Monday, 27 July 2015

that time I got lost in the Austrian Alps

When I was 14 the most ambitious school trip our teachers had ever organised was organised. No more Thwaite Mill! Goodbye Eden Camp! We were off ABROAD. To AUSTRIA. To SKI. If we had a spare £400. 

My family didn't, but you could pay in installments, and my Dad, who I didn't live with, was keen for me to experience new things so he proudly passed £50 a month to me until the trip was paid for. My mum footed the bill for a hired ski suit reminiscent of my early 90s shell suit, but with goggles and a beanie on top. I was kitted out and mega excited.

Thing is, I have no idea why. It was like I'd had a personality transplant. The buzz about 'going to Austria' was phenomenal, I got so wrapped up in it all I didn't stop to think about how utterly rubbish I was at any physical activity and how unsure I was of my body at that age. The social aspect of the trip was far more important. What clothes we'd take for the evening activities. Who was sharing with who. Making mix tapes for the 24 hour coach journey.

So yeah turns out I was a terrible skier. I had been the toddler who took ages to walk, the ten year old who couldn't climb out of the swimming pool without being hoisted, the last person in my year to learn to swim, the champion of the 'sausage roll' in gymnastics class (lay on your side, roll as gracefully as possible along a smelly mat). All this historical evidence! Along with that, all my old body fears resurfaced. I was an overweight child but I'd recently lost my 'puppy fat' from a mix of puberty, five salads a week and an unhealthy interest in going for a poo. But it didn't matter that I was a size 10 now, I couldn't – or wouldn't let myself – ski.  

I could snow plough very well though. For the uninitiated, this involves pointing the front of your skis together and going as slow as a milk float. Really, it's a braking manoeuvre. But it took me three days to master that – before then, on any kind of a gradient, I was zooming past the rest of my group and our instructor Markus (pink ski suit, all the girls fancied him in the way fourteen year old girls fancy anything), hearing their distant cries of "Snow plough, Teresa!" until I'd just give up and throw myself on the ground to stop. 

I was a constant source of worry for Markus. He had to accompany me on the ski lift every time we used it (I'd fallen off several times) but things really got tricky for him around day 4 when I went missing.

Yes, that's right: MISSING. 

We'd all finished skiing for the day (aka best time of the day) and were making our way, on our skis, on snow, back to the Lodge. I was, as always, at the back of the group but I knew the route we were taking, until I fell over (not uncommon), disorientating me a bit and making me miss a turning. Two of my classmates stopped to help me up, which was nice, and I thanked them and confidently pointed ahead to the direction we needed to keep going in.

Turns out I was wrong, and as we skied down on an unfamiliar slope, we couldn't see anyone from our group, nor the pink of Markus' ski suit. We'd been told explicitly that if we ever found ourselves alone without an instructor we had to get off the snow as soon as possible - not for our safety, but for insurance purposes - so we found a road where we could de-ski and walk back up the hill, alongside the slope we'd skied down. 

We knew the name of the place we were staying and managed to ask a passerby for directions. Soon we recognised we were in the right neighbourhood. Phew. It wasn’t long until we were turning the corner of the road where the Lodge was, to see our classmates cheering on the balcony as we came into view (second best moment of the holiday).

We'd probably only been gone an hour - but the nervousness about what the teachers would say was immense. But in fact, on our walk towards our lodge they came out to greet us and almost fell on us with happiness – clearly they were imagining the shock newspaper headlines. There was also a small search party out looking for us, which consisted of Markus and our passports.

Some of my friends actually cried at the end of the trip when our coach revved up to take us home (first best moment of the holiday) but all I can remember is the relief.

If I could go back in time to my fourteen year old self, I'd love to tell her not to worry about any of it and trust herself, and her body, a little more. Something to remind yourself (well myself for sure) at any age, I think.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

End of Lost at Sea

... or at least a pause from it.

I was blogging about my Europe trip to have something good and useful to blog about . When I started it I had a pitch out at Mslexia to write a series of blogs for their website about my teenage diary keeping. I thought if I wrote something relevant here it would maybe go in my favour if they happened to look me up to see if I was worth a punt.

Anyways - it didn't work out - Mslexia didn't go for the blog series I pitched - and also I don't feel that the Lost at Sea blogs are doing much for me or for you - so I'm shelving that for the time being.

I miss blogging so will be back soon, with something - hm - I want to say excellent - it might just be sorta ok - but that's ok - it just won't be about That Europe Trip.

I might pursue the teenage diary idea I had here - alongside usual general (excellent) blogging. Might might might.

- Hope things are well with you -

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 4

Another video blog about my solo trip to Europe when I was 20 years old, reading from my diary at the time.  Previous instalment here.

It's Day 2, I'm in Amsterdam, will I give in and have a KFC? I  think we know the answer.


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 3

So I'm renaming these blogs about my trip to Europe 'Lost at Sea', even though no actual crossing of water took place. Well, it did, but I flew over it. The plane flew over it. I travelled overland by train the rest of the 4 weeks. 'Lost at Sea' is the writing prompt that got me remembering and writing about this trip a few weeks ago, 14 years on from taking it, and there's a reason for that, a reason those 3 words triggered something, but I'll save that for another post.  

To read the previous installment, click here. I have just arrived in Amsterdam, my first destination. 
I kept a diary while I was away - here I am reading the first entry.


Friday, 24 April 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 2

This is the story - or the bits of the story, the put together recollections - of a trip across Europe I took in July 2001. I was 20, naive, resourceful, terrified, full of hope and travelling alone. You can read part one here.

I'd never been on a plane before. Growing up, our holidays were always to near-ish seaside towns never more than 90 minutes drive away - Skegness, Mablethorpe, Bridlington – and we didn’t have a car so we’d be dropped off by a relative who’d come back for us the following Saturday. There’d be me, my mum, my Nana, my cousin, a couple of aunties, and we’d stay in a flat for a week and have late 80s / early 90s fun (on the beach with our buckets and spades, bingo, slot machines, talent competitions…) Different trips and journeys to this one. 

Two things stand out about this going-on-a-plane thing. One, I was at an actual airport – a big and exciting place I’d only imagined until now - and I was at the bit where I had to be x-rayed (customs? I still don’t feel at one with the terminology). Anyways, the Security person, officer – she was female, and she asked if anyone could have put something in my bag without my knowledge. I still had it on my back – my huge big rucksack bought a month or so before by my best friends in support of my journey. They sewed my name on it too, ‘Tree’ (short for Teresa) next to a lovely big tree, rooted the ground (ironically) ‘So you don’t forget who you are’. They may not have said that. It just feels like they did.

So could anyone have put something in this massive bag without me realising?

I glanced back at it and said, ‘Um, well, I’ve been wearing it, so I can't really tell, so yeah, someone could have put something in there.’ It just seemed best to be honest about it.

Security officer customs lady sighed. ‘OK, I’m going to ask you again. Is there any chance someone could have put something in your bag without you knowing about it?’

I scrunched my face up. ‘Um…'

She gave me a look. Eyebrows as high as they could go.

I was getting it now. I had to say NO. So I said, ‘No?’

She nodded and let me through.

The second standout memory of my first-time-going-on-a-plane experience came as we took off. This was the moment where I suddenly realised what I was doing. As we speeded up along the runway, going faster than I had ever gone before, at that miraculous moment of taking off, of soaring, I filled with tears, and for the first time I asked myself why I wasn’t doing this with a friend. But it was too late. I was on my way to Amsterdam, on my own as I had insisted I wanted to be, with no booked accommodation, just a rough route I wanted to take, and a plan that I’d be in the south of France about a week and a half later.

… more soon …

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 1

When I was 20, I spent a month travelling across Europe on my own. Last week I started writing about it, responding to a writing prompt "Lost at Sea".  The whole trip was a bit of a mixed experience, and my expectations were so out of sync with the reality. So looking back on it is interesting, and maybe useful. I'll share some of the reflections here over the next few weeks. 

At 20 I was naive enough to tell people I was going ‘to find myself’. Luckily I had enough self awareness to deliver that phrase with sarcasm and knowing, but I did believe it on some level. I believed I would have a deep and wonderful experience. That I would meet interesting people, eat good food, drink wine in street cafes, speak French, take deep breaths on mountains, not care if I missed a train, not plan too much, be free and easy and only decide where I’d go next on a whim. I did all of those things. But what I didn’t have was peace as I did them, and so I didn’t have a deep and wonderful experience – I was sometimes lonely, even when I was with people; and I was sometimes afraid, even when I was safe.

I wasn’t scared of anything external, not really. I didn’t think anything bad would happen to me, like being mugged or kidnapped (and it didn’t) and before I went if anyone questioned my judgement (on her own, a young girl, no mobile phone, hasn’t booked her accommodation, in unknown places, etc.) I’d say ‘bad things can happen anywhere,’ and feel extra mature about my outlook. I remember a few people (Mum, Nana, Grandma etc.) asking with worried brows, ‘But can’t you get anyone to go with you?’ I was aghast – of course I could – if that was what I wanted, but I didn’t. I’d had this idea, I’d bought a couple of guidebooks, a return flight to Amsterdam, a train pass, an incredibly heavy timetable showing details of ALL trains in Europe that summer, and I went.

(... more soon...)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

good rejection

Had a lovely rejection from Granta Magazine. I've even been bragging about it, using it as an anecdote: "Yeah, got rejected by Granta..." etc. Badge of honour. I knew it was a long shot sending something to them, so when they replied with - 

"Thank you for submitting [story title] to our magazine. We read it with interest and enjoyed it, but ultimately decided that it was not right for our pages. Please keep us in mind for your future projects."

- I was pretty happy. I felt like one of those gameshow contestants who hasn't won but they've had a lovely day out. 

It was nice for them to say I should keep them in mind for future projects. It means sub again, right?

Because about a year ago, I sent something else to different magazine, who also rejected the story but also in a lovely way:  

"While this particular submission isn't quite what we're looking for, we were very impressed by your writing. We hope you will feel encouraged by this short note and send something else in the near future. We look forward to reading more."

I was really heartened by that. I thought - ooh, they're eager. I'll strike while the iron's hot! 10 days later I sent them something else. Alas, twas too soon. They didn't want it, and they asked me to leave it at least a month next time. I felt less like a gameshow contestant and more like someone who's been dumped and has been asked to give the other person space. 

So I'll wait a respectable amount of time before trying Granta again. Don't want to come on too strong.

Monday, 16 February 2015

a month without Facebook

This isn't one of those gloating posts about how improved life is without Facebook. I hope. If it is, tell me - I'll delete it.

But because this is my blog and I write about myself here (big head) I can tell you that having a break from Facebook has been a key ingredient in - but not the whole picture of - a really productive month or so.

I like FB but, as I said before, "I am also a bugger for getting lost in it and that can make me feel a bit lost from myself."

Have any of you ever 'deactivated' your Facebook? I have, several times (sometimes for years at a time) so I was ready for what FB would do. Once you click that button to leave, it does its best to make you stay by showing photographs of you having a great time with various people on your friends list. It tells you these people will miss you. It names them. Siobhan will miss you. Ian will miss you. etc. Only a lot of the photos it showed me this time were with people I haven't interacted with in ages, so it wasn't that effective. FB needs to update this algorithm (that's the first time I've ever used the word 'algorithm' - no idea if it's right). I still would have deactivated, but I would have liked in that moment of going to have paused and reflected, with sadness, 'Yes, Ashley WILL miss me.'

For me, life without FB is easy. For something that can take up hours of my week (or hours of a day, even), it actually leaves no hole. Sure, my friends will be having funny conversations without me, and after a night out I don't get the 'Oh god let's see the photos/videos' moment (or maybe that's a positive), but really - I find it's what-you-don't-know-you-don't-miss. I might reactivate at some point. I probably will.

But this Facebook-less month has succeeded in making me feel more connected. I've written more, read more, and made more story submissions than I ever have in a month. Looking back at my submitted stories records for the past year, I averaged 1-2 submissions a month. But this January I made 5 submissions, and have made another 2 so far in February. A few of those were new stories, a few were rejects which have been edited and polished, and one was a pitch for a commission for a blog residency at a magazine I love. I sent work to an oh-so optimistic place, and some to a new magazine I discovered and really really like

And I wrote something for radio, for the BBC Opening Lines. I also researched the kind of stories they go for, and found this gem from Claire Fuller. Because my time online hasn't been dominated by looking at social-media, I've had the impetus to follow links to short stories to read with my morning coffee, instead of FB news feeds. I'm just making my way through the 6 stories which are available to read online from The Sunday Times Short Story Award. So far, The Referees by Joseph O'Neill is my favourite, but I also really liked The Ways by Colin Barrett. 

I've been reminded how useful, and sobering, and inspiring, it is to read the stories that are winning the big prizes. This year's Costa Short Story Award winner, Fishskin, Hareskin, by Zoe Gilbert, is just amazing. 

But my increased productivity hasn't just been down to no Facebookin. I'm pretty sure that the news I had at the start of year about my shortlisting in the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize (the results were announced at the weekend- I was awarded a 'Highly Commended' prize), and the longlisting at Bare Fiction, have been useful pushes / prompts / confidence nudgers.

And then there was just the sense I had that I wanted to get some stuff done. So stuff is getting done. Hope your stuff is too.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Faces / close but / diaries

The lovely people at Magic Oxygen have made a gallery of all their shortlisted writers' faces. See that photo of me there on the right, with the rather red lips? Well they've gone kind of BLACK in the version in the gallery. I used to wear black lipstick - or was it dark blue - when I was fifteen and a 'Sweaty' - that meant I listened to Nirvana instead of dance music. The gallery also has info about the other 19 writers I'm shortlisted with, and it's nice to be amongst such a fine bunch. Have a look here.

I entered Bare Fiction's Flash Prize a few months ago, didn't get on the shortlist and had already enjoyed marking an X next to it in my submission diary (photo of that in last post). But I had an email yesterday to say I did make it onto the longlist of 30 out of 461. One of those 'close but no cigar' moments, which bring a mix of feelings. Ultimately good ones, though.

On my days off I've been enjoying a bit of time with my teenage diaries - here we are together.

For ages I've been meaning to get them into some kind of chronological order, so now each one (there are over 70) has a small white sticker on the front saying when the diary started and ended. I rediscovered some stories I wrote back then too -  horrible stories - mostly about love. Two characters, Megan and Jake, plague nearly everything with their smug creative relationship. Jake is always playing the piano and Megan is always off somewhere writing poetry.

Although I'm a writer and my other half is a musician I absolutely do not accept that I have somehow forced a life path identical to the way I thought it would be when I was 14. No. No. No.

Oh crap.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Shortlisted, deactivated

New Year's Eve, daytime. I say to Mario:
"This is the first year since I started sending writing out that I haven't had anything published or shortlisted. But that's ok. I mean, it's how it works. Ups and downs. Ebbs and flows."

CUT TO: New Year's Day, morning. I open my emails, this from Magic Oxygen Literary Prize:
"Dear Teresa, Your story 'Waking', has made it through to our shortlist of ten..."

GET THIS: The email was sent at 11.59am, in the very last minute of 2014. Funny, huh?

Goes without saying I'm mega happy about this. A great end to one year and a boost of a start to the new one. It's a story that started out as a flash a few years ago, then took on a new life and more words and various edits, has been sent to quite a few publications / prizes and got nowhere...

Here is a photo of my Rejection Section 2014

It's a bit blurred but I can tell you the word 'Waking' appears 4 times, so that's how many times it went out last year.

Note all those crosses. When I hear (or don't hear) a piece of work hasn't made it, I have to say I enjoy making those little crosses, they're cathartic. It's like the end of hope and the start of hope all at once.

So, fourth time lucky (probably double that if I checked how many times I subbed it in previous years). That thing has happened where a particular reader / judge has read it, and it's risen to the top of a big pile (800 entries). It might even now win a prize. I won't know if it has until mid-February, but it will be published in an anthology, and just being in the last ten is a wonderful feeling. I will, of course, keep you posted.

I have also deactivated Facebook ('What, all of it?!' a friend quipped when I announced this to him a few days ago.) No, just my account, as I have done before, when the fug of Facebook gets too much and I need a good soul clean. I am a fan of Facebook, I love and appreciate many of the people I talk to on there but I am also a bugger for getting lost in it and that can make me feel a bit lost from myself.

So I've done a bit more Tweeting in the past few days, but I've also written a lot more, and read a lot more, and felt more peaceful. GOOD.

No big end of year post, but I will say 2014 was the happiest year I've had in a while, maybe because I got a fringe cut in my hair ('bangs' in some parts of the world). Myself and my fringe wish you nowt but good stuff for the year ahead.