The process of writing Cultivating a Fuji, the uplifting story of a social anxiety survivor follows my development as an author.
When I first discovered the term social anxiety and went on to meet, online, many others who lived with this mental disorder, I was working as a technical writer. Over a year or two of reading the posts on a social anxiety forum, I became increasingly passionate about the need to tell the world about this thing. While other mental conditions have sprung into public awareness, social anxiety, by its very nature, has remained hidden. That means that it’s not understood. It also leads to sufferers themselves being unaware of communities that could provide help and support. “I thought I was the only one,” is a much too common sentence in online forums.
How could I bring social anxiety to public notice? All too aware of my abysmal performances in interviews and general conversations, as opposed to my writing skills, the answer seemed obvious. I wrote a non-fiction book on social anxiety, inserting numerous quotes from fellow social anxiety ‘sufferers,’ who preferred to remain anonymous. The book, called Social Anxiety Revealed, was eventually published by Crooked Cat and later by myself.
Then I had the idea of writing fiction. But I doubted my ability to make up any story. And so, I created my main character as an amalgam of several real people I’d met online, as well as a bit of me, and wrote chapters full of incidents I’d read about or experienced. It didn’t make a good plot. The story was disjointed and ultimately boring. It took me a long time to realise that I needed to abandon this novel and start again with an interesting narrative.
Gradually, I began to believe in my ability to be creative. I had another idea for my character and began a new novel, which I later abandoned but recently revived and revamped. Then I wrote a completely different novel, a romance, which was accepted for publication, giving me more confidence as an author.
And I was lucky enough to visit Japan, which gave me a new idea. What if my quiet, socially anxious character was sent for a trip to Japan? How would he cope on his own in a foreign land? Would Japan close him down even more, or would ithelp him to open up? I watched the Japanese people I saw during our action-packed, three-week tour. I noticed their quaint traditions and their inherent shyness. My character, I decided, would flourish in this place. But how would that affect his life back in Britain?
The result was Cultivating a Fuji, the sad but ultimately uplifting tale of a guy who doesn’t fit into society. The fuji in the title is an apple, large, sweet and with a long and elaborate growing process.