Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


A few weeks ago, I wrote 1000 words for the purposes of entering an Editor’s Brief on the website Ideas Tap. The brief was on the theme ‘Frozen’, and it resulted in a disarmingly honest (and perhaps overly-metaphorical!) piece of work. The closing date was the end of February, and I’m assuming nothing has come of the entry (the process was a touch clumsy, and I couldn’t be 100% confident that I’d done it correctly), so I thought it was time to share it here.

The invitation dropped onto the doormat, landing with a soft thud.

Well, okay, it arrived in my inbox. Silently, without fanfare or fuss, and lacking any of the romance you might associate with invitations delivered by the postman’s caring hand. Perhaps someone could create an e-mail service where the inbox is a doormat and an animated dog virtually fetches your new mail…

Or maybe not.

The invitation arrived just before Christmas and I accepted it graciously, without hesitation. The celebration was a month-and-a-half away and there was every reason to celebrate.

Six months on a library-run writing course left me with a mile-wide grin, thrilled at the experience of nurturing a project I hadn’t realised could exist within me. Thrilled at creating a living piece of work, enjoyed by others on the course. Thrilled at the regular sessions with other writers, learning from their experiences and teaching them something new.

So thrilled that I launched, breathless and unprepared, into creating a website to extend the project. My confidence said it could be successful, and that I should also agree to read some of my work at the impending celebration.

I accepted the invite eagerly, and came to wish I hadn’t.

January is a difficult month for a lot of people. Normally I’m not one of them, but January 2012 was different. It was the month that I lost the ability to cope with responsibilities at home. A new job became all-consuming. Satisfying, but all-consuming and therefore detrimental to the creative me.

The real me.

In feeling that I had to choose between career fulfilment and creative fulfilment, the project I took such joy in building the previous summer stalled. I wanted the project to blossom into something greater and it stalled and I couldn’t get it going again and I didn’t know how to deal with that and it left me exhausted.

Across 40 days-and-nights, I lost all sensation of being a writer. Lost any sensation that I could be a writer ever again.

* * *
I sat on the shore of a frozen lake, lacking the will or the energy to walk round to the other side. Confidence and inspiration waited there, but I only understood the path straight across. Mercifully, I also understood how brittle the ice was, and how I was apt to drown if I didn’t negotiate a sensible path. Occasionally I put a testing foot on the surface, but always withdrew at the last moment.

I didn’t want to drown.

My heart begged for what was on the other side. I’d tasted those riches but I clung to what I had on my side of the lake. I didn’t know how to get across and back again, didn’t understand how to follow the shoreline. It left me cold, shivering, creatively impotent. I was aware of it happening – painfully aware – but I didn’t want to drown.

February arrived. My foot fell through into the watery blackness and I wrote the most cowardly e-mail I’ve ever written. “I started a new job last month, and I might not be able to make the celebration event” was the half-truthful gist. Mysterious work commitments that I knew nobody would question, and that masked (convincingly?) a debilitating lack of the confidence I once discovered.

The freezing water was up to my thigh a few days later. “As I thought, I’m not going to be able to make Thursday night. I’m really sorry for any inconvenience.” I physically typed the words, but mentally wondered how I would breathe if I fell through the ice any further. I didn’t want to drown.

I missed the event. Missed the celebration I was so eager to attend just weeks before. I felt better for it, content in the numbness as I sat on the ice with my legs dangling in the water. I sat, and the ice sat with me. I sat through the fresh spring and the joyful summer and the lake remained inexplicably frozen.

* * *
The crisp autumn finally brought some warmth to the year. It spread through the water, gradually melting the frozen surface: the warmth of the people on my side of the lake, the warmth of home and work finally in harmony. I understood what it meant to be outside. What it meant to be alive, and to have a body that deserved better than I was giving it. The colder the changing seasons became again, the warmer I felt.

Drowning was no longer an option: I wanted to swim.

And swim I did. My mind awoke to the benefits of a healthy body and, bit-by-bit, I started to swim freely between the two sides of the lake. Not always in a straight line, sometimes following the shoreline, but always enjoying the warmth of the water. Enjoying feeling good about myself and my place in the world.

* * *
The invitation dropped onto the doormat, landing with a soft thud.

It was a metaphorical invitation, so it possessed all the tactile qualities I wanted to imagine. The invitation was to me, from me, asking if I would like to start writing again. Asking if I wanted to wake the project I’d left frozen in time for twelve months. And it wondered if I might have learnt something that I could share with other people.

I accepted, rationally and without haste. The project was well preserved and I had a better idea of how I could help it blossom. I wrote on my own, I wrote in the company of friends (a first). I wrote for hours on end, I wrote in 45 minute bursts snatched from the clutches of the day. I’d avoided drowning – just – and I didn’t want to risk it again. As long as I remembered how to swim…

After a mild Christmas, the UK froze into 2013 but the blood was flowing and I no longer felt the cold. I didn’t want to drown. I wanted, finally, to just write.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Gonna Get Myself Connected

Given the choice, most people would not elect to spend a cold Friday morning on an industrial estate just outside Wolverhampton.

I certainly had no choice in the matter, and so found myself walking across my employer’s manufacturing site with only a few inadequate layers to shield me from the wintry climes. A group of us were trekking across to another warehouse, and along the way my heart lifted as I spied an unwanted office desk sitting abandoned on a patch of unused ground.

It lifted because I take great joy in out-of-context things. They appeal to my creative side, to the part of me that knows these things wouldn’t be half as effective if they had been done deliberately. They appeal to the same creative side that wishes it had taken photos of all the abandoned shopping trolleys I saw around Macclesfield town centre once upon a time.

After seeing what needed seeing in the warehouse, I hung back from the group as we retraced our steps. I wanted to snap a quick picture of the desk, but without making a big fuss. Although I’ve become more open with people about my creativity since the turn of the year, I still don’t feel as though I can adequately explain it or ‘prove’ it (until such a time as I hopefully finish my cinema tour book, at least!). Thus, I still perceive the occasional ‘funny look’ whenever I indulge in a spot of creative talk.

The only person behind me was a friendly chap called Jim who has spent 30 years installing roofs and is a pro at bedding roofing felt in hot bitumen. The iPhone blurted out its mock-shutter noise and, with a chuckle and the slightest hint of sheepishness, I explained that I simply couldn’t resist taking a photo.

“Well, it’s abstract isn’t it?” said Jim, and merrily continued on his way.

In my last blog post, I mentioned some of the creative/business books I’ve been reading. I’m nearing the end of The Icarus Deception now, and one of Seth Godin’s central themes is the ‘connection economy’. The world is no longer about manufacturing goods for a faceless consumer population. It’s about making an emotional connection with like-minded people, however much of a minority those people might be.

As a result, I’ve started to look harder for connections I can make. I could make more, certainly, but these things take time and I’m also trying to see the connections that other people make, so that I might learn from them. The connection I made on that West Midlands industrial estate was only short-lived, but it was a connection nevertheless. And it was a perfect illustration of how they can be found in even the most unlikely places.

As an aside, one of the other appeals of this abandoned desk was the image it formed in my head: an image of Monty Python-era John Cleese sat behind it, wearing a dinner suit, and saying, “And now for something completely different.”