The Ups And Downs Of Life – And Writing

“Make it personal”, they said, when I announced I was going to write a blog. “Let the readers see the ‘real you’”. Well.. er.. OK then:

Over the past couple of weeks, I have, I must confess:

1. Failed to enter the Mslexia short story competition (I know, I know – after I nagged you, too).

2. Failed (twice) to enter ‘Write Invite’ on Saturday afternoons, due to a dodgy server (theirs) which prevented me getting on the site. Hopefully this will not happen again!

3. Had my two writing classes cancelled due to lack of numbers! (One may still go ahead in mid February, so if you are interested, click on the link above).

And things have been going awry in my non-writing life too:

1. My toilet’s broken. I’ll spare you the gory details but when I pushed on the lever last night with perhaps a little more gusto than usual, I heard a big crack and the handle came off in my hand. So until I can get it fixed, I’m having to take the lid of the loo and pull the chain manually. (Have you ever looked inside a toilet cistern? Quite interesting actually).

2. Tonight, at the petrol station, trying to pay for my tank of unleaded, the machine refused my credit card. “It’s refused the card,” the woman behind the till announced. “You’ll have to use another form of payment.” There was a huge queue behind me. I could sense them all rolling their eyes.

“I don’t have another form of payment,” I said, not sure whether to go for a tone of meek helplessness or ‘bolshie’ indignance. (Note to self: get a bl**dy debit card and carry more cash!)

I was taken to one side and dealt with by another woman. She was nice, actually. “Don’t look so worried!” she said. (I was so shocked I could hardly remember my name and address). “You don’t look like a criminal!” That was reassuring – but I certainly felt like one.

A pink form was duly filled in and handed to me. If I don’t return within 7 days and pay, I will be blacklisted/never allowed to have a mortgage/not trusted with more than £5 in my purse at any one time. Well, something like that. It was scary.

When I got home and looked on the website, it said, quite clearly, “Do not try to use your credit card after 23rd January 2011”. (Turns out the credit card itself has been discontinued – ie: not just mine! I do now, vaguely, remember a letter but I thought it was junk and binned it).

3. I went for an interview for a job a couple of weeks ago. It went OK but apparently they had other, ‘stronger’ candidates, so I didn’t get it. Fine. But when I logged into the job agency’s website, to check my status, it had moved from ‘interview’ to ‘REJECTED’! Talk about kicking someone when they’re down. I keep meaning to email them about changing the wording on their site to something a little kinder.

So what, I hear you say, has any of this got to do with writing? Well, as I always say to my students, everything that happens to you in life – good or bad – is potential material! I might not write a story about my credit card being rejected but I will hopefully remember how that felt – and use it in my writing. I probably won’t write a poem about a broken toilet but I might use the idea of a house falling apart or a trying to get a plumber, or… well, you get the drift.

I suppose it’s a way of laughing at life’s little trials. Jot them in the ‘notebook-you-always-carry’ and just tell yourself, ‘One day, I’ll use this in my writing.’

But, on a lighter note, there are some good things to report:

1. For the second year running, poetry has scooped the Costa Book of The Year Award. Jo Shapcott has won for her collection ‘Of Mutability’, her first new work in over a decade and in part influenced by her experience of breast cancer.

2. I’m going to a novel-writing course on Saturday with my writing buddy Sally Jenkins in Derby. I’m really looking forward to that and will be reporting my findings here!

3. I bumped into fellow-former-Warwick Poet Laureate, Jane Holland, last week. She has just clinched a three-book deal from Transworld for a series of historical novels. How exciting is that? She’s written the first one – ‘The Queen’s Secret’ – which is due out in March 2012. She’s currently ‘working on revisions’ (which sounds wonderful but is probably hard work). I was a teensy bit envious, of course, but mainly very pleased for her. Seeing someone I know ‘hit the big time’ is very inspiring. It can be done! See her blog for more info.

4. I went to see the fabulous film ‘The King’s Speech’ (with the ever-gorgeous Colin Firth) last weekend and I will never worry (quite as much) about public speaking again.

5. I’ve finally packed my Christmas tree away.

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5 Responses to The Ups And Downs Of Life – And Writing

  1. Thanks for a great post, Helen. Your tale of woe made me laugh – I can just picture you wrestling with the toilet handle! Hope it all gets sorted out soon – and well done on packing the Xmas tree away!

  2. Rachel says:

    Hello Helen,

    I’ve just recently started reading your blog. Thanks! It’s helpful to know that there are others out there whose lives don’t always go quite according to plan. I keep making lists of what I should be doing, but they soon become noticeable as lists of things I didn’t do. Even if I’ve crossed things off, the ones which aren’t crossed off still glare alarmingly. I was thinking of writing more positive lists of things I have acheived. You could then say things like, in your case, I have learnt how the toilet cistern works. It would also include all those things you had to do but hadn’t accounted for like sorting out children. Sorry, talking to much. Bad habit! Thanks for the post!

    • Rachel
      thanks for popping by! Yes, I’m a great ‘list writer’ too. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it just feels like a ‘wish list’. There aren’t enough hours in the day, are there?

  3. D.J. Kirkby says:

    That sounds like you have been getting thwarted almost daily! I can never enter WriteInvite due to the writing time – it’s the same as my family time! I didn’t enter the Mslexia comp either even though I told myself (in a stern voice) that I would. Meh.

    • I feel a bit better now that I wasn’t the only one who missed the deadline for the Mslexia competition! One consolation – there are plenty of other writing competitions out there, just waiting for our words of wisdom!

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