Sunday, 16 October 2016

Looking Glasses and Rabbit Holes

No sooner have we waved goodbye
to dear friends Jill and Martin who’ve been staying with us for a few days than I’m off to Aberystwyth with friend and blogger Preseli Mags to meet up with a group of blogging friends. Jo, Jayne and Jane are here, Mountainear has come down from her small mountain kingdom and Elizabeth has temporarily swapped one set of Welsh hills for another. We’ve ‘known’ each other for almost ten years now since we, and many others, started blogging for a competition in the hope of being picked to write a magazine column. Although none of us won we ended up with a much bigger prize, an enduring online friendship with bloggers across the globe. Today we have a chance to catch up; some of us have met before, others are new faces but those shared virtual glimpses of our lives make conversation easy. There’s lots of laughter, many cups of coffee but also an acknowledgement that real lives - with all the usual trials and tribulations - go on behind the looking glasses of our online personae.

Being a writer sometimes feels like tumbling down a deep, dark rabbit hole whilst holding a small flame and desperately trying to keep it alight. It’s a constant battle against doubt and uncertainty - even when there’s good news. I’m delighted to have written the words to Jake Fitzjones’ beautiful photographs of a stunning Highgate home in this month’s edition of The English Home (November. Issue 141). I’m also thrilled to have been commissioned to write two more features for the magazine, yet as much as I love writing these articles, a freelance writing career is precarious and I’m keenly aware of wanting to do my best for the home owner, the photographer and the magazine. The finished article should appear to be effortless, informative and easy to read, but lots of material has to be gathered and sorted first and all the time the deadline clock keeps ticking. Luckily it’s a challenge I enjoy, for all the tense moments of wondering if all the pieces of the puzzle will ever fit together, and it’s still something of a dream come true to see my name by a feature in a glossy magazine.

All the training for my recent half marathon’s been a useful reminder that goals are achieved one step at a time and I’ve been making slow progress - at last - with fiction. A novella is inching towards completion and I’m 12,000 words into a new novel. Just when I need an incentive to keep going during those times when I feel as if I’m working in the dark, I receive some very welcome news. I’m pleased to say that my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales will be available in paperback from November and, very excitingly, Turning the Tide is one of nine Choc Lit titles being launched by Norwegian publisher, Cappelen Damm AS, as a new mass market series in 2017. And now, it’s back to real life and hard graft!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Running The 'Diff 2016

Some 22,000 runners are taking part in the 2016 Cardiff University Half Marathon but as I thread my way through the crowd to my starting pen, I feel lonely and a bit daunted. I know
people will be thinking of me, but I won’t be seeing any of my family en route as I don’t feel it’s reasonable to ask them to turn out for such a busy event. In my pen, however, I’m quickly gathered up by a group of blokes who offer Jelly Babies and talk race tactics. The fellow feeling between runners is a real tonic! I start to relax and enjoy the fantastic atmosphere. The race starts at 10 am - later than I would normally run - and it takes seven minutes to get to the start. Then I’m away!

It’s a glorious day in Cardiff; there’s no wind, the sun is shining… and it’s absolutely boiling! By mile 4, I know I’m not going to make the time I set for myself - that sub 2 hours so tantalisingly within reach. It’s just too hot for me and the busy field requires energy-sapping weaving between runners so I just dig in and do the best I can.

The support from the crowds in Cardiff is always brilliant and this year is no exception; every mile of the route is lined with people cheering and lending their encouragement, there are choirs and bands, old folks and babies and I try to ‘high five’ as many children as my energy levels permit. Oh, and I certainly don’t have to worry about being short of Jelly Babies or Haribou sweeties as so many kind spectators are handing them out to weary runners - in fact by the end of the course, the smell of Jelly Babies is rather overwhelming in the heat; all I want is a long cold drink!

I’m running for Pancreatic Cancer UK so I’ve stitched a photo of my dad to the front and back of my race vest. At mile 9, Dad suddenly defies my sewing and flies off my shoulder! Oh no, has he abandoned me? Rose says later he was just lifting the weight off my shoulders which is a lovely thought. Two years ago, when I last ran this race, I was thinking not only of my dad but also of the tiny little spark who became Bee, who my daughter, Lily, was carrying. This year, there’s an equally happy glimmer of the future to contemplate, all being well.

As I cross the finish line I’m absolutely exhausted - I’ve given it all I have. The wonderful students of Cardiff University who’ve given up their time to volunteer to give out finishers’ goodies are of many nationalities and religions - food for thought in these Brexit times. I express my thanks to the young woman in the hijab who places a medal round my neck and her beautiful face lights up. Then it’s a 20 minute trudge to meet Tom and another 20 minute walk to the car by which time I’ve got nothing left in the tank. At Lily and Russ’s house in Cardiff, Lily runs me a bath and tenderly dresses me afterwards in the first reversal of our roles.

Checking the official results, my time’s slower than I hoped for - 2:14:12 but I’m 50th out of 175 women in my category and 9935 overall which I’m pretty chuffed with. But the best news is that thanks to the generous support of so many kind people, I’ve raised £576 for Pancreatic Cancer UK. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who made that happen.

I would also like to thank everyone involved in the wonderful event that was the 2016 Cardiff University Half Marathon and made it such a memorable day.

PS. It turns out I did have a supporter in the crowd - Lily’s lovely friend Ruth - and I didn’t even hear her shouting! So, sorry, Ruth - you’re a star!

The blessed relief of seeing the finish line!