The Monster Under The Bed

observer new faces

Photograph: Karen Robinson for The Observer

Today is an unusual day.

There have been many unusual days on this journey of Goats and Sheep. Days I’ve stared into space and wondered if this was all really happening – the day I signed with my wonderful agent, the day my publishing deal was in The Bookseller, the day I saw my novel on the Waterstones’ website. Today, however, is the most unusual of unusual days. Today, I’m in The Observer, staring back from the page as one of their ‘new voices in fiction’.

Have a look here, if you’d like to read it.

Every year, I watched out for this article, and each time they announced their choices, I would read the writers’ interviews and the synopses of the books they’d written, and I would think, ‘I could never be chosen for something like that. I’m not interesting like they are, or clever, or talented. I’m not good enough.’

And yet this year, here I am. Being good enough.

It’s a safe and comfortable corridor to walk, believing you’re not good enough. Its walls protect you from setbacks and disappointment. It very cleverly shields you from criticism and failure. Of all the things in life we could be worried about, we choose failure as our biggest fear. This is our nemesis. The demon that charges at us from the middle of the room. But it’s actually the failure to try that we should be most afraid of. This is the real monster, the one that hides under your bed. The one that will find you in years to come.

It’s not easy, stepping out of that safe corridor. If you read my biography, it will tell you that I left school with one O-level, went back to college in my thirties, and took a medical degree. It won’t tell you that I had a five-hour commute every day, that I was constantly filled with appalling self-doubt, and that between lectures, I often had to choose between a packet of crisps and a cup of tea, because I couldn’t afford both. My biography will also tell you that I wrote a book. It won’t tell you I had to get up at 3am each day to write that book, before I went to work. It won’t tell of the times I nearly threw in the towel. It certainly won’t tell you about all the people who gave “you poor, deluded fool” looks, when I told them I liked writing (so much so, I stopped admitting it to people, because I felt too ashamed). Hopefully, though, if you read between the lines, it will tell you that I stopped believing I wasn’t good enough. It will tell you I didn’t fail to try. I tackled the monster under the bed.

However, this isn’t a home-spun, Athena-poster style blog entry. Of course limits exist in places other than our minds. In medicine, when we’re looking at how likely someone is to get a disease, we split the risks into modifiable and unmodifiable. Your unmodifiable factors are your age, whether you were born male or female, what hand of cards genetics might have dealt you. Your modifiable factors, however, can be changed – whether you smoke, drink, how much you weigh. How much you enjoy hurtling down life’s fast lane at 100mph. When we’re choosing to tackle something, there will always be unmodifiable factors – time, money, responsibilities, jobs, mortgages, life. But believing you’re not good enough is definitely modifiable. That’s a factor you can start modifying right now.

So whatever it is you want to do, whether you want to write a book or go back to university, start a blog, learn a language, run a marathon – or whether, like I have, you look at a newspaper article and believe you’re not good enough, the most valuable thing you can do, is start telling yourself that yes, actually, you are. YES YOU ARE.

Forget the monster in the middle of the room, that one’s all talk. Failing to try is the real danger. And if you don’t deal with it, it’s the monster under the bed that will get you in the end.


  1. Fiona Quint
    January 10, 2016 / 9:19 am

    Wow Jo. Just wow. You’ve always been amazingly insightful and here you are really getting your words out there. The world of medicine is a better place with you in it. Keep on keeping on. And bloody well done!

  2. Sue McGuinness
    January 10, 2016 / 10:07 am

    I have never had any doubts about your being good enough – from reading your blog for the very first time I have been captivated by your voice, your ability to make me smile or bring tears to my eyes. I am so happy you are getting the recognition you deserve – congratulations!

    • January 10, 2016 / 11:54 am

      That’s so lovely of you, thank you!

  3. January 10, 2016 / 11:18 am

    Oh Joanna… what a bloody fantastic post… so insightful, so inspirational and so motivational! As are all the folk, ‘the new voices of fiction’ highlighted in The Observer… huge congratulations for being one of them.

    It’s been great reading about you & your story this last year; since Simon of first tipped you as one to watch early in 2015, seeing you blossom on Twitter… always happy, thriving in your unfolding success BUT ultimately always friendly, & encouraging others.

    This morning you’ve made smile, happy-cry a little… egged me on to do a cartwheel, run up a hill Maria style and burst into song. (Okay physically I can’t just yet, the sutures won’t permit, but mentally I’m warming up & stretching and the butterflies in my belly are stiring😊)

    You say its not-an-Athena-Style-poster – but first job when I get back to my desk will be to print this out and stick it somewhere I’ll read AND respond to often… although definitely, thinking of modifiable factors, NOT the fridge door😉

    • January 10, 2016 / 11:55 am

      You are so kind, thank you – and heal quickly!

  4. Kathy
    January 10, 2016 / 11:44 am

    Failure scares the hell out of me… every day that I don’t progress in some measurable way, every competition I’m not even long-listed for… It’s really scary. Thanks for writing this.

    • January 10, 2016 / 11:55 am

      It’s incredibly scary, but keep marching. Always x

  5. January 10, 2016 / 5:08 pm

    This is a lovely blog post and very inspiring. Well done. Your book sounds great. I’ll definitely be checking that out.

    • January 11, 2016 / 6:08 pm

      Thank you! I’m really looking forward to hearing what you think!

  6. January 10, 2016 / 6:29 pm

    In my head I sprinted a marathon after reading your motivational post, even though in reality I’d probably struggle to get past the end of the avenue. I am often plagued with self-doubt regarding my writing, but keep trying, and your words have spurred me on to start the novel I’ve been promising myself I will write. Thank you, and a happy new year!

    • January 11, 2016 / 6:10 pm

      That’s wonderful! Best of luck with it, and I think being plagued with self-doubt is mandatory for all of us (and not always a bad thing!)

  7. January 10, 2016 / 8:05 pm

    Thank you, Joanna. You put my own thoughts into words here. Loved it.

    • January 11, 2016 / 6:10 pm

      I’m so glad you liked it, thank you!

  8. Brenda Harris
    January 10, 2016 / 10:36 pm

    You are truly an inspiration to all women Jo. You just keep setting your limits higher and surpassing them. You are a shining example of pursuing one’s dreams to the fullest and succeeding with same all while you face your own self doubts. Thank you for sharing with us. Keep climbing that ladder of success and enjoy each and every rung on that ladder. Hugs to you

    • January 11, 2016 / 6:11 pm

      Brenda, you are lovely. Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment x

  9. juliathorley
    January 11, 2016 / 5:36 pm

    Thank you for this post. I’m going to bookmark it and come back to it in moments of doubt.

    • January 11, 2016 / 6:11 pm

      You’re very welcome, I’m so glad it was helpful!

  10. January 11, 2016 / 8:36 pm

    You speak the truth, Joanna, and that’s so important. Failure was always my biggest fear, but my biggest success is trying, always trying, and learning and getting better. It’s a pleasure to see you succeed, and I never doubted it! x

  11. February 6, 2016 / 10:18 am

    I’ve always read your blog posts and your stories made me cry. I knew that one day you would write your book. Today a book dropped through my letterbox for me to review and it was yours. I actually felt proud,as if I knew you personally. This post spoke to me too. I have recently joined a writing group and every week I think I’m not going to produce anything worth reading. I too do not tell many people that I write. Thanks for the inspiration and good luck with your book.

  12. March 27, 2016 / 6:22 pm

    Thanks for that as am trying to write a novel and almost there but do suddenly get those feelings of failing or why am I doing this. But the story wants to be written and I will plod on or speed up. I really admire you writing at any time you could while working. Will certainly get hold of your book soon.

  13. March 30, 2016 / 6:46 pm

    First I say congratulations, you bring hope and confidence flooding back, It comes and hangs out with me sometimes for many a page then poof!
    As I revise again and again my first manuscript i blog stuff just to break the pain of seek and destroy. But if people ask what I do i mumble smile and say write. Which is followed by “Oh anyone can do that…
    I can’t wait to read your new book and hope sincerely it goes to no. One.

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