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I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea several years ago. In the simplest terms, sleep apnoea is when you stop breathing, so your brain panics and startles you awake just enough to get everything going again. Because this is happening, you never settle into a deep, restorative sleep, so when you awake you feel tired, even if you’ve slept eight hours.

To give you an overview of its seriousness, when I was in hospital with a broken leg, a nurse woke me around 3.00am because she said I didn’t appear to be breathing. On another occasion, after I was wheeled back to my bed following surgery, a nurse said she was watching me fail to breathe for forty-five seconds, and was just seconds away from calling for a crash-cart to resuscitate me, but then my chest heaved.

Sleep apnoea is almost like getting a foothold in dying.

When I took the sleep apnoea test, the results showed I was having forty-seven instances of apnoea per hour. That rated my apnoea as ‘severe’.

Dealing with the repercussions of sleep apnoea through a day is difficult. I don’t feel roused in the morning until I’m fully moving, but then once I get to work I can begin to struggle again. It’s not unusual if I’m performing a repetitive task in front of the computer – something that doesn’t require a lot of mental stimulation – for me to feel as if I could nod off right there, the way you would feel when you’re drifting off late at night in front of the TV. Even getting up and walking back and forth doesn’t help fully wake me.

The treatment for sleep apnoea is using a C-PAP machine. This involves wearing a strap under my chin and over my head which, theoretically, is meant to keep my mouth closed through the course of the night. Then I wear a mask over my nose – this has straps running high (over the temples) and low (over the jaw) that loop around my head. The C-PAP machine pumps continuous air through a long tube (about one-metre), into the mask, and through my nostrils. This is meant to keep my airways open as I sleep, so I don’t have any instances where I stop breathing. The strap that keeps my mouth shut is meant to ensure none of the air escapes. (If this all sounds uncomfortable and restrictive, it is.)

I know people with sleep apnoea who use a C-PAP machine and wake up feeling refreshed and invigorated. The C-PAP revolutionises their life. I wake up still feeling tired. There’s times I wake up during the middle of the night to find the tubing curled around my neck, or behind my head. Other times, I’ve tossed so much, that I’ve pulled the machine from the bedside drawer, where it sits. Also, it’s not uncommon for me to move so much – I’ve always been a restless sleeper – that the Velcro straps come undone.

Other times, They come. I’m unsure who They are – not aliens, I think. But the walls melt away and They rise up – hazy shadows that converge on me. The room drops to a chill and my breath mists into the mask. They reach into my mind – I feel the icy tendrils race through my head, until my thoughts slow, then grind to a halt. I think that’s when I thrash the most, although it’s like my head is pinned to the pillow. Whatever I’m thinking about in that semi-conscious state constructs around me, until it becomes real and alive and immersive. Sometimes it’s nonsense settings, the mishmash of the subconscious. Other times it’s streetscapes, or somewhere scenic. They waver then, studying it all, as a golden warmth gradually, and painstakingly, builds, and washes everything out – the scene, as well as Them. That’s when I wake, gasping for breath, and finding the mask askew. I strap it back into place and try to go back to sleep.

Whatever happens during the night, I wake up exhausted.

And after a long day’s work, it can make sitting at a computer in the evening difficult – especially when you’re trying to think of what comes next.

But I keep trying.

I keep moving.

 
Last Week’s Lie: I’ve only ever written one poem, and it was as a joke. So, as shocking as it may be, I have no poetry collection about to come out.

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When I work on a book, I’ll also work on something else simultaneously.

It won’t be another new book – it’s hard enough keeping track of all the characters, threads, and ideas for one prospective novel, let alone two. I’m always surprised when people say they’re working on two (or more) novels simultaneously. (I don’t count swapping back and forth between projects but never finishing anything.)

The closest I’ll get to working on more than one novel is if I also revise another, but only as long as it’s more so a copyedit revision, rather than a structural edit revision that might require some rewriting. As far as the copyedit goes, I might read a chapter or two (depending on their length) as warm-up for my brain. Then I feel I can flow into my work-in-progress.

Or I could revise a short story, or even write a new short story – the only qualifier here is that I have to be able to finish a draft (either writing something new, or revising an existing draft) in a single sitting, so it’s doesn’t become too much of a distraction. I want to be able to get in, get out, with it having no ongoing impact on my work-in-progress.

Poetry is something else that’s a good sideline – although, sometimes, my ruminations take me deep into the night, because I struggle to find the exact way I want to depict what I’m feeling. But it’s always cathartic, and I’ve written enough poetry now that I’m thinking of either subbing around a collection, or self-publishing it.

Lately, I’ve also been working on screenplays. I wrote screenplays prolifically through the early 2000s and had a couple optioned. I thought they were great. I had this infallible self-belief. Of course, I was an idiot. (There’s a good chance I still am.) Neither option went anywhere. In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t.

When I look back at all those old screenplays, they’re grossly overwritten, and the narrative in a few of them is (to put it kindly) contrived. However, some are structurally sound – at least as far as the framework goes. I’ve picked the best of them out and tried to revise. At times this has meant almost rewriting from scratch, and/or fleshing out the story.

Over the last year, I’ve also written a handful of new screenplays. Compared to the 2000s vintage, they work better on every level – the way they’re written, the causality of the narrative, and the solidity of the suspension of disbelief. I’ve discovered I have more confidence writing a screenplay than I do any form of prose.

Screenwriting also provides an interesting contrast to prose. With prose, you get inside a character’s head. You relate what you see and how they feel. You can have an internal monologue driving the narrative. Screenwriting is different. An internal monologue is not going to work – you can translate it as voiceover, but you’re always having to think about what the audience is seeing. It has to be engaging. A character sitting on a couch coming to some slow realisation is not engaging. That has to be represented other ways that is going to hook the audience.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve refocused some of my energy on screenplays and subbed to a variety of international comps (because there’s so many of them), and met with some minor success in placing in a few of them. Some of those places have only been getting through to the next round, where perhaps another two hundred other writers have also gotten through. But I look at that in the context that possibly six or seven hundred people have been culled, so just to survive that is gratifying. As a writer, you hang onto little victories.

One screenplay, a 30-minute satire/pilot entitled ‘Producers’ – about a former shady tax lawyer, now heading a four-person production team trying to raise money for a feature – was a semi-finalist in the Showtime’s Tony Cox Episodic Screenplay (30 Min) Competition, which was flattering. ‘Producers’ was written originally over ten years ago, but has undergone repeated heavy revision and restructuring. To get any recognition is encouragement that I might be doing something – no matter how small – right. Or maybe I’m doing something right in a small way.

It’s been a lot of writing of various forms to juggle throughout the last year, while also working on a new book. Just when I get one of those peripheral commitments out of the way, something else pops up – another competition I want to enter, or a short story submission opportunity where I want to revise. My mind feels spread in different directions, which is not my preferred way of operating – but, at the moment, it feels like I can stay on top of it because at least when I am working on a couple of things, they’re different forms.

Well, that’s what I keep telling myself.

And this is what you do as a writer.

You write.

Submit.

And do it over and over.

 
Last Week’s Lie: My editor, Lucy Bell, and I did not go on a tyre-mauling rampage.