever excellent advice, the loss of our mum would have left a hole in both of us that nothing could ever fill. And the world would have been deprived of the greatest strawberry daiquiri mixologist it has ever produced.

Luckily for all of us, my mum beat cancer with great style and aplomb and now spends her time cruising around the Caribbean, applauding in the cinema at Zac Efron movies and forgetting to buy her daughters birthday cakes. Truly, she is the greatest.

And in fact (if you checked out of the story because you’ve heard it seven times and it’s boring the arse off you at this point, now is the time to check back in), even though we run the Race in her honour every year, she is one of the reasons that this year’s race will be so special.

*pause for dramatic effect*

This year, my mum will be celebrating TEN. YEARS. CLEAR. How good is that? Ten whole years. Make no mistake, this is happening because of organisations like Cancer Research and I plan to celebrate by raising a great, huge chunk of cash for them.

Donate here.

An artist’s impression of me arriving at Cancer Research HQ:

There is another reason that this year’s Race for Life will be a special one, and it’s a reason I wish we didn’t have.

Every year, our team has grown bigger as Sophie and I rope in more and more family members. But as I was looking back through my old Race for Life stuff, I noticed that something else gets bigger every year too.

Every year, we have more people on our back signs.

Every year, we have more people to race for, who are fighting cancer, or who cancer has taken from us. And this year, we are making an addition that has broken all of our hearts.

This year, we lost a grandparent. Liam, my stepmum’s dad, my baby sister’s popsie, passed away in October. My words aren’t enough to tell you what a loss this was for us, what warmth and joy and sweetness he brought to all of our lives.

We’ve had so many moments of joy in the seven years that the Sister Act team has existed, but cancer keeps taking people from us. We’re not going to stop until cancer does.

Join our fight. Donate.

Four More Years

This week, so quietly that I didn’t notice until it was almost over, an anniversary slipped by. The 31st of January this year marks four years since I opened my computer, set up a website and started typing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here, but that wasn’t really deliberate. Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen a lot of bloggers fall out of love with blogging, become disillusioned with the whole thing, taking “digital detoxes” that stretch on and on until their sites quietly disappear. That’s not what happened with me. Maybe it’d be a better story if it had. But the truth is much less dramatic. I was focusing elsewhere, working away on other things.

I signed with a literary agent last year. I expect if you’re here, you already know that. We spent the better part of last year working together on my first book. We sliced enormous swathes from it, polished other parts until they gleamed. She showed me how to be ruthless with my edits, gently rebuking me, “Fiona, this is you trying to show how clever you are. That’s not what’s important.”

And I learned to laugh as I snipped away at the manuscript, because she was right.

She unearthed the gems of the story too, showed me how to weigh them in my fingertips, how to hold them up to the light. Four full months after we began working on the book, we were finished. It was transformed, immeasurably better than what we had started with. I had worked so hard and it had paid off. We’d spun straw into gold.

No one wanted to publish the book. That’s sort of the thing with writing, I guess. You have to start fully in the knowledge that no one might ever read it, and you have to pour your whole heart into it anyway. And that is the scariest thing. But also, eventually, it’s a comfort. Publishing is the goal, of course it is. I’d be lying to myself if I said that it wasn’t. But it’s not the purpose. Becoming a writer seems to be learning that lesson over and over, the gradual teasing apart of process and outcome until every pinprick rejection hurts a little less. That the book might never sit on a stranger’s bookshelf doesn’t make me less proud of it. It might not have hit that elusive goal, but that doesn’t make it a failure. In fact, it is my most resounding success. To work hard on something, to put a whole piece of myself into it, to produce something that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is good, that’s the success. That was the purpose.

This month, we start work on the next book. We dust off our scratched knees and we try again, because writing is in me, rooted deep within my heart. I can’t help it. I write, words upon words tumbling out of me always, even when no one else sees them.

Which brings me back, in a clumsy sort of way, to the Escapologist’s Daughter. My beloved little corner of the internet. I’d apologise for the tangent, for the tangled story, the strange way I’ve gotten us here but four years in, my darlings, I suspect you’re well used to that by now.

I’ve never fallen out of love with my little website. Four years after my first post, I’m still as fond of her as ever. And I think that’s because, just like with my books, it’s all about the process. For a while, at the very beginning, I tried to become A Blogger. I was sent makeup and moisturisers and tongue scrapers, and dutifully wrote about them. I learned about SEO. I tried every single week to force myself into a blogging schedule, to schedule my tweets on the bus to my office job. I attended blogger meetups in swanky bars and dealt with the fallout when glossy, gorgeous bloggers realised that the quirky oddball that shone through my writing was actually just who I was.

When you read those years back, you can hear my voice straining, cracking under the pressure of trying to become something. When really, me and my blog, we didn’t have to become anything. We just had to be. This website, just like my novels, just like my endless, countless pages of scribblings in notepads, it’s mine. It’s only mine. I can write about travel and mental health and Harry Potter. I can write poems about sexual assault and instructions for election day and post photographs of me wearing outrageous lipstick. I can be a thousand things, noisily celebrating my multitudes and thumbing my nose at the idea of having a niche. I can use a thousand commas per post and mix my metaphors and write sentences so twisted, so meandering and complicated that sometimes, you have to pause and think, wait, where did this thought start out? I can post on Mondays, or on Saturdays, or Wednesdays. I can post three articles in a week. I can leave it untouched for six months, knowing that when I’m ready to come back, it will be there waiting for me. I can do this because this space, this writing, it’s mine, and I built it brick by brick for me.

Despite all of this, maybe because of all this, the blog and I, we’ve grown. You are here – hello! Somehow, inexplicably, despite my ramblings and my breaks and my self indulgent sentences, you allow me and my words into your lazy Sunday evenings, your Tuesday morning commutes, your lunch break. And that, to me, is the basest form of magic.

I’ve gone on far too long, god, aren’t these things always too long? But before you go, I’d like to share one more story, one more tangent about these four years.

I turned twenty six this year, and a funny thing happened. Every single person I saw on my birthday nudged me knowingly and said with a smile “Nearly thirty now, eh?”

As you may have noticed, I don’t really buy into the idea that your life is supposed to look a certain way, or follow a certain path. But even so, it’s hard not to see thirty as a deadline. With all the will in the world, I haven’t quite succeeded in drowning out the significance of thirty as a milestone. After all, if I don’t make a thirty before thirty list, what’s the point in continuing?

I am, of course, exaggerating for dramatic effect, but there’s no denying that the idea of hitting a whole new decade, of leaving my twenties, is going to force me to stop and take a look at my life. And since turning twenty six, that milestone feels like it’s coming at me faster and faster. Four years, after all, isn’t that much time. How much can I really do in four years?

And then I look at the little blog. The little blog that started as a ramble, as a way to deal with feelings I couldn’t even acknowledge I was having. That started out with 3 pageviews a day, all of which were my dad. Four years ago, I had never been paid for a piece of writing. I had never written a formal pitch. I had never spoken in front of an audience of strangers or marched in a protest or been on TV. I had never finished a piece of writing longer than a couple of thousand words. Me and the little blog, we’ve come a very long way in just four years. And I love you for coming along with us. Who knows what the next four might have in store.

Fiona, Seriously


Here are some things that I am going to do.

I am going to start putting my phone down at nine o’clock, because holding my Twitter feed three inches from my face while I’m allegedly trying to sleep is decidedly not awesome.

I’m going to toss that dried up, miserable packet of baby wipes that sits on my bedside table. At night I’m going to take off my makeup with creamy cleanser and a hot cloth and breathe a long sigh as I feel the day slide from my face. I’m going to floss my damn teeth.

I’m going to get into bed and light my l’Occitane candle and delight in the fact that it is my most frivolous and favourite indulgence. I’m going to ask the boy how his day was and I’m going to actually listen when he answers. I’m going to read and write and stretch, even if it’s only wiggling my fingers.

I’m going to dust my bedside tables and deal with the piles of things that mysteriously accrue around me. I’m going to do my dishes and buy fresh flowers, because I deserve to live somewhere beautiful.

I’m going to stop pouring £20 a week into mediocre supermarket sandwiches and revive my budget spreadsheet, because clawing my way to the end of the month like Leonardo DiCaprio in the freaking Revenant just isn’t cute any more.

I’ve written a little before about the fear of taking myself seriously. Isn’t it scary, to admit that we want things, or worse, that we think we deserve things? It’s so much easier to be the quirky, ditzy, ever-so-relatable girl, than to try and become a woman to be reckoned with.

I’ve always been a bit of a calamity. Recently, I was listening to a serial killer podcast on a bus, when a woman’s elbow became entangled in my hood, yanking my coat back into my throat. I naturally assumed that Ted Bundy had risen from the grave to murder me on a central London bus. Upon sharing this story with my friend, she laughed and shook her head.

“Why does this stuff always happen to you, Fiona?” she asked.

Reader, I don’t know why this stuff always happens to me. But it does. I am unlucky in deeply unlikely but often hilarious ways. I’m the clumsiest person that I know. I snort when I laugh and have absolutely zero control over my limbs or my hair. I’m a relentless overenthusiast. I’m never going to be described as stoic or graceful or even particularly composed. None of that gives me an excuse for being a perpetual teenager. Just because I’m not serious, doesn’t mean I’m not serious, y’know?

But being serious sounds like the worst, doesn’t it? Serious women are unlikable. They’re high maintenance. They’re uptight. So we go the other way, leaning gleefully into the “hot mess” archetype that has sprung up around us. We brag on Twitter about having 17p in our bank accounts, or eating pizza for breakfast four days in a row, or showing up to work hungover for the third time this month. We watch films and TV shows where women buy clothes instead of paying their rent and show up late for everything and don’t know how to turn their ovens on. I think sometimes we make bad decisions and justify them to ourselves in the name of “self care”. And while I’m a big fan of taking joy wherever you can, this kind of stuff isn’t working for me any more. At the age of twenty six, it just isn’t cute anymore. Sometimes self care means getting off your ass and getting your shit together.

I have no intention of becoming high maintenance or uptight. I have no intention of aiming for perfection because…well, where’s the fun in that? But I also can’t justify treating myself like garbage and then expecting other people to take me seriously. So I’m getting out of my own way. I’m taking a little responsibility for my life. I’m daring to see myself as a woman who deserves better than the bare minimum. I’m going to make a real effort to live with purpose, with determination and with as much grace as a calamity like me can reasonably aim for.

The Story of a Story

The door was green, was the thing. Rockpool green. Christmas tree green. Proper fairytale green. The kind of green door that you could definitely imagine a dream come true waiting behind.

Her name was Sophie, was the thing. Like my sister. It made me feel a little like I had my Sophie there with me. Could feel her squeezing my hand, see her rolling her eyes, hear her telling me to stop fannying about on a cold doorstep and just knock on the green door already. She’s always made me brave, my Sophie.

In September, I wrote a post about admitting that you want things and having the courage to really back yourself and go after them. Lots of people reached out with lovely comments. One of them was Julia Silk. Julia is a literary agent. She had seen that I had written a book and wondered if I was still looking for representation. I was.

I sent her over my manuscript straight away. She came back quickly to say that she loved the book but as it was a YA, she didn’t think she was the best person to represent it. I was a little sad…I mean, what a story, right? Getting an agent directly because of a post about asking for what you want. The stuff of fairytales.

(Like that door. Don’t worry, we’re getting there.)

Julia and I stayed in touch on Twitter and chatted often. In December, she retweeted a tweet about a writing competition into my timeline. The deadline was that night. I almost didn’t enter, you know. There was an entry fee and after a year of pretty brutal rejection emails, I’d started to think that maybe this book I’d written just wasn’t the one. In the end, I decided I had nothing to lose.

At the beginning of December, I found out my book had been longlisted. From 715 down to 26.

At the turn of the new year, I found out I had been shortlisted. From 715 down to 5.

At the end of January, Gareth Osborne was announced as the winner. You can and absolutely should read his amazing opening chapter here. I wasn’t too disappointed about not winning. It was incredible just to see my name and my photograph on the site, to know that kids had read my book and they’d loved it.

The day after the shortlist was announced I got an email from an agent, congratulating me on being shortlisted. Her name was Sophie, was the thing. It turned out that she worked at the same agency as Julia and Julia had passed my first chapters to her. She wondered if I’d like to come in for a cup of tea and a chat.

I painted my nails soft eggshell grey, because I always feel more together when my nails are done. I stood in front of my colleagues at work, squinting at my outfit and asking “Does this make me look like a creative young professional?”

They assured me that it did.

And this was how I ended up standing on the doorstep of that lovely green door. I’m not sure what I expected a literary agent to be like, but I was terrified. I had built the publishing world up in my head to be an army of stern headteachers, wagging their fingers and tutting at my book. But of course it’s not like that. Of course, like everything else important in this world, it’s run by women with twinkly eyes and firm handshakes, who laugh loudly and often, who have shelves and shelves and shelves of books. Women like Sophie. I went in expecting a job interview. I got a conversation instead. I’m not sure I paused for breath for the entire time I was in her office. Her excitement about my work made me excited and I talked quickly, waved my hands around wildly, cracked a thousand terrible jokes.

She wanted to read the rest of the book.

I sent it over and tried, unsuccessfully, not to refresh my email every five minutes looking for a response. I’ve had lots of agents request my full manuscript, was the thing, and thus far, none of them had decided to take it on in the end. I went for breakfast with Julia, who assured me that Sophie had been incredibly excited after our first meeting.

I’d been so excited too. But she could still hate the book.

At the end of last week, I got an email from Sophie to say that she’d be reading the book and getting back in touch this week.

I took a few photos that would go nicely with an announcement blog post. Just in case.

On Sunday, I put a tiny bottle of prosecco in the fridge. Just in case.

On Monday, I opened this blog post and wrote the first sentence. Just in case. Then, I slammed my laptop closed, sure I’d have jinxed it.

On Tuesday, I spent two hours on my hands and knees fixing a toilet. I hoped that the email would come. What a story, right? It didn’t.

When the email finally came, it came on International Women’s Day, because of course it did. I was on my way to a drag show, because of course I was. I was wearing lots of purple lipstick and the biggest earrings in the world and I was drinking terrible wine out of a plastic pint glass. Because of course I was.

I signed with Sophie Gorell Barnes of MBA Literary Agents at 5pm today. What a story, right?

What You Deserve

This week, apropos of nothing, I started to make a list on Twitter of things that, in my opinion, make life worth living. The list ranged from ducklings to lipstick to that moment when someone unexpectedly understands a really obscure reference you’ve just made. People started to join in and before long, my notifications were filling up with tiny little pleasures and moments of everyday gratitude.

Things are so difficult for so many people right now and I have very little time for those who insist that we should all just be a bit more positive. Positivity doesn’t help the women who can’t access domestic violence refuges or our Muslim friends who are being harassed and intimidated or the people who are denied the healthcare they need. When “being positive” means refusing to acknowledge that things are hard, it stops being helpful and actually becomes oppressive and harmful.

But. The flipside of this is also true. Just because things are difficult and the world seems to be falling apart, you don’t have to stop enjoying things. In fact, I think that when the world is collectively struggling, it’s more important than ever to take as much joy as you can wherever you can find it. We will all be fighting the good fight for a long time and honestly, it seems likely that things are going to get worse before they get better. Which means we need to keep ourselves strong. We need to remember to feed our souls as well as our rage, to keep our warmth as well stoked as our heat. So without further ado and with no more half baked philosophising, here are some little joys that you (yes, you, reading this right now) deserve to have in your life.

  1. You deserve to put your pyjamas on the radiator in the evening so that they’re all toasty and lovely when you put them on. There is no reason in the world for you not to do this every single night.
  2. You deserve to wash out old jars and fill them with tealights. You are a magical princess (this is very not dependent on your gender, people of all genders are magical princesses) and deserve a grotto of beautiful light to live in.
  3. You deserve to own a really sharp can opener and a really sharp vegetable peeler. This is a very boring thing that will improve your life immeasurably.
  4. When you get into bed, you deserve to take hold of your duvet by the corners and whip it upwards, letting it slowly settle back down onto your body. This is the best feeling in the whole world. Double points if you can get someone else to do it for you.
  5. You deserve to cook yourself really brilliant food. I am the queen of eating cereal for dinner when the boy is away because it seems silly and frivolous to cook a proper meal just for me. It is, in fact, neither silly nor frivolous. You deserve to eat food that makes you feel brilliant. Whenever you can, invest that time in yourself and cook yourself up something amazing.
  6. You deserve the biggest, softest towels you can get your hands on. You should probably also put these on the radiator when you get in the shower for the toastiness reasons outlined in point 1.
  7. You deserve to sit in front of a crackling real fire at every available opportunity.
  8. You deserve a few quiet moments every day to have a cup of tea (or whatever you fancy) and just breathe.
  9. In addition, you deserve to drink from a beautiful china teacup, or a gaudy patterned teapot, or an enormous tankard, or a champagne flute, or anything else that brings you joy.
  10. You deserve cream on your hot chocolate.
  11. You deserve to stomp on really crunchy leaves.
  12. You deserve to pet that dog over there.
  13. You deserve to laugh, to proper belly laugh until your sides hurt and tears are streaming down your face, regardless of whether or not anyone else found the thing funny.
  14. You deserve to light a beautiful candle by your bedside and read until you fall asleep.
  15. You deserve to stand outside on bitter cold nights and look up at the stars.
  16. You deserve fresh flowers.
  17. You deserve to stand still and watch the sunset, from the moment the sky starts to turn pink until the very last embers of light dip beneath the horizon and know that no matter who you are, how successful you are, how much money you have, it will always be this beautiful.
  18. You deserve cheese and onion crisps in your sandwich.
  19. You deserve sandwiches cut into triangles.
  20. You deserve a hot water bottle under your feet.
  21. You deserve a really good stretch in the morning. I’m not suggesting you get up and do sunrise yoga every morning because, seriously, not for everyone. And by everyone, I mean me. But you deserve a proper, joyous stretch from your toes all the way to the ends of your fingertips.
  22. You deserve to eat really delicious cake with a fork and pretend that you’re fancy.
  23. You deserve scalding hot showers with incredible smelling soap.
  24. You deserve soft, clean socks.
  25. You deserve joy.

Three’s A Charm

Well folks, today is a bit of a special occasion. The Escapologist’s Daughter is three years old today.

Three years ago, I sat at my computer and typed out my biggest secret for the whole world to see: that I had no idea who I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to be doing. The past three years have been a fantastic and often frustrating adventure as I continue to find that out.

In the past three years, I have done things I never thought possible. I have stood up against injustice. I have had my arse featured in the Daily Mail and lived to tell the tale. I have written a book. I have watched my little voice grow from a whisper into a roar.

Now, a lot of the time, I’m still not totally sure what I’m roaring about. It’s a learning process, you guys. And inevitably, that sometimes means that I roar something only to come back five hours later and roar “I AM SORRY ABOUT THAT. I WAS HUNGRY AND CONFUSED.” like the Honey Monster. I’m still not entirely sure who I’m supposed to be. But I’m sure that what I’m supposed to be doing is telling stories.

I guess I’ve always been telling stories. As a kid, this manifested in scribbled pamphlets all over the house, long suffering parents watching another four hour play and the occasional whopper of a lie. I once fell in the swimming baths and cut an enormous great gash in my back. I told my entire class that I had been caught up in a car explosion. I was the most talked about person in the school for weeks. Everyone was so impressed.

I have gotten distracted. That tends to happen. But if you’ve been around this long, I’m sure you’ve noticed that.

What I’m trying to say is that I never stopped telling stories. This entire blog is a story. This is my story. My life is virtually unrecognisable to what it was three years ago and that is largely because of this little blog. This blog has made me brave, given me the courage to do things and ask for things I never would have dreamed of before. You, every one of you, have made me brave. I hope that whatever my future holds, I can continue to tell you stories. And I hope that sometimes, those stories feel like a hand taking yours. Because my darling, you are not alone. If you don’t know who you are, you are not alone. If you feel like everyone else is doing better than you, you are not alone. If you are wondering when adulthood hits and everything sorts itself out, you are not alone. This blog has seen some of my absolute lows as well as many of my absolute highs. I created it to chart the stories and the scars as much as to flaunt the pretty things. This life is a funny old mixed bag. It really is. But I promise you, you can do it. You just need to figure out your story.

Thank you for hanging out with me, for seeing yourselves in me, for letting me be a part of your life. The thought of someone reading these words standing at their kitchen counter with a glass of wine, in bed on a Sunday morning, on a rainy commute…that’s what it’s all about. There really isn’t anything better than that. Thank you for being a part of my story and for letting me be a part of yours. I love you to the moon and back.