With the republication of my uplit novel, I’m reposting this article from 2019, which first appeared on donnasbookblog.
My childhood was marred by bullying. It was the urge to do something to stop the bullying that led me to catch social anxiety. I kept quiet as much as I could, because they couldn’t tease me for things I said if I didn’t say them, and this became a habit that I couldn’t discard when I wanted to.
Decades later, after discovering this thing that had “strangled” me for so long had a name, and that I was by no means alone with this problem, I joined an online forum for sufferers of social anxiety. Here, I learned a lot about the others, about what we shared as well as our differences. I realised that most of the others, like me, had mistakenly imagined themselves to be alone with it, and that people they came into contact with usually misunderstood their behaviour. It was because of these things I discovered as a member of the forum, that I became passionate about raising awareness of social anxiety.
Writing was the natural way for me to do this, and I put together a book full of quotes from sufferers, who all agreed for their words to be published, providing they remained anonymous. So this was the first book I wrote, back in 2004, although it was only published in 2017, called Social Anxiety Revealed.
Cultivating a Fuji, on the other hand, is fiction, and it’s first and foremost a good story. (Fortunately, I’m not the only person to think so.) Martin, the protagonist, struggles to push the boundaries imposed on him by social anxiety, and readers enjoy rooting for him.
Martin – and Fiona, who appears later on – have been with me for several years. They appeared in the first novel I tried to write, a novel that, I learned later, didn’t have a strong enough story line. Fortunately, I scrapped that novel, had two short stories and then two novels published, and am delighted that Martin and Fiona will now see the light in this new and compelling story, fighting the demons in their quest for happiness.
There aren’t many novels involving characters with social anxiety, and I’m so glad to be able to add to their number. One of the others, The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan, is very well-written with a strong plot, but I had two main reservations about it. One is that the reason for Mary’s social anxiety was given as one devastating incident that occurred when she was sixteen. I felt there must have been more that we weren’t told about. The other was the very extreme nature of her anxiety, which caused her to hide from society completely. While there are certainly cases like hers, it is much more common for sufferers to force themselves to function in society however much of a struggle that is. I think someone who reads of an extreme case like this could make light of the effort made by someone who appears to function fairly normally.
One more thing I need to say: Martin isn’t me. Although there are some similarities between us, there are also many differences in our natures, upbringing and other experiences.
About Cultivating a Fuji
Convinced that his imperfect, solitary existence is the best it will ever be, Martin unexpectedly finds himself being sent to represent his company in Japan. His colleagues think it’s a joke; his bosses are certain he will fail. What does Martin think? He simply does what he’s told. That’s how he’s survived up to now – by hiding his feelings.
Amazingly, in the land of strange rituals, sweet and juicy apples, and too much saké, Martin flourishes and achieves the impossible. But that’s only the beginning. Keeping up the momentum for change proves futile. So, too, is a return to what he had before. Is there a way forward, or should he put an end to the search now?
Gradually, as you’ll see when Martin looks back from near the end of his journey, life improves. There’s even a woman, Fiona, who brings her own baggage to the relationship, but brightens Martin’s days. And just when you think there can be no more surprises, another one pops up.
Throughout his life, people have laughed at ‘weirdo’ Martin; and you, as you read, will have plenty of opportunity to laugh, too. Go ahead, laugh away, but you’ll find that there’s also a serious side to all this…
Cultivating a Fuji is republished with Ocelot Press this Thursday, 19th January and is available for pre-order.