“I Want You To Leave My House”

Update: I have received some truly vile comments on here, deliberately designed to be as hurtful and spiteful as possible. I’m appalled that people, particularly other authors, could make such nasty comments, many of them false, the others cruel and irrelevant. A journalist friend on Mastodon advised me that I was under no obligation to amplify their spew, so I have set them back to Pending and lock comments. I reserve the right to escalate this if needed. Disagreement and opposition is one thing, but vile abuse I shouldn’t tolerate, and neither should anyone.

Last night I had a dream where a very long-time-ago boyfriend appeared to occupy my life and home. Not only that, he was inviting his long-time ex-girlfriend, whom he had idolised at length in front of me, to come to the house as well. In the dream, I said to him, “I don’t want her coming here again.” He was mocking and dismissive of my purported jealousy, as he had been in real life. With some heat, I told him, “If she comes here again, you’ll have to leave my house in a month’s time.” And then as if something had dawned on me, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Actually I want you to leave my house now.” And I felt the freedom of being able to just…say that. Saying the words. I want you to leave my house.

Then I woke up.

Yesterday there was a storm on what currently remains on Twitter about an ill-judged article by Róisín Ingle in the Irish Times about the abuse perpetrated against boys in Blackrock College. The tone was unfortunate as it appeared to show satisfaction that such practices had taken place since the boys in that school were mean to the girls in Ingle’s. While the article was probably not as maliciously intended as it sounded, what really hurt and rankled were the other Irish Times journalists circling the wagons and closing ranks, defending the indefensible. As the noise of outrage grew louder, Ingle continued blithely tweeting away about various topics such as human rights in Qatar and Iran and a similar brewing scandal in Castleknock. But not a word about the blizzard of dung she had just placed next to an opportune fan.

Survivors’ families were triggered by the article. I too was triggered, in a different way – by the doubling down and the silence.

It reminded me of Kate Fitzgerald. Of White Feathers being trashed and no apology made. Of being left off the Romantic Novel of the Year shortlist when it was being reported in the Times – by the same reviewer who had trashed it. Of the Irish Times journalist and author who loved World War One and school stories but quite obviously and painfully failed to mention my work at all, in spite of having the same publisher. Of the transphobia that was so offensive and that hurt my trans colleagues so much that a boycott was initiated against the Irish Times. Of the fascism. Of the male editor of the literary section putting me on blast on his TL to call me a half-baked conspiracy theorist because I’d made a jocular comment about John Boyne – and about all the feminist, right-on authors joining in to “like” it. Of the fact that the person who trashed my novel then published her own many years later and on a podcast interview admitted that she’d been writing a novel on similar themes to mine in 2014 but that it had been rejected, without mentioning me at all. Of the names I had been called for sticking to my guns against the Irish Times / literary hive:

“Egregious”

“Moany hole”

“Banner-waving narcissist”

“A litany of bitterness”

“Half-baked conspiracy theorist”

“Unprofessional”

“Triggering”

“Consumed with envy”

“Disgusting”

“No decency at all”

“Nasty little tweet”

“Can’t get a publisher”

“work does not meet the standard for the Arts Council panel” (they invited me to submit to the bloody panel in the first place!)

And then I thought: but why does this still persist? Why is it still fresh? Any other disaster in my life has – eventually, slowly – faded into sepia-toned history. The man in my dream was not someone who had crossed my mind in quite some time. That rejection faded. But this has not. If I am the one at fault for failing to move on, how come I have demonstrably moved on (eventually) from other difficult events? How come I can hold down a reasonably demanding job and maintain a personal life, but that this floors me and re-triggers me every time? Is it possible that it isn’t entirely me? Or that the combination of me and them is what keeps the lighter fluid sparking the tinder? Is it that they need narcissistic supply?

I think I know why. I think it’s the silence, and how it never really ends. I think it’s the unwritten rule that you are supposed to take your lumps and never complain – and that the unwritten rule was non-written by the people who give you the goddamn lumps. That my career was sabotaged in broad daylight out of pure jealousy and nobody talks about it. I’ve had to put up with it and my writing career, for that and other reasons, has been a bumpy one. And when Roisin Ingle, who has never done or intended me any harm, and probably was just having a bad day, writes an ill-judged article in a harmful newspaper and then goes “la la la, you’re not there, you don’t count”, it reminds me of all the other moments of erasure. The same arrogance, the same carelessness with feelings. And I am triggered.

But that’s not all of it.

I’ve been working on a novel and I’m on draft 3. It’s a good one. I’ve got a publisher interested. But it’s hard work and I was having trouble motivating myself. I was trying to use the Cal Newport maxim “So Good they Can’t Ignore You” – I was writing short stories that were politically on the nose yet hopeful, trying to effect social change while not being too Duchess-in-Alice-in-Wonderland. The acknowledgements from that I could use as emotional leverage to work on my book. I was writing my best work. I even got one shortlisted for a major competition in 2021 – and then one of my tormentors started bitching to one of the judges about how outrageous my online behaviour was (I’d blocked her) and hey presto out of 6 I failed to make the final 3.

I was philosophical about that, not wanting to jump to conclusions (I still don’t), but then just yesterday I managed to get one shortlisted for another competition. I was very proud of my story and its trans-affirming sentiments, and a shortlisting was better than nothing – but then I discovered that one of the winners was one of my most vicious adversaries, someone who had shamed me with the most hurtful language. She was the one who called me “egregious”. The insult had rung in my ears so much that I had Lilian, the bereaved mother in Lucia’s War, claim it as an insult made against her by unhelpful institutions while she tried to achieve justice for her son.

Were I in a more resilient frame of mind, I could have disregarded this as the luck of the draw, as I know that the organisers are honourable and decent people – but from where I was, it was painful. That somebody who had hurt me and also hurt others, who had once embraced TERF sentiments – that she should win and I fail to, well, that suddenly gained a significance it would never normally accrue were I in my right mind. That and the Roisin Ingle debacle and a medication imbalance and eight years of a steady stream of bullshit and silence – it was just too much. I felt buried, depleted, exhausted, entirely conquered. I felt like Salieri when he burnt the crucifix in Amadeus, that God had never intended me to take this path.

“So good they can’t ignore you” had not worked. Perhaps it was a stupid strategy anyway, but I had this need to look good beside a jury of my peers. I wanted to embarrass these influencers who had cold-shouldered me – embarrass them into forceful acknowledgement of my existence and my pain. I did not want to allow them to perpetuate my erasure. What more effective way than through my writing?

But that way has been blocked. “So good they can’t ignore you” only means they ignore you harder, it seems. One can say, why try and gain their attention in the first place? They are not your target market. That too is true. But now that my own narcissistic supply of publication and approval has been unceremoniously jerked away, I need to find some sort of way of finishing this goddamn book.

I think I know a way. It’s just discipline. Unceremonious, unexciting, unstimulating, uninspiring plain bread-and-water discipline. Treating it like a job to do. Putting in workmanlike words, because they’re better than no words at all. Creating what Agile team methodology called Minimal Viable Product. Because when morale is low, wanting pleasure or joy is too much. They’ve taken that away, for now. But I know from past experience that if you can let discipline carry you, it will catch up again. So I’ll just put in the words and the time, without high expectations.

And as for why this particular saga continues to haunt me? Why don’t I go to therapy and shut up about it? Well a few months after White Feathers was launched, I did consult a therapist. She read The Review and I told her all the surrounding, ambient crap that had amounted to being left off the list for the Romantic Novel shortlisting. The back and forth nonsense I had been through. And she was bewildered. “I don’t know what’s going on,” she said, “It’s a perfectly good book.” I’d brought a copy with me but not only had she already bought and read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it – she’d considered recommending it to her book club, only deciding not to in the end due to patient confidentiality.

It was another useful affirmation that the problem might not necessarily be me 🙂

In the end, I can only say that I don’t know how long this will hang over me. I don’t know if I will always be re-traumatised (and it is a trauma, I’m saying this as someone who had major surgery and lost 40 per cent of my blood supply, therefore being on the brink of death, and that was less distressing) or if one day this will leave my system for good. But I know I want this to end. I want to succeed and not have these people block my way, thrive at my expense, and think I can be just written off as someone without power or consequence – an easy mark.

I want you to leave my house.

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