Sun, Sea, Sand and……a Notepad?

With my final draft of A Fire Within completed, a sense of serenity washing over me, and the first glimmers of sunshine bathing the normally sodden landscape of Britain, I decided to take a day to celebrate with a couple of beers in my garden, looking out over the sun-kissed vistas. Budweiser in hand, cool and crisp with welcome condensation, I was hit with waves of nostalgia, pulling me back to where my writing journey began. Not quite to the dawn of inception, because that was way back in the abyss of school years, sitting bored in lessons, mind wandering in my own world. No, rather it invoked those memories of when I first decided to put substance to my ideas. Over twelve years ago. Back when university was high in my priorities, but my story always refusing to leave the forefront of my thoughts.


I will always remember that day, for on that day I undertook a monumental task that would overshadow the rest of my life. In that shadow, studies, work, and sometimes even a personal life, struggled to make it in to the light. Almost everything I did was viewed within the perception of my writing. New acquaintances became inspiration for characters, new jobs became inspiration for ideas, experiences were inspiration for events. While it enveloped my whole life, it was always a joy to have a part of my mind storing these details and almost subconsciously working them in to my narrative. It was one day that had set the tone for my whole life.


The day started off as most others in University life did. I was hangover. Not just the normal hangover after a few casual beers with your mates. No, this was the apocalypse of hangovers. This was the inevitable feeling of death after the £10 all-inclusive drink deal in your local club, followed by several bottles of cheap lager consumed through the diabolical construct of a beer bong at someone’s flat who you knew only through those six degrees of separation. This was the type of hangover that left you questioning the very meaning of life. It also happened to be a day, very much like the day where I find myself writing this little memoir, where the sun was gracing the UK with its first, and probably last, appearance of the year. A gentle rap at my door that reverberated through my mind like the sound of a thousand gongs drew me from my cesspit of alcohol fumes in to the blinding hallway of my shared house. Once the dizzying haze of reality had shifted, I was greeted by the welcome invitation to the beach. I was very lucky in that I went to a University that was just over a mile away from some of the most gorgeous beaches in Europe. A quick look at the clock confirmed that I had lectures in an hour. A quick look at the seductive blue sky confirmed that I would not be going to them. I knew in my heart that my lecturers would understand. How could they not on a day such as this?


After a quick shower had brought back those vague memories of what it would be like to be human, and once I had raided the fridge for the half a crate of Budweisers I knew were still somehow lingering, I packed a bag ready. In went the usual. Towel, sun lotion, book, water, paracetamol. Then, in went something unusual. A notepad and pen. To this day I can’t recall why I threw them in. Maybe, in my still undoubtedly drunk state (for those of you who have suffered both inebriation and hangover at the same time, you know how confusing even the most menial tasks can become) I had some lingering thought I was actually going to my lectures. Maybe it was just the guilt of missing lectures foolhardily convincing me that I would do some work at the beach. Whatever caused it, that one instant of absent minded bag packing was the match that set my world alight.


And off we set. An abundance of Vitamin D fuelling our euphoria. We parked up, walked to the beach, and set up camp. After lathering my body in enough sun lotion to protect my paperwhite skin from a supernova and digging a beer trough next to me to keep my bottles cool, I lay back and basked in the mediocre heat that us Britons so love. Eyes closed, I listened to the sound of waves lapping at the sands, the hum of indistinguishable chatter, the splashing of frolicking in the too-cold sea. However, with me, the idea of sunbathing is so much more appealing in theory than it is in practice. I love the heat. I love the beach. But my over-active imagination plagues me with boredom when left unoccupied for too long. I dug through my backpack looking for my book. I found it, although it was not the book I had hoped to have packed. Instead of The Subtle Knife, I pulled out some iteration of a book on the Sociology of Law. It was a similar size to my copy of The Subtle Knife, but it was not something that would cure the rampage of my restless mind. I remember looking at it for quite a while. Not out of any intention to read it, but with absolute disgust towards it for ruining my day. I cursed, quite audibly, and my friends looked over with concern that some cataclysmic event had just occurred. For me, it had. Back in my bag went the book. Out came the notepad and paper.


Before I continue, let me just say that before this I had no intention of writing my book. I loved the idea of creating my own world and generating these events that would evolve in to something quite epic within the confines of my own subconscious fortress. I assumed it was something everyone did. Maybe not quite as much as me, but it had been my way of coping with boredom. School had always bored me because it never challenged me. University had been very much the same, no doubt because I chose my subject poorly. My story of Heaven and Hell, and everything in between, was just something to bide the time, keep me occupied when little else did. The people who write novels are geniuses. I learn about their works all through my life. These were people that I was taught about in school. To come up with stories, worlds, and characters in such a way that they had, and then transfer those ideas so poetically to page, was a talent that I believed I could never emulate. I loved stories. I loved reading them. But never did I think I could write one. So, when I started jotting down the notes, it came as a bit of a shock to me. I had been planning it all for so long that it all came flooding out. Characters were given a physical presence, even if it were only in the form of words, and I began to thread them throughout a story.


The problem was, there was too much. These ideas had been nurtured for years before this day, and once the floodgate was opened it was hard to stem the flow. In my immaturity, I wanted to get all these ideas out immediately, lest I forget something important. Of course, I wouldn’t. How could I when they were so ingrained in my mind. After almost an hour of mindless note writing, without form nor reason, I was struggling to make head and tail of how it all would fit together. I was new to this, and it didn’t exactly come easy at first. I guess this is down to one of my own character failings. As well as my overactive imagination, I am also impatient. I don’t do meandering. Once I see something that needs to be done, it must be done there and then. Obviously, this does not work with writing, especially when the world and story is as vast as what I had created. The only way to mitigate this internal chaos was to create a foundation to work from; a platform that would kick the story off. You know that feeling you get, when you are starting of a piece of work, be it an essay, blog, story, article, whatever, where you sit and stare at the screen for ages trying to think of that first sentence. The words never seem to come. Everything you think of seems inadequate.


While trying to conjure an appropriate starting point for my novel, I was taking in the world around me, looking in to space while my thoughts tripped over each other and clashed. I couldn’t say I was necessarily looking for inspiration because at no point did I think inspiration could be conjured on a beach full of slightly (and some not so slightly) inebriated students who had ditched their lectures to frolic in the sun. Not too far from me were a group who were cocooned by their precariously built wind-breaker, indulging in the juvenile act of making sandcastles. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a criticism. Even to this day there is nothing quite like the childish endeavour of going to the beach with friends and family and competing the art of sandcastle construction. It is a precious art that few can master. The reason I say “juvenile” is because they were the only ones I could see in my field of vision who were not merely sunbathing, playing football, or Frisbee, or cricket, or any other such activity, and were indulging in a gleeful joy over such an arduous task. And to my shock, these students had mastered the art of sandcastles. Their creations were vast fortresses, with moats, ramparts, turrets, and adjoining buildings. They had built a central castle, surrounded by defensive spires. It genuinely was impressive. It was quite sad when it got decimated by a nearby group playing cricket. A wildly hit ball, a burly guy with his eye only on the prize, a windbreaker that stood no chance of withstanding his weight. Through it he crashed, tumbling over the hapless builders and through the majestic construct of their castle. That moment of harmless joy destroyed by the force of a single-minded entity.


There it was. There was my beginning. Out of nowhere I had come up with a starting point. Or, to be more precise, a drunken cricketer and some unaware sand-labourers helped me create a beginning to my novel. Thinking back, it is crazy that something that happened out of sheer chance helped create the first major event of my novel. A happy celebration destroyed by a large presence that could not be stemmed. For two more hours I worked on that beginning. Layer by layer I built a plan for the first few chapters of the story I wanted to write. At the beginning of the day there was no intention to ever write a book, even though it was something I had always wanted to be able to do. By the end of the day, I had the beginnings of a plan. But, more importantly, I had this newfound and viciously burning intent. I got home from the beach, showered, went for another night out (not quite as crazy as the previous night), and got home wondering if this burning passion to bring my story to life would continue. I woke up the next morning, to wind and rain battering against my window, and I continued. I spent the whole day writing character profiles, planning those first initial chapters, linking the characters in an intricate web in a way I had never done before.


I will always remember every aspect of that day for it was the birth of my literary journey. Awakened within me, on that one bright, carefree afternoon, was a passion and that has only become more powerful as the years have progressed. It was not long after that day, when I wasn’t fully prepared, that I began writing my story. It was awful. I had not written any prose of real meaning in my whole life. My sentences lacked any beauty to their structure, my characters were flat for I did not know how to build them up, the dialogue was bland. I hated everything about it. I found those first few chapters recently, and I still hate them. But it’s more of a grudging hatred because it now helps me see just how far I have come. I gave up, initially, after that first attempt, fearful that I would never be able to create something as worthy of what my characters deserved. But I never stopped planning. Every day since then I kept developing the plot, trying to create threads that would carry throughout the series. Three years later, I decided that I would write, and keep writing. I would practice every day, improving little by little, until my style was up to a standard I was happy with. That passion, that desire, it all came from that one moment.


Those few hours were the first of thousands. No longer did I have the opportunity to be bored. No longer did I have free time. My story encapsulated my life and, as stressful as it is, it is also fun. Writing is what I have always wanted to do, but it was on that one day that I pushed myself to do it and, as such, I will never forget those moments. From groggily waking up, to groggily falling in to an alcohol fuelled stupor in the way students were so wont to do, that day will forever be etched in to my memory.

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