Monthly Archives: February 2015

Building Up My Endurance In A Literal Sense

I’ve covered a lot of ground this week in terms of both mental and physical goals: a solo trip to Ipswich on Monday; a coffee meet-up in Colchester on Tuesday; and then I jogged from my house to Long Melford and back (just over five miles) on both Wednesday and Thursday.

I thought it was about time I went to some places without Antonia that weren’t simply the co-op or the gym or Caffe Nero; because I’ve been in Sudbury for more than six months now, and even though going out for me means committing extra hours to route-planning and wandering round in circles (when I could simply stay home and write), it feels much more satisfying to do things independently.

I also wanted to re-ignite my passion for running.

A lot of people who read this blog will have seen me out pounding the Renfrew pavements many many times. Because for the best part of seventeen years I was always training for a ten mile race or a half marathon or simply trying to improve my stamina. I used to regularly do a ten kilometre round trip from Renfrew to Paisley and back (because I was scared of varying my route when I was out on my own in case I got lost) and in 2006 during my preparation for the Edinburgh marathon I did this multiple times a day. Aside from that, running helped fuel my writing because I’m a kinetic thinker, and for me there’s nothing quite like striding along with the wind in my hair and letting the ideas bounce around in my brain.

That was until a couple of years ago when I ended up with plantar fasciitis*. And the pains in my feet were so severe that I was forced to give up running for nine months. I tried swimming instead, but it just wasn’t the same. And because my running was so intrinsically linked with the the words I normally put down on paper, my ability to come up with new and exciting stories began to suffer too. As did my diet, because even though I’m one of those vegans who prefers a bowl of cherries to a bag of sweets or a lentil bake instead of a fry up, I stopped caring about what I put into my body because I thought ‘what’s the point?’.

But my injuries eventually healed. And when they did it was my confidence that stopped me from getting back up on my feet, so to speak. I tentatively tried running again for fifteen or twenty minutes and I realised I’d put on weight – not huge amounts, but I wobbled in places I previously didn’t and I felt sluggish and, well, sweaty – and this made it hard for me to get motivated.

And this went on for several months. Until I moved house. That’s when I made a decision to start again from scratch, to forget about races and medals and fitness targets and simply get up out of bed and do SOMETHING. Within two weeks of living in Sudbury, I joined the local gym and I started going to karate and yoga and jogging for a few kilometres on the treadmill twice a week. (I also went along to a running club but that didn’t work out because on week one I stopped to tie my shoelace and the others left me eating their dust; the second week they abandoned a sixteen-year-old newbie at night in a secluded woodland area who had no clue where she was going – I was one of two people who ran back for her and after that, I decided it was the wrong club for me.)

Last week I did fourteen miles on the treadmill whilst watching the entirety of eighties’ movie ‘Inner Space’. It’s the longest time I’ve ever spent on a treadmill and the furthest I’ve run in about three years. And although I was pleased I’d managed it, there was also a feeling of anti-climax, because at the end of the day I was still in the same place. And I knew that if my writing was ever going to go anywhere again, because it has been stuttering along recently, then I had to put myself back out into the world.

I chose Long Melford as my fledgling destination because I’d been there a few times, and because it’s pretty difficult (even for me) to get lost, seeing as I only have to walk to the end of my street and cross the road and keep running in a straight line. And I simply woke up on Wednesday morning, got my trainers on and just went for it; no procrastination, no stopping, no looking back.

Antonia says she might come running with me some time. She’s been getting back into her tennis and wants to sign up to the gym too. It feels nice getting fit together, and I’ve been manically reading lots of superfood and wholefood recipes so that we can cook tasty healthy things – I’m not going overboard with it though, and no way am I going without my cherry pie from Co-op!

 

*Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining or tearing the ligament that supports the arch

More Than This

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Two weeks ago, I finished reading ‘More Than This’, a young adult novel written by two-time Carnegie medal-winner Patrick Ness. And even though, I was initially quite dissatisfied with the ending to this book (I also didn’t love it quite as much as his ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy), I have been haunted by it ever since.

The story opens with a boy drowning in the sea. He is sixteen, nearly seventeen, we’re told. We are reeled into the narrative with him, towards his inevitable and excruciating death; we witness his last choking breaths and the obliteration of his skull as it crashes against rocks. And then he wakes up. In hell. Or at least he thinks he’s in hell. He’s in his old house. In his old hometown. In England. A country he left for America eight years before.   A place he hates. Except that it’s not the England he remembers, because it looks like several years have past. And the streets are deserted. And the landscape dilapidated. In fact, it’s much worse.

Reading this book made me think about my own mortality, and about the town where I grew up. I never really liked living in Renfrew (for various reasons), but if I was trapped there on my own for all eternity I could feel happy in the knowledge that the local library has an impressive number of brand new YA and fantasty fiction novels that I haven’t perused yet, so at least I’d be OK for reading matter for a couple of years. There would also be no roving drug addicts eyeballing me whenever I left the house. Because of course they’d all be dead in this post-apocalyptic purgatory or hell or whatever I was in. (I’ve obviously not got the most vivid of imaginations, because the most hellish place I can imagine at the moment is one where I don’t have anything to read.)

None of Ness’ characters in this novel are clear cut heroes nor are they villians. They are simply people who have found life too hard to cope with. Through Seth, his teenage protagonist, he shows us a retrospective world populated by messed up teenagers with equally messed up parents and he poses questions such as ‘why is the world such a messed up place?’, and ‘why do people use and abuse and hurt others?’, and most importantly: ‘is there more to life than this?’  Then he nudges us towards discovering our own answers.

His words have also pushed me to think about the ways in which my goals and desires have often rendered me an outsider: I always seem to want vastly different things from most of the people I know. I’m vegan, a writer, and I’m gay – and although I didn’t choose my sexuality I certainly made a conscious decision not to keep it a secret. I’ve also always hankered after far more than marriage, kids and a nine-to-five job. And I can’t imagine ever putting my social life ahead of my health and fitness.

Because of these things, I’ve frequently been accused of being selfish, of having unrealistic expectations, and of living in a fantasy world. I choose to ignore those opinions though. Instead, I’d rather see myself as someone who has a lust for life and a hunger for knowledge and new experiences. And I’m not going to change my views on this any time soon nor will I apologise for having the gall to dream.

‘More Than This’ is one of those books that would be ruined if I said too much about the plot. So I won’t. But, if you like intense, thought-provoking and multi-layered narratives with a dollop of intrigue and a smidgeon of humour then I thoroughly recommend you acquire a copy of it, and as Seth would say, ‘go in swinging’.

Last Tango In Sudbury

telephone

A couple of weeks ago, Antonia asked what I’d prefer as a Valentines gift: a romantic weekend in Manchester (a place I’ve been wanting to revisit for years) or the red, retro, replica telephone box / display cabinet that I saw in a shop in Long Melford. I chose the telephone box, of course – not only is it a beautiful and jaw-dropping collectible piece of furniture, but it’s the perfect kooky habitatat for the remaining fifty or sixty pocket dragon ornaments I hadn’t yet managed to showcase. Anyway, as a result, we will probably be spending a significant amount of time this weekend under my duvet… with a bowl of salty popcorn / kettle chips / other random tasty vegan snack whilst tuning in to the rest of ‘Last Tango In Halifax’. That’s what we’ve been doing all week actually, and we’ve become so hooked on the show that we’ve already binge-watched two seasons in the last five days!

The BBC one comedy-drama about lost opportunities and second chances, was written by British BAFTA winning writer Sally Wainwright and was inspired by her mother, who gained a new lease of life after she married her second husband. The show follows widowed septuagenarians Alan Buttershaw (Derek Jacobi) and Celia Dawson (Anne Reid) who reconnect on facebook then rekindle a romance which started nearly sixty years before. Alan and Celia’s later-in-life relationship and their live-life-to-the-max attitude is juxtaposed to the modern day mayhem that governs the lives of their respective daughters, Gillian (Nicola Walker), a bed-hopping farmer who works part-time in a supermarket, and Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), an Oxford-educated head mistress of an elite secondary school who, unbeknownst to Celia, has become intimate with a female colleague following the breakdown of her marriage to lovecheat ex, John, the father of her two teenage sons.

To be honest, I only started watching this show because of the lesbian storyline between Caroline and Kate (Nina Sosanya): I’d read the appraisals in Diva magazine regarding Sally Wainwright’s portrayal of the relationship between the two forty-something divorcees, and I was curious to know what was so special about it – well, that and the fact that you rarely see lesbians on tv unless they’re in a prison drama or a fleeting fancy in a soap. And I wasn’t disappointed. Aside from the brilliant dialogue, I was pleased to see that neither Caroline or Kate rushed to define themselves ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ (although, interestingly enough, other characters did label them); nor did storylines include any long drawn out coming out scenes which ended in hysteria, or tortured depictions of either woman struggling to accept their sexuality. They were shown as just a normal couple.

So I’m glad that Antonia’s mother lent us the DVDs so we could watch ‘Last Tango’. But not just because of the queer-themes. No, I completely fell in love with Alan’s character, and Celia was particularly inspiring with her gutsy gung-ho adventurous streak – I could almost forgive her homophobic references and the stupid faces she pulled whenever she didn’t get her own way. But more than that, I was pleased to see elderly people being represented on TV as something other than doddering old stay-at-home windbags who criticise and complain about everything.

Now I just have to work out what to give Antonia for Valentines day. I’m thinking, perhaps, a few more shades of red, pink and purple acrylic paint. And maybe a new blank canvas. She likes to work whilst the TV is on in the background and has been manically creating recently. I just hope she doesn’t get too excited during season three and splatter the lot on my bedcovers!

Hope

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And my end goal has always been to get my work in front of the eyes of as many readers as possible. I had my first poem printed in a magazine when I was fifteen, and since then I’ve submitted many many other pieces (mostly prose) to publishers, and have had several mini successes with small press publications and local competitions as well as a book deal for my autobiography. I’ve also spent years going to writing workshops, seminars, courses, you name it, all in the name of honing my craft.

So it has been challenging, not to mention frustrating, recently, when an increasing number of people have been suggesting that I should self-publish my novel, because that’s something that was never part of my plan.

Now, I have no qualms with other people self-publishing their own work – in fact, I can understand why it might be a good idea for them: modern technology has made it possible for anyone to have-a-go at putting their writing on kindle; they can even jaunt off to a printers and arrange hard copies on a shoe string budget; there’s also the option of print-on-demand; and through all of this they have complete control of their manuscript: no editor or higher literary powers-that-be calling on them to make compromises with their baby. But there is no getting away from the fact that, rightly or wrongly, there’s a stigma attached to self-publishing; and often (but not always) authors who choose this route are not taken seriously. So whilst I completely respect other peoples’ decision to do whatever they think is best for their manuscript, I have to say (after many hours of careful consideration) it is one hundred percent not right for me. Not at the present time anyway.

And because I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing my name on the spine of a paperback, peering out at me from the shelves in brand bookstores, I know that I’d never be satisfied with my novel simply existing as an e-book. But neither do I have the money to spend on printing, marketing or book cover design costs. And I still haven’t even figured out how to get my blog on the radar of popular search engines so apart from telling my family, friends and everyone I know on facebook I’d be next-to-hopeless at the online self-promotional side of things.

I suppose I could use the money I’ve been saving up for a new laptop to pay someone else to do all these things for me. But then I’d have nothing to type on when the current (six-and-a-half-year-old) Macbook goes tits up; and absolutely no guarantee that anyone other than my three best pals would buy my novel anyway (actually they’d probably expect free copies). Besides, just because you’ve self-published something, it doesn’t mean a bookshop will want to stock it. Sadly, they very rarely do in these circumstances.

So maybe my book is ‘niche market’. Maybe it’s ‘too gay’. Maybe it will never attract ‘gaystream’ audience never mind a mainstream one. It’s possible, but I still refuse to throw the towel in. Plus, it’s one thing to be told by a publisher that your work is ‘difficult to sell’, but it’d be far more heartbreaking for me to throw my novel followed by a lot time and money into an abyss, only to realise another year or two down the line that that no-one really wants to read it.

At the end of the day, I can write other novels. But only if I live in the present, concentrating on the actual writing instead of whittling away the hours trying to shanghai people into buying the old one. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll write something else in the not-too-distant-future that a publisher will like, and they’ll ask to see my backlog and I can pull this one out of the hat! Maybe a publisher will like my other two manuscripts that are also currently doing their rounds. I can but hope.