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

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.

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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.

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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

Sir Terry Pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the phenomenally successful Discworld novels, as well as a number of first class children’s books, died yesterday aged only 66.

I was first introduced to his writing nearly twenty years ago when a friend recommended the Discworld book, Reaper Man.

reaper-man-1 I loved it and have since read many of his other books, including some of his excellent children’s novels.

His first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971 and he went on to write more than 70 books in the next 43 years. That is pretty extraordinary by anyone’s standards.

In an interview in The Internet Writing Journal in 2000, Terry Pratchett had this to say about writing:

Everyone finds their own way of doing things. I certainly don’t sit down and plan a book out before I write it. There’s a phrase I use called “The Valley Full of Clouds.” Writing a novel is as if you are going off on a journey across a valley. The valley is full of mist, but you can see the top of a tree here and the top of another tree over there. And with any luck you can see the other side of the valley. But you cannot see down into the mist. Nevertheless, you head for the first tree. At this stage in the book, I know a little about how I want to start. I know some of the things that I want to do on the way. I think I know how I want it to end. This is enough. The thing now is to get as much down as possible. If necessary, I will write the ending fairly early on in the process. Now that ending may not turn out to be the real ending by the time that I have finished. But I will write down now what I think the conclusion of the book is going to be. It’s all a technique, not to get over writer’s block, but to get 15,000 or 20,000 words of text under my belt. When you’ve got that text down, then you can work on it. Then you start giving yourself ideas.”

I’ve read quite a lot of advice about writing, much of it from accomplished authors, but Terry Pratchett’s attitude particularly inspires and enthuses me.

Dedicating your life to fulfilling and enjoyable work (which, ideally, produces a nice income) is one of the things that makes life worth living. Terry Pratchett loved writing, and people loved reading what he wrote. It was the perfect scenario.

~~~~

Words of wisdom

As I’m sure many other people do, I write down quotes that amuse me.

Many of these come from the mouths of the two delightful assistants, aka my mum and dad, and I record them in this book:

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A plain burgundy hardback notebook – it doesn’t look much from the outside but there are treasures within.

It’s quite old, this notebook. In fact, it dates back to the 1960s, when it belonged to my dad.

He had the idea of using it to record the books he’d read and the first 18 pages have a book title on each one.

This is the very first entry, showing a book that was read to him in 1967 (by my eldest brother, he thinks), and then read by him on three more occasions before 1970. He must have really liked it.

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Page one of the burgundy notebook.

I’ve tried to do this sort of thing myself, but I invariably forget to add some books as I finish them and eventually the project dies a natural death.

Much more successful has been my recording of quotes.

Over the years my dear pater has been getting deafer and deafer and some of the quotes that tickle me most are those involving his mishearing of things other people say. The quotes that follow will probably appeal to my immediate family more than anyone else, but you might be able to imagine the amusement caused.

My sister: “I want to see your receipt.”

Dad: “My feet?”

My sister: “RECEIPT!”

Dad: “Oh. I thought you were thinking about getting me slippers for Christmas.”

Mum: “There’s three bags to take to Flora’s.”

Dad: “Did you say something to me about teabags?”

My sister: “I meant to bring slips.”

Dad: “You met Prince Philip?”

Dad: “I think I”ll have a wee sit down.”

Mum: “I think you should have a big sit down.”

Dad: “Yes, I think I will have a biscuit.”

Recently my mum’s started to mishear things occasionally, too, such as the time when there was excavation work being done in the garden and one of the diggers (a JCB) got an oil leak.

Lorna: “Dad gave a hand towel to Derek, the boy with the JCB.”

Mum: “What boy who died of TB?”

Both of the parents can be quite droll.

Lorna: “I know a trick with a cake.”

Mum: “Do you? It’s called the vanishing trick. You vanish with the cake, is that right?”

My brother Fergus: “The Tay and Forth bridges were closed.”

Mum: “Entirely closed?”

Dad: “No, just half way across.”

Mum: “You really are looking slimmer today.”

Dad: “I’m wearing a tight vest.”

Lorna (to Dad): “And what made you change your mind?”

Mum: “Common sense.”

Dad: “Or a nagging wife.”

Mum: “It comes to the same thing.”

If you’ve read this far you’ll be needing a picture by now. Here’s an apple and cranberry scone I had earlier this week at Gloagburn Farm Shop and Tearoom:

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A festive apple and cranberry scone at Gloagburn, surprisingly flavoured with vanilla. Delightful assistant no.1 wasn’t too struck by the vanilla addition but I enjoyed it.

In addition to the book of quotes I’m thinking of collecting together my mum’s wise sayings. These are statements that she comes out with now and then, and in which she appears to believe completely and utterly. For example:

“It’s easier to get a fat person thin than a thin person fat.”

“The hours before midnight are more beneficial than those after.”

When I was at university one of my chums was entertained by the fact that I often wrote down word for word the things our lecturers said. My lecture notes frequently had things scribbled on them in quotation marks, and after seeing me do this she began doing it herself.

Little did I know that she was transferring them into a notebook which she eventually gave me for Christmas, on the front of which she had written “Lorna’s little book”.

I still have that book and some of the quotes inside it are from a rather eccentric chap who taught Behavioural Ecology. He was a bit absent-minded but very sincere and liked to make sure that we understood what he was trying to get across.

“There’s a meeting for those studying biological sciences. That’s biological science students.”

(on describing the behaviour of bee-eaters) “A bird is cleaning out a hole. You could call that hole-cleaning.”

“They move around in groups of one, which isn’t really a group at all, is it?”

Back at Gloagburn, before I ate the scone pictured above I had a very filling and tasty sandwich. If I were to ask you to guess the filling I wonder what you’d say:

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What’s in the sandwich?

The sandwich filling was, in fact, curried banana chutney with cheese.

Lastly, here’s something my dad said to a nurse at the local medical centre recently when he was going for a general health check. I can imagine him speaking in his usual confident manner, and the nurse looking astonished. He says her eyebrows shot up as he was speaking.

Nurse: “How tall are you?”

Dad: “I can’t remember it in metric but I do remember the feet and inches: 8 ft 5. When I went into the army they measured me and said they’d build me up. Do people shrink as they get older? Because I think I’m smaller than I used to be.”

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The delightful assistants: smaller than they’re prepared to admit.

A competition for using your imagination

In 1997 a book was published by an unknown author living in Edinburgh.

It was to become a publishing sensation, but since nobody knew that at the time the first print run consisted of a mere 500 hardback copies, most of which went to libraries.

The book was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, by J K Rowling.

harry-potter book jacket

Image from boingboing.net

If you want to buy a first edition, first print run, copy of the book today you’ll need to have several thousand pounds to spend on it, and if it’s a signed copy you’ll need several thousand more. The copy above apparently sold for $29,875 in 2011.

Then again, if you just want to read the book you can get the hardback in a new edition for less than £10 and the paperback for about half that on Amazon. If you’re lucky you might even pick one up in a charity/thrift shop for much less.

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A good rummage in a shop like this might just produce a Harry Potter bargain.

When I self-published a little guidebook to tearooms last year I had no idea how many copies to order, but I found out from the printing company I used that the more I ordered the cheaper each book would be.

Taking a complete stab in the dark and lured in by the lower cost price if I had lots made, I plunged in and ordered 2000.

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A small sample of my book stock.

Had I known then what I know now about the sort of quantity I was likely to sell, I would have paid more for each copy and ordered far fewer, but such is the benefit of hindsight.

On the plus side, lots of lovely customers have shelled out for this small tome, for which I am most grateful, and who knows I may even sell a few more before they become completely obsolete.

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New book by local author in the window of The Bookshop, Blairgowrie, last year.

I was chatting to my sister about this today, and telling her that I felt I’d like to do something with some of the remaining copies.

The only idea I’ve come up with is to make them into some sort of art installation, but beyond piling them up, sticking them to a lamp-post, or arranging them in a sculptural manner, I’ve had little inspiration.

She suggested I ought to have a competition for people to propose things I might do with them, and that made me think about writing this blog post.

This reminds me of a situation my dad was in a few years ago, when he was lumbered with boxes of a book that wasn’t selling (he was running a book stall at the time). I remember leaving a copy on a train once, and on a bus, and I think possibly even on a park bench. I hoped that in each case someone might pick the book up and read it, or give it to a second hand shop or something, but I really don’t know what became of them.

I could do the same with my book, except that I am still selling it online and in a few shops, and I don’t want to upset anyone who’s recently purchased a copy.

The longer I have it, however, the more out of date it becomes, and I’d like to work towards putting it to another use.

If you happen to come up with an interesting idea for what I might do with, say, a box of 100 copies, perhaps you could leave a comment below. There might well be a teatowel for the winning suggestion.

Since I haven’t yet broken even on the cost of producing the book, I’d like whatever I do with spare copies to cost nothing. I have given quite a few to libraries, but I don’t want to offload more onto them when the book is getting a bit dated.

I’ll be putting my own thinking cap on again, and if I come up with anything of interest I’ll post about it anon.

Perhaps I’ll try wearing a pancake like this beautiful rabbit, to see if that proves more inspiring.

 

Travelling Diaries

Have you ever had a migraine?

According to The Migraine Trust, it’s the most common neurological ailment in the western world.

There are more people suffering from migraine than from diabetes, asthma and epilepsy combined, accounting for over 8 million people in the UK alone.

I’ve been getting migraines for the past 16 or so years. I’ve learned to live with them (and luckily don’t get them as badly or as frequently as some people do), and now think of them as part of life.

When I recently visited the Migraine Trust website after a particularly disagreeable migraine, I was very interested to find out about this:

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One of several Travelling Migraine Diaries from The Migraine Trust.

Before, or even after, people are diagnosed with migraine it’s suggested that they keep a migraine diary, to see if there’s any pattern to their occurrence.

Inspired by that idea, and with the aim of encouraging sufferers to share their experiences, the Migraine Trust came up with the idea of a Travelling Diary.

Rather than just using one very large book, they’re sending out a number of blank books all over the UK to people who suffer from migraines, so that each sufferer can contribute their story of how migraines affect them.

I received one of the diaries in the post yesterday and wrote my piece in it this morning:

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My entry in one of the Travelling Migraine Diaries.

After my mum’s added a bit about her experience of migraine, the book will be sent back to the Trust so that they can send it on to the next person on their list.

I enjoyed reading the stories of other people who had written in the diary before me, and eventually all of the stories will be available to view online. The Trust are taking photographs of the entries as they receive them and putting them on Flickr during their Diary Campaign, and you can see them here.

If you live in the UK and have ever suffered from a migraine, you might want to consider adding your bit to one of the diaries. You can do that by clicking on this link to the Migraine Trust’s sign up page.

You can also follow the Migraine Trust on Facebook and Twitter @migrainetrust.

I don’t know if humans are the only species in the animal kingdom to suffer from migraines, but I hope so. I wouldn’t like to think of other animals having to cope with migraines.

Here’s a happy horse I saw the other day wearing a natty red coat and looking comfortably headache-free:

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White horse in a red coat.

Crocodile cake

One of my favourite tearooms, the Macmillan Coffee Shop in Perth, is soon to close for the season.

I’ve been popping along there as often as I can recently, to make the most of it while it’s still open. It’ll be a long wait between the end of this month and April 2014 when it reopens for business.

They always have interesting and delicious scones and cakes on offer, and on a recent visit I opted for a slice of chocolate and hazelnut cake.

I was astonished by its similarity to a crocodile:

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Crocodile chocolate and hazelnut cake

I don’t know if it’s easier to see what I mean slightly closer up:

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Can you see the crocodile in this cake?

The whole hazelnuts on top were such a tasty touch that it would have been nice to have had more of them decorating the cake. However, had that been the case, it wouldn’t have looked like a crocodile, which would have been a great pity.

A unique cake and a very happy memory.