Falling In Love Again

Amazingly, no, I’m not talking about another woman here. I’m talking about…running.

My brother and I in Las Palmas 1988
My brother and me, in Las Palmas 1988

Yes. After many, many years I have rediscovered a certain something or other for the purest of all forms of sport/exercise. One foot in front of the other, fast as you like.

When I was in my early twenties I almost took up running about three times a year. These would be the times when my older brother Tom was home from University and he’d almost convince me to take it up, by taking me out for a run, leaving copies of Athletics Weekly lying around, that kind of thing.

As a child and teenager I was self-consciously thin and I remember trying to eat my way out of my natural physique. In the summer of ’82 I managed to trouble the scales by a few extra pounds after a month or so of going to the weights room, hitting the protein shakes, and taking any opportunity to get into a pasty with chips during lunch breaks. That sort of thing.

I was nine stone, a barely credible-sounding 58 kilos, (this obviously might seem ridiculous for someone just over six feet tall but there you go). I nudged this up to about nine stone six. The World Cup was on and one Sunday morning I went up the road to a playing field with my two brothers, Tom and Nick, and we played football for a couple of hours in the sun. It was reasonably strenuous in bursts. Just before lunch I was in  the bathroom and weighed myself and I was back down to nine stone! I had three more goes, triple checking everything. Nine stones! Had I lost those couple of kilos so painstakingly earned over the past month? I decided there and then that it was pointless trying to change my body so the best thing would be to find something for which it was perfect. So, the following evening I finally succumbed and went out for a run with Tom – 45 minutes chatting and looping around the same playing fields!

Yet, I STILL didn’t follow it through. Once Tom headed back up to University I didn’t have the necessary mindset to keep running and clearly can’t have had the inclination to find a club etc. I lost track of the number of false starts my brother had to witness but the breakthrough came a couple of years later when I managed to find my way to an entry to the 1986 edition of the London Marathon. I knew this in December ’85 and it was what I needed. A target. A bit of glamour and excitement.

Some people are simply born to run. They love the freedom. The fresh air. It’s not about the times, or training, or races. It’s about the actual running. But for me, perhaps because I never went for a run slowly enough for it not to feel uncomfortable, there had to be ‘a point’ to it. A justification for all the discomfort! And that point was to enter races, to improve, to test myself, to look forward to the next event. And also perhaps to dream. I was a late starter but I knew I had some natural talent so…who knows where I could go with it?

The London Marathon was the biggest, most glamorous event a runner could get involved in then (even more so now) and it was so exciting to know I was going to take part. Looking back, it’s laughable how little I was prepared. For the ridiculous length of the thing. I had planned to break 3 hours and ended up, broken, with 3 and a half; 1 hour 25 minutes for the first half and 2 hours+ for the second half, where there was much stopping and walking. In short, I ended up hating it. A month later I ran a half marathon somewhere or other, getting aching legs and not enjoying it at all, and at that point a friend kindly pointed out that, as a beginner, I was doing everything back-to-front.

“Normally, you run 800m/1500m races, then go up and try 5,000m and as you get stronger/a bit older, 10k. Finally half marathons and marathons at the end of your career!…You’re doing it all the wrong way, just run 10Ks and 5Ks.”

After that I became more like the usual club runner, though for reasons that I may reflect on in some other post, I drifted out of it after three years.

The London Marathon 2016

And here we are then. Next April 24th, I will once again line up at the start of one of the world’s great marathons, just one of a new world-record number of participants. Thirty years older and none the wiser?

We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Which Comes First, The Title Or The Book?

The other day I was exchanging a few words with a couple of TV writers on the subject of titles. It was both surprising and Titlescomforting to know that I wasn’t the only one with the rather odd affliction of not being able to start anything without having a title first. When you think about it, this is ludicrous. There are many who would strongly advise against any further excuse for prevarication. Get on with it. Call it ‘Untitled Masterpiece’ or ‘Work In Progress’. Or just don’t call it anything. Surely, once a work is over and you know what happened, that would be the time to sit back and think of a title? Continue reading

Feedback And The Art Of Selective Brilliance

What could be better than to be brilliant?

(Actually, if I was being facetious, I could probably come up with quite a good long list but, you know, who needs facetious?) Aside from all the other things that would be nice, I can’t think of anyone – certainly not in any artistic field – who wouldn’t trade them in to hear someone say “that was brilliant.” You may not be able to take your money with you when you die, but you can take your brilliance. But how do you know whether you are, or not? Continue reading

Why I Am Going To Stop Blogging

I have decided, after a long and tortuous discussion with myself over a cup of tea, that I am causing more harm than good by having a blog to which I seem incapable of contributing. I promised myself, when I relaunched, that I would use it simply and lightly. It would be somewhere to make comments on this and that – how the writing was coming along; life on a desert island; maybe the occasional mild rant or harrumph about something. I say that because when I first began with the Blogosphere I became, well, blogged down. I was still writing A Table In Berlin, followed by Goodnight Mrs Day, and it is hard enough trying to get the words out without using up energy on a blog. No, I intended to write swiftly and without recourse to anything resembling a rewrite or polish. That’s why I put “first draft” in the subtitle/blurb at the top of this new version.

But even this is not working. Continue reading

What I Learned From My Headmaster

A few weeks ago I heard that the headmaster at my last school had passed away. It came as a shock, needless to say, and stirred up a lot of emotion. It also reminded me that it was from him that I learned the single most valuable and practical bit of knowledge that was ever imparted to me during all my years of education. When I tell you what it was, it will probably do no more than confirm to most of you that I’m a little eccentric. But not all eureka moments in childhood revolve around Pythagoras, Pi, or P.E. I will write other posts about him, from time to time, as he deserves to be remembered as the fine headmaster that he was. Continue reading

Why I Used Real Life Inspirations for A Table In Berlin

4664101_1AContinuing the theme today of the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I want to talk about a very close friend of my brother’s who provided the inspiration for the character of Christian Bauer in the novel A Table In Berlin. Continue reading

My Kind Of Indie Bookshop

A Table In Berlin launches the new reading room at Rachael's Kitchen!
A Table In Berlin launches the new reading room at Rachael’s Kitchen!

Daisy White is a literary entrepreneur who has long championed the idea of independent business and supporting local traders. Her pop-up shops – Daisy White’s Booktique – focused on showcasing small independent publishers and authors, as well as artists, by taking up residence temporarily in empty High Street shops.

Well now she’s taken it the logical step forward by looking for less temporary premises and last Saturday opened a pop-up inside a gorgeous cake shop.

Yes, that’s right, a cake shop. Cup cakes, no less. And tea, and coffee and comfy chairs…

Mackerel Books said ‘yes’ to this and so A Table In Berlin has a top shelf residency for the next six months in the new reading room at Rachael’s Kitchen, 38 Carfax, Horsham. Not only that but it was Book Of The Week for the launch!

The idea is that customers can pick up a copy of a book from a box of reading copies and try them out while eating and drinking. So much better than being immersed in a smartphone. And if an author’s managed to grab the attention, there are copies for sale (or the customer can come back every afternoon for a brew until the book’s finished). I love the idea – so much more interesting than a free daily newspaper full of daily woes and a multi-national coffee shop’s decor.

I hope it does well. And I hope I see people reading A Table In Berlin the day I choose to make my surprise visit. I should have been at the opening but, guess what? I’m in the middle of a novella and my brain’s not in the right place. In other words, I can’t find my passport. I live in Fuerteventura. You don’t have to know exactly where that is, but I can tell you one thing.

It’s nowhere near Horsham.