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The Ribbons Are For Fearlessness

By pauldodgson, Dec 16 2014 09:42PM

I have ordered a book by a new author, Catrina Davies. It is a memoir and I have wanted to read it since I read a blog of hers about living in a shed near Land's End. I have been too busy to read for pleasure recently and have been saving this one up. The book, The Ribbons Are For Fearlessness, is her account of a journey to the very tip of northern Europe in an old van, a trip the writer funded by busking with a cello along the way. It is about love and loss and not always knowing what will happen next.

I decided to make the purchase from the one remaining family bookshop in this city, partly because I know that if I don't, and if everyone else doesn't, then the shop will close and independent bookshops will be history. All we will have left is the Internet and Waterstones. Also, I want to pay full price because it feels right that the author, who lives in a shed, should get a decent cut of the RRP. Then there is the boycott of Amazon because of their tax arrangements.

So, on a desolate winter's afternoon, under dark December skies, I head out of the house and across town toward the bookshop, a journey hindered by a toe infection that has stopped me running, keeps me off my bicycle and makes me walk with a pronounced limp.

I am freelance and things are a bit odd right now. Every year since 2007 I have written music and lyrics for Christmas theatre show, so this time of the year has been defined by deadlines, rising panic and increasing levels of excess as the insular world of luvviedom closes in. This time last year I was sitting in the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton listening to the sound of a thousand people a day (mostly) applauding my songs. This year I will mostly be in my sitting room. Freelance life is full of such contradictions but it does take a bit of getting used to. I have been busy though. In the last six months I have written four plays, made two radio series, taken my writing workshops all over this land and learned twenty songs to sing in my kitchen when I want to scare the cat.

Yesterday I travelled to Exeter to deliver a lecture, my last of 2014. Although I have plenty to be getting on with I can't help feeling as though everything has stopped. I don't have a commission to write anything and there is a strange sort of silence.

I know what happens next. There will be an initial onrush of creativity, when I seem to have a thousand ideas all at once. I have been so focused on getting the next thing done I have pushed the future away, so it will feel like standing underneath a waterfall of possibilities. The drenching will last for a couple of days until the clarity of vision freezes and shatters. Then it will seem as though I am looking at a million pieces of broken ice and trying to work out how to put them back together as they melt in front of my eyes. Then there will be a state of inertia that will continue until the next deadline kicks in and everything gets back to normal.

The trip to the bookshop is a task lowdown on the to-do list I have made to try to keep a sense of order and is infinitely more appealing than the tax return, VAT and invoicing that are higher up, but best avoided for as long as possible.

What with the limp, the gesture of support, the boycott and the crosstown journey on a dark December afternoon, I am expecting rather more of a reception at the bookshop than I actually receive. My mind, in its state of headrush, has lost sight of the fact that I'm making a single purchase of £8.99. I am expecting to be hoisted onto the shoulders of the salesperson and marched between the shelves, fed grapes and good red wine and hailed as the saviour of the book trade.

All that happens is I tap my passcode into the credit card machine, exchange a few pleasantries, watch as the book is put into a brown paper bag and go back out into the street.

Forty five minutes later I pass through my front door, make a cup of tea and sit down to read.

Two and a half hours later I am still there.

Sometimes I am so busy writing, talking about writing and just being busy that I forget what it is like to be swept up by a narrative, to experience someone else's life while being given the space to reflect on my own. It makes me realise why I got interested in this whole life-writing business in the first place, how our lives are a treasure house of stories if we can just unpack them, cast aside the irrelevancies and find the narrative. This beautifully told adventure of love, loss and grief makes me want to write my own stories. And it makes me want to stay on the sofa and find out what happens next in this one.

What actually happens next is I get an e-mail telling me that Radio 4 have accepted proposal for a play based on the Cornish folktale, The Mermaid of Zennor. They want it soon, so what I thought was silence, isn't a silence at all.

But I am too far away, heading for the midnight sun with a cello in the back of an old yellow van and I don't even notice the message has arrived.

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