In his 19th-century book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:
Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit.
For many years, I did not write in blood. I wrote what I was paid to write for my clients. Whenever I cleared some time to write for me, I invariably wrote what my husband calls ‘buffoonery’ – comical capers, entirely blood free.
Then came The Ceruleans. I wrote the first chapter of Death Wish completely exhausted, very emotional and riding waves of awful nausea: I was in the first trimester of pregnancy. With all of my usual ‘plaster a smile on’ defences down, I sat in front of a sheet of paper and…
… I bled.
The thing with bleeding is, it’s messy, and it’s shocking, and it’s unsettling, and it’s usually connected to pain in some way. But it can be fascinating too. I remember cracking my head open in my teens and just standing there, watching blood drip down onto the stage*, and that was how I felt: fascinated.
That fascination made me write the next chapter of Death Wish, and the next – and the next book, and the next. Until I finally finished the last page of the fifth book, Darkly, Deeply, Beautifully, and I could stand back and see the source of the fascination as one entity. And what I saw was a body of work that represented Nietzsche’s ‘experience that blood is spirit’.
The overwhelming positive of writing with blood is the authentic emotion that’s apparent in the writing. The downside, as with all bleeding, is the cost to the self. After bleeding, I’m tired and worn down. Sometimes, if I’ve bled and bled and bled, I think (quite sensibly) I’m done with writing, done with bleeding, and I should stick to writing buffoonery books. Which I enjoy doing. But it doesn’t quite feel the same.
What I need, often, is distance from anything that’ll slice me open. That’s me right now. I hit the halfway point of writing my new novel, Swan Song, and… carnage. So I’ve wrapped myself in an enormous sticking plaster and I’m taking a break from bleeding for a while.
But at some point I’ll open the book and open the wound and carry on. Because that’s the kind of writing I want to leave as a legacy for my kids when they’re grown. Difficult, wrenching, honest writing.
* Blood dripping onto a stage? In case you’re wondering, it was an accident mid-school production. I was meant to be faux-decked in a scene. The faux bit didn’t pan out. But I’ll always be proud of the fact that I was up off the (very hard) floor in seconds and delivering my line, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna have a black eye’, despite the blood blinding me. To this day, if I raise an eyebrow cheekily you can see the scar.