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.

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One year on

A year ago today, on 9 September 2014, my eldest brother Fergus went missing in Switzerland.

Fergus Facebook profile photograph hillwalking

He travelled there to attend work meetings in the town of Martigny. Although we believe he did reach the town on a train from Geneva Airport, he failed to meet up with his colleagues and nothing has been seen or heard of him since.

My dad recently put out the following statement, which has been posted on Fergus’s Facebook page. One year on, I think it sums things up very well.

I and the rest of Fergus’s family are very grateful to everyone who has been involved in the investigation of his disappearance. We miss him more than we can say, and we would have been delighted if he had been found alive and well. Other members of the family still have some hope for that outcome, but I am now even more convinced than I was before that he must have suffered a fatal accident in the Swiss mountains in September 2014.

Over the past year we have been doing our best to look after his flat and his finances, but acting on his behalf with no power of attorney and with no death certificate has been challenging. If his body is not found, there cannot be a presumption of death until seven years after he was last seen alive and well. If his body is found or if we receive any other significant information we shall post it here.

I should like to repeat what has been written in previous updates, that I and the rest of the family are very grateful for the many expressions of sympathy and support that we have received, and for the kind words sent to us about Fergus by his colleagues and other friends.

Shortly after his disappearance some of Fergus’s friends set up a blog, which can be found here: Missing Fergus McInnes. The blog gives more details about Fergus and the mystery surrounding his disappearance.

I hope we might get answers to some of our questions one day, but sadly we may never find out what exactly happened to him in Switzerland on that day. We can, however, remember the many good things about him, and are grateful for our happy memories.

Merry Christmas

This summer, when I took a break from blogging, I was expecting to spend a few months concentrating on writing fiction. When my brother Fergus went missing in September those plans went awry.

Having a member of your family suddenly disappear without trace has a range of unexpected repercussions. It’s now over three months since Fergus vanished in Switzerland and we still don’t know what happened to him, or indeed whether he’s alive or dead. It’s strange being in limbo, not knowing if he will ever come back, but sadly after this length of time I’ve come to the conclusion that he won’t.

For the past few weeks my dad and I have been going down to Edinburgh as often as we can to try and sort things out at Fergus’s flat. There is much to do and I imagine that this situation will dominate our lives well into the coming year.

Although I have been visiting tearooms during this process, I haven’t had the energy or inclination to photograph and review them. However, as a small distraction for myself I’ve set up a new blog called Any old excuse.

On this new blog I aim to review at least one item of chocolate-based confectionery a week. 

Tea and chocolate, two of the things that make life worth living.

Click on the picture above to find chocolate posts in 2015.

I appreciate that reading reviews of chocolate isn’t everyone’s idea of a good way to spend their time, especially if they don’t actually get any chocolate out of it. I’ve disabled comments to make it easier for me to manage, but if you ever feel like dropping by it would be lovely to have your company.

In the meantime, to all my wonderful fellow bloggers, readers and chums:

A very happy Christmas and new year,
and many good things to come in 2015.

Six wee dogs hoping for Christmas treats under the tree.

Six little dogs hoping for Christmas treats under the tree.

Fergus McInnes

By brother, Fergus McInnes, went missing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday 9 September 2014.

Fergus Facebook profile photograph hillwalking

Fergus walking in the hills, one of his many hobbies.

He was due to attend a work conference in the Swiss town of Martigny the following day, and to meet his colleagues that evening for a meal.

He boarded the 09:35 EasyJet flight at Edinburgh airport and was seen on CCTV in Geneva airport around 13:00, where he bought a train ticket that we believe was a return to Martigny.

Nothing has been seen of him since.

He did not arrive at the meeting point that evening to go for a meal, he did not check into his hotel room and he did not appear at the conference. He also failed to catch his return flight to Edinburgh on 11 September.

His mobile phone has not been switched on since he switched it off for the flight, nor has he checked his emails since the morning of Tuesday 9 September. The last bank transaction he made was the purchase of a train ticket in Geneva airport when he used a debit card.

Fergus_at_Geneva_airport_CCTV_pic

CCTV picture of Fergus at Geneva Airport on 9 September 2014.

One of his colleagues who attended the conference in Martigny reported him missing to the Scottish Police, and they launched a missing person inquiry. Shortly after that it became a separate Swiss inquiry, and both inquiries are ongoing.

We are all utterly mystified about his disappearance and, with a lack of clues about where he might have gone or what might have happened to him, we fall back on endless and wide-ranging theories.

Friends of his have set up a blog called Missing Fergus McInnes, to keep people updated on the investigation into his disappearance. You can get to it by clicking on the blog name below:

 

Missing Fergus McInnes

 

They are monitoring all comments, and passing anything that might be relevant on to the police.

Fergus headshot 2009

It’s now been over three weeks since he disappeared and, despite media campaigns in Switzerland and France, as well as in the UK, there is no indication of where he might be.

The blog contains a list of unanswered questions, which we dearly wish we could get answers to.

The police in both Switzerland and Scotland are doing all they can to discover what happened to him after he was last seen in Geneva.

We remain hopeful of a good outcome.

Family lunch at Flora's July 09_1

Family gathering (Fergus top left).