Life's a Mess
and Then You Die

Lesley Atherton's

a quirky novel of
hoarding and
lost family

Words are Life/Scott Martin Productions director and author, Lesley Atherton's first novel was 'Past Present Tense' - a story of hoarding, lost family and lots and lots of cleaning.

The book was re-released as 'Finding Dad' under Lesley's author name, Meredith Schumann.

It is now available FOREVER under the name 'Life's a Mess and Then You Die' by Lesley Atherton!

Parallels have been drawn with Sartre's 'Nausea'.


See reviews below.



'Peace Convoy Partisans'

A 16-Year-Old's Song, From the 1980s!


"Rubbish tips, broken cars, lamps that are no use, bottles cans or frying pans, anything of no use" - Candice-Marie

Tanya from 'Past Present Tense' is basically me. And so is her mum, Eleanor. To prove this beyond any reasonable doubt, I'm going to share the following embassing confession.


Yes, I wrote a song when I was 16.

Yes, it was called 'Peace Convoy Partisans'.

And yes, I kept it all these years.

I'm including it here as it might give readers some insight into the person I was - the person who created the characters within 'Past Present Tense', and also specially for one of my oldest friends, Liz. I thought you'd appreciate seeing these 'lyrics' down on the page. after remembering them for so many years.

So, remember, I was only 16. I was idealistic to a fault. And Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister, and the new age travellers were in the news all the time. So, forgive me my madness, please! Oh, and I was listening to a LOT of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at the time. I think it shows. I had yet to see the character Candice-Marie in Mike Leigh's amazing and definitive film, 'Nuts in May' but I'm sure she has her grubby fingerprints all over it. BTW the entire film script is here - I totally love it.


Peace Convoy Partisans

Oh people of the earth, we must make a stand

For those who condemn us won't try to understand

That we want to live in a way that is right

And not sleep with horror in our dreams every night.

Why should you own all this land, it was free

When God made and gave it to you and to me.

Lets share it and nurture it, use it as needs

And not cram it full of society's greeds.

Why are we so wicked, such outcasts, such threats?

There's a reason you haven't let on to us yet.

Is it that those who will see us on their TV screens

Will see that your way's not the only way to be.

Yes we love our country but for reasons not seen

In your capitalist and dictatorial regime
(this is the most embarrassing line!
I sound like Rik from 'The Young Ones'!).

We love all the beauty in each coming day

And the presence of nature enlightens our way.

We're happy and free, yes we want to live this way

In corruption and disease we don't want to stay.

We'll get back to the land where our home can be doung

But policemen and soldiers will shoot us all down.

Because we are freaks, we're nuisances, threats.

To 'normality' we haven't quite stabilised yet.

And if it wasn't for bureacracies stealing our grounds

And turning us out into cities and towns

We'd be living exactly as we are today

Only then it's be normal, there'd be nothing to say.

No conventional lifestyles to poison our minds

Just those going to come in a century's time.

So please let us be cos we'll do you no harm.

Don't petition off our fields and our farms.

Our life may be simple, you may call us scroungers,

But if you'd not stop us then we'd all be farmers.

Living the way that nature intends

In love, peace and harmony, all of us friends.

So go travel back to your houses and homes

With plush draylon curtains and push button phones.

Just allow us a place for the nurture of seeds.

And a patch for our shelter, that's all that we need.

A & L talk about PPT

A World of Acronyms


“Your home is living space, not storage space.” ― Francine Jay (from Goodreads)

A: This book is about hoarding and nastiness as well as being about family and relationships. It's an obvious question, but why on earth would anyone want to write (or read) about hoarding?!


L: Well, it's down to my own personality really. I'm a natural acquirer of unnecessary items but have always managed to stop short of becoming a hoarder. I'm more of a clutterer. Give me a wall and I will put things on it. Give me a shelf and I'll fill it. I wish I wasn't like this, but I am. Waste Not, Want Not. Make Do and Mend.

So this led me to begin watching programmes about hoarding and getting some deep compassion and understanding of the sufferers as well as those who must live with a mess not of their making. The main character of 'Past Present Tense' is Tanya, who discovers that the dad she thought was dead is actually alive, and is buried under his own clutter in his own hoarded house. I was able to put myself in her position. I was able to also put myself in his position. I hope that's come over in the writing.


There is so much misunderstanding of the reasons behind hoarding. I know that one of the fallacies is that the people just need to get up off their bums and start to clean. But for the majority of hoarders, it isn't laziness that causes the collections and clutter, it is more a feeling of connection to the items, and to the memories and feelings those items hold. There are elements of anthropomorphism too. Hoarders don't just feel responsible for the items they own, but also feel compassionate towards them and often their relationships with the objects are more meaningful than many of the relationships they have with other humans.


Like I say, I'm not a hoarder, but I do understand where the hoarding motivation comes from. I currently own 76 musical instruments. I play only 3 of them regularly, and play none of them daily. Why do I not sell them? Because I like them and enjoy the ownership of them. I like them to be there when I'm ready for them. And there are so many other reasons too: creativity, appreciation of beauty, appreciation of usefulness, and the desire to be able to entertain myself!


I know I'll never be a minimalist. Blank spaces irritate me. But I really do need to have far less stuff. I hoped that writing about hoarding in this way might interest those people who live with hoarding, either their own or that of others.


A: Is the writing based on the work of anyone else in particular?


L: No. Just me, though one of my reviewers felt that the inner dialogues of the early chapters were reminiscent of Sartre's 'Nausea'. It's odd really, but in recent years my reading has definitely taken back place to my writing. On the plus side, it means I'm not overly influenced by new books I'm reading, but on the negative side, I'm also behind the times. But that works for me. I don't mind being retro. I can't imagine being anything else.


A: That's your personality?


L: It is. I don't really do trends. I am who I am.


A: I understand you're working on another book at the moment.


L: Yes, I'm finishing the manuscript for my novel, 'The Waggon'. It requires completion before September 2019 as I will be submitting it as the final assessment for my Masters Degree in Creative Writing. It's currently at the 65,000 word stage, but there's quite a way still to go. After that, I'm going to be starting on a book about teenage Aspergers, and will continue with my publication of other peoples' work through Scott Martin Productions. I have a few ideas for novelettes and many ideas for short stories, and will also be working on my blog.


A: You're unstoppable. Do you still have time to attend writing groups?


L: I do. Currently I go to two weekly groups, and two monthly groups. I also attend two monthly reading groups. Why do you ask?


A: I was just wondering if you still find them of use, now you're published and have more writing experience. Isn't it something you grow out of as time goes on and you know what you're doing?


L: In my case, no. My Tuesday group, in particular, is like family. I don't know what I'd do without them socially, and they give me great confidence creatively too. My advice to anyone who wants to write, is to engage with other interested souls online and in person. Once you get over the first feelings of fear at sharing your work, it really is liberating!


A: I can see that. Thanks so much for answering my questions!

L: Thanks. It's been fun :-)

#interview #hoarding #pastpresenttense #lesleyatherton

Interview regarding 'Past Present Tense'

Between Lesley Atherton and Grace Sachs


“By the time dad died, the junk was so piled up that there were tunnels instead of rooms.” ― Holly Black, White Cat (from Goodreads)

13th February 2019.

G: My first question for you is a very simple one, and you must get sick of answering it. Why would anyone want to write? It doesn’t pay well unless you’re very famous, and it’s a lot of hard work. Why not get a ‘real’ job?


L: Hahaha! Have you transmogrified into the school careers adviser? Well, I’m in my early fifties so have had plenty of ‘real’ jobs that paid the bills. Writing is something I wanted to do from an early age.


G: Yeah, sorry for being facetious. I think I’m envious that you’re out there and doing it, and I haven’t done it yet. Probably never well. Too bone idle.


L: I was like that for years. Every time I saw someone else actually writing I felt one step away from the reality I wanted. I’d assist others in living their dreams, but was too busy working in up to four jobs to follow my own dreams. But I always said I’d do it when I retired. I’m quite a few years from retirement but came into a little money which enabled me to resign from other paid work and use my previous writing and publishing experience to get started on my own. And that’s where Scott Martin Productions was born. Scott Martin was my mum’s maiden name, and I’m deeply grateful to her for teaching me to read before I began school, and also to read music. She was a primary school deputy head, and a very hard worker and great role model, and she was rather good at correcting my written work too. But writing and reading were things that meant a lot to me from an early age. I remember writing a poem mid-way through high school about ‘Blackberry Picking’. My English teacher, Mrs Nash (Emma, I think) was so supportive. My report for that school term praised my use of language and said she thought was going to bloom into being a fine writer. You remember things like that. I still also remember the first line of the poem ‘Blackberry picking, sweet and sticky…; then there was something about the stains on the hand being like an open wound. I wish I still had that poem.


G: But most people who like writing at school or later, don’t actually make a career of it. How did you know that writing and publishing were the way to go for you?


L: I don’t suppose that anyone really knows the difference between dreams that should be fulfilled and those which are best to remain as dreams. Not until they actually achieve them, anyway. So you might as well just try to live those dreams, if you can. Provided the personal risk involved isn’t too great. If it works out, brilliant, and if it doesn’t, well at least you can go to your grave knowing you’ve tried.


G: And on that cheerful note…


L: Yes. Sorry. I don’t mean it in a negative sense. It’s more that we’re here for such a short time so we might as well try to follow our hearts!

See the original blog article here.


#interview #pastpresenttense #changes #nomatterwhat

Brilliant Reviews

For Lesley Atherton's First Novel


"Finally there is an acceptance and value of valuable pluralist connections, choices and ideas." - about 'Past Present Tense'

Comments from a reader of 'Past Present Tense'!


"Good pace. Takes its time to reflect in intriguing fashion."


"May not suit readers of the 'Wham Bam' genres. Will suit readers wanting more depth and more 3D characterisation. A lot of interior verbalisation and feeling."


"Motifs ; Sartrean existential angst. No way to anticipate direction of story because of unpredictability of players."


"Fear, insecurity. anxiety. loneliness v aloneness. strong but vulnerable characters causing conflict within and outwardly."


"House belonging to Edward, another 'character' in its own right, reflects mental turmoil and needs at the time. For father it is an anchor to a wavering reality. It is a symbolic order (in a Kristevian sense) but a symbolic disorder. Abject. Revolt. Chaotic thoughts and action or non-action."


"Search by all characters for Home or sanctuary. For the villian, Craig, his is violent efforts to control or he is lost at sea."


"Action is woven into interior monologues. In the case of Craig it is difficult to detect any residual charm that had first won Natalie but his violence paradoxically shows weakness."


"Concept of Home = Concept of identity. Gregarious human need v Need for individual creativity and protection of one's integrity."

"Finally there is an acceptance and value of valuable pluralist connections, choices and ideas."


#pastpresenttense #sartre #review #comment

Journey That Went Wrong

Makes Me Think About 'Past Present Tense'


"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." Marcus Aurelius - from BrainyQuote

A disturbing day when I took some time out from a Yorkshire commune. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, but this day and this time of my life were undoubtedly the inspirations behind 'Past Present Tense'.

I lived in Crow Corner, officially a hamlet, but in reality not as pretty as that sounds. It was really no more than a glorified rural council estate built around the road edges somewhere between two towns in Yorkshire. The forty or so houses had been specially erected for the workers at the village’s main place of employment – the clay pipe works, Howarth Building Products.


Crow Corner also sported a small shop and post office, and a pub called The Sweet Flowers (named after a locally derived folk song). It was next to The Sweet Flowers that I lived in a tiny threesome commune called “Justice”. My co-livers were Carol, a 60ish woman, and her partner Dianne who was about 40. They had met at Greenham Common as protesters and at the time I lived there I was in my late teens.

My room in the house was freezing, with window panes that rattled musically each time one of the factory trucks came past. This was something they did all day every day, a process that began at 6:30am. I wore hat, scarf and gloves to bed, and my only luxury was my duvet.

The place wasn’t squalid but the power and utilities were severely limited. We relied on a terribly inefficient wind power for our little bits of electricity, on the couch grass infested land for most of our food, and on a wood burning stove for the pleasure of our once-weekly bath. It wasn’t the best idea of mine to move there, I have to admit, but there were fun times, when I had the money to get on the bus and escape away to the bright lights of Sheffield or Huddersfield.

One night I’d been singing at a local folk club. I’d saved up for two pints of bitter, a packet of crisps and had enjoyed a really good time. The walk home was 5 miles, along country roads with little traffic, no street lights and no safety whatsoever. But, with the bravery and stupidity of the young, I walked in pitch black and freezing cold, and got back to Justice in one piece.

But the following day I was due to take another journey. It began with another long walk in terrible weather - from Crow Corner to the coach stop at the Barnet Inn – about 7 miles away. I didn’t mind doing it as I was going to Bolton to visit my boyfriend Joe and I’d been missing him like mad. In those days there was no internet to check bus times etc, and we had no phones where I lived either. So we went on trust. My little paper timetable said a coach was due at 3:45, and so I arrived there at the stop at 3:30.

I was not lucky. I spent over three hours waiting in the cold and darkness at the crossroad junction outside the Barnet Inn. The coach didn’t turn up. I was scared, there being forests and fields to all sides of me, with the exception of the dark and closed pub. I had very little money (only enough for coach fare) and wasn’t sure what to do. So, at 7pm I crept, exhausted and freezing, into the Barnet, and explained my situation.


They must have believed me as I was struggling to hold back the tears, and they kindly let me use the phone in their office to call Joe. He immediately agreed that he’d come all the way from Bolton to pick me up, and the young lady behind the counter gave me a hot chocolate while I waited and warmed myself. I sat patiently, relieved and half-heartedly reading one of the books from the pub’s decorative bookshelf.

When Joe arrived he said he’d rung the coach company before setting off to me. The coach service I was waiting for had been cancelled the previous week but the bus stop signs were still there.

Joe and I left the Barnet Inn after he had bought me a tasty vegetarian dinner – mung bean curry if I remember rightly, and a syrup sponge – and we drove back to Bolton, arriving back very late, but greatly relieved. I was so glad to get back to reality again.


Life wasn’t easy at Crow Corner and what I wanted more than anything was to be back in Lancashire. I loved Yorkshire but my lifestyle in the Justice household was killing me. Long walks in bad weather, malnourishment, cold and lack of creature comforts – it was not something my still-growing body could sustain for long.

So, I hadn’t taken the coach from the Barnet Flouch Inn to Bolton. I had walked, I had waited and waited, I had cried and I had weakly accepted a lift. I felt let down, weakened and pathetic as a result of having to call Joe. It also led to a long lasting anxiety regarding public transport and its reliability, and a delighting in my own company in my own home. Luxury!

Here's a link to the original blog piece.

My Own Hoarding/Unhoarding Story

Less is More, and More is Less


“Hoard food and it rots. Hoard money and you rot. Hoard power and the nation rots.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Adjustment Day - from Goodreads

I had always been fascinated with hoarding and it is one of the main subjects of my book ‘Past Present Tense’.

I’m an inconsistent soul, as I suppose is quite common for a creative type, and one of the ways this manifest itself has been through my almost bipolar attitude towards possessions.

In my younger life, I tended to collect as much as I could. Take me to a beach and I’d return with shells, stones and twigs. Take me to an event and I’d always want a programme.

But in my late teens I began losing possessions with intention. By the time I was living on a Yorkshire commune at the age of 19, I owned two changes of clothes, a guitar and a notebook filled with songs. And a toothbrush. And a yellow patchwork bag bought from a craft shop in Holmfirth during that time (I still have the bag, the guitar and the song book).

Those who knew me then would likely have assumed that I’d grow to become a committed minimalist. And certainly, for quite some time, I was the kind of person who refused to make any mark on the earth’s resources. Everything I owned was old, second-hand or gifted, and even when I created arty stuff, I’d give it all away. But once I settled in house and job, I began to accumulate.

I’ve gone through years of hoarding and purging, my essential nature being sandwiched somewhere between the desire to save/conserve/recycle, and the desire to lose and clarify.

By the time my children came along, I was definitely in hoard mode. I would be gifted clothes for them but not want to lose the old ones. I made pretty toddler dresses into bags and I made a wonderful wall hanging from memory items that I put into a frame.  Most of what made it were saved items, and I love it. It’s certainly one of the items I’d save from a fire.

Also at this time, my pre-schoolers got themselves a taste for Kim and Aggie, from ‘How Clean is Your House’. We’d watch episodes for hours while we lived in our own crowded house. Not hoarded but definitely crowded. That's where my blog story, 'The Too Small House' emerged from.

That’s where ‘Past Present Tense’ began: the desire to write about a man who started off with little, and ended up with too much after compensating for his losses – notably his first wife and daughter.

I wanted to write of a hoard that was unpleasant, but to make it clear that the hoarder was not. I hope this comes across.

Where Tanya and Eleanor Came From

The Shameful Truth


“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ― Franz Kafka

Tanya is loosely based on the young woman I used to be, and those who knew me personally during my teens and early twenties will recognise her immediately. I too was idealistic, but I think Tanya has the practical nature that I only acquired in my 30s. So in many ways, the character of Eleanor the idealistic mum is me as a teen, but Tanya as a young woman is me now (in my early fifties). Strange.

Tanya’s smelly hat is a recollection from my own hippy years. When my possessions were (very) few, I acquired a bobble hat that I rarely took off. That was smelly hat. You could tell where I’d been and who I’d been with by its distinctive aroma, and though it did get washed once a week, traces still remained.

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