How are you all? Today marks three years living in the Middle East. The pilot had gone on ahead, so three years ago I packed up our life into a container on a farm in Hampshire alone, (it is still there in storage - our life, I mean, not the farm. Though let's hope the farm is too). Heartbreakingly, we bade farewell to the Hound (who was on the 'banned dogs' list - what's an Afghan Hound going to do to you? Savage you with her elegance?). We left behind beloved friends, family. I had received 'the call' that all debut writers long for the night before I flew out with our small children. 'The Beauty Chorus' had found a home with the great team at Atlantic. A fairytale ending, (or beginning, depending on how you look at it), which if you read it in a novel you'd find hard to believe.
Now, three years on, where are we? The Emirates Lit Fest came at a good time - it is the creative equivalent of sticking your fingers in a socket. When I was at school, I had a cutting pinned above my desk: 'if you mix with talented people, you become talented'. Mixing with good, positive people is absolutely the key to survival as an expat. And for a writer, getting to spend time with some of the best writers on the planet was sensational.
To be honest the thought of a week with far more established, successful authors was humbling and daunting - but it was inspirational. My theory about the modesty of genius held out - the most brilliant writers were also the loveliest. Tan Twan Eng, for example, who was on the reading group panel, just won the Man Asian Literary Prize a couple of days ago. I first met him at one of the relaxed lunches, when the poet to my right, (who turned out to be the brilliant Jeet Thayil), casually mentioned they were up for the same prize again. I only later found out it was the Asian Booker Prize.
Moments that really stick out for me are these incredible conversations. With Antonio Carluccio about whittling walking sticks. With Tony Buzan about the importance of punctuality. With Geoff Dyer and his lovely wife about John Berger and photography. With Artemis Cooper about writing and family life. It was exhilarating to be around all of these extraordinary people at the top of their game. I feel lucky to have been part of it. So, now that I am back to desert, dust storms, 5am alarms, two hours a day of white-knuckle driving on the school run and real life - what to do with all these new ideas?
Are you a plotter or a pantster in life? In my teens and twenties I predictably read a lot of MBS books - awash with Deepak Chopra etc, earnestly setting off travelling around the world trying to figure out the meaning of life, world religions and philosophy. If any of you knows the answer, you know where the comment box is. One of the best books was Shakti Gawain's 'Creative Visualisation' - maybe you've read it? I used to be good at sitting down each year and projecting ahead - do you ever do this? What do you want to visualise and achieve in one, five, ten years? For the first time in ages I sat down last week and looked back - what have the last five years brought? Why don't you take five minutes and do the same - and if you feel like sharing some of your writing or life triumphs (or losses), comment below?
I think a lot of people are feeling like they are running on full throttle at the moment just to stand still. It can be good to step back and really see clearly what you have, and haven't done. For me, 5 years - the Good: a wonderful agent, publication in 7 languages so far, an MA, that this blog is still growing five years on, that our family is still together ... The Bad: well, there have been some interesting times, not least losing three parents ... When you see things in black and white it explains a *lot*.
These are the 'descansos' that the Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes talked about - the crosses on the road your life has taken. Daily Writing has a great post about how to mark these life events using her techniques. Why not have a go yourself, today? It's cathartic. It makes you appreciate all the day to day 'small' things, (healthy family, somewhere to call home - if not the home you carry in your heart, work, the fleeting miracle of being alive at all ...) When you see these marks on the paper, things start to make sense and it gives you perspective. As Estes wrote, there comes a time when you make a choice whether to give up or move on. Which choice are you going to make? Someone once said: falling down is part of life. Getting back up is living. Or take the zen route: fall down seven times, stand up eight.
For me, I just wrote a new five year plan yesterday that's ambitious, and inspiring. It involves crafting new books into the best shape they can be, new ideas, writing in new media - and unpacking that container on the farm. It's starting with the publication of 'The Perfume Garden' in paperback next month, and a brand new ebook - more of which soon. I've had Judy Dench's voice in my mind for the last couple of months writing Liberty's story, (and what a voice - don't you love today's quote?). So much so that reading the new story now, I hear and see Dame Judy, like a play. Do you find that happening with your characters? We had an interesting discussion on Facebook about who could play her attractive, silver fox ex - top votes were for Richard Gere, Alan Rickman. Think I'm still with Terence Stamp ... Enough boondoggling. But before settling down to your writing, why not enjoy today's video? Here's
Liberty Dame Judy reading Sonnet 43 - enjoy.
TODAY'S PROMPT: I wonder sometimes about young celebs 'writing' memoirs in their teens. Do you think maybe it takes until midlife to get some perspective on anything, let alone yourself? Memoirs show how someone made sense of life. Exercises like the descansos can be useful triggers for writing from your own life experience. Why not try this - or borrow your children's coloured crayons as I did - and make a mindmap, brainstorm what you want to achieve in the short and longterm? Do you buy into the idea attributed to the Dalai Lama: "Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck." Or are you creating the world that you want? Happy writing.