This week I made progress on a writing project. I have passed through a psychological gateway with The Ghost Lake, my Nan Shepherd prize longlisted creative non fiction book. I was lucky enough to be offered representation by two different literary agents in the same week. I met with them both and then had a torturous week of decision making. They were very different agents, both offering the next step on the journey, both with excellent credentials and so much to offer. It was the most exciting thing in the world and the most stressful as I feared the wrong decision. I had a friend help me pick apart what I wanted from an agent, undoing the ‘should dos’ and undressing the ‘this is expected’ and burrowing down into my core values, the way I work as a writer and who would best work with me on that. In the end I chose Caro Clarke at Portobello Literary. And now that the stress of the decision making is over, I am absolutely overjoyed at the prospect of working with Caro and excited to see where the book lands. In my head, this was a big milestone for the project, for the book. It means that I can hand over the ‘hustle’ of getting the book out there to someone else who knows what they’re doing, and I can concentrate on just writing it. But it’s also, on a less practical note, a way of giving myself permission to write the book. It is no longer a waste of time to work on it; time that I could be teaching or mentoring etc activities that mean I would be making physical money that I can see. Instead it is an investment in a future payoff. Having someone who trusts me as a writer, trusts me to create good work and is invested in me is going to keep me on my toes and also keep me focused on putting the writing first, which is something I struggle to do. And just like winning grants or awards, it is a kind of validation. I am slowly turning from facilitator/teacher/mentor who writes, to writer who mentors/teaches/facilitates. There’s a big difference. There’s a sense of achievement, a genuine thrill about it. I feel good, I’ve met a goal I set and am now ready to move on to the next one.
This has also been a week of travelling in a physical sense, as I’ve been driving my parents back from my dad’s first chemo appointment. A strange day. A long day as he had to have his PICC line fitted before the very intensive chemo started. My mum and I spent quite a lot of time sitting in the car together and chatting. I like to feel useful and these small practical things that I can do around work are, to be honest, as much about me feeling like I am doing something practical to offset the anxiety as it is about supporting them. As we sat in the car we discussed all sorts – kitchens, underwear, the agency decision I was in the middle of making – we spent six hours people watching, reading, snoozing. We wondered if we could get away for an hour to go shopping in Hull. This merging of the ordinary, even enjoyable stuff, with the trauma of cancer treatment and the over hanging question that is, realistically, ‘are we going to lose him’ is a strange thing, isn’t it. It took me back to the grief days after my husband and I lost our daughter, Matilda. How we might be watching TV together, laughing even and then the reality of it all would slowly seep back in like seawater filling up holes in the beach-sand; the reality that everything had changed, nothing could go backwards, there was only the forwards motion of time and the knowledge of living with it all, getting on with it, of having no other option. I’d forgotten about that bit.
I drove their car back, it was a joy to drive, much nicer than ours. It took about an hour, with my dad in the front seat. They were both getting smaller right before my eyes. He did really well, all in all, and is very stoic, but I can see already that he is changed, he is frailer. They both are. As I drove I pointed out the landscape features and we talked about churches they’d visited nearby, the myths and village folklore that surrounded them, the way the road swept away into the fields, the beauty of it. Mum sat in the back and read her book. There was a sense of role reversal, I thought back to the same conversations we’d had as children, the driving to see relatives in Thirsk, the pointing out of the landscape features, the stories that were attached to those places. I had a sense that we were driving forward to an unknown point, and all there was to do was to move, to progress, to mark off each small accomplishment, to celebrate the wins and manage the losses.
I am sat in my office, just returned from a walk in the lane. It is warm; the first proper warm day of this year. It was good to feel the warmth on my skin. No coat or even cardigan: I wore my cut off jeans and a loose flowered blouse, no make up, hair pinched up in a clip. There is something about this unpeeling of winter clothes that is very freeing. The swallows are back; a pair in the lane, exactly where I first saw them last year. They skim the fields and flit and turn like bats on the wing, they sit on the telephone lines, forked tails hanging, chattering and they bring joy with them. Tiny things, moving across the globe, directed only by the purpose of existence. I stopped to watch the buzzards, paired up again. I was hoping to see the courtship display I’d witnessed last year – that death defying tumble of claws and wings and sudden rise to circle the air drafts opposite each other. Not today.
We have starlings nesting in the porch, the house is alive with their chittering and whistles. The office window is open to the blossom and the grass scents, the rumble of sheep in the fields, the lambs calling back. This is blissful. Life can only ever be lived in the moment you are in. The future, the past, they don’t really exist. There is only this moment.
Until next time