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.


Before I start my blog in earnest, here’s a look at the cover (click to enlarge) for my new novel, August Falling, due out sometime in September with Pantera Press.

The blurb reads:

    The past.
    Sometimes we can’t escape it.

    After a bad relationship, August is trying to piece his life back together. It’s not perfect – his flat is small, he works in a call centre, he can’t finish the book he’s working on, and he’s socially challenged when it comes to women.

    When August meets Julie, he finds she’s everything he isn’t – confident, composed, and purposeful, despite her troubled childhood, and with her, August finally begins to feel he can be himself.

    But Julie has a secret – one that threatens to plummet August right back into the miseries of his past.

    August Falling isn’t a love story, but one about acceptance, choices, and finding a way to be ourselves.

You should go out and get it. Demand it. It’s not printed yet. But demand that it is. Then demand it.

Anyway, I’ll write more about August Falling in the coming weeks. For now, it’s back to my work-in-progress, and the issues I’ve faced this last week.

Somebody asked how me much writing I’d done this week.

I answered, ‘Not a lot.’

‘Why not?’ she asked me. ‘What have you been doing with your time?’

There’s a massive preconception that writers just sit down, and everything spills perfectly formed onto the page. All you need is an imagination. That’s it. Don’t worry about structure, plot, arc characterisations, clarity of expression, etc. It’s not even a question that those things are required, or that they exist. It’s imagination and nothing else.

I wish.

I try to write every night. Some nights, it comes flowing, pure and right and beautiful.

Other nights, I struggle to get into it – not only can’t I find the right words, but the right ideas to get me back into the story. It’s like being a voyeur, trying to find the best way to peek in so I can translate what’s going on, but sometimes the view isn’t right. Then what? I can try write what’s happening from my vantage point. Sometimes it might open a better view. Other times, it’s a patchwork fix. Most times it’s just not good enough – especially for somebody as obsessive-compulsive as me. So I’ve got to keep probing until I find the view I need, even at the risk of all it collapsing under me.

Then there’s other times I don’t even realise that it’s not good enough, and I write obliviously. Like every writer, I have an internal gauge of what’s working and what doesn’t, but sometimes that’s awry. I write some scene, think I’ve got it working, then am taking a walk, or washing the dishes, or am lying in bed about to drift off – it’s always once I’m away from the computer (I believe this happens because it’s only then the pressure is off me and I start seeing clearly again) – when it occurs to me that, nope, that didn’t work for whatever reason, and I need to fix it. So then I’m back at it, either trying to make it work, or deleting it and starting over.

On other occasions, the scene itself is right, but the prose isn’t. Usually, I wouldn’t bother revising until the draft is completed, but sometimes it’s such a mess – and a mess might’ve been the only way I had to get it out so I had something to work with, as vomity as it might appear – that it does need mopping up. Or if might contain idiosyncrasies that I’m trying to unlearn as habits, e.g. words I overuse, or repeated turns of phrase. Every writer has them.

And other times a reread of a scene shows it’s underdeveloped. Again, it’s something that I’d usually address in revision. But other times, it just needs to be done because it helps as a foundation for what’s meant to come. Without it, I’d just be building on air. And that’s never going to turn out well.

Or something else that regularly pops up is the need to foreshadow. I’ll be up to a scene and think, Wait, this does need a little bit of setting up earlier. An example is an incidental character – a barmaid the protagonist worked with – this week gained some backstory that she was an aging but (still) aspiring actress. The second scene in which she featured came out fine. But I had to go back and seed some of this new information into her introduction (originally written five weeks ago), even though that was only a paragraph, and it wasn’t going to get much bigger than that.

Or, for all the work of my imagination (imaginations are teases, all alluring and seductive, until you engage with them, only to find they’re difficult, uncommunicative, and – sometimes – not what they first appeared), it just doesn’t want to translate. It’s like watching one of those mediums who operates in abstracts and being left to interpret it. I see somebody tall and fair. It could be a mother figure, or an aunt. Or a cousin. Geez, I don’t know. Sometimes only retrospect does.

And, sometimes, I’m just so blocked up by all the doubt and confusing, that I struggle to produce anything at all.

There’s just so much that could go wrong, and it vastly outweighs what could be going right and what – in a first draft – does go right. The odds are up there with winning a lottery.

Writing takes a lot of building blocks, and it’s not always building up. Sometimes, it’s replacing blocks. Other times, it’s strengthening a section of a wall. And other times it’s improving the foundations. Not all of them will reflect in the word count – not in any substantial way.

But they’re just as important.

Last Week’s Lie: Shockingly, I’ve never been arrested for drunk and disorderly, even for research.