Read Softly…Because You Tread On My Dreams – Or How I Became a Writer

Creative Careers

Oct 19


Abi walking through Rome via @insidetravellab

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.

A book of dreams

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, something happened.

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.

Abi Dream Job

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Tread on my dreams


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • Christina says:

    Congrats to you!!

    I love this > “It’s hardly a dream come true because I never dared to dream that much.”

    Your words are an encouragement to keep going in the face of naysayers. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • Abi says:

      Thank you – although I was also very lucky to have people who encouraged me as well.

  • Maxine Sheppard says:

    Congrats Abi. Well deserved :)

  • Prime says:

    Congrats Abi for your nomination and living the dream! Good to know that good travel writers are being rewarded.

  • Jeffrey Willius says:

    Abi — I’m so glad I’ve stumbled across your wonderful site! Newcomer or not, you write beautifully, comfortably. I’m following you and look forward to exploring the site further. I’d love to hear what you think of my site if you have a moment to take a look :-) Thanks!

  • Matthew Karsten says:

    Awesome! Your story will inspire many others too (including me). :D

  • Carla says:

    Congrats! And… I LOVED your post. You have re-awakened some dormant dreams that fluttered about in my head not too long ago. Thanks for that.

    • Abi says:

      You’re very welcome – good luck with your dreams!

  • A wonderful post – your words are, as always, beautifully written in themselves, as well as being an inspiration to the rest of us. Congratulations on the nomination, I hope you win the award.

    • Abi says:

      Thank you so much, Fiona. I suspect I won’t, so I’m enjoying the nomination that much more!

  • Angela says:

    Congrats Abby, your website is really amazing, I’ve always enjoyed reading your articles. And I can’t wait to read about Jordan, it’s one of those countries very much imposing on my travel list ;)

    • Abi says:

      Angela – thank you. Actually, I always enjoy reading about yours…

  • Steve says:

    Wow. I’ve genuinely got a lump in my throat. Maybe it’s because that poem has been read at at least one wedding that I’ve been at and it reminds me of the emotions that weddings stir up, or maybe just because you seem to put so much heart into your writing. Either way, it sounds like it’s been quite a journey – long may it continue, and congratulations on the nomination!

    • Abi says:

      Hum…Embarrassingly I’m lost for words at this comment. Thank you.

  • Gilda says:

    Truly truly wonderful Abi and only the beginning – congratulations

  • Jools Stone says:

    Just what I needed to read today, thanks. Do you ever wonder what route your life would’ve taken if you heeded Mr Savage and Mr Meek though?
    And very well deserved on the nomination too, great stuff!

    • Abi says:

      That’s a really interesting question – and I’ve never thought about it like that before. I suppose that by now, I’ve met so many people through studying science and practising medicine and they’ve become such an important part of my life that I can’t really imagine it without them…

      I’m sure I’d have got further by now with the writing, but then again I’d have missed out on so many other experiences…Emergency Medicine really does introduce you to everyone in society, from celebrities to mass murderers, rich to poor, sick and healthy.

      Thoreau probably was more eloquent when he said “You must first stand up to live before you sit down to write.”

      At least that quote makes me feel a bit better ;)

      Keep going, Jools. I’ve read your work; I know you’ll get there.

  • Lola says:

    Congratulations on all fronts Abi! Exciting times ahead.

  • Sandra says:

    Wonderful news and beautifully shared. Congratulations!

  • Lalitha Alexander says:

    Hey Abi,

    There’s something about the way you wrote this that tugs at the heart :) I’m glad I found you..will keep the umbilical cord intact now :) I’m enjoying going through all your other articles. Ive just started blogging my discoveries about everything in India. When you get the time, have a dekho. I’d love to hear from someone who’s been there and done what I’m setting out to do :) Pulling the socks up…
    Dreamers united !!


    • Abi says:

      Good luck with your writing about India – let us know how it goes.

      • Lalitha Alexander says:

        Hey thanks Abi :) Enjoying it so far.

      • Abi says:

        Great. Hope things are still going strong!

  • You know they were right, you do have a way with words.

  • Dalene says:

    I really, really love this post. I am an “undreamer” as well, fearing the dreams are too big. On the plus side, when something amazing happens, it is always a pleasant and wonderful surprise. I think I might just keep going that way… :)

    • Abi says:

      I’m all for pleasant and wonderful surprises! Here’s hoping for many more for both of us :)

  • aNCA says:

    I think a person who doesn’t dream, cannot score big either. I am a dreamer and although I am nowhere near my dream, I do admit I have been making steps towards it. I will keep on going :) This is a very inspiring article for me!
    I am very curious about your railway itinerary through Eastern Europe.

  • What a beautiful post and congratulations you so deserve it. Life is truly amazing what it will deliver to you unknowingly.

    Like you, I thought my writing was crap and I could never make it- people told me as well, but I had people like Meeks and Savage (what names) who believed in me.

    Just the other week I spoke to the Australian writers Convention about travel blogging. That was one of those moments for me. I’m still shocked by it.

    Your writing is sooooo goood. I only wish I could write half as good

    • Abi says:

      Caz – your blogs are some of the most inspiring around so never let ’em get you down! So glad to have met you last month…Life keeps on storing up good surprises. Let’s enjoy them while we can!

  • Very proud of you Abi! It’s always a treat to see good things happen to nice people, I’m smiling ear to ear as I write this. Judging from the comments here, It is quite obvious that you have touched a lot of people with what you do. Count me in as one of those people that you have reached and inspired.

    Getting accolades and back pats from friends and family is always sweet, but getting nominations, awards and being shown this kind of respect by the industry is a testament to your talent. Good on ya and keep up the great work!

    Looking forward to seeing you in Italy this spring :-)

    • Abi says:

      Look forward to seeing you soon! Actually, as thrilled as I was by the nomination – I’m even more touched and encouraged by the comments people have left here. It’s amazing. Really, really inspiring stuff. I hope you’re well – and I look forward to Italy!

  • Linda says:

    How did I miss this originally? Ah, now I see I was aware with scant internet at the time you originally posted. I’m just so happy for you, unlike Ken I’m crying, not smiling – but anyone who knows me will tell you that I cry when I’m happy, not sad! All of this is SO well deserved and also inspiring. Really, honestly, truly you have a talent which sets you apart from the majority of bloggers/writers. Many, many congratulations and wishing you much more success in the future.

  • Kirsten Alana says:

    You’re certainly one of my biggest inspirations Abi! I can only imagine things will continue to look up for you, I don’t believe you’ve even broached the surface of true success. Yet.

    So glad you chose Yeats. What poetry perfection his words are.

    • Abi says:

      Thank you so much, Kirsten, for your kind words. Somehow these last two comments slipped through the net until now, which is a terrible shame as they’re some of the most inspiring words I’ve ever read! I really, really appreciate the time you took to come here and say that. I think I’m going to come back here and read the comments more often…even if it is bad form to do so!

  • Sheila-Yusof-Johnson says:

    Abi, Abi, Abi …
    Fate is funny. Like many, I am soooo glad ours ”paths” crossed albeit on the internet. If I may say, I do not think there is anyone who stumbled upon your website that is not touched by your words or captivated by your pictures… They are stunning, they are beautiful, they have souls – It is a reflection of you. You deserve the nomination. May you win.

    by Henry Van Dyke

    Let me but live my life from year to year,
    With forward face and unreluctant soul;
    Not hurrying to, nor turning from the goal;
    Not mourning for the things that disappear
    In the dim past, nor holding back in fear
    From what the future veils; but with a whole
    And happy heart, that pays its toll
    To Youth and Age, and travels on with cheer.

    So let the way wind up the hill or down,
    O’er rough or smooth, the journey will be joy:
    Still seeking what I sought when but a boy,
    New friendship, high adventure, and a crown,
    My heart will keep the courage of the quest,
    And hope the road’s last turn will be the best.

    • Abi says:

      Thank you, also, for such beautiful words. I’m absolutely amazed. I kept delaying answering this comment because I wanted to find the right words…to do your comment justice. I’m still stumbling so I’ll keep it short and sweet.

      Thank you.

      Thank you very, very much.

  • Abi says:

    Oh, Linda, thank you so much. As I’ve written somewhere else, I kept on waiting until I could answer such a meaningful, personal comment with a meaningful, personal comment of my own. But I just got computer screen stage fright (although, I think they call that writer’s block…)

    Thank you. Your comment itself is really inspiring. Cheers!

  • Kat B. says:

    Great inspiration – beautifully written! I look forward to following your blog.

  • Laurie says:

    I’m really touched by your words. They are inspiring to me.

    • Abi says:

      Hi Laurie, I’m glad to hear that. Good luck with whatever you’re working on. Best, Abi

  • >