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Friday, 3 June 2016

The state I'm in ...

Douglas continues his TIPM writing and reading for pleasure series for June 2016 with reflections on six years of writing and the future.

I woke this morning Wednesday 1 June 2016 at around 3.00am calm and fed up with my normal sleep patterns ruined by medication. Almost exactly six years ago, I woke in a cold sweat, while in France, fearful of those who were chasing me to death for something my parents or I had done in our lives. I started to compose a story and wrote it down as soon as first light came. I have not stopped writing stories since.

As I travel between restless sleep and dreams, I reflect on the last six years. The positives of writing a million draft words and creating structures for many story-books. The mind stimulation I enjoy in meeting other writers individually, in writer’s groups and at events and people in the book publication world. I also set up a web site for marketing my own writing and a local writing group.

I mull over my mixed feelings about devoting so much time during the last six years to the lonely activity of writing at the expense of keeping up to date with family administration, family relationships and maintenance of home, car and friendships.

I have a picture showing man’s ancestors coming out of the sea and rising to great stature only to sink back in bad postures in front of computers. My daughter says if I had not spent so much time in front of my computer I would not be in the state I am in today. I do not accept all her wise words and everything she says!

Although I have enjoyed the writing side of being a writer, the self-editing, publishing, marketing and other related tasks have proved less positive.

I dream of having many years to finish my books and to get involved in the hard world of publishing and marketing. I dream again of being a best selling writer and stalls on Reading Station full of my books and Ingram Spark distributing my books worldwide.

I wake up and in the cold light of day see my alarm clock showing 9.00am. Coldly I reflect on the reality of my current position. I have again like many previous nights been in bed for nine hours but only slept soundly for two at most. After getting up I can look forward to at most four hours of normal activity before a medication hangover catches up with me again for most of the afternoon when I often return to bed for more catch up sleep. Evenings are restless when my concentration levels are low - my normal bedtime reading for an hour or so is now down to more like ten minutes. TV is mostly unsatisfying and I will leave the decisions on the EU to my children who perhaps may not even vote.

A strange positive is my dreams are even more vivid than in the first five years of my writing career. When I wake at various times in the night, I scribble the scenes down. Then in the morning, I find I can write the stories up without reference to my notes. The act of scribbling seems to have fixed the content of the dreams in my mind and I quickly get on a roll. A good thing as the scribbling is usually hard to decipher.

I have travelled this path before in 2013 to 2015 but then I stopped taking  medication and soon felt my normal self and took natural substitutes. I said to my pharmacist I thought I was now taking serious and not optional medication and he said, “yes … you cannot stop taking these”.

When I exchanged e-mails with Jeffrey Archer in 2012 he said he was writing like mad before ill health over took him. Even though he is older than I am, he seems to be going strong while I may have fallen by the wayside.

A friend in his late sixties said to me he has made a list of things to do before he is 70. Based on my experience this seems a very good idea. I have been highly amused to peruse books listing 1000 things to read, view or travel to all over the world. The difficulty is that for the travelling one does need money that often only flows a little more freely later in life when it is too late. Perhaps children need to be given a list of a 1000 books to read when they are in their teens to stand any chance of reading a 1000, with new publishing substitutes, by the time they reach 70. I have probably read over 1000 books in my lifetime.

I am not too downcast, as I have managed to do most of the things I wanted to do in my life except those which are impractical or highly impossible. I have left my main character in my books, Henry Cross to do these – fly like a bird, play cricket for England, build a new house from scratch, travel in time, all with some spicy decadence … a la John Betjeman’s dying wishes.

My father died when he was 70 of exactly the condition I am suffering from so I am grateful for modern techniques and even the horrible medication in giving me some additional years. I have enjoyed a good family life, music, holidays and events. I look back with pleasure at having flown on Concorde, seen a SR71 Blackbird and a Lightning fighter flying. I have shared the powered glider controls of my now deceased friend who was very safe but I think may have been so concerned about losing his pilot’s licence he did not go to his doctor soon enough. I have sailed 10,000 nautical miles in all but one of the oceans of the world and travelled as a tourist around the world. I have driven a steam locomotive and travelled on the footplate of another as well as a diesel.

Faced with less time to devote to writing, some things have already gone or are going, any desire to publish, marketing, reading other people’s web and blog posts. Reading hard copy books is also much curtailed … so sorry Stephen King. On reflection, I have not read an e-book for well over a year and notice this may not be unique amongst readers. The slowness of my current reading is illustrated by my reading of a large volume of futuristic short stories by J G Ballard. All 1186 pages still only 82% through after a start in January. I would take this book to a desert island along with my eight discs - if I were ever asked.

Outside of keeping family life and friendships going, the one thing I want to do is to bring all my draft writing up to publishable standard but I fear this may be beyond me now unless I can work much smarter and stop raising the bar on standards. I will continue to beta read writing friend’s draft books, as this is mutually helpful to my own writing and theirs. If Mick is happy I will continue with this monthly post albeit it in less gloomy mode.

I may try to submit a couple of stories to competitions a year.

For those writers and others in good health and younger I would recommend based on my experience doing what you want to do in life and writing soon and do not put off.

New events and news outside my cocoon, which I have noticed, are:-

  • An HMRC attempt to tax adult colouring books as incomplete books. I did not realise that “incomplete books” are taxable. (Or, how one is defined.)
  • According to one book retailer, buying a book has become a means of reflecting our personalities as well as enjoying a good read. Ho, ho what’s new I ask?
  • Children are being bribed or incentivised to read by parents … surely this is doomed to failure. As one commentator said rather than being able to define a lower sub plu-perfect particular clause or similar in a Stats test, being introduced to the first pages of several classic and current books may be more interesting and effective and light a fire of lifetime reading in children.

I am not sure what will be in my next TIPM post. Probably reflections of my usual annual time in France if we are both in good enough shape to travel - by the time I plan to go.

Douglas Burcham started writing on 1 June 2010 and self-published under the Allrighters’ name a story-book 'Ywnwab!' in September 2013. A million words of draft writing reached completion in January 2014 split between 900,000 words of fiction and 100,000 words of non-fiction. The latter being about writing and memories of buildings, trains, boats and planes. Since then slow progress continues to be made in the conversion of the draft words into final books ready for possible publishing as story-books under the Allrighters’ name.

For past TIPM posts see - Last post 

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Leap Year Travel

To think I wrote this four years ago ...
Douglas wrote a shorter version of this story for the Daily Telegraph ‘Just Back’ short story competition in 2013. He did not win. Another version of the story is included in Ywnwab! his first book by the Allrighters’ published in September 2013.

Leap Year Travel a fantasy journey by Henry

 I am just back from the airport, standing at my front door, shivering in my new, warm-weather holiday clothes. I walk in and hear the cacophony of the house alarm. I think for the code 8532 or 8253? I press 8235 and all goes deathly still and quiet; I am home again, alone. My wife reached eighteen birthdays last year — yesterday to the day.

We are heading south — a familiar route. Our jet aircraft banks west and I see lakes and woods. Then we bank east and lose height very quickly, dropping in steps, as though in turbulence, air-frame banging, wings flapping. Down we go… fear rises as I see the terminal building to one side and we are still not down; a runway overshoot looms, so I tuck my feet under the seat, brace myself and close my eyes...“Please, God, no.” My prayer is answered, as with a huge roar, full jet power comes on again. The pilot, in a monotone robotic voice, says.

 “For safety, we are going around. We could not take the early landing slot. You will have a good view of Mont Blanc.”

 My peers converse in the seat behind.

“Scary.” I hear in a broken trembling voice. 

 Her male colleague makes a terse, sober reply. “Most unprofessional, failed to take the slot, he should not have tried, not even an apology for making us late.”

 I wholeheartedly agree. I feel my wife’s long, sensuous fingers holding my hand tight and draw my breath thinking of more intimacy later. Her magic still not dimmed by age.

 I change my watch for the hour time difference and worry about our train leaving in sixty minutes. We complete a circle, Mont Blanc is on the wrong side for me to see, and land smoothly all right second time around. We sit out of breath on the train to Brig. A comfortable hotel and good food await us. Cuddles and more at night and dawn in a net-curtained room, her still-perfect ivory skin caught moving in beams of new day sun.

The Glacier Express for Chur is not anywhere to be found in the main station. Departure is due in five minutes … we should not have dallied in bed. I start to panic … then see the narrow gauge track in the town square outside. We board, putting our bags in a luggage-van at the rear. We are off and soon mountain and valley scenery is running by, all grand and magnificent. At halfway the eating car is swapped from the westbound train. Lunch is adequate … poor exchange rate cost to be forgotten else troubling. Our train dives into gorges with fast-flowing rivers and is split into two before we reach Chur. When we reach Chur we find our two bags of luggage have gone to St Moritz.

  “Do not worry, dear, we are travelling on Swiss Railways.”

Even with communication in Swiss English I am not completely sure what I hope I have agreed with the helpful staff in the Chur platform signal station.

 We buy a shared toothbrush, paste and T-shirts and go to our hotel, enjoy rosti and steak followed by brief satisfying T-shirted sleep and more. 

At 8.00am we leave Chur’s large rail station and it’s yellow buses. The flanges squeal and the rack engages as we wind our way up the valley. The brochure picture of a red train going over a high viaduct into a mountain face with dark spirals inside is now real. Wow! — the reality is better than expectation. At St Moritz a miracle — by our carriage as it halts at our door stand our two bags on a trolley. Anxiety over Swiss English and Railways are now relieved.

We travel onwards, in fantasy, on the winter running Bernina Express over a snow-ploughed route through a high pass; then falling into warmer Italy, the snow soon disappears. We spiral around on rails and arches in another brochure picture and rattle through main streets to reach Torino for an enjoyable slow lunch, amble and a night’s rest in full night attire. Then to Milan and a coast train to cold Pisa. Few look at the amazing leaning tower. We enjoy a belated winter birthday celebration in front of roaring fires at the retreat and lots of good views while on rambles, both well wrapped up against the biting cold.

Of course all these delights took place last year. I am now going away again to somewhere warmer; booked specifically I stated to travel on the last day of February, alone. No cuddles this year unless my widow temptation fantasy matures.

I sigh; the queues for booking in are much longer than last year. I only have a single bag now. I eventually shuffle forward and reach the counter and the young lady with a name badge smiles; I feel a glow inside, she has a face similar to my daughter’s. Tracy Evans inspects my flight details and looks at me with a sad expression as though I might be her demented father.

  “Do you know the date today, sir?”

 I smile, my stress from queuing relaxed by her melodic, gentle Welsh accent. “Yes, my wife’s birthday — 29 February.”

She replies slowly. “I am sorry this year is not a leap year; it is 1 March today, St David’s Day.”

 Douglas started this story with an idea about the awful prospect of turning up at an airport a day late, which is a recurrent nightmare he has about travel. He thought then about leap years, added details of an actual flight to Switzerland where they overshot the runway in Geneva, another train journey where luggage was lost and put an overlay of loss of a dear partner to support the arrival a day late.

Of all his creative writing Douglas likes putting together short stories the most. Indeed his longer books under the Allrighters’ name are made up of many short stories linked together.

Open and search on Ywnwab! to find Kindle and paperback versions for sale.