It’s been a busy couple of months. I keep thinking that 2012 is still young, just begun, but no. It’s my birthday on Saturday and that has always served as a halfway mark for the year for me, more or less. I wonder what will happen between now and the finish line?
I know it's been mostly monday mantras, recipes, running and yoga on here for the last little while. To be honest it's been hard to find the mental space and energy to write about what else I've been up to. Thankfully a few hurdles have now been jumped over and I feel calmer and more relaxed than I've felt for months. So I thought, in my typical long winded rambling style, I would share, as I tend to write about things after they've happened rather than during. So, for the last little while, life has consisted mostly of….
Immigration red tape
Thankfully this situation is now sorted but my God it was a long, drawn out, complicated process I hope never to repeat. I’ve been through some stressful things in my time – divorce, redundancy, moving to another country – but applying for indefinite leave to remain was right up there! My situation didn’t fit neatly into Home Office guidelines so it took a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and being told the wrong thing before things finally got sorted out – in fact, I had gone up to Glasgow especially, the day after the half marathon, to get my old visa renewed because I was told I didn’t qualify for indefinite leave to remain. I was going to have to renew the old visa first (and pay about £800 to do so) and then apply for indefinite leave to remain six weeks later! I did it in person for many reasons, mostly because I didn’t want to let my grandmother’s precious original 93 year old birth certificate, thin and delicate as a butterfly wing, out of my sight. Getting everything together for that interview was a nightmare, to put it politely. I was reminded once again that banks are useless in an emergency. But my husband is brilliant :)
So on that April Monday morning, with barely an ache from the previous day's half marathon, I was called up to the window at the Glasgow public office, handed over my forms and documents, and the man handling my case took a glance through my passport and said “why are you applying for a visa renewal? You qualify for indefinite leave to remain.” After being told twice on the phone that I did not qualify, I was flabbergasted and spent about an hour with this guy, going over every little detail, every guideline, every loophole, making absolutely sure. I did qualify. I couldn't apply for it there and then, annoyingly, as I didn't have the right form nor had I yet sat for and passed the Life in the UK test. It made sense (financially more than anything) to go home, do the final necessary paperwork, and then return to Glasgow to process it all.
So that’s what I did - I went home, filled in another giant set of forms (very glad I didn’t have to worry about the point scoring Tier 1 assessment, that looked scary!) and then studied for and took The Life in the UK test. The straight A student in me, suppressed for the past decade since I left university, relished her chance to shine again. I took nerd-dom and trying to impress the Home Office to a new level and even watched BBC Parliament a few times, which was much more entertaining than I thought it would be! We drove to Milton Keynes one grey and drizzly Saturday where I took the test and was the third to finish. One by one we the hopeful were taken into a private room to be given our results and then released with the precious piece of paper with the red “PASS” stamp on it. I was so happy!
The next week I took a train to Glasgow on the Bank Holiday Monday, walked to the same hotel we had stayed in the last time in the pouring rain, and stayed put, not leaving the room, working on the novel edits until bedtime. I didn’t realise my lip was swollen until I washed my face before bed. I had been biting down on it while working for about seven hours and hadn’t realised.
The next morning it was finally all over. My forms, passport and documents were taken away and checked. I had a biometrics assessment where I was fingerprinted and photographed. I forced myself not to think about the car, tickets to Australia or many bottles of Pol Roger I could have bought with the money I handed over! Finally my ticket number was called, my documents were handed back and the lady told me to expect my identity card in five to seven days.
“So, it was approved?” I asked, as she hadn’t actually said that.
“Oh yes, yes, all fine.”
It was strange. After months of feeling permanently on edge because of the looming expiry date in my passport and not knowing which hoops I need to jump through, higher phone bills because of hours spent talking to people on 0845 numbers, scary disclaimers on the web site and knowing that this was something so monumentally important that I couldn’t afford to screw up –to know that it was over and it hadn’t been that big a deal in the end was kind of…strange. I was glad I went to Glasgow to do it though. They were very friendly, patient and kind, and helped make me feel like less of a nutcase! I walked back into the city afterwards and waited for my train in the Caffe Nero, sipping chai and reading The Songwriter, still feeling strange. It was only five hours later when I got off my train in London and walked to another station to catch my last train home, seeing familiar streets and buildings and tube stations, that it started to hit me. And when Tom picked me up at the other end and we drove home through the country lanes now thick with the green leaves of late spring, I just felt a peace ripple through me. It was over. I was home.
My card arrived in the mail a few days later and so now I officially have indefinite leave to remain! With all the Jubilee flags and decorations that seem to be everywhere in England at the moment, it feels like the whole country is celebrating, ha ha. I couldn’t resist and got a Union Jack cushion for the sofa to mark the event. Even Tom, who is not all that patriotic, seems to like it!
And so, that is over. Breathe.
Meanwhile, to take my mind off the stress of the visa red tape, I threw myself into first of all training for the half marathon, and then into the book. In February, I house sat for some friends for a few days where I basically wrote non stop. I completely re-wrote Part 2, took out the stuff that was too close to the bone and put in something else that was completely fictional. When I got home, I polished the first three chapters and wrote a synopsis, which took me about three weeks because I agonised over it so much. I got out all my favourite books and read the back covers to get inspiration. I must have googled “how to write a synopsis” a thousand times and everything I read told me a synopsis was something different to what I thought it was! Eventually I asked a writer friend of mine for help and she said that it wasn’t meant to be a marketing spiel, nor do you have to blandly recite the facts of your plot, but it should be a bit of both and most importantly make the reader excited about the story and champing at the bit to read it. So I did my best! I had no idea that writing a synopsis would be so difficult though. Writing the book as a whole seemed easy in comparison! I sent the chapters and synopsis to an agent who represents a friend of mine, who had put a good word in for me. That was the end of March.
I heard back from the agent about a week later. They passed, which didn’t surprise me because I wasn’t sure I was the right fit for them, but to my greatest surprise I got quite a lengthy email from them, telling me what they liked and where I might improve, and I was so delighted by the things they said. Getting feedback from people who don’t know you and are not obliged in any way to say nice things about your work is so very, very validating, even if it’s not the response you were hoping for.
Basically, the book is too long (as I suspected! Any of my old English teachers reading this I’m sure will be nodding their heads) and they weren’t entirely sure what genre it fitted into (again, this is something deliberate on my part, in an attempt to be original I’ve placed myself on the spectrum between two genres so I’m not sure what to do about this). Their advice to me was to think about what published authors out there I would consider myself similar to (ie: who would I be placed next to in the bookshop?), look at how those authors market themselves and redraft my submission along those lines. The synopsis, despite the blood, sweat and tears I had shed over it, also needed work. But all in all it was very encouraging and there was a great deal to think about, so I put my head down again for another edit.
I actually drafted a post around this time called “my novel needs to go to weight watchers” because it certainly needs to shift some excess flab! I managed to trim about 5000 words during this edit but I still need to do more. Having read it again closely I can see where the gaps are. I can see where my attention has wandered and where I have gone off on tangents. I need to trim all that back and make it tighter.
|A cup of tea and an Anzac biscuit sometimes help|
This is not easy work, I have to say. I had fantasies of how much fun it would be to work on my book full time. I had dreamed of it for so long. And it is fun. I wake up every day grateful to be able to do it and I never take it for granted. But it’s far less glamorous and much, much more demanding than I thought. I have never worked so hard in my life. And it’s not just the writing and re-writing and editing that’s tough. Putting yourself out there is tough. Self promotion is tough. Getting enough nerve to press “send” on an email to another agent is tough. Fighting your demons, who appear every time you sit down at your laptop, is tough.
Thank goodness for The War of Art. It has seriously been my saving grace for the last couple of months. I highly recommend reading it – it is relevant in so many ways, no matter what your goals are!
The hours melt away when I work though. Sometimes I look at the clock and realise I forgot to have lunch and Tom will be home soon and I have no idea where the day has gone, only that I did yoga, went for a run and then got down to work. But on other days it’s like pulling teeth and I wonder why on earth I’m doing this. Nights where Tom comes home from work to find the house spotless, an elaborate dinner cooking and home-made bread and anzac biscuits cooling on the counter, he knows I didn’t have a very good day, writing wise. Nights where he comes home and it’s veggie burgers, beans on toast or instant miso soup for dinner, he knows it’s been a really, really good day!
But with all the ups and downs, I still feel very excited every time I open up the latest version and dive in. Despite everything, I am very proud of it. I hope it will find a home soon.
Tom seems to think long distance running is a procrastination tool for me – only to some degree, I argue. It keeps me fit and sane as well! Since doing the half last month I have cut back to smaller runs a few times a week, with intervals thrown in for variety. Yoga has been a big part of my routine lately too, as I spoke about in this post. I have another half marathon in October, but I’m not sure what else I will do between now and then. I enter competitions a lot – it’s my thing! – and even though perhaps I’ve had my fair share of wins this year (I did win the place in the Rock and Roll half, and the lucky door prize at the Yakult Little Book of Fitness launch last week!) I’m still hopeful one might come through. You never know!
In the meantime I am wearing in my new running shoes which Sports Direct very kindly sent me:
Oh, these are like slippers….but supportive slippers! I went with Asics Gel Nimbus 13 which I read about in Runner’s World as an excellent all rounder for heel strikers (I haven’t yet cured myself of that) and great for long distances. Many of the positive reviews were from marathon runners, so I was sold! So far I’ve been wearing them in with 5ks and interval training (strides, etc) and I appreciate now how worn out the cushioning was on my old pair, that I had worn for every race (including the marathon!) since last year! The Nimbus's are proving to be an excellent shoe so far, very supportive and comfortable. As I am a large footed girl, I got a men’s size 9 which is the perfect size for me….the same size as my husband, I hasten to add! At least I can wear his shoes in an emergency...but he doesn't wear mine ;)
Seeing cool things
|Tower Bridge, 8am.|
I spent most of last week in London. I miss living there sometimes. I went to some launches, networked and hobnobbed, and ran (well, walked!) a mile with Jamie Oliver (!!); got my hair cut for the first time since December; stayed with my friend Lisa and cooked her dinner; saw some lovely friends and my auntie; went to the theatre; walked everywhere; browsed through shops; sat in cafes and wrote and people watched. And heard some interesting conversations! A man in a suit at Marble Arch tube station, talking to another man in a suit: "now I know Emma feels a lot of gratitude for what we've done and I'm not saying we should exploit that, but..." (didn't hear the rest of it! Poor Emma!)
|Jamie Oliver and Victoria Pendleton launching Samsung's Hope Relay|
|Coffee while in line for day tickets at the National Theatre|
|Leicester Square/Piccadilly all decked out for the Jubilee|
|Thursday: a day of theatre|
|Loot from the Japan Centre in Piccadilly, one of my favourite places|
|Sourdough toast and honey at St John Bread & Wine|
But I also really love living out here, in the country. The move out here has proved to be a very, very good thing. We live quite close to Oxford and Henley-on-Thames, so we're always popping somewhere on the weekend for a day trip. I particularly loved our Henley visit a while ago where we walked along the river watching people row, and then went and found Friar Park (George Harrison's house):
|The gates at Friar Park|
|Me on the bridge|
|The front door of a local bookshop|
Cooking yummy things
I’m always thinking about food. It’s why I have to keep up the whole running and yoga thing ;)
|Hazelnut and cinnamon meringues|
|Mushroom and kale lasagne|
|Jersey Royal, asparagus, pea and toasted hazelnut salad|
|Leek, courgette and butter bean soup (with crumpets)|
|Smoothie in a bowl!|
Reading has always been my escape. These have been some of my favourites over the past few months:
I loved hearing your favourite books of last year in the comments on this post and it got me on to some new authors I would never have tried otherwise! Please do share if you’ve read anything really good lately, I always love getting another book recommendation!
Thinking too much
I think I’m guilty of this no matter what else I’ve got going on in my life! That’s why running is so good – it gets me out of the house and into the fresh air for long periods of time to physically exhaust the body in the hope that my mind will follow suit. Yoga is also excellent, but I need to work on the whole quietening the mind thing with that too. Maybe I need to work on quietening the mind full stop.
The last few months have been a huge learning curve, with lots of ups and downs fairly evenly spread. I’m learning a lot about how to structure my time better, how I work best, at what times of the day I am most productive and efficient, and keeping myself motivated with all my various goals. It’s been a bit of a wake up call really, to realise that the buck now well and truly stops with me in every area of my life. I know without a doubt that this is what I want to do – I just have to keep proving it.
Being a freelancer has taught me a great deal about the importance of good communication, having high standards, getting everything (and I mean everything!) in writing, and standing up for myself when I need to (which still makes me very uncomfortable, I hate confrontation!). I’m learning to be more selective, to put my energy into my strengths and less into things that drain my energy. I don't get it right every time but I’m getting there.
I’m trying to keep the freaking out and “oh my God I can’t do this” days to a minimum but I know I can be very hard on myself, always expecting more. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of how far I’ve come over the past seven years. In many ways I am still piecing it all together and am still unravelling some of the knots. Because discovering who you are, what you want to do with your life and what matters most to you is, I have found, a lifelong journey. It never ends. But with a good attitude you can usually turn the bad days around so they're not so bad after all – in fact the bad days are often what make the good days so good. If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain, as they say.
And I do want that rainbow. So I'll keep going, until I'm drenched to my skin.
Thanks for being here and for reading xx