Friday, 20 January 2017

On rejection

In amongst all the goat milking, wild raspberry picking and just generally rolling around in dirt, this summer of volunteering had its tough moments.

Rocking up somewhere completely new every two weeks can be hard. Dealing with some, let's say, interesting characters can be hard. Feeling the weight of your incompetence when faced with a roto-tiller and very large field, can be hard.

I dealt with it in the only way I know how: by writing it all down.

I never really meant to write a novel. Well, in a way I did - I gave myself a stern talking to the day after my 26th birthday, admonishing myself for reaching the ripe old age of 26 without having even a decent manuscript yet. "Why am I not published?" I'd moan to myself. "Why aren't literary agents and publishing houses clambering over themselves for my work?"

Erm, probably because you haven't written anything in so long. They have no idea you exist.

So while I dreamt of ending up with a completed book, mostly, I just wrote to make sense of things. I wrote to feel good. I wrote for something safe and familiar, when everything around me was the opposite.

And so I wrote, and I just... kept writing. It may sound over-simplified (or, if you're a writer, very annoying), but it really did transpire this way: a novel happened.

I wasn't sure what to do next. So I edited, overhauling my complete manuscript five times. I printed it out and edited again. I trawled the internet for every nugget of wisdom I could find about polishing drafts, query letters and synopses. I drew up a shortlist of agents, I asked friends for advice, I talked with freelance editors. With shaking hands, I handed my draft over to Phil and let him read it. After that, there was nothing left to do but send my submission package off to agents.

I was trembling with excitement as I sent that first email. It felt like a momentous occasion: I drank a glass of prosecco and even took a selfie at the very moment I pressed "send". I then proceeded to apply to nine more agents. Each time, I felt excited, like a balloon pumped full of air and let go. It felt like anything could happen.

Then I got rejected.

Not once, not twice, but a grand total of seven times.

I know that rejection is an inevitability for prospective authors. It's almost a rite of passage. I'm also not arrogant enough to assume that agents would be falling over themselves to work with me; an obscure, unpublished author. I had expected this.

But that doesn't mean it didn't sting.

Rejection sucks. It really, really does. It doesn't matter whether that's an agent knocking you back, or a university, or a boy/girl. Someone saying "you're not good enough" hits you somewhere deep and quiet. It hits you in a place that's painfully raw; somewhere you never usually let see the light of day.

And there's two things you can do. You can be wounded and hurt and resolve to never again put yourself out there. Or, you can be wounded and hurt and then say: "Well, shit. I tried. Let's try again."

I had three weeks away from my manuscript, in which I mainly seethed, over-analysed and then, finally, reconsidered. I've now returned to it, determined that those rejections are going to make it a better book.

This process wasn't as painful as it sounds, because I realised something. As much as I would one day love to walk into a bookshop and see my manuscript proudly sitting there in book form, a childhood dream made flesh, writing this book was never about that. It was about escaping to somewhere I felt safe, about doing something that made me feel good, about putting in the effort just to prove to myself what I could do.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, rejection doesn't invalidate your effort. It challenges it, changes it, even - but in the end, it can only make you better.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Home and back again

Writing the title for this post, I’m reminded of the Hobbit – I’m sure the book Bilbo writes is called “There and Back again”, or something similar. Bilbo leaves his home in the Shire to have an epic adventure, and then he comes back. If you’re wondering why I’m waffling on about the Hobbit, it’s because I’ve just done something very similar – just in reverse. After one of the most memorable and adventurous years of my life, I travelled home to the UK for three weeks of friends, family and festivities, before returning to do it all over again in Vancouver.

It’s a funny thing, going home after being away for so long. As I tried (and failed) to explain to so many people at home, coming back felt like slipping back into an old coat that’s been tucked away in the back of the cupboard. It’s comfortable, it’s familiar, and most importantly – it feels like you never took it off.

Home was so, so wonderful. I fell back into the old rhythms of home faster than you can say “Hogmanay” (If you’re a bit lost, that’s the Scottish word for New Year. Get yourself up there, sharpish). Buying cheese in the cave-like corridor that is L J Mellis on Victoria Street. Sipping mulled cider in the White Hart. Battling the bracing winds while climbing Arthur’s Seat. Forcing myself to go for a run around the Meadows. Drinking (too much) prosecco with some of my oldest friends, abandoning the table to sit in a tangled pile on the floor, like we were 15 again.

My old habits surrounded me, adornments of a past life well lived. But while the surroundings were the same, I, somehow, was not. Real talk: I have not been out here changing the world, living in the wilderness or trekking across continents. But I’ve been living in a different country, exploring different places and different lives, constantly trying to push myself. And that does something to you. Sometimes, you don’t even realise that until you go home.

It made me think about what I want to get out of this year. You don’t need to read another “new year, new me!!!” post, so that isn’t what this post is about. But I am partial to a reflection and revision at this time of year. 2016 was the year I did things. A road trip around America, living in Canada, volunteering on farms. It was also the year I finished my first novel and discovered Tantra Fitness, a lovely fitness community here in Vancouver that’s improved my life in so many ways (more on that later. Maybe). I feel like it was a successful year of choices and beginnings. So, if 2016 was the year I started things, I want 2017 to be the year I build on them.

I want to travel more, further, deeper. The Yukon, Hawaii, Iceland, the east coast of Canada, Northern Scotland and Cornwall are all on my hit list this year. I want to keep working on my health and fitness and the friends I’ve made at Tantra. I want to give less of a shit about the small stuff and make more of an effort with the people that matter. To listen. To make every day count. More than anything, I want 2017 to be the year I finally secure a book deal. Ambitious, yes – but I’ve got a fierceness this year that I’ve never felt before. Maybe it comes with being a bit older. Maybe things are just at that tipping point – I’ve put in the groundwork, now I just have to push harder, harder, harder – until something explodes in glory or falls to pieces. Who knows.

So that’s me. What about you? What are your goals this year? Whether they're big or small, here's to smashing it, and to a fearless and unforgettable year. 


Saturday, 17 September 2016

Creativity and Blogging

I read posts about once a week about blogging ruts, lack of inspiration, or just plain old writer’s block. It happens to all of us, I suppose – all of us who write or create or make. Sometimes, creativity runs out.

I think that in my case, it hasn’t so much run out, rather, it’s been used elsewhere. When faced with the choice between writing my blog or delving into other creative projects I’m working on, I’ve tended to choose the latter every time. As a result, I haven’t shown my blog much love of late.

Maybe I’m not in love with it anymore. I’ve written before about struggling to find my niche, about trying to stuff myself into a little “travel blogger” box that perhaps I don’t fit in. I’ve flirted with more abstract, lyrical pieces, which I always find more fun (and, tellingly, easier) to write than the traditional “10 things to do in X” fare. (At this point I’ll stress again I have no grudge against this type of content, I don’t mean to belittle or dismiss it. I both read and write it on other platforms). I am not a natural at sharing my life on the internet. Mainly because I’m an intensely private person – the whole thing kind of terrifies me. I wanted to write – just not necessarily about myself.

For this blog, a lot of things just don’t work for me. I can’t find the flow. I find myself falling in and out of styles like drifting between dreams, not really attached to any particular notion or idea.

So I’m yet again at a little bit of a crossroads when it comes to Bambi Jane Travel. Do I carry on as I have been – blogging halfheartedly and sporadically – or do give myself a kick up the bum and shake things up a bit?

The most crucial part of the whole puzzle, and the one I haven’t quite figured out yet, is how.  I know only two things; I want to keep writing this blog. I want to keep creating pieces I’m proud of. Exactly what form they’ll take… well.  That’s all up in the air.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions below! 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Sunrise on Kits Beach

In the cities and places you grew up in, it's hard to pinpoint the exact moment you fell in love with them. When you've lived somewhere for a long time, it's hard to put into the words the complicated feelings you have towards the place that's been the context for all of your good times, your triumphs and your revelations - as well as your bad times, failures and setbacks.

But when you move to a new city, these feelings, these ups and downs, become very apparent. You can pick them easily out of a crowd.

When we moved to Vancouver in March, the bustling avenues of Kitsilano, with their yoga studios and artisan coffee and boutiques, had me head over heels within a week. What a floozy I am. This is somewhere I can picture myself, I thought, breathing a sigh of relief after three months of non-stop travelling. This is the place. 

Then, when our air BnB rental ran out, we moved to Granville Street. Right into the heart of the optimistically named "entertainment district". I came down with a horrible flu and spent about four straight days in our hostel room, sweating even more than I should have been as the weather had snapped into an oppressive and hostile heat. I fell out of love with the city, just like that. I started to see its flaws and its not-so desirable aspects with fresh, cynical eyes. I tired of the drab architecture and the grey streets, the skyscrapers visible even on the beaches, the ridiculous price of... everything (I mean, ammi right?!) In short, I'd emerged out of the honeymoon phase. 

We embarked on our four-month trip around BC and I didn't think much about my love/hate relationship with Vancity (probably too busy milking goats). But it was in our plans to come back here, as we knew it would be the place we'd be most likely to find work. We still held a special place in our heart for Kits, and that was enough to see us sign a one-year lease for a (albeit, pretty perfect) apartment here in lower Kits a week ago.

We're now adjusting to our lives here, expanding and relaxing to fit the space. As our apartment becomes more and more decorated, we too become adorned with jobs, hobbies, people. Vancouver is becoming "home" again.

As part of Phil's new job, he sometimes starts as early as 6am in the morning. He left me mole-eyed and rumpled in bed one morning, and the changing light from outside the window caught my eye. The sky was a vivid violet, mixing itself into a variety of shades and moods as I watched. Pulling on an old pair of joggers and grabbing my camera, I was on the beach by 6:05. 

Apart from one runner, I was alone on the beach. If you've ever been to Kits Beach in the summer, you'll appreciate how much of an unexpected sight this was. Like Michael Buble rapping or something. Quiet. Serene. Waiting, for the rest of the world to wake up.

The sun was rising behind the proud buildings of downtown, and it cast the sea, mountains and omnipresent tankers in a pale pink glow, like everything was bathed in candy floss. Gulls soared overhead, moving languidly as if they knew they could, and ducks bobbed on the surface of the water. I waded out to sea, relishing the cool sensation on my legs. 

Ok, Vancouver, I thought to myself. You're winning me over again. 

The world became a warm orange to herald the arrival of the day, and I knew that soon the beach would once again be flooded with sunbathers, topless men throwing balls around, groups of kids drinking beer covertly out of thermos's. 

Just when I thought the sunset was over, those precious last few moments of dawn exploded jubilantly in one final hurrah. A splash of yellow, like a burst yolk, emerged over downtown and turned the sea a powder blue. 

I watched, quietly. Vancouver, I forgive you for your silly house prices. For your traffic and for your rain. For your grey architecture and all of your stark "city-ness". Because when you look out at the sunrise like that, you realise that when it comes down to it, Vancouver isn't a city at all. It's just the place where the land reaches out a hand to meet the sea, as it always has done. We're just lucky enough to call it home. 

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