Is there an elephant in the room?

Or, why are you using Emily Eleanor, when your name is Maddie?

I will do a video at some point, but until then, please accept this post as an explanation.

When I wrote One Last Hundred Chances, I used Emily Eleanor as a pen name. This was to protect the people brave enough to put their deepest worries down in writing. While the stories were shared with their consent; I wanted to put as much distance as possible between me participating in forums and the book.

For people to share the one thing they wish they’d seen as the red flag it was, they needed to be supported and assured of confidentiality, which they’ve all received. We’re three years away from the publication of the book. I’ve also closed the specific account I was using on the Facebook and Reddit et al. No traces appear online that could be linked back to me OR the people who originally commented on the posts.

EE Grant has remained because Emily Eleanor are the middle names of my Grandmothers. I honour them every time I use it, I remember them long after they died because of it.

Vale Dame AS Byatt

This morning, I woke to the news that Dame Antonia Susan Duffy DBE HonFBA, had passed away at 87. Until I’d finished this blog post, I hadn’t realised that she shaped me in a way that almost no other person has.

For a while in a previous life, I worked in a bookshop. Equal parts both bliss and fatal. I ran the children’s department after cashing up in the morning from the trading the day before. Unusually, we had two branches of the same chain in the city. One was a considerably larger shop in a shopping centre/mall that had more room for authors to do large signings in. I once saw the back of Terry Pratchett’s head.

The shop I worked in was in an old building; double-fronted, with floor-to-ceiling windows. One of which I once nearly fell out of when Colin Firth walked in on a visit to his parents, who lived in Winchester. It was nearly Christmas 2003 when Love Actually was out. We had floor-to-ceiling posters advertising the tie-in materials all over the shop. I may or may not have photocopied his till receipt with his signature on. We hosted smaller signing sessions; Isabelle Allende, Santa Montefiore and her husband, Simon Sebag Montefiore. His mother, Phyllis was regular and a hoot. She was a very proud parent, moving both Santa and Simon’s books to the front of the store every time she came in.

By the way, we also had a fantastic Oxfam second-hand bookshop in the town. I’d regularly visit, both to drop books off and to peruse their stock. After wondering around for a bit on one visit, I found a book I’d not read in ages. I brought it, opened it on the bus on the way home and found my name in it.

In early 2004, the company sponsored the Art and Mind festival in Winchester. We all took it turns to run whatever pop-up shop we needed to be at, dragging and pushing a trolley up and down kerbs. On one Saturday morning, after cashing up, I toddled up to the theatre for the back-end of Antony Gormley’s talk. That same evening, after working all afternoon, I went to a cafe for AS Byatt’s talk. I had never read any of her work, but I was being paid overtime to go. I chose it as it was smaller venue, and the event after hers didn’t include selling books. When she was done talking, I was done for the day. (Finding the program online for this; why the frick I didn’t volunteer for Brian Eno, I have no idea. This event was after Christmas Eve debacle of changing the entire shop to Boxing Day before we could go home; but before the brouhaha when Order of the Phoenix came out. I was on shift for 18 hours, had a complete sense of humour failure about the whole thing and changed jobs shortly afterwards).

Anyhoo, Antony Gormley was fabulous; answering every question about his work, and didn’t leave until after everyone had the chance to talk with him. The Angel of the North hadn’t long been in situ, my Australian/USA readers, if you’re ever in the UK, it is stunning. However, Domain Field was what he was talking about. A few years later, I was given tickets to the last weekend of Blind Light, which was one of the most disconcerting experiences of my life; but that is for another blog, for another day as I’ve gone off on enough tangents as it is.

Antonia walked in with her husband, Peter Duffy; she’d kept her previous married name to write under. Peter sat off to the side and watched her proudly as she held the room in the palm of her hand. The time flew by, I’d gone because I’d had to. I’d gone as I was being paid to sit there. Instead, I listened. She talked about how writing the perfect sentence was elusive and entirely what she sought to do each day. She thought she might have written one, once.

I see her now, practically being shoved out the door by Peter, so they didn’t miss their train, while still trying to finish her point over her shoulder. She had been gracious with her time too, and opened my eyes to what I’d been missing. Up until this point, while I’d read voraciously all my life, I’d ignored literary fiction. Other than the Classics, I avoided it.

To me, Booker Prize winner meant ‘hard work’, I didn’t want to chew through books, I wanted to fly through them. After hearing Antonia talk, I stood in front of the shelves and chose the least daunting cover of her books. I didn’t read any of the blurbs on the back of any of them to choose a story. I couldn’t, as there were no synopsis printed on them. Publishers, being told how wonderful a book is, while giving me no idea about what it’s about seriously gives me the irrits.

Consequently I went in to Possession completely cold. I read it over the course of a week, turned it around and read it again. I re-read it at least once a year, and not one person that I’ve recommended it to has ever not liked it. Which is really just as well, because if you didn’t like it, 1. I would think you’re crazy and 2. would have to reassess my opinion of you.

I am so jealous of people who have not read the book, because the world she created is stunning and it is waiting in front of you. The characters central to the book are on a collision course across time; it all starts by the chance finding of a draft of a letter, folded into a book. Two Victorian poets, Christabel LaMott and Randolph Henry Ash, who had lived relatively small, quiet lives; although his success was greater than hers (natch), are now subjected to scholars pouring over their every written word. Items of correspondence, even their families and friends’ letters and household diaries; every time pen was put to paper it is examined in detail, on both sides of the Atlantic. From the dusty shelves of a British library, where it costs you to photocopy a page; to the unlimited resources of American backers and a portable photocopier in a suitcase. That unfinished letter unfolds a mystery that had hidden in plain sight. All the scholars around the world who’d spent their academic careers pouring over every word? Everyone had missed it and everyone misunderstood.

I will be forever grateful for that time spent in her company. That one evening listening to AS Byatt talk changed my reading career. Twenty-three years ago, she gave me a gift that has been paid forward a hundred times over. I cherish that she gave me permission to try. Since then, I’ve never looked back from hard books, books that challenge me, books that make me feel deeply.

Fade In

You may have seen my Instagram post yesterday about me adapting my novel One Last Hundred Chances to a screenplay. I’m working on it very early each morning, or very late each night, sometimes both.

I’m in a coaching program at the moment, we were asked to choose a project for a 30-day project sprint. Every time I asked myself what I needed to do for the project, I came up with the same answer. I had to adapt the book. There was no way around, or about, it. I had to go through it, one scene at a time.

I’m not going to lie, holding the stories in my head the first time was hard. I was worried if I’d be strong enough to do it all again, intimate partner violence isn’t the most light-hearted of things to articulate. But, I kept coming back to the people that shared their stories, the reason why they shared their red flags with me in the first place.

“I want people to see what I should have seen happening.”

The book was for Erika, who’d have been cross if I didn’t finish the book, but the adapted screenplay is for the survivors. I don’t know what will happen to it, my aim at the end of the project sprint is to simply to share with people I know who work in TV and movies and ask, “Do I have something here?”

I’m re-writing, pulling the story apart and re-building it. I’m learning from the mistakes I made in the book and finding my voice louder than ever before. I was so proud of the book, but already I’m glowing from the work I’ve put into adapting the screenplay and I’m a way to go yet.

When you’re ready to leave

I want other people to hear something Ronnie says to Hazel and think, “That sounds familiar”.

I need people to see Ronnie losing his shit over a cup of coffee; or to watch Hazel being persistently worn down so insidiously, she doesn’t realise what is happening.

I really need people to see that even if you ask someone who’s hurting you to leave, they won’t. They will twist and turn the words you use against you, until you don’t know whether you’re coming or going.

I really want people to understand that it can take months for victims to be able to break free. Be patient with your loved one, but be there unconditionally, because when they jump, they’re going to need you.

If you’re struggling relating to a parent, I want you to see Freya’s story and know that you’re not on your own either. That version of coercive control is deliberately in the book, because everyone has an opinion on giving family members another chance.

We need more people understanding that coercive control and intimate partner violence often escalates. But by the time it gets physical, victims can be so entrenched they are more petrified of what will happen when the police leave, than asking for help. “Why don’t you just leave?” is not helpful when you don’t have access to money, car, food, and your life as you knew it is gone. The only thing giving you sustenance is the person abusing you.

The cover of One Last Hundred Chances by EE Grant. A couple from the 1990s are arm in arm, looking out to sea.
The tag line says, 'How may times will you forgive?'

This song by Tina Arena has been running through my head the whole time, When You’re Ready.

The screenplay of One Last Hundred Chances is for you. I’m writing from my lion’s heart, sharing the tiny spark in all of us that keeps us going.

On Writing

Hello, have another random thought dump. unedited, foibles, mixed tenses and all x

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. Mum on her last visit from the UK to Australia brought out some poetry I’d written at infant and junior school. I’ll dig it out and share it for you, it’s very cute.

I journal most mornings, I aim for 5 out of 7 days a week. Some journal entries I keep. Others, I burn.

I carry a pad and pen around with me. If I’ve got a bag, I’m also likely to have another pad and my diary with me, just in case.

I buy new notepads, notebooks, pens in volume – trying to get all the feelings out my head into words. It’s noisy up there. And messy. Convinced each time, that this new fresh set of blank pages will help.

Reader, it doesn’t.

I’ve written myself out of holes, written myself into corners. I still love the smell of fresh note paper. Inhaling the smell of the glue as I open a notebook for the first time.

I’ve been converting One Last Hundred Chances into a screenplay. The formatting is completely different to how I’ve written before, but as I pull out the descriptions and rely on the words to tell the story, the images dance behind my eyes.

When I get to Gildredge Park in the book, I remember the times we went there as children.

The hills we’d roll down over and over. Endless picnics with one set of grandparents, it was also close to where Mum worked, so we’d meet her there for lunch sometimes. We’d walk around the mini-art gallery if it got too hot, go and visit exhibitions on rainy Sunday afternoons. I can still smell the parquet floors, sadly the original building left to the town is now being left to ruin after being sold off. With the collection moved to a building next to the concrete monstrosity that is the Congress Theatre.

[An aside, Art Garfunkel played at the Congress in 2003. During sound check, he complained about the acoustics, and was told to wait until the crowd came in. He still wasn’t happy when he started the show. His fury made the local paper, because you’d think he’d know what he was talking about].

[Another aside, if you brought a package holiday to Eastbourne during the summer, it would include coach travel down from where you live, (bunging up the sea front for us locals as you were unloaded), a weeks’ bed and board and a theatre package. Total pot-luck as depending on what week you arrived, would dictate what you would see at the theatres (plural, it had three, all of which would put on a pantomime each Christmas, the aforementioned Congress, Devonshire Park and Royal Hippodrome. Eastbourne also had 5 or 6 cinemas at one point too. I digress).

Sometimes it would be a repertory group on tour, other times it’d be previews for the West End. Other times, it’d be a full-on touring production of a musical direct from the West End. Mum and I watched Copacabana, several Sondheim’s, a couple of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s and most memorably, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Nicholas Parsons was the narrator, Jonathan Wilkes was Frank. All the Transylvanians were the ushers, guiding people to their seats with their torches (euphemism). The lights went down to a packed house, elderly ladies with handbags on their knees. They were happy to be seeing Nicholas Parsons, but a bit bemused that a lot of the the audience were dressed in scrubs with pearls and rubber gloves, or in hot pants and lingerie. If you’ve seen it live, you know how it goes:

  • Brad – b@stard
  • Janet – b!tch
  • Water pistols, rice, newspapers, doing the Time Warp, the whole shebang

Lights up at the interval, half the audience had left.]

I remember visiting the park after the huge storm in 1987, seeing the trees that had been skittled in the winds. Trees we’d sat under and against, trees we counted to 100 while leaning on their trunks.

I remember climbing around and along the walls of the park, a gang of kids, best friends for the day and for as long as we played. Walking through the shades of the trees to the playground, hearing the thwack of tennis balls on hard, grey, asphalt courts that burned your feet when you ran over them. Looking at the robins, squirrels and quietly enjoying carefully curated gardens and walkways, with secret benches under arbours.

The hot day that instead of an ice cream, I convinced Nanny to buy me a bottle of Perrier, as I knew I’d like it. I’d seen how enthusiastically people were drinking it on the adverts. I felt so grown-up and sophisticated when I drank it. I remember the acerbic taste, but valiantly finishing the green bottle. If it’s any consolation; I still don’t like it, but love other sparkling water.

I remember the poodles I saw at one gate, like Matryoshka dolls, matching tartan jackets on a cold day. They ended up in the book. I think I will always get asked how much of it is autobiographical. I think I will always reply, the Eastbourne bits. Here’s the fishpond for you, at the top of Gildredge Park. It’s smaller than I remembered.

A picture of the fishpond at Gildredge Park in Eastbourne. It looks like autumn, as the leaves are starting to turn on the trees. It also looks smaller than I remember.

Photo credit

One day, instead of walking from home to the train station to get to college in Lewes, I spent the day in the park instead. I knew I simply couldn’t get to college. At the time, I didn’t know if I was depressed, anxious or what; but Mum kicked me out the house and told me to get going. I played truant a lot from school and college, I’d just have to leave, not knowing what else to do. I know now, it’s classic ADHD overwhelm.

That day, I stopped at the station, and brought a new note pad from WH Smiths. I walked up to the park. At a guess, it was winter 1993.

That was the day I saw the poodles.

I sat on a picnic bench and started writing in my fresh new notebook. I remember my hands were cold, as every so often I’d need to sit on them to warm them up.

I remembered that day while I was on a course last week. I don’t know why it came into my head; during a break, in amongst the scribbled flowers, alphabets and doodles, I was again sitting at the bench, missing college. As clear as it is I’m typing this now. I remembered that when all else failed me, I brought a book and wrote it out. It’s what I’ve turned to time and again, that to order my brain, I can’t just rely on thinking things through. As I said, it’s noisy up there.

I had a little moment in a blue stone basement in Ballarat for the teenager I was. I’ve been referred to a psychiatrist so I can be prescribed medication for ADHD. She’s in Sydney, but there are no practices here with room to take me and I need another layer of support above what I’m already doing.

I’m 48 years old, I’m only just learning that I can’t do all the things. Or if I do the things, I pay a cost somewhere else. If I push too hard; I’ll be in bed by 7pm, or for most of the weekend. If I do too much, I won’t feel able to meet with my friends and family.

If I pace myself, make sure I rest, eat well, avoid social media and the news, I can do some of the things.

If I leave the house 9-5 for five days like I did last week, I will need a day or so to recuperate afterwards. I pre-planned this, but on my leave days Monday and Wednesday (ANZAC Day on Tuesday), I slept more instead of doing the things I thought I’d be able to do.

I guess what I’m saying is, when I need to stop, slow down and reconcile what is going on, I write. Sometimes those thoughts filed away will arrive in a book, written 30 years later.

A month off for good behaviour

Muji pen held in left hand over a blank page in a notebook. There is a vase of dried flower and a coffee cup on the wooden table too.
Right pen, wrong hand.

As I wound up last year’s newsletters, (sign up here). I let you all know I was taking a month off. Partly as I was travelling to the UK with our son, but also because I needed to time away to think about what I want to do. Last year was huge.

I spent time on the plane contemplating my navel. Listening to audiobooks and podcasts, working through exercises I’d saved up for the 14 hour flight from Australia to Dubai, (and back). This thinking and journaling, along with the counselling and therapy I’ve been in, means I am feeling closer to who I am at my core and more sure of who I am than ever before.

Look out world, I’ve clicked over to 48 and am out of effs to give.


Mind you, what this looks like on the other side of the trip and settling back into ‘normal’ life remains to be seen. All I know is since I landed back in Australia with Mr A, my head has cleared from all the worry, preparation and logistics of the trip. I’ve said to a couple of people this week, it feels like I’m standing in a field of opportunity.

I continue to take my alcohol sobriety and recovery seriously. I’ve worked so hard on it, this week I bid farewell to my specific alcohol counsellor, but I will continue with my therapy sessions. After my family, recovery will always be my main focus, so you can expect random #SoberLiving posts on here and on the ‘gram.

I still want to finish (as yet untitled) next book; but after meeting up with a friend in the UK who also writes, I know my main writing priority is to complete the screenplay for One Last Hundred Chances. I was talking with Emily (yes another one), I said to her, that even if the screenplay changes, I owe it to the survivors who shared their stories with me that they are honoured appropriately.

I’ve also been thinking about an ADHD parenting blog. So many people are living with this neurodiverse superpower in their families. We’re also seeing more people being diagnosed as adults, finding an explanation for their life idiosyncrasies. My testing starts on Monday, 6 February. It’s a very new idea, I’m not sure what the blog looks like; if it’s an offshoot of as a sister site, or vertical embedded into it. I’ll work it out.

Lastly, I’ve joined a reading challenge that I want to complete this year, 52 books in 52 weeks. There are prompts online for you to choose from, I’m going to do a round up the last week of each month of what I’ve read or listened to.

What I’ve learned by giving myself room, is that when my head is not full of ‘stuff’ and I am free to wander around in there, the ‘stuff’ that comes out, is pretty good and worth something to others. Also, getting off my phone? Well, the hours that open up in the day are amazing, (no sh!t sherlock). I’ll post more about the trip another time, this was to let you know about what I’ve been up to and where we’re at.

Picture credit: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.