Is what makes like so sweet
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 (email@example.com) 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...