Saturday, 5 December 2015

Giving your life value

Reading: Haunted by James Herbert
Listening to: "Hello" by Adele
Outside: Gusty gales!

Hi, kids!

So I'm doing my best to keep from biting my nails down to the quick. Also there's a lot of hand-wringing. As I wait for a literary agent's response to my newest-newest novel revision, I'm taking a tiny break. This may or may not be wise. In short, I'm a writer and I'm in between projects.

I don't even like to call them projects, any more than you can call rearing a child a "project." A child, or any painstaking creation of the heart, is not a project at all. It is blood, sweat and tears. It's worry and sleepless nights and a keen, sharpened sense of meaning. So, I'm in between heart-twisting loves. Yes.

So I need lots and lots of distractions. Lots of them. ALL OF THEM.

I've discovered wine can only take you so far. And you can only clean the house so much.

So I've gone ahead and rummaged through my shelves and plunged into another book, a memoir this time - reading is, after all, as important as writing.

I've finished reading my friend and fellow writer's book, At the Coalface by Joan Hart with Veronica Clark. I write this not only as a reader, but as a writer. I read it from two different vantage points and, needless to say, I was swept away.

When I first met Joan Hart, it was in a very small community center in the middle of Doncaster town center on a September evening several years ago. She was already seated at the table of Tim Lee's newly-formed Doncaster Writers' Group. It was the very first meeting of the group, one that has changed over the years but still remains strong as ever, even if some members can't attend meetings as often as she used to (cough, cough, ahem). I remembered being taken aback - around this square table was such a vast age range. Our youngest member was still an adolescent, around twelve, and our oldest was nearly eighty. This latter was Joan. I couldn't believe it. But there they were, all the same: writers, poets, novelists. They were my kindred spirits, and I knew I had found my home.

Over the span of years, I've gotten to know Joan. Bossy Boots. Joan who always has something to say. Joan who likes her whiskey just as much as I like my wine. A woman of the people, and someone who loves listening as much as she loves talking. Joan who always has a cracker of a story to tell, and who writes with the honest hand of someone who has been there. Never afraid to explore her imagination. A woman who raises a glass to a special man each year on December 18th. A woman who knows who she is, who squares her shoulders with a certain confidence that I'm still working on.

Years ago, she handed me the first pages of her memoir, single-spaced and fragile, her painstaking work of the heart. She wanted my help with it - any comments would be appreciated. I read it and gave her my notes.

And then I got pregnant - Joan was the first to guess, even before I knew - and as I waddled my way through those last weeks before Jellybean entered the world, a woman named Veronica got in touch with me. Could she visit our writers' group? Veronica Clark, accomplished and published writer, joined Doncaster Writers' Group and became a truly organic connection. Veronica got to know Joan, and was as charmed by her as I was - as all of us were.

Two weeks ago, I opened those very same pages, published as a beautiful book by HarperCollins. On Waterstones bestseller list for an unbelievable amount of time, At the Coalface is and will always be an important book, not only because of its story of deeply personal impact during such a turbulent time in England's past, but also because of its heart. And that is Joan herself.

I loved and respected Joan to begin with. But after At the Coalface I know the vastness of her character: Joan as a friend, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a nurse and midwife and a woman ahead of her time; Joan who is 100% fearless. A hero. She's seen tragedy up close countless times and keeps going, rolling up her sleeves to help. It's that simple. Joan, if you're reading this, know this - I will never look at you the same way again.

Thank you for your memoir, Joanie. And thank you, Veronica, for bringing it all together and into the world.

So, Loyal Reader, I'm asking you today - read At the Coalface. It might do to you what it did to me: make you laugh, cry and very nearly miss your train stop several times. I'm so glad this book is in the world. And Joan. She makes the world a better place.

And, whatever you do, Loyal Reader, please do this: give your life value. You never know how long or short our time on this earth will be, and we absolutely must make it worth it. So find that thing that is so hard to do. Your heart-twisting love. Your song, your poem, your touch or your listening could make all the difference to someone. Be fearless and confident, even when your guts are saying otherwise - you never know whose life you will save.

Happy Saturday, everyone.

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