Sunday, 15 June 2014

Forcing yourself to write (P.S: Come On England!!!)

Dear all,

This may not sound like a problem but…it hit 30 degrees this week and the FIFA World Cup has started.
Boo hoo for me, right! What a disaster! What a terrible turn of events! Please don’t…no stop, you’ll have me going in a minute…stop it, turn those tears off straight away!
Okay, so I run the risk of sounding like a real **** here but I have genuine points to make so bear with me.

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Point 1 – The Heat

For the first time since I have been away I felt too hot to do anything. This wasn’t because I was sunbathing too long, or had spent too much time outside walking or had been to the gym, etc. It was simply that the heat was too much for me.
There have been several occasions this year when I have been too tired to do anything because of the heat but it has always been compounded by something I had previously done such as the previously mentioned activities. Add to that the everyday tasks like shopping, cleaning the apartment and going to Spanish lessons (more on that later) it’s amazing how quickly time can pass and how tired you can get before sitting down to attempt any writing.
This week was different. I felt fine but it was the heat that got to me pure and simple. As I was sitting on my couch feeling guilty as hell and totally pathetic at not being able to get up, two thoughts came to mind.
The first was, how the hell am I going to cope in July and August when it can sometimes get to 40? I mean seriously, if the locals here complain about how impossibly hot it can get what is a freckly post ginger (bald) south Londoner supposed to do? I could be in trouble.
The second thought was…how on Earth do people ever get any work done! I mean how do they simply go about their business when it is so hot (well actually, if I’m being honest the second thought was along the lines of, ‘well this heat is going to help me lose weight, everywhere I go is like a sauna’…but enough of my anxieties).
For reasons unknown a particular memory popped into my head. It was a summer’s day in the early 00s or possibly even the late 90s. I was working in a demanding and stressful (at the time it was stressful, I was only 18 or so…) open plan office environment. Whether it was a heat-wave summer or just a crazy out of the blue hot day I can’t remember but either way it was extreme for London. The office I was in had a very strict dress code, a suit and tie was standard but you had to ensure your shoes were shined, your top button was fixed, you were clean-shaven and all that old school city type stuff. So taking into account we were all layered to the nines, on this specific day the place was so hot the suspended ceiling was practically melting onto our heads. It was just unbelievably hot, the office wasn’t especially small either. It was a very decent sized space even for the fifty plus people who were there. Without saying exactly where it was we were right in the middle of the west end shopping area of central London, looking out of the windows shoppers would be passing in a constant stream below, and there was this incredible sense of endurance from them, it was obvious they were seconds from passing out but deals and sales wait for no person and I think the pavement would have had to melt into quicksand before they stopped browsing. Anyway, sorry I do go on I know, the memory was about how we were all just totally unable to cope in the heat. First of all permission was given to us by the bosses (just saying that phrase makes me want to vomit now) to take our ties off, so immediately they were ripped off and shoved in drawers, top buttons were undone…and by a magical process of disrupted routine all we then wanted to do was rush to the nearest pub and go for a beer…and I know for certain that that would have been played out across offices across the land.

I can only speak for London, no doubt it is the same across the world, but let me speak as if London is the centre of the Universe for a moment (it isn’t of course, my actual home town in the south east of London is, but let’s not quibble).
We are so desperate to have sun that when we get it we just want to bask in it…but we can’t because we all have to work so we look enviously outside at all the folk (tourists, employed staff on ‘meetings’ and rich people) who are able to enjoy it and long to be in their position…anyway, I remember feeling so hot I could not think straight, everywhere that had sweat pores was sweating. It was not yet 3pm in the afternoon and I was already scared of the train journey home later in the evening, which was bound to be like stepping into a pre-heated oven trying to find the least moist space which may or may not involve a bit of Twister style positioning. The last thing I wanted to do was work, the last thing I wanted to do was speak to anyone…all I wanted to do was find my mates and have a beer, preferably by the Thames, preferably in the direct sun not the shade, preferably near a park, preferably near to my home, preferably anywhere away from the bloody office.
I really remember that afternoon (there must have been plenty like them over the years) and everything it represented. For instance, I would plan a marathon-esq multi-transportation multi-change route requiring taxis and helicopter rides before daring to go into the Tube, I mean no chance, I would step into a station being hardly able to breathe as it was, I would step out the other side so wet it would look like someone had thrown a comedy bucket of water over me, stinking of body odour (mine and the five stranger’s that I had been forced closer to than some lovers) stressed to Michael Douglas Falling Down level…the Tube was just not on the cards.
Now imagine that was every day! From early June to late August the same heat. I just find it hard to imagine that the same levels of intense hard work and dedication would have been delivered. I don’t want to make some ridiculous claim that London only works so hard because it is cold most of the time…but it certainly doesn’t do any harm does it. I think back to my studies, would I really have stayed in the library day after day when the park was so close by…would I really have stayed late in the office so often instead of legging it to a Covent Garden boozer with a balcony? You get the idea.
So here I am, on my own, no boss, no dress code, no start time deadline, no Tube, no one telling me what to do in effect and within just one week of the temperature rising I have totally slacked from my daily routine! Madre mia! I really need to address my discipline.
I’m exaggerating the problem for effect I know, of course people adapt to their climates and carry on with life as normal. What people tend to do here is make sure all the tasks and chores are completed early, so for instance if they need to go the bank or to the shops, etc. it is the thing they do first at 8am or 9am before the temperature starts to increase. People always find a way. However, what has really struck me is this:


Point 2 – Writing is a full time job

Understatement of the year there.
No matter where you are, you will not get the amount of words down you want unless you put the hours in, so you really need to consider what your environment is and how it effects you. I have the option wherever I am to find a library and shut myself off from the word to write for eight hours a day. It could be London rain or Spanish sun outside, it wouldn’t matter.
Then consider this, what sort of life do you want? What’s more, do you have a choice? What I mean by that is I am enjoying a year away from home in a hot climate, but I’m sacrificing everything I have to do it, but the factor that always remains is that I want to write. So whether it can be put down to just having an experience, an adventure or whatever, at the root of it is the fact that I have chosen to write for the rest of my life whether it pays or not. So I shouldn't really be asking myself do I have to force myself to write, I should be asking myself, why am I not writing.
I didn’t understand I had that option when I was 18 and rushing into work to spend a depressing 10 or 12 hours in an overheated office. It’s because I didn’t know what sacrifice was, I thought that I could have everything I wanted, that was drilled into me (possibly subconsciously, it was never actively taught I accept) from school. Work hard and you will get everything you want. Well that isn’t true. You have to pick very carefully the options you take and most of the time you will get it wrong. Those who are lucky (and I don’t mean without merit, you can deserve it and still call it luck all things considered) enough to find their place in life early then great, I think that is fantastic and there is a discussion to be had about youthful expectations and expectations on youths another time.
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What it comes down to is that you need to force yourself to write, no matter where you are, who you are with and what obstacles are in the way. Not an hour here and there, it needs to be a significant, or the major, portion of your entire day. Taking family to one side, solitude can be wherever you need it to be, I realise now I didn’t leave everything and come to Spain in order to write. I came in order to find out if writing is what I wanted to do, to give me the time to be alone and really think about my life. So I can feel confident in saying – and this may well apply to most things in life - it is only upon reaching the point where you realise you want to write, I mean really really really want to write and that it is the life you really really really want that you understand the importance of forcing yourself to write. I’m sure we have all got examples of people who work ferociously hard to achieve their dreams, be it famous examples such as Stephen King writing in between his three jobs during the early hours of the day, or J.K Rowling surviving as a single mother and scribbling in her local cafĂ©, or whether it’s the people we know privately who work so damn hard under the most testing of circumstances. I am in awe of most people I know because they work very hard and they have so many more responsibilities that I do. They provide for others, which is something I am yet to fully comprehend. What I can comprehend now however, at the age of 34 and if I am being honest, for the first time is the following statement from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, sorry that I couldn’t find the original program, I did look, we will have to make do with an excerpt. Now that I have given up on everything else and am willing to sacrifice myself totally to focus on my work this doesn’t sound so…well I’m not sure exactly what it sounded like, but you may know what I mean when I say that it gets annoying when we only see people who have ‘made it’, are famous, are rich, are successful, are infamous, etc. saying the sort of thing that we only associate with people who no longer have to worry say…I haven’t believed that for a long time now but I still know people who do, and are convinced of it. For me, I’m happy to say that as a nobody, I can still understand the very simple expression of desire: Please watch between 2:18 and 2:40:

So you know what, I’m going to watch the World Cup when I can (LIKE NOW!), I’m going to get out in the sun when I can, I’m going to drink too much, I’m going to embarrass myself trying to speak Spanish to fed up locals, and I’m going to enjoy the whole experience of being in Spain because I know this is only going to last a little while. I am not going to spend it inside a library because I know that I am going to write for the rest of my life and soon enough that will be my routine, I also know that I need to enjoy the life I have while I have it. You have to maximize the opportunities you get or create. (And to defend myself a little, there are days I work very hard, I'm not admitting to being a slacker here!)
So I firmly believe that I will never achieve what I want to achieve until I treat writing as a full time job but I am not ready to do that just yet. There is a big difference between writing four hours a day and writing eight or ten hours a day. I know I will have to soon, and I also know that it will be devilishly tough going because to anyone out there who is not interested in writing, I can assure you it is a painful process full of anguish, self doubt and torment (but is has some good sides too J) and until you crack the way you need your life to be as a writer it can feel like you are just as lost as you were when you got your first job at 16 and had to figure out how to work the photocopier…
Point 3 – Spanish Language

I’m going to keep this quick as I think it is a blog post in its own right. The exploration of learning another language has been a fascinating process for me because I will tell you one specific thing that is related to this topic. When we do things that do not involve putting actual words on paper it can still be helping you to write. This is because life is an education and if we are the type of writer that wants to express our reality then inspiration and knowledge and experience can come from all manner of places that eventually will translate into your written words.
            This last point is how forcing myself to take time out to look at the Spanish textbooks is actually helping me write my stories. This is because you have to examine what you want to say and how you want to express it. Learning another language shows up all the lazy traits you have in your own language, identifies all the frustrations you have in your command of vocabulary, and if you are working hard to examine your control of language then surely that can only help when examining your skills as a storyteller, no matter in which language…or is it in what language?
            Well, I rushed that last paragraph but it will be the topic of my next blog post so I will explain myself better then.

Take care you lovely people....the game is about to start!! COME ON ENGLAND!!

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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Blogging frustation!

First the apology...

A week ago I started writing a blog post on the subject of fame. I had just seen a very interesting YouTube video on John Steinbeck and it made me think of the relationship between fame and criticism, both literary criticism and general 'celebrity' criticism that has nothing to do with your work. I got stuck in and was really enjoying the subject, I found some good clips to embed, some interesting links and so on...then I re-read it...

Quite often when posting a blog I will rewrite it a few times to make sure it reads fairly fluidly and although I don't take too long (usually an hour to draft, an hour to find and upload relevant content, an hour to re-read and edit - and they aren't necessarily consecutive hours, they can be separated by many hours or even days sometimes) it is always there or thereabouts so it's more a matter of tweaking...

...but this time I really didn't like what I had written. It didn't convey what I was trying to express, it seemed too jumbled and not getting to the main points I wanted to explore. I tried to re-write it and over the course of nearly a week I made several attempts but I have to admit defeat and say that I am unable to write what I want on this occasion. I think I need to shelve it for the time being and come back to it later on after a lot of time has passed and I can look at the topic again with a fresh perspective. So apologies for such a long delay between blogs and having to eventually give up!

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So on to something entirely different. I thought I would share with you some photos of a recent trip. There is a local town named La Azohia and a friend who I am doing Spanish/English exchange lessons with lives there and he kindly took me to a historic tower/fort named Torre de Santa Elena (although there are a few alternate names too). It sits on a high hill that is the part of the cliffs that overlook the sea and on a clear day you can see the north Africa coastline. Standing on the edge was breathtaking and if you would like to find out more about the area this is the link for the region's (Murcia) tourist board:

el turista...

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Spain News

So as well as the above, which if I am honest I shared with you because I outright failed to write the blog subject I wanted to, things have heated up a bit here in the literal sense, I’m coping well with it as I am constantly covered in 50+ sunscreen but it takes a bit of getting used to especially as I don't drive so I walk everywhere and carrying the shopping back can be a real workout! One bit of fantastic news mixed with typically ridiculous news is that I found a gym to join, I’m really determined to lose all the weight I put on last year and get back into shape. It’s about a 45 minute walk there (and of course 45 mins back which isn’t so pleasant when I’m swaying with exhaustion) and it’s a great place with friendly staff and customers…but making the same rookie mistake I have made ever since I started exercising in my early teens I went too much too quick and I haven’t been able to lift my arms above my shoulders for the last two days and they are actually locked at a 90 degree right angle…I’ve nearly screamed out with pain on occasion I don’t mind saying! Although, weirdly that is a fantastic angle to type with if the elbows, wrist and shoulder align in a certain way so it’s not been all bad. That aside, the language lessons continue apace but really don’t expect any updates in Spanish any time soon…I think I may even be getting worse if that’s possible, I really do need to revise more.

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Story News

So I’m nearly finished with the first draft of the second short story. It’s an exploration of a young man’s conflict between continuing the way he is going in life - which he loves but deep down knows isn’t right for him – and having the strength to change. He can’t admit it, but he knows he is risking losing a lot if he doesn’t take control of his life, yet breaking away seems too hard for him.
            It had its root in a specific real life incident that is one of those funny stories you remind yourself of once in a while, and upon its millionth retelling a few years back someone said that you have to write that as a story, it would be hilarious. Well, hilarious as the real incident may have been, once I decided to give it a go, with the intention of it being a very realistic depiction of a boxing match, it turned into something entirely removed from that, the characters grew from the typing and before I knew it a five thousand word punchy (excuse the pun) tale has become a much deeper twenty five thousand word domestic growing up story about the significant moments in youth that propel you to adulthood – and in this case the pain is represented by the emotional turmoil, not the physical pain inside the ring. I still wanted to depict a fight so I’ve kept that element of it but it’s now a thousand miles away from its original concept. As with everything, my vision far outweighs my skill and I don’t think I have got anywhere near the symbolism I wanted, but never mind, I’m happy with how it has gone and now I just need to finish the first draft so I can get some feedback and crack on with the next story.

Take care everyone,

P.S: Remember that searching for authors thing in my last blog post?  Well, I can’t tell you what memories were brought up when I put into Google (videos) Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. It popped into my mind from nowhere but brought me straight back to being a kid absorbed by the many Fighting Fantasy books my brother owned and how I loved the adventures. They were such great times and I remember how I spent one period of time (days, weekends, weeks, months? I can’t remember now) collecting as many pennies as I possibly could trying to raise the few quid the book cost and I remember both the disappointment and the anger when one of my local shops would not accept the cost of the book (what must it have been five pounds max?) in penny and two penny pieces! It felt like a real injustice but then all was saved when a shop a bit further up the road happily took my kilos of coins with a smile and a wink and I went home happy with my new book. There are some really great videos you can find on YouTube of the authors of the Fighting Fantasy series - who before last week I had never seen in the flesh or heard their voices - and by the magic of modern social media technology there they are talking about the history of their lives, their books, their companies and so much interesting stuff. I must admit I got a bit teary actually because I suddenly remembered how much I loved those books and I distinctly remember one period of time when I would not put one particular futuristic science fiction episode of the series down, I was absolutely, totally immersed. Anyway, after all that, there was one video I found which is a short message from Steve Jackson describing the Kindle version of their books, how could I not share that with you! I’ve got so much of my own writing to do…BUT I’M TEMPTED!


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