This week I’ve written in The Guardian about how my brief brush with mental illness when I was a teenager has dogged me for 40 years since it happened.
It’s not the first or even second time I’ve written about it. This time though was different. This time, for reasons passing understanding, I didn’t get slated “below the line” as it’s called when readers can post their own comments below a journalist’s piece.
A friend texted me to say, “I think you’ve had the most civil and supportive set of comments I’ve ever seen!” This was indeed the case. Usually when you post a piece online you know you’re likely to come in for a fair bit of stick. In fact some papers seem to like articles that attract derision and nasty remarks. Such pieces are often called “clickbait” in the trade – published purely to get a reaction and get those page hits up up and up and thus please and attact advertisers.
Some journalists, especially, but not exclusively, women specialise in providing this kind of content for online papers. It’s not something I’ve ever done nor tried to because I don’t just write for effect. I write about issues, events or feelings that really matter to me. I write from the heart and if people want to respond that’s great. If not, never mind.
A piece I wrote last year about being childless from choice got more than a truly staggering 10,000 shares. I say staggering because it was staggering for me. I got over 500 comments below the line, again mostly sweet and supportive. I was on holiday the weekend that piece came out but I took my laptop with me so I could respond and join in the discussion. I love doing this. Some journalists hate it but I adore it. What could be better than writing something, having it published to a wide,ish, audience and that audience responding?
Readers have always sent me emails or, before that, letters and that’s lovely. I always replied because if someone’s taken the trouble to write to you I think you owe them a reply. But an instant response is even more gratifying. You can get into a dialogue and I really enjoy that. I also love the feeling that The Guardian, as with many other UK national newspapers, has an international audience. You are being read while you sleep. That’s an amazingly powerful feeling.
It’s why I love writing so very much. Is it ego driven? Is it all about look at me mum? I suppose it is a bit, inevitably. But it’s mainly about communicating. With complete strangers. When those strangers reply and they’re kind, warm and understanding… well, that’s the best feeling going in my view. And it’s what keeps me going. Keeps me doing this.
If you have been, thanks for reading.