Thursday, 31 July 2014

A Mini Adventure

Here's the tale of how three writers from far flung parts of the world came to meet on a beautifully warm and sunny day in the vibrant city of Cambridge. They met originally in the virtual world as a result of an online writing community called 'My 500 words'. Online, they'd shared, encouraged, challenged and enjoyed each other's virtual company and so intrigued and curious, they decided to take a risk and make it real. And that's how two women from California - one from the North and one from the South (no wicked witch references intended here of course!) and one from a small market town in Cheshire came to have a mini adventure.

They ate and drank at Bill's in a quaint quiet street away from the main crowds and they talked writerly stuff and about life and shared their stories - the stories that had shaped them and made them the writers and people they are today. They talked and talked and shared their wisdom and their truth over flatbreads and mochas and even more bacon!

Feeling comfortable with each other, whimsical and fuelled by the warmth of the sun and how good life could be, they strolled through the crowds of people, and made their way to the water to punt. Well, not that they were going to punt (they weren't feeling quite that adventurous). They found a zestful and energy-filled young man who once his palm was crossed with silver was more than happy to navigate his way through the dodgem-car like filled river. He regaled them with tales of Cambridge colleges, student antics, a woman named the Black Widow who'd carelessly managed to lose three husbands and a very sad tale about a war hero forced to suicide because of his sexual preferences.

The three woman sat back in the punt, listening to yet more stories and felt the joy of random connections. Ordinarily they should never have met, ordinarily their lives would not have crossed and yet they did and this wonderful afternoon was a result of that connection.

They finished their meet up sipping dark and stormies (is that a word? Just go with it please), local beer and thirst quenching sparking water on a roof top terrace overlooking the spires and rooftops of Cambridge. They did not know if they would meet again. Perhaps, perhaps not. It didn't matter because they had shared time together, connected and had a mini adventure and that was enough.

And here are some pictures in case you like the visual as well as the written.

My mini adventure companions Roslynn and Tonia

Our zestful and energy-filled Punt Expert - Kieran

A Cambridge building no doubt of significance

Punting acquaintances sharing our journey

Another significant building - I guess I wasn't paying much attention

An idyllic afternoon

My arty shot or in other words a swan out of focus

Going under the mathematical bridge

Tonia really getting into the swing of things

One final significant Cambridge building for those who like that sort of thing

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Loss and a tiny rowing boat

Today was a glorious sunshine day - one of the hottest days of the year so far. It was a joy to be out enjoying blue skies and the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. I felt carefree and light. Today was an easy to be part of kind of day. As I walked in town, I passed a group of people huddled together. It was as if they were seeking warmth from the closeness of each other. And actually they were. Their black outfits gave away their purpose and a young woman elegantly dressed was holding on tightly to a bunch of beautiful deep red roses. Beyond them I saw the hearse and besides the coffin inside, the words Nana inscribed in white flowers. My own lightness faded for a moment. I was sad. Today these people, complete strangers to me, would feel the weight of sadness that comes from losing someone close to you. Tonight, a daughter will be missing her mum and a grandchild her precious Nana as well as anyone else connected to Nana.

But why should I feel sad. I have no connection to these people and yet I did feel it. I felt it because I know what it is like to lose someone close to you. I know the weight that can come from that loss. I know the sadness of waking each day with the knowledge that someone you love is gone and you'll never experience all the things you loved about them again. Thankfully I had no regrets, no guilt or other negatives associated with my own mother's death but I did hold on far too tightly when she was gone even though I thought I'd let her go. In the months after,  I thought it would be good to be strong. It wasn't.  I thought it was good not to show my vulnerability. It wasn't. Others tried to help and support me - I told them I was fine. Often I wasn't. I tried to resist grief, but grief had other thoughts. It took me by the hand and said I will have my time with you whether you like it or not. That was the bit I hadn't understood. Somehow I thought that I could bypass grief, by simply carrying on but that's not how it works or not in my experience.

After my mother's death I also experienced another form of loss. I lost sight of who I was, what I stood for and why I was here, so not only had I lost her, but I'd lost myself too along the way. At times, it felt like I was stranded in a small rowing boat on the ocean. Whichever direction I looked, all I could see was water and I had no idea which way I should paddle - which way would lead me to dry land and rescue. But there was no beacon, no rescue party, no map - there was just me in this little rowing boat, going round and round in circles. That was hard. In many ways I felt like I was grieving for me too and the person I'd once been. I wanted the old me back, but once again life had other plans, it wanted me to learn and grow from these experiences. It needed me to realise that I was my own rescue party and that with a change of perspective, I could be in a luxury yacht with crew and a full navigation system. Initially, once again I resisted. I'd become attached to the little rowing boat. Sometimes I still fall back into that boat but now at least I ensure it's got an on-board motor.

So what does it all mean? I could speculate but I can only share how it affected me. Loss is something we generally all have to deal with and it is a very personal experience. The loss of my mother has led me to explore new paths and be open to new experiences and emotions. I have walked along with grief hand in hand. It is not an easy journey but it was a necessary one.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Why I'm not telling anyone I'm writing a novel

I remember very clearly signing up to Nanowrimo for the first time. I was excited, eager and had absolutely no idea what I was going to write. But I'd committed to the process - so I had to get my act together and start writing and that's exactly what I did. 30 days later, I had just over 56,000 words on screen, I got the certificate, wore the t-shirt and boy was I proud of myself!

The other thing I did was tell everyone I knew that I was writing a book. I broadcast it to friends near and far, to family and of course posted about it on Facebook too. Soon everyone was excited on my behalf. I was buzzing from the attention of it all. This was new and suddenly I was interesting. People had something they could always talk to me about - my novel. How was it progressing? What's it about? When would it be finished? Self-publish or try and get an agent? There were so many questions and it spurred me on, gave me encouragement and all was generally good while I was still writing.

Nano was a great experience, but I realised that actually I didn't really know much about writing and so I read books, learned more, started and contributed regularly to a creative writing group, learned some more, went on a couple of one day courses and learned some more and at the same time, I continued to read other people's work to see how they did it. That was all great, but it made me realise that my initial Nanowrimo efforts really weren't that good. Yes it was 56,000 words but those words weren't something others would want to read. I knew that because even I didn't want to read them :-)

There were lots of things I hadn't known about, which now I do and these needed to be incorporated into my book. And so on I went. I did character interviews, developed my dialogue skills, realised that I needed more conflict and I learnt about show rather than tell. All this was great, but it was around this time that I started to get in my own way and the novel simply wasn't progressing. Many notes were made in journals, post it notes were stuck up, things were downloaded from the Internet and it looked like I was really busy writing my book. But I wasn't. I was enchanted by this new world. Lots of distractions but not much actual writing going on. And still others asked how it was going and I was able to comment about my progress and discuss this new world I was in.

After that I suffered from lots of mind issues. I felt guilty about spending time on it, particularly as I wasn't getting any further. I questioned whether I was good enough. I challenged the fact that I'd spent so much time on it and hadn't crossed the finishline. I was concerned that while I was doing this, I wasn't earning money from other things. I wondered whether it was all a pipe dream and I was just another of those people who started a novel, never to finish it. I let my inner critic run around wildly in my head and didn't rein her in

Actually I was a bit of a mess and I still had this unfinished novel and people still asked me how it was going. I avoided their questions, used diversion tactics and put the focus on them rather than me, because after all who wants to talk about guilt, lack of drive and an unfinished project.

And then I simply stopped writing it.

And I stopped writing it for a whole year and people stopped asking me about it.

But it seems this itch won't go away and needs scratching, so a year on it's back up on screen. Will I write it? I'm not sure. I may well reach exactly the same sticking point or a completely new one. I don't know yet. All I know is that this time I'm keeping quiet about it (apart from you guys reading this of course). But I know you can keep a secret can't you, so all is well.