So. 2016. What a funny old year. I’m not talking about the political upheaval on either side of the Atlantic, although it will most certainly be a year to remember. I am talking personally. And both a little but ha ha and a lot bit peculiar. 2017 is going to be a year of change. Not necessarily major change, but change none the less and I should probably explain why.
At the start of 2016 I had absolutely no aspirations to be a book blogger. I probably didn’t even know such a thing existed in truth. Having studied for years to gain a degree in Literature, when I left Uni I pretty much gave up on reading so I had walked away from all that was books way back before the Internet had really taken off. Back when everyone was still on dial-up connections and printing everything on seriously dodgy dot matrix printers. Downloading in those days was dropping a box on the floor rather than putting it on a table and chucking stuff into it. You could still buy cassette tapes (just about) and The Spice Girls were the height of musical wonderment. Yes. I’m that old.
Aside from having to use the fluffing thing at work, I pretty much hated going near to a computer. I was very late to Facebook because, being a) an introvert and b) very anti-social/shy, I had little or no interest in seeing pictures of how many beers were being drunk over a weekend by people I barely spoke to at work. As for Twitter… I think I only logged on there because someone said Stephen Fry did interesting tweetage. I was happy (often through necessity) to be on my own. I read only the very occasional book (a couple of Gregory Maguire I think after going to see Wicked in the West End, and a few CSI spin off books) and I had absolutely no interest in reading more. Then two years ago things in my life changed. Quite dramatically.
Now I’m not going to bore you with too much detail but I need to say this so that my confession has some context. I am the youngest of 4 children. My mother was 38 when she had me and retired in the year I graduated from Uni. As the youngest, despite a short time living away for a time, when I took on a job which involved lots of travel I kind of ended back in the family home. With never actually being there other than weekends, it sort of stuck. As the last of my siblings moved away, I became the one who got left with Mother. Now this is a woman who could start an argument in an empty room. She was an acquired taste. Somewhat like arsenic. As she grew older, she developed a number of health issues. To some extent I was like a carer towards the end and that was bloody hard going.
And then she died. Now it’s hard to explain how that feels because it’s not what a child usually feels when a parent dies. We were never close. None of my family were. But despite her health getting progressively worse and me knowing that one day I was going to come home to find her gone, it was still a shock when it finally happened.
Now this will sound very sad (no violins necessary) but going back to the being anti-social and the (did I mention extremely shy) introvert part, she was pretty much the only company I had. I have never been good at keeping in touch with friends. I suffer from really really low self-esteem and major confidence issues and so I always felt like I was putting upon people by expecting them to spend time with me. I mean who in their right mind would ever want to do that? Even I don’t and I’m pretty much stuck with me. I don’t even like going to my sister’s because I’m not sure at what point it is that I’m meant to leave and I don’t want to over stay my welcome. I’m always fearful they are just too polite to ask me to leave (which is nuts because if you’d met my sisters you’d know they’d have no problem telling me to do one). So I leaned to manage with my own company. Often it is fine. More often, after Mother died, it was not.
I’m aware this is starting to sound like a poor me post but stick with me. I promise it’s not. When Fatty, aka Mother, died, I was left with a ruddy great hole in my life. For the first time I had no idea what to do with myself. I had a sudden overwhelming sense of freedom but also complete emptiness. This was going to be the first Christmas in years where I didn’t go and spend a couple of hours on the big day in a pub barely making conversation with the old boot to then come home to not really talk to each other for the rest of the day. In the end I spent the day with my Brother and his family and this will sound awful because they were very kind to think of me, but I have never felt so awful, out of place and in the way in my life. It was nothing they did, it’s just who I am.
So to fill the chasm, the quiet, the solitude, I went back to books. I was a little more into Facebook by this time having joined so I could friend my sister to tell her to get the hell of Facebook and enjoy the weekend away we were on instead. I was also more into Twitter, and I’d picked up on Bookbub. I found a couple of books that sounded interesting and read those. I’d been reading James Oswald books too and was enjoying them immensely, which sort of led me on to reading Stuart MacBride, just out of interest, because one of the characters in the Inspector McLean books was named after him. And from then on I was lost. In the two weeks over Christmas I pretty much read every Logan McRae book available, And the Ash Henderson. And any other book I could get my hands on… It was only sometime that year that I even cottoned onto the fact I could follow authors on Twitter (yes I’m that slow). Sometime around April 2015 I discovered John Connolly. By the April this year I’d read his entire back catalogue too.
So. What’s the confession you’re probably wondering? Well, earlier this year, when I first heard of Crime Fest (via Twitter), I thought it sounded kind of interesting. I would never, ever, have considered going to something like this in the past but I was determined to try and make a new start and a create a brand new me. One who actually had the balls she was credited with in her work life. So I booked and I went. And it was both the best and the worst weekend of my life. It was the best, because I got to go to so many great author panels and discover some absolutely fantastic books and authors I’d never heard of, and it cemented my love of books even more.
It was the worst because as a self-loathing, super shy, tee-total, rather-throw-myself-off-a-tall-building-than-introduce-myself-to-people-I-don’t-know, out-of-my-depth-in-a-room-full-of-people-introvert, I watched everyone around me engaging with each other, laughing, joking and sharing their love of books and I had never felt so alone in my life. I mean, absolutely, totally and utterly alone. And if you knew me you’d know that is crazy as I am a Manager of a team of over 400 people and I manage several hundred-thousand pound contracts in which I have to interact with strangers every day. Difference is, that is a role I play. I don’t have to be me as such. I can be Corporate Jen and hide behind knowledge and procedure. There is no procedure for real life.
God this is hard to admit because I am old enough not to get into this state, but I felt like the new kid in school who starts mid-term when everyone else already knows each other. There was one night I felt entirely hopeless and I could have curled up and cried (in fact I think I did). It was only a long Twitter conversation with a brilliant author on absolutely nothing in particular that got me through. (It started as thanks for some retweets and ended up by lamenting the chronic shrinkage in size of the Cadbury Boost bar – it was one of those conversations). He will probably never know quite how he saved my life that night. Probably literally. And I literally mean literally, not figuratively. After a difficult couple of years and feeling so out of my depth about pretty much everything, I was right on the edge where I figured it really was too late in life now to be any different, and that I was simply meant to be alone. There is no more sobering and depressing thought than that, believe me. It is not what I wanted to be, but it is what I have allowed life to make me. And it hurt. A lot.
When I finally got my head back straight, (I’m actually still working on that bit tbf) what I did take away from the weekend (other than a large Amazon/Kindle bill and a bunch of new books) was the idea that maybe, just maybe, I could try my hand at blogging. I had no expectations of it going anywhere, but it was a chance for me to organise my thoughts and pull all my reviews together in one place. If I was going to read and books were my only company, I may as well make it count. I was already on NetGalley but mostly reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads. I’d never really thought my thoughts were interesting enough for anyone to want to read them. But it seemed like a possibility. And the beauty of blogging is that it’s pretty much anonymous.
So. This is where the confession comes in. When I talk of being anonymous, I mean as in you could be anybody and nobody would ever really know. I have a semi-important job (ish) and I wanted this world, my blogging, my reading, to be completely separate. If I was seriously going to do this, I absolutely needed to be a completely different person. So I became a completely different person. At least in the beginning.
I don’t know who I wanted to be, I just didn’t want to be me. In my whole life, being me had never felt quite good enough. I didn’t even tell my family what I was doing at the start. I just did it. So I created the blog and then reinvented me. It had started by giving myself a new name when I started reviewing on Goodreads. I didn’t set out to hide that it was me who was doing the reviews so I could post a bad review on line. I have never done that and I continue to refuse to do so. I’d rather just say nothing if I dislike a book as it could be someone else’s favourite. To each their own. It was simply about anonymity.
So how to choose a name? I wanted it to be different but not too much of a change. I wanted to hide in plain sight.
My name is Jen. Just with a ‘nifer‘ on the end, not a ‘na‘. The inspiration for this subtle change came from when I lived in Leicester. I am generally known at work by the name Jennie (or Spicewalker or Bitch but that’s another story entirely) and in Leicester there is a tendency to pronounce the nee sound on the end as neh. So Jen-nee becomes Jen-neh. Jenna. Simple, no? The surname however. That’s simple but not.
Medlicott is a family name. It was my Nan’s maiden name. My Nan is a woman I am eternally grateful to and thankful for having known. I never really appreciated everything she did for me when I was younger but without her I doubt I’d be here now and I know I’d be an even bigger mess emotionally than I already am. I owe her everything and I only wish she was here so I could tell her that. My real name, and there are a few people around who already know this so it won’t be a complete surprise, is Lucas. Like as in Star Wars only without the $$$ to back it up. It’s not my Sunday name as I call it. It’s actually my Monday to Friday name. Medlicott is more my Sunday name. Or my blog-day name.
So why ‘fess up now you might ask? Why not just go on anonymously? Many writers have pen-names. Why not a blogger? The answer is simple. Since I started blogging, I’ve come to realise what an absolutely fantastic bunch of people the book community truly are. They have never once questioned my logic or my thoughts on a book, or dissed me for being crap at reviews (I am but that’s another confession for another day). I’ve also come to realise that as much as I’ve tried to be a new me, the real me still shines through in all of my reviews. I’m 41 years old and I really can’t change who I am. I’m stuck with me but maybe, just maybe, that’s not so bad after all. I never expected to be embraced the way that I have been. I even had my fake-me Facebook profile completely locked down as I never imagined a day where anyone would actually want to send me a friend request… Imagine my complete and utter shock when the very first person to ask me was none other than the wonderful Angie Marsons!!! I still can’t believe it now. She’s even met me and we’re still friends :).
This community, the bookish community, has never once made me feel that who I am isn’t good enough and that, for me, is a very rare thing. That author may have unwittingly saved me back in May, but blogging continues to do so every single day. It gives me a reason to get up and makes my life that little bit more manageable. And the only fake thing about me that there has ever been on this page is my name. Everything else has been 100% complete and utter me. My sister will attest to that. I went to Bloody Scotland, again alone, but it wasn’t nearly so daunting. I’ve even been brave enough to go to a few blogger/author meet ups and was made to feel so welcome that I felt guilty for not being entirely honest. So for that reason it’s time to stop hiding and to start being me again. The full monty. Warts and all (I don’t have any btw but you get the picture).
I hope you can forgive my little lie. After all, as Shakespeare wrote: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call Jen by any other name will write just as hopeless reviews…’ or something similar to that at least. 🙂
So I’m still going to be Jen Med’s Book Reviews. That’s my brand now, lord help me, and if you’re still with me, I’ll still be here writing my oh so long opinions down on the blog. I’ll likely rebrand my Twitter handle to match the blog and if I suddenly become Jen Lucas on Facebook, you now know why.
Despite everything I said about the experience earlier I’m heading back to Crime Fest again this year (I’m a glutton for punishment but hoping to be a little more confident and less emotional this time), I’m going to Harrogate for the first time ever, and I’ll be attending my 2nd Bloody Scotland. Of course… I’ll probably still hide in a corner somewhere and not speak to anyone, especially given all I have said on this page (not about my name – changing my surname is only the same as getting married or divorced after all). It’s more about the reasons behind the white lie. I still hate myself. I still feel isolated in a crowded room. But I am just that little bit more comfortable with that now, with being myself, and I’m getting better all the time. You lot are helping me with that bless you. I hope that it’s okay to call you all my friends because you truly are a special bunch of people who I am very grateful for knowing.
I know you were probably expecting something awful to be confessed on this page. That maybe I was an axe murderer on the quiet. Maybe one of me secretly is (although you can tell I’m hardly a criminal mastermind as I’ve just revealed my true identity to the world). Seriously though, for me this is a big confession as I rate honesty above all other things and I feel I have let myself down by hiding who I am.
Have a great time all, however you are celebrating today, and a very Happy 2017. Maybe I’ll see you on the other side?