Saturday, September 8, 2012

Past imperfect 9 - a week of firsts.

That it will never come again
Is what makes like so sweet
Emily Dickinson

It's been quite a week.

On Monday I received the advance copies of my first book - Counting Steps, in case you didn't already know already, and available at all good booksellers or direct from the bike shed - mail me to order a copy for eight quid ( and I'll even sign it for you.

Okay, plug over. I'll continue...

It felt strange holding a copy, the weight of it in my hands surfacing mixed emotions. Not too small I thought - smart cover too; a sense of pride I'd written all those words and that persons I'll never meet might want to share them. But what of those much closer, those who know me; those intimately involved in the text?

I gave the first copy to Jane - she smiled and gave me a hug. The next I gave to my sons, praying they'd recognise the love and forgive me for laying bare their childhood - the older boys scrounged extra copies for their girlfriends; Dylan asked me to read some aloud. My mother was a worry; on the inside cover I wrote that I feared it would make her cry, but hoped she could see it in the round. She phoned the next day, tears in her voice - I've never been more proud, she said.

And with that came a feeling the worst was over - as if I'd climbed a mountain and had only the descent to negotiate. It felt like the book was in the past - which is strange because its life has only just begun, its impact entirely unpredictable. Later in the week I watched a climbing documentary in which the narrator emphasised that most accidents happen on the way down!

Then on Tuesday, I had another first - or more accurately a first and second. For I was awarded my second degree - a First Class Honours in Creative Writing. Jane went with me to the convocation and I insisted on the cap and gown, the posed photos with a plastic scroll, the walk on stage to be applauded by people who don't know me from...  Thirty years ago I had missed out on all this; I might be older than two-thirds of the audience, but I was determined to take part this time.

Walking back from the stage the certificate felt flimsy in its cardboard sleeve - not much to show for nine years work. The lady next to me, another mature student from the OCA, smiled as I sat down. "I'm glad that's over,' she whispered between the rounds of applause. And when I replied that it hadn't been too embarrassing, she replied. 'Not the presentation - I mean the whole degree'. For the first time it struck me that I was no longer student, that it was behind me too - part of my past, if only by a minute.

It was clear that many of the young people present were embarrassed by all the fuss, wishing their parents hadn't dressed as if going to a wedding. At their age, I'd probably have felt the same. But in the time between I've learned the importance of marking our achievements - be they a degree, an anniversary or simply reaching fifty years of age. The reason is that milestones not only mark the past, they look forward too. And as Emily Dickson put it, they 'never come again'.

So a perfect week for an aspiring writer?

Not quite. I spend the latter half of it drafting the annual report for my company. I usually enjoy this job, our results are... sorry can't say... and frankly I'm pretty good at it - but for the first time, I was saddened by the process. There's an established style in writing for the City, whatever the quality your results - and it's characterised by cliche, conditionality and at times outright obfuscation. The words I type leave me deadened, in a sort of slough of despond into which I sink under the sin of abandoning my writerly values.

But by Friday it's done, and when the report is published I'll be proud of that too. One day, if I'm blessed, I'll show it to my grandchildren - along with my book, a second one perhaps; a copy of this blog...

Your Grampa wrote these I'll say; they were a part of me then, the best I could do - a milestone in my life.


  1. Beautiful. And my sincere congratulations. I am off to see if I can order a copy of your book... :-))

  2. Well I have been honoured with a copy of your book, for which I thank you. I'll keep the postcard inside the book, for when, in decades/eons to come the book is no longer available, a classic of its time though! Sadly I won't be around then to say 'I knew the author when....'
    Congrats too on the degree, looking resplendent there in cap and gown.
    I get the sense that with all these things done, the company work, the book published, the degree got, there is a sense of anti-climax with you, a sort of 'well, that's that then, what next?'
    Indeed, what next... another book, more courses?
    Sending best wishes,

  3. Heartiest congratulations on your two outstanding firsts, Mark. I'll be buying your book as soon as I'm back in the UK. :-)

  4. So glad your fears were groundless and looking forward to reading the book.

    I skipped the degree ceremony too....and I'd skip any future ones should they arise - have formed an idea about qualifying in Costa Rica!

  5. Oh Mark, how wonderful to read this blog post, to know the book is published and that you are sharing a very special part of yourself with the public. I cannot wait to read this as you know I very much admire your writing. You got me choked up twice ...firstly when you spoke of where the first copies went, and secondly when you spoke of your mom. No wonder she is proud.

    Bravo on the degree!! The Cap and Gown are well deserved!

  6. Congratulations on your many achievements. I ordered my copy through amazon this morning, even paid extra for super speedy delivery! Do drop by soon to sign it x

  7. Hello Mark:
    This is absolutely thrilling for you and your family on every count. You must be so very pleased with not only the book but such a very distinguished result at the end of your degree course. We are delighted for you.

  8. Congratulations, on the book, and on the degree, big congratulations.

    Both of my daughters graduated in the past few years, one from a College of Further Education, one from University with a law degree and I didn't go to either graduation.

    The first because she didn't tell us that there was to be a presentation, she's like that, like me, doesn't want a fuss, and so she went and got her certificate all by herself and then came home and told us.

    Then a year later her older sister had the full cap and gown affair at Uni and she invited us to go but I couldn't go, wouldn't go, because I hadn't been to the first one so I gently refused to go to the second, it wouldn't be fair you see, my wife went but I didn't, and it feels fair that I didn't.

    Anyway, well done :)

  9. ....and my congratulations too Mark.

    I'll be thrilled to colelct a copy in perosn, and to pay for it in used notes, in just a few weeks time. You do accept Scottish bank notes don't you?

  10. Huge congratulations Mark! Will share this post on my FB page. x

  11. Totally over the moon for you Mark! Holding your first book must really be something...especially after all the work that has gone into it! And a HUGE congratulations on getting a 1st (not that any of your blog followers are in the least bit surprised!) that is one hell of an achievement and I'm glad that you did it in style!

    Have already tweeted and FB'kd about this and will blog about it later today.

    Oh, and I've e-mailed to order a copy too :-)

    C x

  12. I wonder how you get your feet back on the ground after a week of such highs. Congratulations on all counts. Can't imagine how thrilling it must be to hold your very own book. And your writing First - well done, indeed although it is no surprise.