Emma’s story

How writing and the countryside saved me


I’m Emma, an author, mum, countryside lover and anorexia survivor based in Sussex.

I have always found solace in writing. At school, my pirate adventure story complete with detailed treasure map was described as ambitious for a seven-year-old! Developing anorexia as a stress-riddled teenager, I started to write a diary – the only way my thoughts could be heard over the bossy anorexic voice which now dictated every element of my calorie- and exercise-obsessed life. And as a 20-year-old inpatient on an eating disorders unit, I found comfort in writing letters to my family and friends, my only link to the outside world which I so longed to be part of once more.

I still grieve for the 20 years I wasted to anorexia – an arduous ping-pong match of ‘just about coping’ periods and catastrophic relapses. Stress (exams, job interviews, failed fertility treatment) saw me sliding down the slippery slope of bad habits. Having a purpose (writing my dissertation, working at a marriage and nurturing my children) brought me brief glimpses of health and happiness. But it was only when I moved to the Sussex countryside and started to craft my debut young adult novel How Do You Stop A Magpie Mobbing Your Mind?, that I discovered how powerful writing and nature can be in achieving full recovery.

When I first set foot in the imperfect horticultural haven of our forever home, I instantly felt a sense of calm and fullness which had eluded me throughout the gruelling battle against my indefatigable anorexia. The soothing rhythm of the rising and falling breeze eased my aching aerobics-exhausted muscles, the pizzicato trill of birdsong was an uplifting change from the condescending spiteful voice which had been my irritating earworm for so long, and the mighty oak and beech trees surrounding us seemed to welcome me with their protective embrace.

Intrepid adventures with my two children in the whale-backed wooded valley we look out over have dominated the last couple of years. We’ve discovered burbling beech-fringed brooks, floodlit wildflower-filled forests and meandering meadow’s-edge footpaths. We have also found tranquillity in tending to our half acre of wild Sussex – once we’d stopped the deer munching through our mouth-watering plants! But by far the biggest revelation has been the journey of self-discovery which I have undertaken. The natural world has taught me about transience, how to appreciate each delicate thread of life’s vibrant tapestry, and to know that I too am an integral stitch in its design.

The lockdown of 2020 gave me the perfect opportunity to write once more. An idea formed in my head, the sketch of a story – a tale of bereavement, recovery and the power of nature to heal. I wrote the first paragraph and was happy. Then severe writer’s block hit me – I put my draft in an envelope, tearfully telling my husband that ‘I just couldn’t do it!’. But I was unable to put the idea down. Sleepless nights followed, words and sentences running on loop in my enlivened brain. Pages started to flow, and soon the first chapter was complete. Aside from my eating disorder, nothing had ever consumed me so utterly and completely. And I had never been permitted by my anorexia to sit down for such a prolonged period! But I was creating a tale which I hoped would touch and comfort others. My heroine was me before my anorexia – the person for so long I’d yearned to become, and her mum an anorexic, the vulnerable and misunderstood character I’d come to loathe. I’d finally found something which was bigger and stronger than my eating disorder. Six blissfully cathartic months followed, and How Do You Stop A Magpie Mobbing Your Mind? was born!

“We all want quiet. We all want beauty… We all need space. Unless we have it, we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.” The words of Octavia Hill, co-founder of the National Trust, were the inspiration for my novel. I’m so glad that those wild whispers have now become whoops of pure euphoria as I enjoy a life free of the disease which plagued me for more than half my existence.

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