I love to hear about the different routes authors have taken to get published. This week clinical psychologist Jo Johnson is telling us how she came to write her debut novel, Surviving Me, which she crowdfunding through Unbound Publishers. Over to you, Jo!
‘Were you educated in this country?’ This was one of the first questions a tutor asked me at university. My punctuation and grammar were terrible.
Later, in my work as a clinical psychologist, I was pretty good at relating to people but my reports continued to be a source of amusement. My written work was my weakness.
As I progressed in my career, I discovered a gift for public speaking. I found telling stories was a great way to entice people to listen. In 2009 I was invited to speak at a national event for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and designed a unique workshop called ‘Shrinking the monster’. It encouraged my listeners to see their MS as something outside themselves, an external creature they could resist. It went down so well that the organisers asked me to turn the session into a workbook.
‘But I can’t write,’ I insisted.
‘If you can speak to people, you can write for them,’ the conference organiser batted back. To my utter amazement, ‘Shrinking the monster: the workbook’ won a Plain English Award. This spurred me on to write further workbooks about managing emotional distress and neurology-themed books for young people.
I didn’t plan to written a novel. I left the NHS in 2008 and went freelance. But I found being self-employed was lonely. So, each day, I interspersed client appointments with visits to the café across the road from my office.
One day, I noticed an unremarkable middle- aged man and wondered what his story might be. On my iPad I started a story about a bloke called Tom. I wrote:
‘At this point in time, I can accurately be described as unemployed, impotent, and a liar.’
This became the first sentence of my debut novel, Surviving Me, due out on November 14. It tackles hard issues such as depression, male suicide and degenerative diseases in what I hope is an honest, life-affirming and often humorous way. It focuses particularly on the challenges of being male in today’s world and explores how our silence on these big issues can help push men to the brink.
To get to this point, I have fielded my manuscript to countless friends and colleagues, out of paranoia and lack of confidence. I was always genuinely surprised – and encouraged – by people’s feedback. So I carried on… and found I couldn’t stop.
Writing helps me clear my mind of other people’s troubles. And humour is a great way to defuse some of the day’s tensions. My line of work can make you laugh and cry almost simultaneously – and I hope my characters do the same for my readers.
Congratulations on getting your book crowdfunded, Jo. The story sounds really interesting and very topical. I am sure a lot of people will find it helpful.
And here is the amazon link to Shrinking the smirch, a workbook for adults on managing emotional distress secondary to health and psychological conditions like cancer, MS, stress, anxiety, panic and depression.Amazon
Jo Johnson is a clinical psychologist specialising in neurological disorders and mind health. She is the author of nine health-related publications and writes for several neurology charities. She worked within the NHS for 16 years, and now trains individuals and groups on how to prevent stress and burnout. Surviving Me is her first novel, and explores themes that, as a practising clinician, she can write about with conviction and authenticity.
Check in next week to read another ‘path to publication’ story.
And if you want to read about my writing journey, I’m talking about it over on Tom William’s blog here.