Tag Archives: travel

Writer, Plain and Small

So, I’m reading a book at the moment – you know, in between sending out submissions, trying to write an actual book of my own, attempting to lay the foundations of a future business model and not (repeat: *not*) sliding down the helter-skelter of All The Crazy – and, as I came to the end of Chapter 5, something struck me like a haddock across the back of the head.

Just like this. *Exactly* like this, in fact. Image: s1263.photobucket.com

Just like this. *Exactly* like this, in fact.
Image: s1263.photobucket.com

I am a really boring person.

No – no, wait! Just hear me out on this one.

Okay, so the author of the book I’m reading is vastly younger than I am. Her author bio at the start of the book lists the year she was born – a year I remember well, because I spent most of it covered in glitter and scrunchies, singing along to Cyndi Lauper and falling out of trees. I had years of living under my belt by then, during which time I could’ve been doing stuff like starting research toward my first Nobel Prize or being a child prodigy at something besides jumping in cowpats or, even, stowing away on board a ship to see the world. Instead, I was reading everything I could get my hands on, exploring rockpools at every given opportunity and actively avoiding having my hair washed for as long as I could get away with.

Oh, the missed opportunities.

To make matters worse, this author person is an elected fellow of an Oxford college. Already. At her exceptionally young age.

But, the nadir of it all is that the book I’m reading is not her début, and she is – and I quote: ‘currently working on her doctorate alongside an adult novel.’

Right, so I did a doctorate. That’s not a secret. And, it therefore follows that I know how darn complicated it is to write one. I didn’t do mine at Oxford, either – doing anything at Oxford is bound to be fifty-squillion-kazillion times more difficult than it would be anywhere else, because Standards, don’tcha know.

And this person’s doing all that – as well as writing an adult novel and as well as publishing two children’s novels? Oh, and did I mention she grew up – in Africa?

Crying Girl, Roy Lichtenstein (1963) Image: en.wikipedia.org

Crying Girl, Roy Lichtenstein (1963)
Image: en.wikipedia.org

What have I been doing with my life?

I have always lived in one country, and it’s a rather small and squishy one, at that. I haven’t travelled much. I’ve experienced the whole gamut of human emotion, sure, but then you can say the same of anyone. Well, anyone who isn’t a sociopath, at least. I am an ordinary girl in an ordinary corner of the world.

But do you think a person can be too ordinary to be a writer?

Does it follow that a person who grew up in the savannahs of Africa, or the steppes of Mongolia, or the frozen wastes of Siberia, or in the hissing eternity of a desert is going to have a wider imaginative base to draw upon than a person who grew up in a tiny terraced house on a nineteenth-century street in a small Irish country town? A person with the self-confidence, talent and gumption to have published two books by their early- to mid-twenties, alongside doing a doctorate at Oxford, is going to be a more interesting person than one who worked in a succession of dead-end jobs before her health started to fail, and who then took a crazy chance on following a dream, surely. A person who has travelled is, don’t you agree, necessarily going to be better placed at writing imaginatively than a person whose only real engagement with the world has been through reading about far-flung places?

Maybe.

Then, I have felt the Adriatic breeze on my face from the walls of the old town of Dubrovnik; I have heard the Liberty Bell ring out across the city of Valletta. I have seen the sunlight sparkling on the river Leie as I walked through the beautiful city of Ghent. I have watched the Eiffel Tower lit up with spotlights from the smallest hotel room in Paris, and I’ve seen the Mona Lisa. I’ve done more than some, this is true.

But I still feel inadequate, or somehow unequal, in comparison to a person whose life experiences are so richly different from mine.

However, maybe it’s also important to remember that there’s no restriction on imagination. So, I’ve never lived in Africa, and I have never seen most of the places I dream about. I’ve never been to Scandinavia. I’ve never seen the Northern Lights. I’ve never been to Rome. But that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about all these things, and create them in my mind. Perhaps it’s not so much what you’ve done in the time you’ve had, but what sort of thinker you are – one who looks out towards the rest of creation and embraces it with an open heart, or one who locks themselves away in a fit of pique, refusing to open their eyes. One who is too involved with themselves to see the wonder of others.

I’d like to think I am definitely the former.

Image: saligiastock.deviantart.com

Image: saligiastock.deviantart.com

My small, plain life might not stack up against that of the author of my current book-crush. She has, it’s true, lived more in her years than I have in mine. But that doesn’t mean that my story is invalid just because she has chosen to tell hers; it doesn’t mean that my dreams have to take a back seat to anyone else’s. Our experiences shape our minds and the breadth of what we can imagine, but it’s what we choose to do with what we have that counts.

So, I choose to let this story inspire me – not only the book itself, but also the lesson I’ve learned from the life of its author – and I choose to respect the experiences I’ve had, be they ever so humble, because they are my unique gift to the world.

And the same goes for all of us.

A Soul Timid, but not Meek

I am frightened by the Devil,
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid…

Image: michaelyung.com

Image: michaelyung.com

Joni Mitchell is a huge hero of mine. I’ve been in love with her music for as long as I’ve had ears (so, quite a long time now), and the lyric above – from ‘A Case of You’, on the majestic album ‘Blue’ – is probably my favourite of her songs. I’m not sure, exactly, why I love this particular set of lines so much; perhaps it’s because it says, to me, that being afraid is perfectly all right – so long as you don’t lose your curiosity, too. It’s natural to be scared of some things, but shutting your mind off from those things forever, without admitting even a thought which relates to them, is bad news.

Maybe.

That’s the thing with song lyrics, I guess. They mean different things to different people.

I’m a fearful type, by nature. Anxious, a worrywart, ‘worst-case-scenario’. If I were a fairytale character, I’d be Chicken Little.

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

I’m afraid of lots of things, some of them rational and some of them (all right, most of them) not. I’m a quietly controlled hypochondriac. I have a lot of sympathy for the guys who stand on street corners wearing ‘The End is Nigh!’ sandwich boards. I’ve often wondered if it comes from my interest in the Middle Ages – those guys lived, teetering, on the edge of instant annihilation for centuries, too. They were convinced, with every passing generation, that this would be the one. This would be the era in which Christ would come again and perform the final Judgement. Millenarianism was de rigueur.

But perhaps that was hope, more than fear. I think there was a bit of both mixed up in there. And maybe that’s a defining characteristic of fear – a tiny, tiny shard of desire mixed into the terror makes it all the more terrifying.

I’m thinking about all this because a close family member is jetting off in a few days to spend several months abroad. While there she plans to gain a qualification in something she hopes will lead to an exciting career, and I’m sure she’ll be successful. As well as that, no doubt she’ll have adventures and experiences which will leave long-lasting memories, and she will do things that I would not do, and things that I could not do, because I would be far too afraid to even try.

But there’s a little spark, deep inside me, which wishes I could just get over myself for long enough to give it a go. A tiny spark, now. Barely there at all, really. But there, all the same.

This woman – the adventurer – has already had a year abroad in which she did death-defying things, with every indication that she was having the time of her life. Fear didn’t seem to come into it, for her. It was all about the exhilaration, the joy, the celebration of what her body was capable of. I have cousins who, when they were children, were like chalk and cheese when it came to facing their fears. One of them would throw herself at any challenge, totally uncaring of how much she could hurt herself if it all went wrong, and another who was stiff and awkward and afraid. The second child would give everything a try, as far as she was able, but would end up causing herself an injury because her fear would get in her way. The first child was lithe and fluid and free – due to her fearlessness, as well as a natural athleticism – and never suffered any physical damage from her exploits.

I think the second child, the fearful one, took after me. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we are both oldest children, and statistically likely to be more cautious and less adventurous than the siblings who come after us.

There are different types of fear, for sure. I have faced plenty of my own personal fears – public speaking, standing up for things I believed in even when I was sure it would spell disaster for me, tackling academic challenges that I felt sure were beyond me – and I came through them all reasonably unscathed. It’s when it comes to physical things, like sport or heights or speed, that my terror overwhelms any desire I might have to take part. Things that would horrify other people are no bother to me, and things that others would do without a second thought are so far beyond my level of ability that I can’t even imagine doing them. I have a friend who lives right by a massive motorway junction just outside Dublin, and she drives around it with carefree abandon – and she always did so, even when she was new to the area. She doesn’t drive dangerously – in fact, she drives far more safely due to the fact that this particular snarled-up collection of high-speed traffic lanes doesn’t make her blood run cold, as it would mine – and she has never come even close to having an accident, thank goodness. If I had to do that drive, I’d cause a multi-car pileup within five seconds, and I know it.

But I’d love to be able to do what she does. I admire her for it. I just know I never will.

Perhaps the world needs all types of fearlessness, both the risk-taking type and the emotional type. I have lived long enough to know who I am, and to be aware that I have limitations, and to give myself a break when it comes to respecting those limitations. I have the desire to be an adventurer, but the flesh is weak.

But I can write about those who are fearless, and use my own tiny sparks of curiosity – my own sense of ‘being drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid’ – to fill in the blanks when it comes to creating characters who aren’t fearful of heights, or the dark, or of throwing off the shackles of the everyday and setting off on an adventure across the world with no real plan of how to get home.

Perhaps my own fearfulness will lead me to create better characters, even. Let’s hope so, at least. It has to be good for something – right?

Image: hybridtechcar.com

Image: hybridtechcar.com