How does it happen? It was halfway up the 268 vertiginous steps to the Tian Tan Buddha in Ngong Ping last week, heart hammering and breathless, that I realised I'm properly, officially, not-that-young any more. The children went scampering on ahead, disappearing into the mist - you're supposed to be able to see to Macau on a clear day, we could hardly see the Buddha once we reached the top. But it was glorious. To be fair, I'm normally a lot fitter, but in my head I'm still skipping around like the glorious 17 year old in today's video. (Need cheering up? Do watch it - impossible not to smile). Is that just me? Does anyone actually feel how not-so-young they really are? I was talking to an old school friend on Facebook the other day and we worked out it's twenty five years since we left - *how* can that possibly be right? A mistake, surely. Happily, we have friends flying in tonight we've known since we were teenagers, so we can all pretend to be 17 again together for a few days.
There's nothing like returning to a place you experienced young and childless to bring home the passing of the years. The first travel article I had published some fifteen years ago was a piece on Hong Kong. It was all hand luggage only, romantic moonlit crossings on the Star Ferry and cocktails at The Pen - this time the trip was more packing for every conceivable emergency, noodles and an early night. The children loved it though, and the important things hadn't changed - the city is still a riot of colour and fragrance, I loved the new: guerilla knitting yarnbombers, and the old: the snaking coils of incense in Man Mo (temple to the gods of war and literature - oddly fitting combo), which smoke on regardless of time.
Not long after travelling round the world via Hong Kong, we ended up here for a few years:
This was where I began 'The Perfume Garden', young, and determined and gung-ho, using rejection letters for articles as kindling to light the fire at night when we were freezing cold in winter. No heating or TV, a radio phone, no internet ... it was a simple life but we were truly happy. And today I can share some happy news - 'Perfume Garden' has been shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year in the Epic category. It really has been an epic journey.
Perhaps not surprisingly the last few years have instilled a sense of urgency - I don't want to waste time. Every year counts. How are your resolutions going? This year so far I've neither made it to the gym or started ballet again or become fluent in French (yet), but I've written a couple of short stories, edited the next novel, and written a play (a first). Over the holidays I sat down and planned out the next few books, including the YA story I've promised my daughter for years. I say story. Working to her brief it's an epic that makes Lord of the Rings look like a novella. So that should keep me quiet for a while. How's your writing going? Share your news in the comments - and if anyone wants to guest this year, you're always welcome, just get in touch.
We picked up a scroll from a calligrapher in Hong Kong. It says: 'Knowledge comes from learning. Wisdom comes from living.' I like that sentiment. If being not-so-young any more is the trade off for wisdom, I'll take that any day, and it's heartening that one of the brilliant writers I'm up against in the Epic category is still writing in their nineties. Would you want to be 17 again? Me neither. It feels like it's all just beginning.
TODAY'S PROMPT: What makes you happy? Where we are now, happy isn't woven into the fabric of everyday life - it's something you work at and for, and cherish in the smallest things. What made you happy today - three things, big or small? Do you think happiness is only clear in retrospect? What's the happiest moment of your life? Give that to a character - then take it away. Make them fight their way back. Remember that a novel, a story, thrives on conflict - and 'happiness writes white'.