I have never been very good at sport. Actually, to be completely accurate, I have never been any good at sport.
In his youth, my father was not only a good runner, but a talented footballer too. The one and only time I ever put my foot to soccer, I managed to catch a stray ball with my stomach. Being winded is no laughing matter, though I remember a few less than straight faces feigning concern as I wheezed my I’m-fine speech.
I longed to emulate my mother by being chosen for the school netball team. I was chosen for the school netball team. No one else volunteered to be goalkeeper. Goalkeeper was the only position the teacher would let me play because: a) I was taller than all the other twelve year olds: b) the goalkeeper is confined to a very small part of the court: c) waving your arms about to prevent the ball going through the net rarely involves actually having to catch the ball.
Gymnastics. How I would have loved to cartwheel and back-flip and trampoline like my sister! She won medals for it. I once stayed to after school gymnastics club. Once. Apparently, there are health and safety issues surrounding a trampoliner who gets their head caught between the elastic thingies that tie the bouncy-trampoline-sheet to the frame. (Note my lack of technical vocabulary when it comes to all things gymnasticy-trampoliney related; that’s what happens when you’re only allowed to attend one session.)
Something else I have never been any good at is judging distance. Add that to my never-been-any-good-at-sport and my willingness (once upon a time) to volunteer and surely the word disaster should have come to mind? Fifteen hundred metres is rather a long way to run for someone who has difficulty walking even a short distance without tripping over their own feet. But you have to understand; my school needed the points if it were to stand any chance of winning the County Inter-school Sports Championship. And no other schools had any competitors in the over 16 category. My fellow pride-in-our-school volunteer agreed we should run side-by-side. After all, we reasoned, with no other schools entering runners in that category, we were guaranteed the glory of gaining both first and second place points, ergo no need to try and beat each other. And side by side, united, is how we trained together. Twice. A couple of hundred metres each time.
I didn’t know it was called ‘being lapped’. The last eight minutes or so of my lonely race (it transpired that my fellow pride-in-our-school volunteer/lapper just couldn’t maintain my tortoise-like trot) were gruelling, particularly to the shouts of: ‘Give up!’ (Several vociferous spectators exercised their whistling and jeering skills the day of that particular Championship.) Undaunted, I staggered over the finish line, lungs fit to burst, legs threatening never to hold me upright again, and fell into my father’s arms. Mum helped him hold me up. They, at least, were proud of me.
So, by putting one foot after the other after the other after the other, I ran my race and secured second place points for my school. Would it have won the Championship without me? Who knows. But what I do know is that I will never run fifteen hundred metres again. Ever.
I’ve read a couple of things recently which have put me in mind of that seventeen year old me, running a race I hadn’t realised would be so long or so hard. When I began to write my first novel, I didn’t expect that it would take me more than three years to complete, nor that, three years on from completion, less than half a dozen pairs of eyes would have read it. Perhaps that will never change. As I finish the last edits on my most recent novel (my third), I am preparing to turn further research and notes into a fourth, whilst plots and characters for future stories jostle for my attention, hoping their turn will be next. My novel, ‘Strong as Death’, which I published as an ebook on Amazon in February this year, has now been downloaded in six different countries. I am beginning to receive (so far positive) reviews from readers I have never met. Will my writing ever earn me an income that means I can give up the day job? Who knows? But what I do know is that, having started this writing ‘race’, lapped as I may be by the more talented, the more successful, discouraged as I no doubt will be by the rejections, the unfavourable reviews that may come my way, this writing marathon is one I have no desire to quit. And, unlike my sporting endeavours, the more I write, the more I fall in love with the magic of the exhaustion, the frustration, the slog and the discipline that comes with the transforming of worlds and characters that only I know about, that could only ever come from my imagination, into stories that strangers choose to lose themselves in. To anyone who is running in their own writing marathon, keep going, even when the only voices you can hear are those that shout: ‘Give up!’ Keeping on keeping on is worth every story you tell, one word after another after another after another …