When I think back to 2013 in years to come, I know I will remember it for two reasons.
Firstly, I got a bike and started cycling. Not every day initially – I was far too unfit for that. But in May I picked up my shiny yellow Bobbin Birdie and proudly rode it through Clapham Common and home. It has been the glorious start of what I hope will be a lifelong love affair. I was nervous at first – unsure of what i was doing. I hadn’t cycled on the roads for years.
I named him Here Comes The Sun, heralding better things to come, happy times and warm days.
That first Saturday, I took him back to the park to practise riding up and down, turning corners and braking. I cycled for what seemed like hours, re-learning the things I loved when I was younger. And then- then! Like a chick taking its first flight I was ready. With my brother as my trusty wingman, I started pedalling towards Battersea, over Chelsea Bridge and towards the Houses of Parliament. By the time I arrived at Smith’s of Smithfield for lunch with my parents and some friends, I was shaking with exertion. I locked Here Comes the Sun up and skittered inside, where I sat on pins the whole time, convinced someone would steal him. But no one did and he was waiting for my afterwards to head home, a sweat-drenched anxiety fest of a journey with my brother yelling instructions and encouragement at me. When I got back to Clapham I had to push him up the hill to get home as it was too steep. But here’s the weird thing – I LOVED it.
The next week, I cycled in to work - wobbly, too inflexible to even look over my shoulder to see upcoming traffic. I had to wait until the following night to cycle home as my little-used stomach and leg muscles were complaining. But slowly, gradually, slo-o-o-owly, I increased my journeys until now I cycle at least 70 miles a week- it’s a 14-mile trip to work and back.
Within a couple of weeks I was attacking those hills that had defeated me. I did a ‘Cycle Confidence’ course, and then a bike maintenance course. Being freed from public transport meant I could get home in 45 minutes, or ride to the Lido for a swim on my own, or just go to the shops and fill a pannier full of shopping if I fancied. And gradually I got fitter, and healthier.
My figure started to whittle itself into shape, and I started to understand my body better. It isn’t just for me to criticise, or for people to judge, or me to dress. My legs, which I remembered hating even as a child, were meant to move and ache and grow stronger. My back and shoulders and stomach developed firmness, and, having been disconnected from everything a body is supposed to do, I gradually woke up to what it was like to feel more athletic. I can’t say I now have a perfect figure, or am an endurance athlete. But cycling a little bit every day has taken away the 4am adrenaline-soaked panics, and replaced it with a desire to make my body strong by feeding it healthily and looking after it.
Falling in love with cycling has changed not only my inner self, but my whole outlook. I love my ride to work – noticing the trees blossoming, seeing the River Thames in every weather, trusting myself in the dark or rain or wind that even though it is difficult, it is so worth it. I have overcome my nervousness about lots of things, and am more of a risk-taker, now I know how to temper it with using my own common sense. To anyone too scared, or unfit, or frightened to try cycling, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. I love my bike, and nowadays I even like myself more.
Oh and the second life-changing thing I did last year? Oh yes, I got married too.
It’s been over a month now since I received the news that my little story, The Wedding Speech, had won The Great British Write Off – and it still hasn’t quite sunk in. I’m even still doing the odd, secret little dance of celebratory joy when I think nobody’s looking (I really hope they aren’t).
I found out about the competition via a tweet that Milly Johnson – a fantastic author and, as it turned out, one of the judges – posted, but it was weird because I hadn’t been on Twitter for a good few weeks leading up to that day. I like to think it was fate. I’ve become a big believer in it recently!
I’d always been a huge fan of the women’s fiction genre and it’s the market that I would like to write for, so I decided I had nothing to lose by giving the competition a go. I brainstormed loads of ideas as I walked home from work later that evening, and eventually decided that a wedding speech would provide me with everything I needed: plenty of characters, humour, dialogue and a decent degree of pathos, too.
I should probably tell you that I sat down and spent ages doing a detailed plan and list of characters, but I didn’t. I simply got home, switched on my laptop and started writing. I’d come up with the opening line on the walk, so that got me out of the starting gate, and the rest just seemed to follow. It took me two hours to write and then finely tune the story, and once I was done I did what I always do after writing a story – sent it over to my mum. She was hugely encouraging, but then she is, of course, hugely biased, too. I thought I’d better quickly send it off before I chickened out.
While I waited for a winner to be announced, I showed my story to a few more of my closest friends – both male and female – and to my sisters. Everyone seemed to love it, and my flatmate balled her eyes out. Despite all this, however, I didn’t get my hopes up. I was shy about the story, if anything, even telling the guy I had recently started dating that he could only read it if it won. Well, that ended up being a big (but welcome) egg in my face!
Valentine’s Day finally arrived, and I kept the Books And The City website open on my work computer and tried not to check Twitter every two and a half seconds. At a few minutes past 1pm, an e-mail popped up in my inbox from Sara-Jade (@BookMinxSJV) at Simon & Schuster telling me what I had spent the past few weeks convincing myself would never happen – that I had WON the competition! Cue much exciting squealing (me) followed by a flurry of “ooohs” (my work colleagues). I honestly felt like I’d won the lottery – although better, because it felt like my life might actually be about to change in the most magical way imaginable.
I soon learned that my story would not only be published as an eBook, but that it would get its own book jacket. The idea of being able to search for myself on Amazon is still, to this day, mind-bogglingly brilliant – a total dream come true. It wasn’t long before I received follow-up messages from Clare Hey, Lizzy Kremer and Milly Johnson, all congratulating me and confirming that I would be having a sit-down session with each of them to discuss my writing in more detail. I think it was at this point that I started to get face-cramp from all the grinning. Seriously, I looked like some sort of drunken gibbon – bouncing up and down in my chair and beaming. The news then reached Twitter, and I got heaps of lovely messages from both friends and new followers, all of which were so touching. I then read and re-read the announcement on the Books And The City website about 20 times over! I just simply couldn’t believe it.
Once I came back down to earth from where I was floating (somewhere up near the top of Big Ben), I had lots to do, namely collate all the bits of the novel I’d been working on, plus my other ideas for stories and send everything over to Clare and Lizzy. Getting the chance to show my work to industry superstars like these two is both terrifying and amazing. I mean, talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My lifelong dream has always been to write books, and here I am getting advice from the best people I could possibly hope for. I am extremely lucky indeed.
I met with Clare Hey a few weeks ago and we discussed both The Wedding Speech and some of the other work I’d sent over. To say it was an invaluable experience would be a huge understatement. Clare gave me so much to think about and gave me brilliant advice on everything from creating a hook for my story, to title ideas, to character development and more. I came away realising that I have <a lot> of work to do, but it’s a challenge that I absolutely relish.
I now have a few weeks before I meet Lizzy, so I intend to use the time to create something she will (hopefully) like as much as The Wedding Speech – or maybe even more. Oh, and then there’s the evening of celebratory fizz I have planned with Milly. The future is definitely the most exciting it has <ever> been!
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I’m often asked when and where am I most inspired to write. This question makes me laugh. If I were to wait for ‘inspiration’ to strike I’d never write a word. Discipline is the word that springs to mind when I think of writing and, tragically, I’m not the world’s …
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