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Archive for the month “May, 2012”

The Olympic Flame

On Sunday the Olympic flame will come through our little town.  Now, I am not particularly a sport lover, I usually watch Wimbledon and the Cup Final, but I must admit that the attraction of field, track and beach volleyball rather passes me by. So why am I bothering to rearrange my weekend so that I can go and see the Olympic torch going past?

Well, for one thing, it is quite something that someone bothered to send it this way – Newport, Pembs, is by any standard at the very edge of the UK, one more step and you’d be in the Irish Sea! But the allure of the torch is more than just the novelty factor, more than some weird sense of national pride (or dismay that we are hosting this ridiculously expensive event at a time of horrendous recession.) I think it is more something to do with the spirit of the Olympic athletes themselves, that grit and determination, that sense of people striving to the very limit of their endurance, the effort, the dedication, the incredible personal and physical sacrifices they make to get to the peak of their ability.

So why do they do it? It can’t just be about winning a gold medal. For most of them the chances of winning a medal is actually pretty slight. But like Mount Everest or the world’s oceans, the Olympics exist and are therefore a challenge. And the one thing the human race can’t resist is a challenge.  (Even the term ‘human race’ gives the game away.)

Whether it be to swim the length of the River Thames, to trek to the North Pole, to bungee jump off a bridge, to turn some wilderness into a garden, to learn a language, to start a business, to care for an elderly parent or to write a novel, there is nothing we humans like more than pitting ourselves against adversity. (You don’t often find dogs voluntarily putting bones to one side in order to lose 10 pounds!)

Some challenges are clearly more extreme than others, but they all require determination and courage, they often involve some kind of sacrifice, at the very least a few sleepless nights. And is the putative reward actually worth the effort? Is it worth giving up years of your life to come tenth in the pole vault or to write a book that languishes at the bottom of the Kindle lists?

Well, as my readers know, I am a bit of a sucker for courage – in one way or another it forms the basic theme of all my novels – so I would say ‘yes’, even just taking the initial decision to ‘have a go’ is a significant achievement in itself.  

So I will be out there on Sunday, cheering as the torch goes by, and reminding myself that I have often intended to have a go at synchronised swimming …

Castaway on the Island of Books

To make a change I am directing you to my Castaway interview for Felicity Lennie’s Island of Books. You might find it amusing and there are some reading/writing tips in there too …


Life gets in the way

Life gets in the way of writing. Actually life gets in the way of a lot of things, but it is a particular culprit in the pantheon of things that prevent writers writing.

Displacement activity moves in mysterious ways and takes many forms. It can manifest itself in things that we just ‘have’ to do before starting a new chapter, novel, (or even sentence), or in emotional issues that stop us from feeling in the ‘right’ creative mood.

Some of these excuses are real of course. Some of them really do have to be addressed before starting work, but some do not. Sorting out the difference between these categories is a nice little piece of displacement activity in its own right. In this scenario the inhibiting effect often manifests itself in the activity of creating lists.

Now clearly lists are useful things, (or ‘organisational tools’, as a time-management guru might say) and there is something very satisfying about crossing items off a list. The only problem is that the one thing we really need to do – our writing – often doesn’t actually appear on the list. Instead of  ‘take goldfish to vet’, ‘find fresh sardines’, ‘apologise to Cynthia’, ‘check recipe’, ‘ring estate agent’, ‘update telephone list’, ‘pay off rent boy’, ‘get eyes tested’, we should have ‘work on character motivation’, ‘finalise story structure’, ‘research Iris Origo 1942’, ‘ask Paul how long it would take a submarine to get from Algiers to Sicily’, ‘rewrite sex scene’, or even, ‘finish first draft.’

Some wannabe writers take it to extremes, their lists include things like ‘buy and read 150 How-To books on Creative Writing’, ‘enrol on Creative Writing MA’ or ‘ask Arts Council about Creative Writing PhD funding,’ when what they could be doing is writing a novel.

So why do we constantly put off the very thing we want (need) to do, the thing that bring us so much pleasure, so much reward, both emotional and, if we are lucky, financial?

I don’t know the answer, but it could be something to do with the fact that in our mind the envisaged novel or short story seems like a perfect jewel, the brilliance of which just might stun the world. But we suspect that when we write it down it’s not going to be quite the same, it won’t sparkle in quite the way we intended (or, sometimes, at all!) Maybe we are frightened of getting it ‘wrong’, of letting ourselves down, of our hopes being dashed?

Perhaps. But we also know we are writers, interested in things, and thus easily distracted.

Last week I spent a lazy afternoon reading a book about time management which recommends that I set a stop watch for three quarter of an hour sessions in which I do nothing but write. I subsequently spent a couple of pleasant hours finding and buying a stop watch. As soon as I finish this I am going to see if the technique works. I just have to get some crucial Tweeting done before I start, oh, and I’ve just remembered that the compost heap needs digging over …

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