Train of thought

Last night we had the final of the Great British Bake Off. For those of you not of these shores, it’s another ‘reality’ show, in this case a baking competition. The clue is in the title. And I gather the franchise is going international, so be prepared. Anyway, the winner was a nice lady from Hull, the dark horse of the show, I guess, in the sense that most people seemed to think one of the other two finalists would win.

So, well done, Nancy. We love an underdog.

Now for the link to writing. On the packed commuter train into London this morning I was squeezed in next to a young couple who, I immediately found out, worked together in a sales centre. I know this because the girl’s face was so close to mine that I was effectively part of the conversation. And I can’t be sure, but we might even have started dating.

They seemed a pleasant enough couple, chit-chatting away, leaning in for some harmless early-morning intimacy that might have been a ruse on her part to make me jealous, because technically she was also my girlfriend now as well (this is how novels start). But then she said something that really, really got under my skin. And I’m British, remember – we tend to cut offensive behaviour quite a bit of slack.

“Nancy is so old,” she said. “What’s the point of giving her the title – what’s she going to do with it?”

Holy smoke. I dumped the girl on the spot. We are no longer an item.

SpongeBackground: Nancy is 60, a grandmother. Been baking all her life, a worthy competition winner. What’s she going to do with it? Damn well enjoy the moment, and whatever comes after, one would hope.

Now I’m not 60, but I ain’t 25 either. I left writing this novel late because I was busy doing other things – you know, life etc – but imagine if someone had tapped their watch on my thirtieth birthday and said, “Five more years, maybe ten, then we’re giving the chance to publish to someone else. Look lively.”

Amazon is getting plenty of flack at the moment for being a huge, publishing industry-gobbling monster that will destroy authors’ careers and decimate the cultural landscape. You may or may not agree with that statement. Personally, I don’t. Indie publishing has opened doors to so many people – young and old – who would never have had a chance to see their efforts in print. I’m one of them. Now I’m delighted that the reaction to my book has been really positive, but even if that were not the case, being able to get it out there is a source of immense pride. Not smugness, just simple, personal satisfaction. It took a lot of hard work and now I’ve started the whole process again. Because I can. Because we all can.

Hopefully the novel will be out before I’m collecting my pension. But if it were to take another two decades, so what? It might turn out to be a Tolstoyesque classic of deep worth and with a mind-boggling word count. Unlikely, but not impossible. Finding out along the way will be part of the pleasure. And when it comes out I’ll be older, probably not much wiser, but still in the game. Still being creative, and that’s the most important part.

So, my ex-girlfriend on the train, remember this: you will not be in your early twenties forever. Hopefully your life will blossom and you will find fulfilment in whatever it is that you choose to do. With any luck your achievements will make you and your loved ones proud. But let’s hope that if you finally decide a life in sales doesn’t make you complete and that you want to test yourself by creating something (a work of art, a business, a family), you don’t come up against someone tapping their watch and barring your way, saying, “Sorry, too late.”


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