The Lure of the Dark Playground

I’ll admit it: Most of this week’s Writing Monday has been conducted in the Dark Playground. I didn’t mean for it to happen (honest Guvnor) – indeed for the past hour I’ve done an impressive job of convincing myself that spending time updating my book list on Good Reads couldn’t possibly be a form of procrastination (since it would, in fact, be furthering my reading and therefore also the development of my writing-no?). But here I am at 4.16pm with a paltry 549 words of new fiction to my name, when today’s goal was (a perhaps unrealistic) 4,000 words of new fiction, one script edit and a completed application for the fabulous Womentoring Project.

On the plus side I have at least selected a mentor and researched her sufficiently to know she is the ‘one for me’ (in an entirely non-creepy way, I might add. Don’t want to put her off before she has even read my application). I won’t name her lest my application be unsuccessful (as will most likely be the case), but suffice to say she ticks many of my boxes and I’d be beyond delighted were she to pick me. I have visions of her leading me by the hand out of the Dark Playground and through the Dark Woods into the Happy Playground, where we would frolic with the other mentors and mentees, exchanging witticisms and writing-related banter as the publishers beat a path to our door.

But, back in the real world, I must accept this fantasy may not happen, which means the only person who can find the way out of this particular Dark Playground is me. So back to the application it is…

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Changes

I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there’s something amiss in my world at the moment. Possible reasons are:

a)      The weather (if in doubt, blame that)

b)      My best friend moving to San Francisco next week (I’m excited for her but will miss her tremendously – just thinking about it makes me well up)

c)       Lack of exercise – after months of marathon training it’s now been over 6 weeks since I did any exercise due to my training-related back injury, so the endorphin supply is running low

d)      Lack of sleep – probably due to all the other reasons, but in recent days my quality of sleep has dropped dramatically, and I’ve noticed when my alarm goes off I’m often slap bang in the middle of a traumatic /stressful dream, which doesn’t get my day off to the best of starts

e)      My overdraft, which is once again getting so large it’s scaring me

f)       Pressure to succeed in writing (see point e, though this is about far more than just money, it’s about realising ambition – or not, as the case may be)

g)      The onset of wanderlust (which may or may not be related to point b)

h)      A combination of all of the above (most likely)

Whatever the reasons, I’m feeling out of sorts and stressed, and I need an action plan to ease me out of the doldrums. That plan is as follows:

a)      Hmm, not much I can do about the weather…

b)      Not much I can do about the friend moving to the US either…Oh dear…

c)       Aha! Here’s one I can work on! Lunchtime Pilates class booked. Let’s see how that goes…

d)      Earlier nights. Switch off technology, have a relaxing bath and go to bed with a good book. This approach I shall trial tonight.

e)      Stopping spending is the obvious one, or moving out of credit crisis London? Neither looking all that possible in the immediate future…Stop eating perhaps? Become a Breatharian?

f)       This one’s obvious: Write more. And believe in myself more. Also maybe give up sleeping and socialising as well as eating in order to find time to get my writing where it needs to be.

g)      I would say go travelling again, which would certainly address point a), but since it would do nothing to help point e), in the short term I’ll just have to settle for booking a (very) cheap weekend away in the UK to keep the wanderlust at bay.

I’m so glad I decided to write it all down. Just a few ‘small’ lifestyle changes and I’ll be back on an even keel before you can say ‘it’ll never work’….

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Pressure

Sometimes it gets a bit much, this world. And all the constant pressures on our time, energy leaking from our pores like sand through an egg timer; drip, drip, drip.

Of course we are the lucky ones, the ones who can afford to have hopes and dreams for the future. Or can we? What price must we pay for success? What price for failure?

We don’t so much follow our dreams as barter and fritter them away. As if tomorrow will never come. But of course it always does. Until, quite suddenly, it doesn’t.

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Birthday Wishes for an Absent Friend

Today would have been the 33rd birthday of a very special man who was in my life – and the lives of many others – for far too short a time: Paul Wickerson. The sole weekend we spent with him and his beautiful girlfriend Sarah in a bonny Scottish lodge for the wedding of our good friends Emma and Harry last August will stay in my heart and in my memory forever.

I didn’t know Paul beyond that short weekend, as two weeks later he was tragically taken from this world, but his spirit, sense of fun and his aforementioned love (the gorgeous Miss Sarah Rhodes) have loomed large in my life ever since.

I won’t profess to have known him better than I did, nor will I dwell on the obvious tragedy that his life was cut short in its prime. Because today is his birthday, and whilst he may not be here in body I’ve no doubt he is here in spirit, so it’s only right he should be celebrated. Happy Birthday Dude, I for one will be raising a ladle and a glass to you tonight x

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The Moon / Reasons to be thankful

I’ve just spent ages staring out of the window at the full moon. I find it utterly mesmerising – magical, even – that from all the way down here it’s possible to see the light and shadows of its surface. It makes me feel so small, but in a good way – like there is so much more to this universe than my tiny mind is capable of fathoming, but that somehow that’s okay, because in accepting that I also accept there is so much more possibility, so much more breadth of experience; so much more life to behold.

Today has been a GOOD day, for the following reasons:

1. I finally had my physiotherapy consultation at the Crystal Palace sports injury clinic and have been referred for a course of NHS physio treatment in Clapham, starting Wednesday. The recovery starts here…

2. I edited one 750 word story, wrote a new 1,600 word story and submitted both to competitions whose deadlines were today.

3. I received an email from the editor of my favourite magazine saying they would consider my recent pitch (but warning me they’ve received a lot of similar subject matter of late – which is totally fair enough and will only serve to make me more inventive in the future :))

4. The sun was shining brightly and warmly all day long – it’s finally starting to feel like summer is just around the corner and I LIKE it!

5. I spoke to two extremely special people in my life, who made me feel amazing and who I love beyond words.

6. I managed to cook a delightful supper (albeit from a recipe, but shhhh, don’t burst my bubble) of aubergine stuffed with chorizo, tomato, spinach and ricotta. NOM.

7. It’s a full moon – and as I said above, I just love a full moon (maybe I was a werewolf in a previous life).

Just wanted to share the above really. Because it’s all too easy to forget to stop and look around once in a while at all the wonderful things and people that we’re blessed with in our lives – and to appreciate each and every one of them for the richness that they bring.

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Listening to the Universe

You’ll likely think I’m mad by the time you’ve finished reading this post (my boyfriend certainly does), but as the threat of public ridicule has never put me off posting my opinions before, I’m figuring: Why stop now? So if you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin….

I mentioned in my last post that I’m currently reading a creativity-unblocking self-help book called The Artist’s Way. In it, the author talks about the importance of opening oneself up to what she refers to as ‘God,’ but which I prefer (despite being of Christian persuasion – albeit not exactly practising) to think of as the universe. She says it’s important to listen to the guidance that it offers and pay heed to clues that you’re travelling along the right path.

Admittedly that sounds a bit far out, but in the past couple of days I’ve begun to wonder if it really is. Because all of a sudden I’m noticing the very clues she mentions, or at least I think I am. Take this for an example: Many years ago I woke from a dream with what felt like an entire screenplay in my head – a comedy screenplay, about two men who lived together, Men Behaving Badly style. Their names were Jeff and Pear (!), and I was so enthused I wrote a description of the show – and even drew the floor plan of the flat – before I could forget it (but then obviously did).

Fast forward to a few months ago when I stumbled across one of my old NaNoWriMo novel drafts – a light hearted chick-lit style story about a woman who owned a flower shop and got caught up in an accidental snogging session with a fifteen year old boy at the Hammersmith School Disco. I didn’t remember the story being particularly good, so was surprised to find myself laughing as I read the first chapter. But then, as with the Jeff and Pear screenplay, I forgot all about it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I stumbled across the City Academy website and its range of creative arts-related courses. Seeking some creative enlightenment, I signed up for the taster classes in stand up comedy and sitcom writing, not believing either would be something I’d pursue. The stand up one was fun, but as predicted not ‘my thing.’ Then, last night, I did the sitcom writing one.

[Interlude: I’m just interrupting this story to add that, last weekend when I saw my Mum, she told me that she thought I was really funny; a naturally humorous storyteller. Obviously she’s my mother so I paid no heed to her generous but biased encouragement. Okay, now I’ll continue.]

So I went to the sitcom taster class and I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t sure. The teachers seemed fun and slightly off the wall, but the other students largely more experienced in sitcom writing than me (though admittedly that wouldn’t be difficult given that the sum total of my sitcom writing experience amounts to zero). But over the course of the two hours something interesting happened. I felt the familiar feeling of my imagination stirring into life from its often dormant state. And I found the theory on structure and characterisation of sitcoms both fascinating and logical. I can’t explain it better than to say it was as if something was finally falling into place. Which is ridiculous really because I hardly watch any sitcoms, though I remember now I think about it how much I loved them when I was young: One Foot in the Grave; 2.4 Children; Fawlty Towers; Absolutely Fabulous. And when I think a little more I realise I’ve loved them more recently too: Friends; The IT Crowd; The Office; The Inbetweeners; Peep Show. What I don’t like is the shows with canned laughter, but those are only a subsection of the larger sitcom field.

After two hours of sitting in a room in Farringdon with eight complete strangers, this strange epiphany unfolding inside my head, I went home. And no sooner had I turned on the television than a sitcom came on – the new one about people working at the BBC (the name of which I forget, but it’s very funny). Whilst I watched it I absent-mindedly looked up the sitcom writing course page on the Internet – and I swear I didn’t click on the ‘book course’ button and it took me to the payment page anyway. Which is when I started to join the dots together and re-visit all the happenings I’ve mentioned in this post.

I decided to sleep on it because, let’s face it, £345 is a lot of money to spend when you don’t actually have £345 of your own money to spend (close your ears Mister Bank Manager). Then, this morning, I posited the potential plan to my online writing group to garner opinion. The result was unanimous encouragement, with the lovely Emma Darwin providing these wise words: “I think one way to think about these temptations is: It would be great to get a script out of it (or a later script) which was bought, but we all know that there are all sorts of reasons why things don’t get bought. What else do you think you’d get out of the course, that would feed your writing and your life and so on? I think that learning to write drama is fantastically good for prose fictioneers, so I’m sure it would be worth it.”

So I was sold, figuratively and literally. And the final nudge from the universe? Well that was someone else from my writing group deciding to sign up too (unfortunately not to the same dates as me, but still…) and her saying how happy she was I had brought it to her attention, as she had written scripts many years ago and wanted to get back into it.

To cut a long story short, I start the eight week course next Tuesday, and I can’t bloody wait. Thanks Universe – I think. Although if I don’t love it you’ll have a lot to answer for…

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Don’t Forget to Look Up / Thinking Big

In a previous blog post many moons (and blogging sites and Internet galaxies) ago I wrote about an occasion when I was walking down Clapham High Street and it dawned on me that, prior to that moment, I had never along that road raised my eyes upwards – to look above the shops and restaurants I was walking past, to notice the tops of the buildings, the art deco flats, the various architectural accomplishments (and, indeed, failures), to simply get a peep inside the windows through which so many simultaneous lives were being lived out above the level of the ground floor.

The point of my sharing that anecdote is that so many of us go through life with blinkers on, failing to see so many of the things that are staring us right in the face. We follow the pattern of getting up, taking the tube to work, trawling through our to do lists with barely a break for breath, let alone lunch. Then, at the end of the day, we drag our weary work-beaten selves to our homes or – if we can muster the energy – to the gym or to the pub where we can re-energise or socialise and temporarily forget that the inescapable cycle will resume again in just a few hours’ time. We are, in short, slaves to our routines, and so rarely take the time or trouble to break from them each day for just a moment to re-engage with the world around us.

On that note, I’m currently reading (or, to be more precise, dipping in and out of) The Artist’s Way, a self-help book by American Julia Cameron written way back in 1992 that promises to help the reader creatively unblock themselves. Whilst some of the book is a bit too spiritually far out for me, one thing I love is the concept of taking time out of the routine each week for an ‘artist date’ – some quality time with yourself and your imagination doing something out of the ordinary. This, Cameron says, is how we artists can fill up the creative wells within us, that are depleted by the daily monotony of our lives.

In light of all of the above today, therefore, I took myself off for a wander down to Borough Market during my lunch break (I’m ashamed to admit it was the first time I’ve done this in a year of working in London Bridge). The moment I arrived my senses were assaulted with a vast array of sights, sounds and smells. I happily snapped away with my camera before settling on a wall in the garden beside Southwark Cathedral to eat a vegetable thali and watch the world go by. I hadn’t been there long when I spotted a woman in a long trench coat wearing a fake pair of glasses with a plastic nose attached. She was standing at the gate pretending to read a newspaper, whilst casting furtive glances all around. No sooner had I approached to take a picture than she was off, disappearing through the gate into the market. But not before I caught this shot of her.

Whether that display was art or madness I’ll never know, but what I do know is this: I’m so glad I went on my artist date today, and so grateful for all that I saw and did there. As a good friend recently said to me: “You’re only as big as the picture you’re in.”  So why not make it bigger?

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