Maybe some wood

There’s nothing in the wood shed. Except maybe some wood.

(Hopefully that’s far enough from being an exact song lyric to avoid a breach of copyright!)


I’ve recently started using the library more. Taking our one year old grandson (he absolutely loves it) has inspired me. I’ve been reminded of much I used to love the library when I was a boy. When we children in Coventry, we used to go to the library once a week with Dad. Mum was at home baking cakes and the house always smelled delightful when we got home. We would be excited (my brother, my sister and myself) to see whether Mum would like the book that Dad (or in our mind, us) had chosen for her. We also had our own books to be excited about.

Jubilee Crescent Library in Coventry, still going strong 45 years after I left the city!

It’s a joy to see that excitement passed down to the latest generation.

Paignton Library, also still going strong.

We have a £75 book token burning a hole in whatever ‘safe place’ we stashed it (we can’t find it…. it’s in the house somewhere…..) Despite having those 75 smackers, we have started borrowing books from the library. Oh and raiding charity shops too. Spending little or no money on books encourages us to diversify – choosing books we have never heard of, or new styles, obscure (to us) authors, different genres or left field non fiction. I have particularly enjoyed doing the last of these – essay collections and memoir being my favourite ‘go to’ at the moment.

That said, I’ve just started Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives, a cracking charity shop find for a couple of quid. I’d previous read Bolano’s epic 900+ paged 2666 and was chuffed to stumble across this earlier work amongst the Mills and Boon and thrillers. He has a way with story which I’d be a fool to think I could replicate in my own writing, but I hope his influence is occasionally apparent in my writerly voice. He was sadly lost to us in 2003 (at only 50 years old) as he waited for a liver transplant. His body of work sounds eclectic and fascinating. I particularly enjoy how he managed to make the two novels I’ve experienced seem quite lofty and literary (for want of a better, less high brow description) and yet they offer a rollockin’ good tale and plenty of titillation too.

Literature is a vast forest and the masterpieces are the lakes, the towering trees or strange trees, the lovely, eloquent flowers, the hidden caves, but a forest is also made up of ordinary trees, patches of grass, puddles, clinging vines, mushrooms, and little wildflowers.

Roberto Bolano

Last week’s library haul included a work of fiction by an author who shall remain nameless here. Unfortunately this book produced a rare DNF in my reading list. It is written by a man in the first person. He alternates narrators, all in the first person. The four main characters are two couples, and I would ordinarily think; ‘why shouldn’t a man write the voice of a woman?’

As authors we should be able to write robots, men, children, teenagers, women, people who are non binary, all genders and trans genders. We should voice people of all sexualities, colours, creeds nationalities, faiths and backgrounds. It’s fiction, we could write the voice of a worm or an alien – it’s our story and our world. Well in the case of said library book, I just felt, and this really is just my thoughts, other readers may well have a much different experience of the book, the women’s voices sounded and felt forced.

In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations!

Anton Chekov


In my novel (working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners), I have two main characters. One is a British, white, middle aged, middle class male. He takes the form of somebody who may just have been derived from a selection of my own characteristics and those of my peers. I have of course imagined him and built his personality over the last few years that I’ve been planning this book. He, in theory, should come naturally and feel authentic.


My second main character is a woman, although we also see her as a child too, who was born in Belgium. She is a Jew, her parents were both Brazilian and economic migrants. She has suffered extreme emotional trauma and has been on quite a journey up until she joins us in the book. She should surely will be considerably harder for me to articulate and portray faithfully.

There’s a lot of talk about inappropriate cultural appropriation in the arts. And I don’t believe that all writers are truly meticulous in their preparation to write characters from different backgrounds to their own.

But why shouldn’t I tell her story? As long as in the initial drafting, the writing itself and particularly during the editing process I ensure I am able understand the life of people from Brazil in the 1970s, why they might choose emigrate to Belgium. I need to find out how, as Jews, they practiced their faith in a different cultural environment and how they would bring their children up in a new country.

If we’re not willing to let authors tell anybody else’s story other than a version of their own, then surely all fiction will become boring and one dimensional. All of my fiction would be about straight working class to middle class white men.

Imagine if Stephen King could only write about people like Stephen King! We’d have missed out on some pretty diverse characters.

Anyway, how did my writing go in week 11?

It may not have produced BIG results but I have eliminated the influence of, as Mark Twain would say, ‘small people’, and focussed on the belief of those who really care about what it means to me to be a writer.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.

Mark Twain

Anyway, I haven’t moved the novel project along and writing opportunities have been sparse. But, I mean, come on, I have been busy you know!

I built and extension to the wood shed for a start, and wheel barrowed a couple of cubic metres of logs and stacked them.

Seriously though, it’s been mostly journal work and playing around with the short fiction courses from Writers HQ. I’ve said it before………. do check out Writers HQ “For bad arse writers with no time or money.”

And now, I’m off to the library. Onwards my friends, onwards………………………..

The Wisdom – A Writing Comeback Week 10

I’d hate to appear prescriptive. Who needs my advice? Other than me of course. Well, who knows? But here’s my thoughts anyway, you know, on life right now:

Sometimes we need to know the difference. Us writers, us workers, us husbands, wives, grandparents, athletes, artists – we all need to know how to tell the difference.

The difference between the things we can change and those we can’t.

Enjoy the process – if we keep our side of the street clean then whatever the outcome, we’ve done everything we can.

Grandson Charlie ready to start adding to my journal at the age of ONE!

I’ve written little.

All I need to do is write when I CAN rather than worry about when I can’t. That right there is the only wisdom required.

In the last week I managed a series of dot balls when it came to my novel. It’s always there or there abouts in my mind though. My characters, Rosa and Alec (who may yet not be Alec at all), are nudging at my arm as I scratch out some thoughts in my journal. They’re nibbling at the packet of digestive biscuits my mind is trying to get me to open, despite my self imposed ban on unhealthy snacks (which is another blog post being drafted in the dog eared journal).

BUT, there’s been little time for attacking my novel’s first draft and so I’m concentrating on idea generation, on wordplay, on short bursts of stream of consciousness writing and, I’m pleased to say, lots and lots of reading.

Just WRITE every day of your life. READ intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet and very pleasant careers.

Ray Bradbury

So I read.

He already loves the library!

Since we’ve been taking the youngest grandchild to the library on a regular basis, I’ve started to explore titles I may not have otherwise looked at; short stories, essay collections and craft books on everything from mindfulness to poetry.

Right now, I’m devouring a collection of stories written by the great Roddy Doyle during lockdown. Quite marvellous it is too.

I’m also listening to a monster volume of essays by the equally great Zadie Smith. Including, of course, an impassioned plea to us all to fight for our libraries.

Libraries are vital to every society in every culture. They don’t discriminate.

Zadie Smith

In fact, Charlie (the grandson) is inspiring me in ways he probably doesn’t grasp right now – he’s inquisitive, playful, determined, experimental and he challenges himself with whatever is put in front of him. Whether he ends up being a Sainsbury’s driver like his grandad, or the Chancellor Of The Exchequer, a care manager like his mum or a beach cleaner, whether he writes, plays rugby or football, takes up train spotting or mountaineering, I hope we’re helping his mum and dad give him the opportunity and the courage to try life on for size.

He doesn’t appear to need television or social media, but he loves story time, playing catch and Bob Marley, so I reckon he’s doing OK so far.

I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.

Stephen King

And I very much hope he inherits his grandparents’ passion for the written word.

Talking of the written word, time I got the pen out myself….

Onwards my friends, onwards…….

(Pssst – before I go, can I recommend you check out the afore mentioned Roddy Doyle collection? Yes? Good. Because it very much is. Good.)

The Day Job – The Writing Comeback Week #9

As a writer, what might be your dream day job?

Assuming, like 99% of us, writing doesn’t pay your bills.

Maybe you do write for money – as a content or copy writer, maybe as a journalist, but is writing your passion AND your job?

Nope. Mine neither.

We’re in good company, many top writers managed to craft exquisite tomes whilst earning their rent elsewhere.

William Faulkner worked as a postmaster at a university in New York. Wallace Stephens worked as an insurance lawyer, notoriously using his employer’s time to write poems. TS Elliot meanwhile worked at a bank.

As a schoolteacher with a small child, I started off with nowhere to write. A patch of floor in the living-room, my laptop on my knee, or on the table before breakfast, were the closest things I ever had to a room of my own.

Joanne Harris

Douglas Stuart, winner of the Booker Prize winning Shuggie Bain, wrote the novel over several years whilst working long hours in his role as a fashion designer.

And me?

Well, I drive a van for Sainsburys. Yup, if you live in the South Devon area, you might just find me appearing on your doorstep one day delivering your milk! Oh, and we look after our latest grandchild three days a week. Erm, oh yes, I also do all the house maintenance, walk the dog, cook dinner etc etc etc. Not unlike pretty much every single author that has ever written a book.

So this week I have taken the leap and taken myself off social media for the time being. As I said a couple of weeks ago (read that here), it’s a flippin’ addiction and the only way to break it is to go cold turkey. This is day three and it feels bloody great.

Last week’s writing was pretty much non existent and this week isn’t much better, I’m sat here on Wednesday evening and other than the few hundred words of this blog post I’ve written feck all!

Watch this space………..

Onwards my friends, onwards……………………….

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?

The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life

Zadie Smith

Why am I writing THIS novel? Why am I writing it NOW?

We need to get to the root of my story…..

Is this story actually my truth?

Does it successfully and eloquently articulate the struggles,? The questions? The confusions of life? Does it ask and try to answer the BIG quandries?

Life eh – There’s no weekly email newsletter we can subscribe to which might act as a handbook – no roadmap to steer us from young to old.

We have to work this shit out ourselves.

If we’re lucky enough to meet someone who gives us the courage to tackle the questions, then that makes for a golden life.

It took me 47 years. And 8 years later it is still getting more golden by the day.

We’ve been married for 7 of those years – I have whatever is the opposite of a 7 year itch.

May 16th 2015

7 Years today, if you’re reading this, er, TODAY! (May 16th)

Yes, we’re celebrating the best 7 years of my life. Nicky truly has asked me over and over, “why shouldn’t people like ‘us’ chase our dreams?”

And so I write.

I’m getting much better at writing a shit sentence. I am allowing myself simply get the thoughts out of my head. Releasing them it into the physical world makes them real. My story needs to be a presence – a sentence may be shit, and I might cringe as I write it, but once typed, it is there ready to be edited.

You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult

So, my book.

What book? The one I affectionately nick name DTDLLTO (working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners). My first book, my first novel, my first attempt to tell the truth and have the conviction to carry it through.

I was stuttering with it, but this year, particularly with my new gung ho draft zero approach, it has started to flow from me.

I needed the freedom, the freedom to choose to look inside myself, to find the truths of who I am.

I give myself permission to write it.

What are my truths? What are my stories? Who should be telling my truths and who has the authority to narrate my stories? Well, I’m finding out…..

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

Maya Angelou

Traps I’m trying to avoid – creating a character in the shadow of me. I started taking all of the parts of my life where I believe I am morally right and getting my character to ‘virtue signal’ through their behaviour.

As Brad Listi says, the reader will spot the puppet strings pretty quickly. It’s bullshit anyway, nobody is that morally pure!

Who am I writing the book for?

Does it even need readers? Am I the author and the reader? Are you the reader? One tip I’ve heard is to imagine how different the story would be if it was read allowed to my mum, or my boss, or my best friend, or YOU! It’s a great exercise in finding the right voice.

In the first draft, everything seems to be all too obvious. It is in no way elegant. Yet. Hopefully this draft will contain the truth though and I can add my wished for subtlety in future drafts. I don’t want to dictate to the reader, whoever that might be.

There weren’t many words last week, about a 1000. What I have achieved is the feeling of why I’m writing this story and I’ve given myself the go ahead to crack on.

Life is confusing. Our emotions are confusing. Our opinions can feel confusing. The challenge for me is to harness all that confusion and let my two main characters in DTDLLTO navigate the swirling waters of truth.

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.

F Scott Fitzgerald

Social media has us by the balls!

I’m still a Twitter addict and as with every other addiction that I’m recovering from, moderation seems to be an impossible option. I need to find a solution though because I like Twitter for the communities I’m lucky enough to be part of. I’m not great at ‘real life’ socialising, and the running, writing and Coventry City supporting friends I’ve made on Twitter have become important to me.

I’ve installed an app to monitor my internet use and have set limits for the sites I use – It’s working so far I’m pleased to say. Let’s see if more efficient Twitter time translates into more productive writing time!

Come on, let’s hurl ourselves into the next creative week.

Onwards comrades.

Week IV – The Scribbler’s Return

Following on from a very productive week of being Mr WriterMcWriteyFace, where the words flowed like a burst water main (don’t believe me eh? Have a peek HERE), last week was more of a dripping tap in comparison.

But there have been words. Some of them thrown together to make sentences. Some of which make sense. Others will be edited over and over until they no longer exist, then rewritten before starting the process all over again. It’s all writing though, it all counts.

Seriously though, after getting so much momentum the previous week, this has been a case of ‘After The Lord Mayors Show‘.

A bit like with my fitness goals, it is at these times when I need to pull up my mojo socks and focus. Just keep turning up Kevin, keep on turning up.

James Baldwin knew.

There isn’t a ‘cheat’.

Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

James Baldwin

There’s no Monday to Sunday updates this week – just a list of positives:

  • I wrote about 1000 words of DTDLLTO, my novel in draft.
  • There’s a blog post coming, my reminder to myself to be positive.
  • My journal has been very busy – ideas, poem drafts, diary entries.
  • I’ve listened to some brilliant writerly podcasts and other audio.
  • Dreams and half awake thoughts have been committed to paper for inspiration.

Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

A.L. Kennedy

The host of my favourite writerly podcast, OtherPPL, has a book coming out. On the pod this week was a free sample of the audio book, read by the author himself, Brad Listi. Check it out HERE. I do harp on about OtherPPL, but that is because it really is a fine creation. Brad’s podcasts never fail to stoke my creative fires and I reckon his book will be a writerly tonic too.

Also in my ears this week has been Nikesh Shukla’s new writing craft offering, Your Story Matters, which has a fresh and pacy feel to it. Another book which is narrated by the author himself, it is a thoroughly engaging listen.

Shukla reminds us that the word count is only one measure of writing success:

Some days you get those words down quickly, other days you pad it out cos you’re tired or stressed or uninspired or it’s a hard sequence. Don’t write 1000 bad words down just to hit a word count. Think about it in terms of time rather than word count.

I’m also reminding myself that it isn’t just writing that counts as writing: thinking counts as writing, walking and imagining my characters in different surrounding counts as writing. Journaling counts as writing, listening to audiobooks counts as writing. Reading of course, without reading there would be no writing. Reading definitely counts as writing. Browsing, or better still, engaging with Writers HQ, yup that counts as writing. Blogging, diarising, taking about my writing, even tweeting my writerly chums, it all counts as writing. There’s even a tongue in cheek Counts As Writing Twitter account.

So I’m not beating myself over last week’s wordcount, in fact the process of tapping these few words has reinvigorated my get-up-and-sit-down-and-fucking-write-y-ness.

Yup, I’m all over it now.

On on for another week.

The Writing Comeback (Week III)

It’s Not All About The Numbers

Ahh, the blog post you’ve all been waiting for.

Here goes – week three of my writing comeback. Not everything can be measured in numbers.

Not for me anyway. Pleasure should not be quantified, happiness isn’t counted. Not in our house.

There’s a great interview with Zac Smith on this week’s Other PPL Podcast where Zac and host Brad Listi talk about how the pleasure of writing comes in the writing! It sounds obvious but, again forgive my analogy, it is just like running – one step at a time, one word at a time – it clears my mind.

Thinking very much counts as writing

What about progress? Surely I’ve always measured my running – longest distances, fastest times, PBs – and I’m guilty as charges I’m afraid. But it is till mainly about the feeling.

This reboot of mine (read this if you fancy) is all about BEING a writer and just as soon as my foot is healed, it will be about BEING a runner too

Of course I’ll be using numbers to measure my progress! Hopefully writing my estimated 90,000 words of the first draft of the novel, tentatively titled Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners (DTDLLTO) by the end of the year. But a good stint of writing will still be successful, if it FEELS successful, regardless of how many words I get down on the page.

SO, for your (and my) pleasure, here’s week three’s progress (and yes there are some numbers!)

Monday: I finalised and posted two, count ’em, TWO blog posts – Click here to read all about the two months since Nicky and myself became vegans or here to catch up with last week’s writing update.

Making people on paper, much like making them in your uterus, takes a long time, is physically and mentally exhausting, and makes you wee a lot. So brace yourself, we’re going in.

Writers HQ offering a reality check for the writer!

Tuesday: Busy McBusyface didn’t get chance to add words today.

Wednesday: On the timer, I managed 1100 words of the first draft of DTDLLTO. I also pre-ordered David Keenan’s latest offering today. It is a prequel to the extraordinary This Is Memorial Device (which I reviewed here).

Thursday: Busy trying to keep fit and then grandadding, so little time for words. The wonderful non-fiction journal, Hinterland dropped through the letter box today – I managed to read some of the excellent articles in there while little Charlie (the grandson, not the dog – I know it does make for some confusion having a pet and a 10 month old sharing a name) had a sleep.

Friday: Not feeling great. Ran out of time. Bit of noodling with Writers HQ working out how to join the virtual writers’ retreat.

Saturday: We had a bloomin lovely day out I’ll have you know. You can read about it just as soon as I’ve written the next blog post!

Sunday: Writers HQ Online Retreat. If you’re fancying doing a bit of writing and find yourself struggling for time (& money) have a rummage around their website. This was the first time I’ve done one of their writing retreats – which became online when that there pandemic arrived – and what a marvellous success it has been.

It just shows that prioritising writing, sitting at a desk which faces the wall, rather than having the laptop on my actual lap and sitting downstairs by a window, works a treat. For me, writing in chunks of time works so well. I did 5 sets of 30 mins of my novel today and wrote 2990 words of this first drafting. I’m just getting the story out and trying not to edit as I go!

Using my desk to lean on, you’ll be shocked to learn, is more productive than my lap!

A big chunk of wordsmithery time today paid dividends in more ways the number of words. I also started to get a richer understanding of the relationship between my two main characters, I found I could tap into a wider range of emotions, hopefully gradually changing between scenes. When I write in very small time windows, I find I force a feeling into a scene without the context of the scenes either side of it.

As the wonderful AL Kennedy says, once characters start developing through the act writing their lives, they will start to live in the writer’s head more. Thus revealing themselves in greater detail. I’m just letting these two show themselves to me as I go. They haven’t been created from nothing, in many ways they’ve been created from everything. And what a privilege it is to be their narrator.

A Certain Thought To Finish

Now here’s thing. A proper thing.

There’s a certain something about a certain writer. Or a certain podcaster. A certain friend, a certain relative or even a certain random character on Twitter. There is a certain something about these certain people which instantly inspires me to write. There certainly is.

You people know who you are 🙏

Reset The Dials

Quite a lot.

Is the answer.

To what question?

Maybe this one:

Anything new in my life since I wrote this manifesto?

Yup. Quite a lot indeed.

A quarter of the year has now gone. I can’t think of anything in which I’ve achieved anywhere near a quarter of my aims.

Which sounds rather negative when I say it outloud.

To discover what’s been going on, let’s unpack my 2022 manifesto.

My Journal

At least my first pledge is going well! I said I’d write in my journal every single day, and I’m pleased to say that I always, always do. Winning eh? One nil up and we’ve only just kicked off. (Spoiler alert, this isn’t going to be a goal fest!)

Submitting Fiction

Ah. Well, er, well, you see, hhmmm. I’ve submitted a couple of times to Paragraph Planet (with one success!) but, alas, I am yet to enter the Friday Flash Fiction Face Off at Writers HQ. It just hasn’t happened. Read on to find out why?

Obviously work has to be fitted in occasionally too!

The Novel

I don’t even need to look back to remind myself of this pledge! I know it was to work for two hours every single week. And I know I haven’t. And I’m disgusted with myself. Disgusted I am. What’s going on? Read on to find out.

This Blog

I don’t need to look back for these pledges either! I know I’ve not contributed a single post since the turn of the year. Not one. To think there was a time when I hoped to review every book I’ve read, never mind any other posts I fancied writing. It’s not going very well is it, this manifesto. Imagine if you’d voted for me and it turned out I couldn’t keep a single promise I’d made….

Reading

Well, at least some success here to report. I pledged I’d buy from independent publishers and book shops and I’m pleased to say I’ve been good with that. Looking at my to-be-readpile alongside books I’ve read waiting for Nicky to enjoy, there’s a few there which have come direct from indies as well as a couple bought in independent book shops.

I haven’t one poem a day (another of my pledges) but I have acquired a few fine volumes and do enjoy a few poems each week.

I also pledged to read at least 6 books (over the course of 2022) which were published at least 10 years ago. The idea being that I don’t simply follow the current fads and trends (although I hope I never have) and browsed the shelves more. Reading is happening a lot more slowly this year, for the reasons you’ll discover if you can bear to read on. I have been buying a few older books though, and have added to the backlog with some excellent charity shop hauls. So far in 2022 I’ve read these books, check out my lists from 2021 and 2020 too.

Running, Health and Fitness

I never made any pledges for my running, other than to run as much as I can and/or want to. The events I listed in my manifesto are either long gone or fast approaching and I’m not looking like toeing the start line of any of them. Read on to discover why.

As for my health, well quite a lot has happened to impact my hopes for 2022. I’ve had some serious down time and have not been hitting my strength and conditioning targets. But, I don’t feel I’ve let myself down as there has been a dramatic hit to my health this year. As I keep saying, read on……

Why Oh Why And Why Again

The Good Stuff

We bloomin’ love him, and he seems quite happy to knock about with us oldies!

Nanny & Grandad Daycare: We look after our latest grandson, Charlie, 3 days a week. He is an absolute delight, a bubbly baby with a zest for life. But maybe we didn’t quite acknowledge just how tiring this might be! It is an absolute joy to spend the time with him and watch him grow and develop.

This simply shuffles other things down the league table of priorities. And sometimes we just want to eat (ah, eating…. read on my friend, read on) and chill. Picking up a pen and notebook, or sitting at my desk typing gives way to a binge of Drive To Survive or something similar.

Call the cute police!

As we become more accustomed to our roles, I’m sure we’ll find more of our other leisure pursuits fitting in to the time available (hence this blog post happening now). None of our challenges have disappeared they’ve simply been moved around to suit our lifestyle.

Talking Of Lifestyle: We have Become Vegans: And what a bloomin’ transformation this has been. We’ve both made difficult decisions before in our lives. We’ve both found better tracks to follow over the years and feel blessed that we ended up on the same track as each other. But this lifestyle change has been such a shift in thinking and everything about it has been positive. Neither of us are interested in becoming preachy about veganism, we just know it is exactly right for us. This was the moment when everything aligned for us to make the change.

And don’t worry, we’re getting plenty of protein!

In fact, as I keep telling people, we are eating like a king and queen. The final push to make the change was probably as a result of something far less positive.

The Bad Stuff: Covid

I wasn’t a happy bunny!

As anyone who was willing to listen, or to read this blog, would know, Nicky and I have a real love affair with Cornwall (Nicky was born at Long Rock for a start) and particularly the many coastal running events we’ve enjoyed down there. This year I was finally going to toe the line of the iconic Arc Of Attrition 50 and I had trained well throughout the autumn and winter, I was ready. About 10 days before The Arc I started to feel a bit ill, and a couple of days later I was testing positive, coughing relentlessly and felt truly awful. Luckily, Nicky got off pretty lightly, but I took to the box room and curled up in a ball of self pity. I was testing negative by race day but was getting breathless so quickly I couldn’t have contemplated 12 hours on the remotest, most challenging coastline in the far southwest of Cornwall.

Covid seemed to impact everything for those couple of weeks, and certainly sucked the energy and zest out of me, and to a certain extent Nicky. I don’t want to be dramatic but I couldn’t even be bothered to read my book and certainly didn’t write anything.

For those who were wondering how Charlie is. He’s still going strong in his 13th year.

Recovery from Covid is ongoing and I’m nursing a niggly foot after standing on a rock. DOH!

We’ve got so much to be thankful for though and I will never take for granted that I have been blessed with sharing my life with such a wonderful, funny, clever, inspiring, encouraging and quite beautiful lady wife Nicky. Not only that, our amazing family , our returning health and living in such a gorgeous part of the world.

As for my personal challenges, let’s just see where it all goes.

At Last A (Big) Pilgrimage

It’s been a while………

I’m starting to really enjoy avocado by the way. We were having our first meal out since, well, since who knows when (Feb 2020?) and I elected to have a dish where avocado is listed as an ingredient.

The world might have paused on its axis during the last eighteen months, but my palette has become bang up to date, those recipes in the Saturday Guardian are looking almost accessible!

Why were we eating out? The same reason we were having our first night away from home in eighteen months too – we had gone to run an event. The Big Pilgrimage Marathon, the first appearance on the running calendar of this quirky looking offering from Big Feat Events.

I wore a shirt too. With buttons and everything. We felt so grown up as we ordered our chicken and avocado.

Contemplating avocado

Our Premier Inn sat on an identikit retail and industry park which could have been in any number of towns around the UK. Bloomin’ convenient though – as well as our meal next door in The Beefeater, we visited Decathlon and the MASSIVE Tesco without needing to use the car.. We’re from sleepy Devon see, “ooo shiny things” our gaping, gawping mouths dribbled as we hunted for a pint of milk in a supermarket the size of Paignton.

For our first ‘away’ fixture for 18 months we had been tempted by the promise of historic trails, epic skylines, farmland, beaches and boardwalks, not to mention, woods, forests, an abbey, several churches and a cheeky boat ride. Yes, The Big Pilgrimage sounded right up our street. 

The route follows the first 27/28 ish miles of a recently discovered Pilgrim Trail called The Old Way. Our section started at the site from The Pilgrim Fathers left our shores on The Mayflower (in Southampton) and finished at Fort Nelson, home of The Nelson Monument and The Royal Armouries Museum. Which was handily only ten minutes from the aforementioned Premier Inn. Which was where we were to leave our car. It’s almost as if they’ve planned this stuff.

Nothing wrong with the Premier Inn, but we didn’t have the best night’s sleep…… 

one of us is VERY organised…… (it’s not me)

“WE’VE OVERSLEPT!….. Oh no, it’s 11.30pm”

“THERE’S SOMEBODY IN THE ROOM! WHAT ROOM? WHERE AM I? WE’VE OVERSLEPT…….”

That sort of thing. All feckin’ night.

It was quite a relief when the 4.15 alarm went off.

That’s early! I hear you exclaim. Well, yes it is, but the rather snazzy, leather interiored National Express coach charged with delivering us to Southampton was leaving at 6.15am. And we wanted time for showers, coffee and Weetabix complete with lukewarm milk. 

We gathered our kit. A VERY straight forward process for Nicky as she meticulously laid it out the previous night….. I think I ‘put’ mine out and so, as usual, I left the kit gods to decide whether I had everything I needed. 

En route to the start

As the coach pulled away from Fort Nelson (nr Portsmouth) in the gloomy half light, we hadn’t yet appreciated the panoramic view from here. After finishing some hours later in the sunshine, we were astonished by the vistas on offer. The very bright and cheery Big Feat crew member had ticked our name off the coach list and counted us all aboard. The welcoming and friendly driver hadn’t quite grasped the brief as he asked “What time is your return journey?”. “We’re running back.” His face seemed to ask “Why?”

Visit The Isle Of Wight Festival” screamed the huge posters as we pulled in near the Red Funnel ferry terminal. In the spirit of Rob Deering’s Running Tracks (see my review here), this immediately evoked memories of visiting the festival in 2006. What a weekend – The Prodigy, Foo Fighters, The Kooks, Primal Scream, Lou Read, Maximo Park…..

Registration was a jolly and good humoured affair at the water’s edge. We collected our race numbers complete with our first sticker of the day. Yes, we collected stickers which we then attached to our race numbers. What a great and individual touch – a volunteer in Pilgrim hat, naturally, handed us a bespoke sticker at seven of the notable points along the route. Nice.

The race briefing delivered to the 70 or so marathon runners captured the mood perfectly. Nothing to fear. Keep the water on your right. Look after each other. Don’t fret the ferry crossing………

And we were off, a watery sun soon dispensing with the slightly autumnal chill. 

3 miles of Southampton’s waterside suburbs gave way to greenery at Westwood as we started on the trails proper. Not before we had crossed the impressive bridge over the River Itchen and received a sticker from a young Pilgrim dressed head to toe in Southampton FC gear (getting ready to host Manchester United later in the day I believe). 

From there we tackled all sorts of shore line – paths, shingle beaches, compacted mud – and weaved in and out of the industry and piers lining Southampton Water. Before long (7 ½ ish miles) we had reached the beautiful village of Hamble and its much anticipated ferry ride. Three of the Hamble Pink Ferries were shuttling runners over the short crossing and we waited a couple of minutes before enjoying our mini cruise. 

Nicky and I are quite used to trail events having quirky sections and approximate distances and so, as advised in the race briefing, we didn’t fret about the boat ride. A couple of runners were in a quandary about whether to pause their running watches. We just enjoyed the ride and were soon having to propel ourselves using our feet again as we disembarked. 

The Warsash Nature Reserve on the shoreline came next, lush and green and picturesque and still very, very flat! Through miles 9 to 12 we were still following the shore as it again became quite industrial. Nicky and I are used to running relentlessly up-and-down trails at home and the lack of elevation seemed to be tiring our legs in different ways.

As we approached the halfway point the course turned and headed inland. With the beautiful marshes of Titchfield Haven to our right, the runners in the 14 (ish) mile half marathon race were crossing their finishing line as we passed. Always looking to raise a smile, I drew on my footballing glory years and shaped to swerve left into the finishing funnel before side stepping and running straight past – this raised a smile or too and we exchanged some laughs with a couple of spectators enjoying the chilled out atmosphere in the sunshine. We then headed off through the beautiful village of Titchfield itself.

Titchfield Abbey is really quite spectacular and worth the very brief detour to enjoy in its full glory. The trails from this point on were glorious, old railway lines, farmland and woods. At some point during all of this I managed to take a tumble. “No lazy steps” is one of my trail running mantras – a few years ago I did go through a phase of hurling myself to the floor at random times. 

Anyway, on some particularly firm and even ground, I caught my feet in a trailing bramble and down I went.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes”

“Are you sure?”

“Can we talk about something else!”

“Have you hurt your pride……..?”

That might have been as we went through Wickham (around mile 21) now I think about it!

Then The Meon Valley Trail which was busy ish with families enjoying the gorgeous and accessible countryside. This was followed by The Forest Of Bere which preceded the two longest climbs of the day as we began to sense the finish line within our grasp. From mile 23, still in the forest, we had caught a few fellow runners and felt we were really in our stride. Running well and taking walk breaks for difficult terrain or to eat and drink, combined with being in the company of my partner in adventure, my beautiful and inspiring soul mate Nicky, the miles and time simply slid by.

This really is our happy place – running together on the trails, either talking dribble, solving our quandaries from ‘real’ life, or just enjoying each others company in silence as we let the peace of the surroundings seep into us. Before we knew it we were at the ‘200m to go’ sign. A lovely short downhill section on the grass and we held each others hand aloft to celebrate another challenge completed. Of Nicky’s 38 marathons and my 45, 27 have been completed side by side. It is the best feeling.

This route is a belter. The work that has happened, in advance and on the day, in creating it, marking it and marshalling it shines through. The finished product is superb, take a bow Big Feat Events.

Oooo look, a video too:

Running Tracks by Rob Deering

Some books speak to me, speak of truth. Some have me nodding along with a wry smile, like I’ve been found out. Some books find the words which have previously failed me, expressing how I feel. Some have me laughing out loud when an ironic, or comedic moment lurches from the page. Some have me needing to take a quiet moment.

This.

This book does all of that.

So. Why should YOU read this book? Read on and you will discover……

Firstly, you don’t need to be a fan of running and/or passionate about music to enjoy Running Tracks?

Not as much as you’d think. 

The years since Rob Deering discovered running are richly documented here, along with the soundtrack to those years. So, if you had absolutely zero interest in either running or music, it could potentially pass you by. But, I promise you it won’t.

Running Tracks is about so much more than that. 

Break time in the van is reading time for me.

This book is about how we progress in life, about what makes us, what develops within us. Rob Deering has music in his blood – as a musician and as a listener. Running appeared later in his life. But it has become just as much a part of his DNA. The book goes far deeper than merely chronicling that progression. The author beautifully shows us how a new hobby or passion gets moulded into our soul, our personality, our very way of life, whilst still maintaining the truth of our self. It’s a neat, clever and humbly delivered trick which worked to get me thinking about how I personally have evolved into the person I am now.

Rob Deering is a comedian, musician, director, radio host, podcaster, and now author. He is also a runner. Through his running, and the platform of his other work, he is a prolific fundraiser for Parkinson’s UK, a cause which isn’t just close to his heart, it is in his heart.

Rob Deering’s first book and he’s immediately wearing out the black marker pens!

He delivers his debut foray into the publishing world with a refreshing and poised pen. Using the parallel of music and running to coincide with moments of his life, he has given us a unique take on ‘memoir’.  

From his personally curated, but randomly delivered playlist, there’s a tune for 26 (point two, naturally) of these occasions and each paints a vivid picture of an unforgettable moment in time for Rob. 

The book feels rich and warm. His passion for the combination of music and running radiates from every page. There is nothing dictatorial about the musical choices, the author doesn’t impose his listening preferences upon us, he simply says why each piece of music so perfectly fitted each moment of the run in question, and how that reflects equally perfectly on a point in his life.

The details he adds about the structure of each tune only serves to immerse us deeper into why a rhythm, bass line, chord structure or sample hit the spot for him.

Running Tracks paints great pictures of the author’s favourite running locations.

Similarly with running, Deering has a refreshing honesty to his writing – I have no doubt that even non-runners will have no trouble relating to him. He employs an accessible style of narration and there is no attempt to mystify the act of running. The author, like most of us, has learned as he has progressed, often (again like most of us) by getting things wrong! This journey plays out through the book – putting routes together, pacing himself, finding the types of runs which bring him the most pleasure – his writing celebrates all of this and shows how available exercise can be. 

Why did I enjoy this book so much?

Running Tracks feels personal to me in many ways. Not least because (full disclosure), my name features in the back of the book alongside the many hundreds of others who supported the book at its inception. 

With fellow comedian, author and runner Paul Tonkinson, recording an episode of Running Commentary.

My to-be-read pile was always likely to feature a book about running and music. This is especially the case when it is written by half of the duo behind my favourite podcast (Running Commentary, alongside Paul Tonkinson). The fact that it is a fine work of writing is icing on the cake.

Music and running feature so heavily in my own life and even though we might often be on quite different pages in our choices of runs or tunes, it is most definitely the same love. We both put on a pair of trainers and get out of the door, and we’re always glad that we did.

Rob Deering loves the big (and not so big) city marathons, the book visits London and both New and old York, whilst I’m more likely to be found at a low key event in a field somewhere. Also, some of the random and inconsistent distances of my events might play with his head, the crowds of runners and spectators at his favourites would play with mine. BUT, it is still the same love.

And here’s the biggie, I simply don’t like running with headphones. Rob Deering feels that so much of the running experience ties into the playlist accompanying him. It is STILL the same love, we all find our rhythm when we set out on our running journeys and how we access that rhythm is a personal thing. 

All of which still doesn’t mean that music doesn’t feature in, nor evoke memories of, my own running. I admit to being slightly jealous as my running and music associations will never have the immediacy of Deering’s, but it is still, I reckon, the same love.

Take chapter 20 where he talks about the incredible band, Rush. I won’t spoil any of his stories by expanding on where and how Rush’s The Camera Eye sound-tracked a run for Rob (go and buy the book and find out!). BUT I can tell you that every time I hear Rush it transports me back to Toronto Beaches Jazz Festival Half Marathon on a trip as a guest of their long time producer, Terry Brown. A story for another day……

There are many other moments and references in this fabulous tome which speak directly to me, but the book is Rob Deering’s story to tell, not mine. I simply whole heartily recommend that you grab yourself a copy and find out for your selves. 

My copy is already well thumbed!

As a work of standalone creative non fiction, Running Tracks is a joy to me. It is a refreshing departure from those generic and formulaic memoirs of the famous. I was thrilled to read a book full of tricks and surprises which deals emotions in spades. I rolled easily from chapter to chapter, eager to peer through another window into the author’s world.

You know what, go and buy it, find out for yourself!

Links:

robdeering.com

Rob Deering’s Running Tracks Radio Hour

Running Commentary

Twitter

Parkinsons UK

The Chard Flyer 10k

Always keen to see just how much impact a month of gorging ourselves on seasonal food might have on our athletic prowess, we pitch up in Chard on New Year’s Day for the third year running.

Chard Running Club‘s seasonal show piece has become a firm favourite of ours.

Based at the football and cricket club grounds there are marvellous facilities – plenty of loos, pre-match coffee and even a rather cute Serbian rescue dog to pet in the club house.

 

Having played a touch of local football myself back in the days when I could still climb out of bed without sounding like a meccano toy creaking into action, I always enjoy a look at these grass routes style grounds. No poncy millionaires having their Aston Martins parked by a valet here.

We parked the trusty Mini, enjoyed some of the afore mentioned, bargain priced coffee, attempted to off load some festive fare from our tum tums, reluctantly shed some warm layers then joined the other 200 or so rather athletic looking chaps and chappesses in the half mile trot to the start line.

In previous years I’ve lined myself near the front of the narrow path in the hope of a fast start. Regular readers may recall how this tactic resulted in me enjoying the sensation of having people stream past me as my wobbly legs declined to accept that I was capable of the crazy pace my brain was asking them to run.

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Not this year. Oh no. This year, Nicky insisted on being left at the back as we had a ‘who can predict the least speedy time’ dual. We were both to be pleasantly surprised.

The race started with a whistle. Just like a good old footy match. Having elbowed my way backwards rather than forwards I found myself running at a pace that felt right. Again, those that have read race reports before will remember this is a most unusual development. I’m normally gasping and looking around as lithe young whippets glide past me by the end of the first mile.

So as the first 10 minutes or so of ‘comfortably hard’ running brought us to THE HILL, I felt good. No really. I felt good.

I overtook some people going up the hill. Yup, I overtook them. As in, halfway into a race I felt strong enough to run past people. I learned this from Nicky. Regulars will know how I dote on this awesome lady, and starting easy is one of the million amazing life skills I’ve learned since we first held hands that balmy September evening….. AAhhhh

So I pushed on. Another skill I’m enjoying is keeping information on my watch to a minimum. I don’t know how fast I’m running, so I don’t worry about how fast I’m running. Funny that.

The hill to the finish is still there, yet it didn’t feel bad today and I ran past the football pitch, over the speed bumps and to the line. Happy. Spent, naturally, but happily spent.

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Quick fumble with the watch revealed I’d ran within a minute of last year’s time. Not only had I enjoyed this run more than in previous years, mainly due to me not attempting to emulate Eliod Kipchoge in the first mile, but I’d also ran a time beyond my expectations.

Having predicted that I would run about 10 minutes slower than this I started to realise that it was highly likely that Nicky was also ‘sandbagging’ and would be along sooner rather than later.

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Rushing back to the car, a quick removal of the sweaty layer before collecting Nicky’s Team Keywood top to match mine, some chocolate brownie money and our bobble hats I hot footed it back to the finish line. I removed my phone ready for pictures and tried to nonchalantly appear as if I’d been there for ages.

Sure enough Nicky appeared, blasting down the finishing straight exhibiting a skill I haven’t yet mastered – THE SPRINT FINISH! Big smiles, big hugs and some watch fumbling to reveal she was 30 seconds quicker than last year. Blimey. We’re fitter than we thought.

Slick organisation, an absolutely gorgeous route for a ‘road’ event – lots of paths and hard trails, plentiful and cheerful marshals, cheap snacks and drinks, loads of parking and a vibe to suit any athlete – there were some pretty hot times up the front – what a lovely way to start the year.

A lovely way to start the year indeed. 2018 had some amazing moments but they will always be overshadowed by pain and grief that blighted our family.

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2019 is going to be like this. Taking our endurance challenges seriously enough but remembering to enjoy and treasure every moment along the way. The journey and the process are where the real fun is. Outcomes will be what they are and we have set ourselves some toughies this year, but as long as we have fun along the way, we’ll be ok.

Onward people, onward…..