Tonight, my past caught up with me. Not in a thriller kind of way, with howls of wind and a ghostly nemesis, nor even with an illegitimate child or the taxman at the door (although he did send me an email. The taxman, that is. There is no child…) No, I mean with a sudden yet silent soft click, a moment when things seemed to fall into place. When, for a heartbeat or so, things felt right.
A few years ago, I decided to become a writer. I took the only approach I knew at the time: I bought a book on the subject and I read it.
I can’t remember when I ran my finger down the first page of The Freelance Writer’s Handbook, whether it was in the smoky cafe next to the bookshop or whether I waited until the end of a night shift, sinking into a hot bath with a mug of tea on the side.
Either way, of Andrew Crofts’ many inspiring words, this phrase stood out:
“Every morning you wake up as a freelance you know something exciting might happen today. A publisher may ring with a big commission, your novel might be accepted, a huge star might agree to an interview, a magazine might buy an article or send you to Tahiti with all expenses paid…Most days none of these things will happen, but some days they will.”
Today, something happened to make me sit up, look in the mirror and realise with a swell of enthusiasm, excitement and maybe even a dash of pride, that the last few years have been dotted with those kinds of days.
Today, I received my tickets and itinerary for Jordan, a contract for my upcoming rail project through eastern Europe and then, on top of that, I heard that I’d been shortlisted for a British Travel Press Award… for my work here on Inside the Travel Lab.
On Inside the Travel Lab, my experimental blog conceived during a sleepless night in Toulouse and toiled and toyed around with ever since. From the dusty dunes of the world’s oldest desert to the icy walls of Patagonia, the scratched wire of Auschwitz, the flames of Hiroshima and right smack bang into the world’s best restaurant…Somehow, the outpourings of the world as I found it connected with someone out there…Several someones…
It’s hardly a dream come true because I never dared to dream that much.
When I began writing, I received a lot of advice from a lot of people (and for advice, you can read concerned warnings that I was about to make the worst mistake in my entire life, ruin everything, and eventually eke out my days by gnawing on rotting turnips in a gutter somewhere south of I-told-you-so.)
And, for a long while, people had a point.
I didn’t have experience, I didn’t have connections and I didn’t have much of a clue.
Then again, I reasoned, neither did anyone else when they started. Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare…no-one was born with a ripe portfolio of clips and cuttings. No-one can talk when they’re born, let alone write.
Everyone started from scratch.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get anywhere quickly. I swirled around in rejection, embarrassing pitches and general ignorance (a condition, alas, that threatens to relapse at any moment.)
My first feature was a big milestone, as was the eventual arrival of my first pay cheque (in sweet publishing fashion, and despite the intrusion of the 21st century, it was still a cheque in the post, and it still arrived fashionably late.)
My first all expenses trip arrived with a cautious undercurrent of excitement and a few months after that, life took up a pace that didn’t allow for much introspection.
Then, all of a sudden, today arrived.
Not only did I think back to that fateful day with Andrew Crofts (cheers Andrew, by the way, if you ever get to read this) but I staggered back even further, to a day at secondary school with my English teacher, inappropriately named Mr Meek.
He and Mr Savage (no joke, these are real names) corralled me in the scuffed corridor somewhere between the labs and the sixth form, where acne-ridden gods wore their own clothes instead of school uniform.
They wanted to discuss my ‘A’ level choices. Like the advisers of my thirties, they were convinced I was making a mistake.
Science was for the cautious, they counselled. Whereas I had a way with words.
I didn’t believe them then and I still don’t believe them now.
Science is for the adventurous, the meticulous, the creative and the brave. And as I still stutter, stumble and stagger around the keyboard, I know full well that words have their way with me, not me with them.
Still, in the world in which we live, encouragement is thin on the ground so I’ll take what I can get.
Today, that’s reaching the finals in the British Travel Press Awards. It’s also a belated teenage thanks to Mr Meek and Mr Savage.
My school was hard pressed to make it through the curriculum, given the struggle for law and order on its bleach-smelling streets. We didn’t cover much in the way of poetry, but the little we did left a lasting impression.
Read softly, because you read through my dreams.
HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
Yeats, read at King’s Manor, circa 1994