Lots of the #55Joys list suggested dancing – so here’s a joy about dancing.

This time of year is always very busy for me – the lead-up to Fun Palaces weekend is huge, especially as we are a tiny team of four, all part-time. It’s been extra-busy recently as there have been lots of (very welcome) book festival invitations for both The Hidden Room and Money in the Morgue. And I’m writing Book 17. #AmWriting.

Last weekend I went up to Stirling for Bloody Scotland. In its 7th year, it’s a brilliant crime-writing festival with people coming from all over the UK and abroad, both as writers and readers. It kicks off with a torchlit procession leading down from the castle.

My train was late (the standard horror of travelling with Virgin Trains), so I dumped my bag and headed straight up the hill to the Holy Rood Church where the McIlvanney Prize winner was to be announced (won this year by Liam McIlvanney for The Quaker). I walked up feeling rushed, late and my usual anxiety kicking in – same old stuff about not belonging, not feeling part of, feeling like an outsider. I appreciate this isn’t peculiar to me, in fact I know most people feel it some or all of the time. For various reasons, I’ve had it more often and much more acutely/damagingly since my second cancer four years ago. When I was drinking it was easier to ignore (disrespect?) these feelings because other people are usually drinking too and so I was, at least on the level of sobriety, on a similar plane to them. Now that I’m not drinking I no longer have the glass of wine as a crutch, so I feel even more anxiety (or the ‘right’ amount, not obfuscated by alcohol?) going into the big rooms. And small rooms. And groups. And gatherings. Yes, it does happen a lot, I’m learning to live with it. More about all the mental health stuff here.

I had a word with myself as I charged up the hill. I reminded myself that there were people in the room I know and like. I reminded myself that I ALWAYS feel like this. I reminded myself that I have felt like this AND had a great time. I had a great time.

I saw people I know and people I didn’t but do know now (that’s you, lovely Fiona Sussman), I caught up with some old friends and I went to Val McDermid and Denise Mina’s brilliant, political, feminist, funny panel. AND I got to dance. Big dance.

I love dancing and the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers are perfect for that – they include very old mates Val McDermid and Mark Billingham and it’s a real joy to see friends having a fine time doing something that makes them happy – in this case playing and singing. So there was a LOT of dancing. A bunch of us were down the front and leaping from start to finish – special mention to Craig Sisterson (founder of the Ngaio Marsh Award) who did so in full kilt & regalia and managed not to melt. And then, the absolute icing on my cake, Bob McDevitt (one of the organisers of Bloody Scotland and who I know from way back in Publishers’ Cabaret days) sorted a bunch of us writers to go up and be backing singing (I took this to mean and dancing) for one number. So I also got to fulfill a life goal of backing/singing dancing to a Stones song.

Yes, rooms of people are scary. For some of us they are scary no matter how many loved ones are inside. New people are scary, even if they come highly recommended by loved ones. Being away from home (and I am away such a lot) is tiring and hard as well as exciting and brilliant. I could have gone to bed at 6pm that evening, I was that tired. I wanted to go to bed at 6pm. But I went out and joined some people and that led to some other good things. I only went to see the band because I wanted to support my mates. They don’t need my support, but I know it’s a thing they’re happy and proud to do and I haven’t seen them in their band before. I went to see them. I stayed and received a gift for myself.

The moral of the story is that there isn’t one. A good night’s sleep would not have gone amiss either, would have been equally valuable for my mental health, and I might be writing a blog about the joy of a good night’s sleep. I made a different choice and received the joyous gift of dancing.

This is me in joy. I’m the short one in the front. Thanks to Eleanor Abraham for the lovely images.