At Rio

Four years ago, on this blog, I wrote a post entitled Heading for Rio. At that time, having been inspired by the Olympic Games in London, I set myself the challenge of writing a novel and finding a publisher for it by the time the next Olympics rolled round in 2016. I also mentioned my habit of wasting time on Twitter and Facebook instead of spending time writing. As I write, the Rio Olympics are coming to a close and I’ve been revisiting the goals I set myself in 2012.

In 2012, I wrote this:

What I want to achieve by 2016 is not only to have written the book, but also (no doubt after many rejections) to have found a publisher and got it published… my aim is to finish the book in 2014, two years from now.

Significantly reducing the amount of time I spent on social media certainly freed up time for other things, including writing, and since 2012 I’ve written two and a half novels, as well as a number of short stories. Back then I also wrote this:

I know that I can do something difficult if I put my mind to it and want it enough, but in order for me to have any hope of achieving it I have to have those two elements: determination and desire.

I very much wanted to prove to myself that I could write a novel. Keeping going was a struggle at times, but I had the determination and desire to carry me through to the finish. What I hadn’t given so much thought to was how I would feel when I had finished writing it.

Since completion, the first novel has undergone numerous revisions and edits, processes I found neither easy nor enjoyable. In some cases, I had to re-read the same passages many times in my quest to sharpen them up and make the story flow. It was laziness that made the task so difficult, but putting in the effort did give me some satisfaction.

By the time I had spent a year or more editing and re-writing the first novel, after taking a break to write the second, I began submitting the book to agents, and then to publishers. Most of them replied to say they weren’t interested, and one or two of them didn’t reply at all. It’s now nearly three months since I last submitted the book to anyone, and I haven’t had a reply from that submission.

Although I found the first rejections difficult, I was determined enough to keep on trying. After a while I branched out from submitting exclusively to agents and started sending the book directly to publishers instead. I hoped this change in approach might yield better results, but it has proved no more successful.

This leaves me wondering what to do next. I’ve looked into self-publishing but it’s not the route I want to take at the moment. If I were an outsider giving myself advice I might tell myself to keep going and never allow the dream to die. There’s nothing wrong with that opinion and, indeed, I can fully see the sense of it. To have dedicated so much time and effort to the project already makes it seem only sensible to refuse to give up until I find a publisher.

In order to do that, however, I need to have some motivation, a real desire to find a publisher, whatever it takes. At the moment, the motivation isn’t there. Who knows if it might return, perhaps it will after I’ve taken a break to do other things, but until I get it back I don’t think I’m going to make any progress on that front. Far from feeling sorry about this, I feel surprisingly content.

Watching the Rio Olympics, I possibly have even more admiration for the athletes now than I had in 2012. Even if they don’t get a medal this time around, many of them – having already dedicated years to training – will keep on trying and hope for better things at the next Olympics in 2020. Maintaining such long-term goals, with an unrelenting desire to succeed, are character traits I stand in awe of. To want something so much that you’re prepared to wait however long it takes to achieve it is quite mind-boggling.

All of the top athletes I’ve heard interviewed in Rio have given their own reasons for wanting to succeed, citing different motivating factors that have driven them on. Mo Farah, the British runner who last night got the gold medal in the 5,000 metres, after achieving the same in the 10,000 metres, winning both in London before repeating the feat in Rio, has often said that his children are what motivates him. He has four children and now has an Olympic gold medal for each of them. For Usain Bolt it was the chance to do something no other athlete has ever done before, getting gold in three track events at three separate Olympics. That desire to be possibly the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen has driven him on and got him through the tough times because it was something he wanted so much.

My own desire to become a published author is a far more modest ambition, and yet from my point of view it will take something of the same sort of drive and determination to achieve it. Without that determination I’ll find it impossible, so do I still want it enough? The past four years have taught me many things about myself, some of which were completely unexpected.

One of the influencing factors in the way I view things now has been what happened to my eldest brother, Fergus, in September 2014. He was a highly intelligent and enthusiastic person, and although he suffered from various mental health problems for many years he worked hard to fight depression. He made a considerable effort to join a variety of groups, and gave a lot of his time freely to help other people. He was 51 when he went missing in Switzerland, and nothing has been heard from him now for nearly two years. I have come to the conclusion that he suffered a fatal accident in the Swiss mountains and, sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never find out what happened to him.

Fergus achieved a great deal in his lifetime, and I’m sure he could have gone on to achieve a lot more. Having been made acutely aware of how fragile life is, I might have expected Fergus’s experience to make me more determined than ever to achieve my own goals while I still can. In fact, it’s almost had the opposite effect. I realise how lucky I am to be able to enjoy each day and get something good out of it, even if I do nothing of earth-shattering importance. I would still like to become a published author one day, but my attitude to life, and a possible future, has changed. To appreciate what I have today, seems to me far more important than striving for a position I might or might not attain in the future.

That isn’t to say I’m giving up on goals and dreams, far from it. I’m still hugely inspired by Olympic athletes, and indeed anyone who sets themselves difficult goals and achieves them through grit and determination. I still dream about the future and imagine the things I would like to do if the opportunities arise, and it’s these dreams that keep life exciting and inspiring. Inevitably, I sometimes think about what will happen to me if I don’t achieve my writerly ambitions, but I try not to dwell on such thoughts. There will always be things I wish I had done, or still want to do if I get the chance, but being thankful for what I have today makes the present a blessing, whatever the future holds.


Word association story (no.1)

About three weeks ago, after publishing my word association post, I began to write a story with the intention of including all 17 words kindly supplied by people in the comments section.

I initially envisaged the story being reasonably short, perhaps no more than 1000 words. It is currently well over 6000 words long with two of the contributed words not yet incorporated. A few days ago I got to the stage where I felt a bit stuck with it and couldn’t think how to move on.

Feeling frustrated by this lack of progress I decided this afternoon to sit down and bash out a new story, determined to write as short a story as I could using all 17 words.

The story below is what I’ve come up with, at a relatively svelte 723 words, and the 17 words are highlighted in bold. If I ever manage to finish the other one (hopefully in a slightly shorter form) I’ll stick it in another post.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this little project.


Throughout my childhood our house was home to what you might call a miniature zoo. My father was a naturalist and a soft touch for any stray animal that came our way. Through his work he made frequent trips to exotic locations, often bringing back small animals he deemed in need of rescue. The house became a sanctuary for a wide variety of creatures, many of whom took up residence in the kitchen and conservatory.

We lived in a small village, more of a hamlet really, which contained about a dozen houses, a church and an old, unused, mill. The vicar was a fellow animal lover and kept several sheep, as well as two dogs and a cat. One day, during a walk in the local hills on a stormy March morning, he found a tiny fox cub, alone in the grass. It had apparently been abandoned by its mother and had a tear in one ear and dried blood on its back. The vicar took off his coat, wrapped the cub up in it and brought it to our house. Father was away at the time, paddling a boat up the Amazon, but Mother welcomed the cub into the menagerie. We had a litter of puppies at the time and the fox cub soon became friends with them, sleeping in a basket in a corner of the kitchen. I remember giving it a floppy doll as a gift. It was one of two similar dolls I had, named Betty and Hettie. It was Hettie I gave up for the fox cub (Betty was my favourite toy and I don’t think any sick animal would have induced me to part with her).

Another time while Father was away a very undernourished little dog arrived at the back door. Its bones were horribly visible through its skin and it had the saddest eyes I had ever seen. It was very nervous of people and for several days it would only take food when Mother put a bowl at the bottom of the doorstep and went away. Eventually it grew to trust us and became Mother’s special pet. She called it Oliver, because it was a ragged little orphan. ‘It’s scandalous, the way some people treat dogs,’ she told me. ‘Absolutely heart breaking. Thank goodness he found his way to us.’ Animals were always finding their way to us, the house was a magnet for waifs and strays.

On one occasion, when Father returned from one of his trips abroad, he brought back a glass container with two shiny green blobs stuck to the inside. I didn’t pay much attention to the blobs, until one day I noticed that they’d turned black. I told Father and he came to have a look. He was very excited about the change and told me to keep watching to see what would happen. The next morning the black things had turned clear and there were patterns and colours inside. Father got more excited than ever and said we needed to keep a close watch on them. In no time at all the clear shapes had miraculously turned into beautiful butterflies, their wings about three inches long. I wanted to hold one but Father said they were very fragile and I needed to wait and see if one would land on me. I sat very still and my patience finally paid off. One butterfly flew up and landed on my sleeve. It had orange and yellow wings with black veins running through them. I was so taken with the butterflies that Father decided to build a butterfly house in the garden. He accumulated all sorts of exotic plants and butterflies to fill the building with. The butterfly house ignited a passion in me that was to last a lifetime.

When I left school I followed in Father’s footsteps, studying zoology at Cambridge University. I specialised in the study of butterflies and moths, publishing two books and numerous scientific papers on butterfly identification. I recently celebrated my 95th birthday, and am now more or less confined to a wheelchair. There are many things I can no longer do, but on a sunny summer’s day I can still sit out in the garden and watch the butterflies flitting from flower to flower. For me there is no greater pleasure on earth.

Word association

For most of this year I’ve been managing to write little bits of fiction on a regular basis. However, a couple of weeks ago I hit a mental block in the inspiration department.


I was mulling over this lack of creativity when I had what appeared to be a brainwave. It may in fact be a very poor idea, but I thought I would try it out. My notion is to conduct a sort of word association experiment.

The idea is that I come up with a word that stimulates someone else to come up with another word. Then a third person comes up with a word that was inspired by the second person’s word, and so on in a chain of words. For example, if I say ‘lemon’, a second person might say ‘yellow’ and a third might say ‘buttercup’.

I thought if I started it all off with one word in a blog post, the first person to read the post might be inspired to enter their own associated word in the comments box. The second person would be inspired by the first commenter’s word, the third person would be inspired by the second commenter’s word, and so on.


In a few days, when I’ve got a number of words to work with, I will attempt to write a short story using all the words that have been contributed, ideally perhaps in the order they were left on my blog. When I’ve written the story I’ll publish it as a blog post.

If you’re feeling kindly and would like to assist in unblocking my creativity, please join in with a commented word inspired by the previous commenter (unless you’re the first commenter, in which case see the next sentence).

The word I’ve picked to start it all off was plucked blindly from the dictionary and it is: house