I’ve been a little absent of late, burrowed down a rabbit hole of book-writing. But I’ve emerged into the sunshine, and am happy to now be able to share my journey with you, having finally pressed SEND. My new manuscript went to my publishers last week. Phew! And hooray!
So rewind. Back in October last year, I experienced a familiar itch: the feeling I get when a new piece of work is beginning to take shape. My last book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food, was published in January 2017 by Short Books in the UK and Simon & Schuster in the US and Canada. Since then, I have loved spreading the word about how much our mental health can be affected by what we eat. I’ve done cookery shows, given talks, and spent time with my wonderful co-author the nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh. We are beginning to develop some more recipes together and hope one day to do another cookbook, but cookbooks take time as we don’t like rushing our recipes! They not only have to taste good but must help your mental health too.
Meanwhile, alongside my interest in nutrition, I’ve continued to investigate other ideas on staying calm and well after my own long struggle with anxiety and depression.
This latest book writing journey began, as it usually does, with research into what really affects our wellbeing. I am quite nerdy and only like evidence-based strategies with data to back them up, one of the reasons I loved writing my Happy Kitchen which is based on over 150 studies. My research begins at breakfast. I’m a little old-fashioned when it comes to one part of my morning routine. I sit with my coffee and a copy of three or four papers. I scour the pages for the latest news, studies and thoughts on mental health. This is the bit of my routine that’s maybe not so typical: when I find an article or page that feels relevant, I tear it out. My bag is always stuffed with small bits of newsprint.
In addition I keep snippets from magazines and journals, as well as books on wellbeing and mental health. And then there are all the ideas I come across online, shared by the community of others in the mental health world. People write blogs for my website, I am in touch on social media with the charities I work alongside as an ambassador for Sane and Rethink Mental Illness; and there are wise heroes and heroines of mine like Matt Haig and Bryony Gordon writing about their experiences.
So over the last year or so, I have been filing away and piling up nuggets of information on these strategies, checking out the research and reading the studies, whether it is about the power or getting up earlier or how to counter your inner critic. Some studies got rejected; others made sense. Those that did found a home in my study, in lots of plastic filing wallets on makeshift shelves. My folders would fill up with cuttings and snippets on these different wellbeing ideas. Then I would add my own thoughts too, scribbling across my bits of paper, annotating them and doodling when I fancied it.
Then I would try an idea out, recording how it worked for me. I would keep notes of how different I felt, for example, on those days when I managed to get up that little bit earlier or kept a worry log. Normally I would try out each strategy for a week or so, noting in my diary what happened. If the strategy was a success, I would then try the idea out with others – volunteers from the charities I’m involved with, or with others who gave me feedback on the strategies on my website and newsletter.
I felt content as I moseyed through the year. I love sharing what helps me with others, especially practical things you can actually put into action. You see, thinking often makes me sad but doing rarely does. Which is why I decided I wanted my next book to be about stuff you can do. I wanted to share how happy all the activities had made me through the year.
So while my earlier books have been more about the ideas I have found helpful, Singing in the Rain reflects more practical steps, 52 of them to reflect the weekly approach. I’ve structured the book as a 52 part workbook which seemed the obvious way to get active on the page: a book full of things you can actually do for your wellbeing, be it writing a letter, drawing a picture, or making some origami. Practical activities that reflect what has helped me and others most on the road to being calm and well.
So the last nine months have been a whirlwind of writing, re-writing, editing and revising the text. I hope that Singing in the Rain: 52 Practical Steps to Happiness will be a companion on those days when you can do with a helping hand, and some steps of things to do.
If you’d like to hear more, I’ll share more of my book writing journey in another blog and what inspired me to choose the name of the book (hint: I have our dog Sammy to thank!).