Home from a challenging trip to Iceland, I’m feeling adventurous and idly toss around alternative ideas for our Whitsun Break. For the last few years, we’ve joined my sister at the Hay Literary Festival and enjoyed camping on the fringe of the town. But now, my head is buzzing and I’m thinking of a slightly different type of break… more an expedition. ‘Why don’t we climb Ben Nevis?’ I hear the words drift over the rustle of the Sunday newspaper (yes, we still buy hardcopy) and crunch of wholemeal toast. ‘Well,’ replied His Nibbs, a little startled, ‘It’s quite a challenge, but you feel a tremendous sense of achievement when you get to the top.’

His Nibbs has done the trek twice, so knows what he’s talking about. And there’ll be more about how this might turn into an item on the list in a later posting. Meanwhile, feeling fired up and enthusiastic, I suggest we take a gentle Sunday stroll to the top of one of our local ‘hills’, The Skirrid. It’s something I’ve never done and definitely one to goThe Skirrid on my list. The subject of Owen Sheers’ poetry, it spreads above the town of Abergavenny, dominating the landscape. Nearly everyone I know has walked up The Skirrid, except me. And if everyone else can do it, then I can too.

Clad in our new ‘Icelandic Weather Wear’ we park in the National Trust carpark at the foot of the landmark. It’s rather satisfying to use our membership cards to get free parking – given that we’ve spent £250 on membership in the last two years and not visited a single National Trust property. There’s a simple map at the start of the footpath and we decide to take the gentle option to the top.

Mistake No.1. don’t attempt to walk briskly and eat at the same time. Feeling peckish, I start to munch an apple, just as the path begins to climb. I’m soon breathless and fall behind before we’ve even reached the first gate. This does not bode well, but I conceal my concern, ditch the apple and follow His Nibbs down a track to the left, towards woodland. Within minutes we’re in splendid isolation. A hawk flies overhead and the market town of Abergavenny unfolds before us. It’s wonderful. I’m lost in the stark skeletons of the silver birches, the vibrant moss and lichen and the shadow of the clouds on the valley floor.

And then we hit the mud.

I mean serious mud. Thick, slurry-like and ankle deep. I’m wearing walking boots, but His Nibbs is wearing wellies – a debate on the merits of each we had before leaving home. Now, I’m envying his choice of footwear because the mud gets worse. We trudge on, eyes now more focused on footholds rather than the view; slipping and skidding along the track. Now the wellies have no grip and the boots try to bury themselves in the mud, tugging at my ankles, reluctant to release themselves from the brown, peaty sludge. It’s like the Somme without duckboards, but we’ve reached the point of no return, so we venture on, hoping that we’ll find higher, drier ground. We don’t. The challenge goes on, and on. We pass a few hardy souls, coming from the opposite direction, who warn of the terrible condition of the track ahead, but we’ve no choice now, but to complete our circuit towards the summit. We are now both agreed that the wellies were a bad choice. His Nibbs slips and slides like Bambi on the ice until the inevitable happens and he finally ends up on his arse in the mud. This was the moment of defeat. I know we’re not going to make the summit today. We’re both exhausted by the effort of wading through the mud. The sun is setting in our eyes and blinded, we stumble on towards our new goal… the carpark.

Stripping off at the car, I nervously mentioned Ben Nevis. ‘It doesn’t bode well, if we can’t get to the top of The Skirrid’, I venture. But His Nibbs, humour restored by a chocolate rice cake, is reassuring. ‘The thing with Ben Nevis, is,’ he says encouragingly, ‘there’s no f****** mud!’

So climbing The Skirrid is still on the list of things to do this year – hopefully before we attempt Ben Nevis. I think we’ll save it for a drier day.

 

The start of a new year and I’m not the kind of person who makes resolutions or new plans, but this morning, after a pleasant evening celebrating the turn of the year, I’m taken aback at a new, unwelcome feeling that has enveloped me. This is 2020 and the year in which I’m due to celebrate a milestone birthday. A biggie… the big six-oh.

It’s not like this is a surprise – several of my friends and family in the last couple of months  have casually asked how I’m going to celebrate. So far, I’ve managed to duck out of answering. In truth, I’m not going to be sixty… sixty is old and in my head and heart, I’m still 45 years old. So I don’t want it to happen. I refuse to accept my fate and I refuse to accept the depression that has been loitering with intent since I woke on this first day of 2020.

Helping to tidy the debris of last night’s celebrations, I asked My Lovely Friend how she had coped with reaching this milestone age, just last month. She’d celebrated the event with a week of parties and special events and didn’t seem especially fazed. What was her view? ‘Well’, she responded, lifting her yellow marigolds from the sink of dirty champagne flutes, ‘you have to think about the alternative… which is not reaching sixty. And we don’t want that, do we, darling?’

So I’m raging… raging against the injustice of time which inexorably moves forward. And I’m looking for a box in which to bury this rage – a big box with a tight lid. In the end, I’ve come up with a plan to help seize control of my life, which is being snatched away by age. I’m going to create a list of sixty things to do in my sixtieth year. Things I’ve always promised myself I’d do at some point in my life. I’m not sure what the list will contain just yet, but I’ve got a few ideas floating around, and I’m going to write about the progress I make.

The first is 1#. Learn to Yodel. Quite how I’m going to achieve this, or any of the other things on the list has not yet been factored into my thinking. But it’s going to be a challenge and I reckon it will keep me distracted and keep that rage in it’s box. Watch this space!

1#. Learn to Yodel

2#. Climb Pen-Y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons

3#. Swim Naked in a Warm Sea

4#. Swap my Car for a Convertible

5#. Publish an Anthology of Poetry

6#. Visit my Gourmet Girlfriends in South America

7#. Explore the Scottish Highlands

8#. Complete my First Novel

9#. Re-learn how to Play the Cello

10#. ?

I’ve been asked to take part in a Blog Tour, by my friend, the playwright, Tom Wentworth. ‘A Blog Tour?’ I hear some of you ask? ‘What’s that? Allow me to enlighten you!

This blog tour quizzes writers about their work and practice, and it’s throwing up some interesting answers to four simple questions. You can read Tom’s brilliant answers  http://tomwentworth.wordpress.com/ and follow links to other writers who have taken part.

So now it’s my turn to answer the four searching questions…  

1)    What am I working on? I’m still recovering from a busy twelve months completing my MA in Scriptwriting, but I’ve recently started to develop an idea for a TV series about some young people working at a motorway service station. It’s useful having adolescents around my house, bouncing ideas off them and eavesdropping on conversations (the best part of being a writer!). So far they haven’t twigged what I’m up to. I seem to spend most of my time, rewriting. Last month, the Writers Guild of Great Britain invited several industry professionals to a rehearsed reading of my play ‘Guilt’. I received some very helpful feedback, which I’m working over. It’s taking me a while because some of it’s contradictory. It’s up to me, at the end of the day, to decide how best to improve and rewrite the script. It takes many, many mugs of coffee.

2)    How does my work differ from others in this genre?  I’ve noticed that many of the characters in my work are old. Maybe that’s because I feel that older folk have more interesting things to say. And they also represent a greater proportion of our population, so why shouldn’t they see themselves reflected on the stage or screen? There is a wealth of wonderful, mature actors who are desperate for gritty, interesting roles so it’s good to write something different which bucks the trend. Edgy writing doesn’t have to mean young characters.

3)    Why do I write what I do? I’ve always been a daydreamer and I love to escape to the imaginary worlds I create. I can lose hours writing my scripts, listening to the conversations of the characters I’ve created. I suppose writing helps me make sense of the voices which continuously chitchat in my head. Most of these voices have a northern dialect, and they are always concerned with the domestic issues of life. Perhaps I’m trying to make sense of that, too.

4)    How does your writing process work? I usually start with a trip in the car. Driving allows me to work through an idea, so a two hour trip is ideal. Then I spend days working on my characters, getting to know them intimately. It’s only then that I get an idea of how my story is going to develop and its a slow process getting it right. Getting to the end of a script is a huge achievement. When the rewriting begins, I feel as though I’m physically wrestling with the issues, mentally rolling around the floor. It can be exhausting. Thankfully, a little nap often helps me come up with the best solutions.

Thanks, Tom, for nominating me to take part. This exercise has helped me focus on the writing ‘process’. I’m going to pass the Blog Tour baton on to my friend, Cath Barton who is a wonderful writer and photographer who lives in my part of Wales. You’ll be able to read her response to the questions at  http://cathbarton.wordpress.com/  shortly.

Me on International Women's Day

At last, all those writing deadlines are gone and I can settle down to catching up on all the stuff that’s being placed on hold for the last couple of months. I wish I could stick to my New Year resolution to deal with all emails on a daily basis, but it’s impossible, so far. I have this image of all the emails turned to paper, cascading over my head, each time I press the on button on my laptop. 

At least there’s going to be more time to visit the theatre in the next few weeks. I’m still buzzing from meeting all my favourite poets at the T S Eliot Prize readings, last weekend, down at the Royal Festival Hall. All the poetry giants were there – Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke… but I was especially excited to meet Julia Copus and Sharon Olds. Listening to them read their own work was quite an experience. I was not surprised that Sharon Olds won the prize, this time. Her poems about the break-up of her thirty year marriage were heart stopping. If you get the chance, read her latest collection Stag’s Leap.

Paul Farley succumbed to Dutch courage and was rather tipsy at the book signing, afterwards, hardly able to sign his name. It was also delightful to see Ian McMillan and Simon Armitage again. Both poets have awarded me first prize in poetry competitions in the last couple of years. It all makes me more determined to work on that poetry collection tucked away in the drawer. Perhaps that will be another New Year Resolution? To complete my anthology and look for a publisher. Hmm… better set myself a deadline!

 

You’ll be able to read my review of the T S Eliot 2012 Prize Shortlist Readings at http://www.WalesArtsReview.Org in the next few days.

 

 

I’ve been thinking about footpaths. The kind we suddenly lift our heads from, to find ourselves walking in unfamiliar country. How did I come to be here? This is not where I expected to be. And the question I am asking myself is this.

Am I lost or am I happy to be where I now happen to be?

Now this is a deep, question… I mean, really DEEP. And maybe I don’t want to think about deep stuff, right now. Deep stuff has a tendency to get dark.

So I’ll take the chocolate bar out of my pocket and just stand here a while. Take time to stand and stare. And look at the view from here.

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