Above and beyond

I entered a mountain writing competition last month run by the John Muir Trust.  The theme was ‘The day a mountain changed my life’ so my entry was probably a bit low key, but what can I say, that’s my style. (Actually, it’s a rewrite of a post I did a while back on hiking in Snowdonia, but from a more inward-looking perspective.)

It must have been 6am when I unzipped the tent, or thereabouts, judging by the grey light that draped across the mountainside. The two bodies that were crammed in next to me lay motionless, matted hair sprouting from the tops of sleeping bags.

I slipped on my boots and staggered out into the cool air. Whether it was the noggins of whisky from the night before or the rolling view that made my head swim, I couldn’t be sure and I headed for a nearby rock to steady myself.

As I gathered my wits, I became aware of the shrill calls of sheep bouncing about the horseshoe curve that enclosed our camp. I spied their white shapes, shuffling across the farthest reaches of the slopes, as though they were all trying to outdo each other in their quest for the next tuft of grass.

My gaze travelled further down the valley towards a golden light that had only just broken across a neighbouring peak. From there, I turned my attention to the sky and watched how the clouds mingled together; reforming and reshaping as if the day was still busy sorting itself out.

After a few minutes, it occurred to me that not a single thought had passed through my head about where I was and what I was doing. In this environment, there was no need to figure things out or analyse the situation as I was so used to doing in my day-to-day life. It was enough to just observe and be in the moment.

But more than that, everything that was happening before me seem to make perfect sense. This was life in its most fundamental state; the shifting forces of nature, adapting, renewing, destroying and replenishing in one continuous, majestic display.

Just then, a muffled groaning broke my trance as the camp began to stir. Rich poked his head out of the tent and we exchanged mumbled greetings, but I didn’t feel able to convey what I had just experienced, at least, not in words.

I looked about the ridgeline, knowing we would soon be up there as we made our way to the top of Snowdon and beyond. The thought left me with a sense of trepidation and awe as I anticipated how many other breathtaking scenes we were likely to encounter on our expedition. Then, with a growing light, our day began.

Success (and a special offer)!

Dear readers

I am pleased to say that I recently gained a qualification in proofreading with the Publishing Training Centre. As I’m just starting out (and it’s nearly Christmas), I’d like to extend a special offer to fellow writers and authors to proofread your work for free!

This is strictly a one-time offer while I find my feet. If you need a fresh pair of eyes to look over what you’ve written, please get in touch (providing its not a full length novel – I’m talking articles, short stories or a couple of chapters).

Hope this is of help to some of you.

Redcliffe subway wins award

Redcliffe Street underpass has won Most Intimidating Subway of the Year.
Judges visiting Bristol for this year’s National Urban Decay Awards, noted how the subway’s darkened entrance, blind corners and sunken ceiling all contributed to a sense of ‘dread and uncertainty’, making it the favourite of the category.
Local residents were thrilled with the award. Rosary Farce said ‘it’s the last place on earth I’d ever want to go, except maybe with a hatchet and chainsaw. There’s not many places you can say that about in Bristol. Well, maybe a few.”
Councillor, Tim Reid, said the community had a love-hate relationship with the subway, as in they love to hate it. “It’s long been a talking point for the local community as a place that contributes to personal safety fears and general uneasiness within the neighbourhood. It’s fantastic that this is now being recognised as something to be proud of.”
Swindon was the overall winner, however, receiving the Gritty City award for being “generally bleak all round.”

Set sail for a new city

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It was back in the summer of ’14 when I got my hands on the Los Angeles edition of Boat Magazine. The hazy rays that came through the window of the bar I was in seemed to go well with the dusky image on the front cover.

I opened the pages and started to read. Like a good book that you just can’t put down, I quickly found myself  drawn in as discerning articles told of the extraordinariness of ordinary individuals living in the city. But more than that, it was the delicate composition of words that captivated me and a seemingly heightened awareness of the subject matter that isn’t generally found in your average travel magazine. 

From then on, I was hooked and am now the proud owner of six issues of Boat. Not to be confused with maritime glossies, the word ‘Boat’ refers to the ‘floating’ nature of the magazine. Twice a year the team behind it pack up their office and head off to a new city to seek out the stories and the people that help mould a sense of identity about the place. 

The secret to this seems to lie in their approach; by inviting local writers and artists to present their own view of the city they call home alongside visiting contributors, the magazine is able to provide a perspective from both inside and out.  

Invariably, this makes for some pretty diverse reading. My favourite issue on Kyoto, for example, opens with a complex introduction to the city from a resident of 25 years, detailing the intricacies of society and its ability to assimilate new culture. Then follows a feature on ancient forestry practices that are kept alive by a few committed workers while further on, a delicate set of interviews shed light on the hidden lives of the homeless population. 

Yet, for all their individuality, what’s prevalent is a sense of intimacy and sensitivity towards the nuances of place, which threads everything together. The result is a compilation of writing that not only informs, but leaves you with a sense of having glimpsed an inner nature that not many travellers, maybe even citizens, are likely to encounter. This is what keeps me coming back to the magazine rack every six months and its also the reason I’ve kept every issue, so that I might take one out and dip into it, like bottled essence, should life in my own corner of the world become a little dull. 

Write like nobody’s reading

I recently put together a submission as a part of an application for a writing job. The process was a fairly straightforward one; write about something that inspires you and influences your practice. I opted to write about my current favourite magazine, Boat, as the theme and quality of writing always buoys me up 😉

However, a couple of weeks after I sent it off, I received a reply telling me it wasn’t quite what they were looking for.

Apart from the specifics of what was missing (insight and personal reflection should have been on the agenda) I realised I had once again fallen into a familiar mindset. It seems that lately, whenever I write, I become bent on just finishing the thing and getting it out there. I’m constantly rushing, whether it’s a short story or otherwise and find I often cut short the writing process just so I can say I’ve got something done.

Inevitably, the result is a finished piece, but hardly my best so it’s no surprise I’m not getting the answer I would like. In truth, I’m struggling a little with my identity as a writer. As time goes by, thoughts of ‘making it’ seem more fantastical than ever. Couple that with my mid-thirties fast approaching and the uncomfortable question keeps niggling away – is it make or break time? (Or just broke?) It seems as though the more I reach for it and the tighter my grasp, the further away a reality of accomplishment and satisfaction becomes.

So, for nobody but myself I rewrote the piece as if nobody is going to read it. Nothing to gain, just the truth according to myself. Hence, I’ve discovered a motto that I’m going to take forward this year and hopefully a different way of working; Write like nobody’s reading. Fitzgerald said something similar, but I can’t recall the quote. If anyone knows it, please tell me!

Pat & Doris come to life

A few technical hitches later, I’m pleased to say that the cranes on Bristol’s harbourside are talking to each other again. For anyone who knows what I’m talking about, they’ve changed sexes and perspectives and will happily be bantering away between 10 and 4 everyday.

For anybody who isn’t from round these parts, you might want to read this post. There is a copy of the scripts to view at M Shed and, hopefully, an audio clip on the website soon so people can get a taste of what they sound like.

Picking up a trail

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Jack sniffed the dirt. Someone had been here. There were traces of urine, possibly excrement too. He went to investigate further, but something was holding him back. Damn lead was always pulling Jack off the case.