NaNoWriMo – It’s coming…what to do?

Audience participation needed for this one so read to the end (it’s not long) and leave a comment!

Well, it is indeed coming. NoNoWriMo, the national novel writing competition is about to start and I’m in a quandary.

On the one hand, it will be the first time I have ever been able to take part in the November competition, the aim of which is to write the first draft of a 50,000 word novel within the month. I’ve always done the smaller sister competition in July. It would be good to get another work of fiction done and ready to use and the competition would give me the challenge I need to do just that.

On the other hand, life is not so good right now – for me or for my family. If you’re a regular reader you may have noticed that some of my more recent posts have been quite sombre for much of the time (or as sombre as I get at any rate). Some of you also know why. The point is, I’m not sure NoNoWriMo is a stress I need right now.

But, I’ve got to be writing (that is my job now) and I’m so busy with article writing these days that my fiction writing (which was the reason I wanted to be a writer in the first place all those years ago) has really been on the back-burner. This competition would give me the much needed impetus to get writing the creative stuff again.

But if I do the competition what do I write? I’d like to write each part or chapter and put it up as a blog post each day. Then I could get feedback from you guys along the way in readiness for the second draft (and third, and fourth…). But what to do?

I did think about doing thirty chapters on thirty years of my life. Then I thought I’m not sure I want to get that raw and public about my life-story as yet. It’s pretty horrific in places. Still, I can think of ways to downplay some of the awful and still keep it interesting. I think.

Or I could do a fictionalised version which would be based on my life and people I’ve known, stories I’ve seen unfold, but would composite all that together into something that was ultimately fictional. Think James Herriot I guess, same kind of true/not true hybrid. could be much more interesting by the fact it would be much less about me and more about people I’ve known.

And on the James Herriot line I could do a series of connected short stories based on the teaching life. Again, fictionalised, but based on my experiences of twenty years of teaching in various contexts.

Or I could just write thirty unconnected short stories and not be autobiographical at all. I have lots of ideas for these and I would be interested to see which ones you liked and which you…liked lots! I could then make a book of the ones which got the best reaction after dealing with the editing and revising.

So what do you think? Would you like to see me do the NaNoWriMo challenge here on this blog every day throughout November? And if so, which of the above options would you be most interested to read? Please give your comments even if there’s a ton of them in the end – I’ll read every one of them and take note. If I don’t get much response then I might still do the competition but I’ll keep the draft private. So if you want to read it then you better say something right now!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Tightrope Walker


He steps out onto the line to the mighty drum roll and the hushed silence of the audience but he thinks nothing of these things. He is alone, up there, on the wire, master of his world and completely in control of body, rope and balancing bar. Nothing and no one can stop him.

He hears the gasp of the audience as he takes step after step far above their heads with no safety net to protect him. But he knows he has done this a thousand times before and is at peace. He smiles to himself as he concentrates purely on reaching the other end. His every move is art.

And then, he notices a tremor on the line, almost imperceptible though it is. How odd? There is no reason for this oscillation but it makes him hesitate to work out what’s causing it. He doesn’t know whether the tremor is causing his foot to shake a little or if it is the other way around but now he sees: his foot is shaking.

Now, the game is different; now he is not so certain. He tries to calm his foot but the shake only gets worse. He hears the crowd gasp and he knows they can see the whole line trembling. He knows that some will be worrying he’ll fall to his death, others will just wait anxiously to see what happens next but some – some are willing him to fall.

He can hear their thoughts in his head: fall, fall now. It feels like he can’t shake them away from his mind. The words fill his body, much loud than those of the people who want him not to fall.

Fall. Fall. Fall.

This is silly, he thinks. It’s just a foot tremble, nothing more, nothing less – he’s known worse. Yet it won’t go away. He can’t stop the foot from shaking. The more he tries, the worse it gets. Before long his whole body is swaying, twisting, desperately trying to retain his balance.

And he knows the voices of the audience below, their opinions, their beliefs. It was bloody stupid, they’ll say; it was inevitable. He had to fall. Had to. There was no safety net, nothing to prevent it. Obvious to all now, it should never have been allowed – what an idiot to have tried. Heads will roll. He was clearly past it and should never have been up there. The master has been revealed to be nothing but a fool after all.

Stop it! He almost wails aloud, trying to beat back unbelief. He knows he must put his next foot forward.

But then another thought grabs him -What’s the point? 

He realises that even if he makes the next step, there is another after it, and another, and another. And then once he’s reached the end he has to go back the other way to complete the expected performance. And even if he manages that, there’s tomorrow’s show…and the day after…and the day after that.

Now he knows what he is. He is a dead man walking. It’s just that the audience doesn’t know it yet. He is already dead, already a failure. Reduced to nothing in the eyes of the audience in a fraction of a second; all his years of successes forgotten in an instant. He will simply be ‘the man who fell’.

So a new thought begins. If he must face the fact he will, sooner or later, fall to his death, he can at least control it. He could choose to slip, choose to jump, show that it was no accident but his controlled decision to plummet.

But no. He can’t do that either. The audience demand that he is successful. It is only entertainment when there is the danger of death. Once death appears it is the real world again and they have been cheated of their much-needed escapism and that would be the ultimate failure. Besides, in all his years of training, all his years of performing, no one ever showed him how to jump. He doesn’t know how to do it.

So, no – he will carry on; he will make it to the end.

Only now, the grin of the master is gone from his face and is replaced with a stoic, solemn gaze. Now he is a man who knows his destiny and can do nothing about it. Now he is a man who knows each step takes him closer to his inevitable – and inescapable – demise.

He steps out along the line to the mighty drum roll and the hushed silence of the audience but he thinks nothing of these things.

Posted in Life, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Thoughts on a Special meeting

If someone was to ask me to prove that I love my family, I would reply that such proof lies in the fact that I have not stepped onto a plane and set off for Bangladesh, never to return. It may not sound much, but it is.

I spent the weekend in Gloucester at a meeting of a group called LHCF. Despite Google’s search results, this does not stand for Long Hair Care Forumnor does it stand for Large Hadron Collider Forward. No, in fact it stands for LAMB Healthcare Foundation

???????????????????????????????Yes, it was a weekend focussing on the very place wifey, Things I & II and I left last December to return to the shores of England. LHCF is the British fundraising arm for LAMB and is fundamental to keeping the Poor Fund alive for the hospital there.

This is very important. Without the Poor Fund, life for the sick and infirm in the Northwest of Bangladesh would be very much worse. LAMB (which offers services for at least one million Bangladeshis in the area) never turns away any patient and all have access to good quality healthcare no matter how poor they are. In a particularly impoverished area of Bangladesh, this is quite literally, vital.

Rehab centre at LAMBWifey was invited to speak at the meeting to talk about the work she did for five years running the Rehab department and how the department has moved on. It was a pleasure to watch her talk with love and commitment for a place still painfully close to our hearts. Although the all-day meeting was well put together, and a wonderful day for many friends who have visited or worked at LAMB over the last thirty years to meet and share experiences with one another, for me the day was emotionally exhausting.

As talks were given with the ubiquitous powerpoint presentations, photo after photo of LAMB, its staff and the area around flashed in front of my eyes. Each and every one of them transported me straight back to Bangladesh. I was there, feeling the sun on my skin, speaking Bangla with old friends, soaking in the atmosphere, the life.

And I knew, then and there, that if I didn’t have a family I would have left the LHCF meeting, immediately gone to the nearest airport, bought a ticket and hopped on a plane to go back.

At times, I feel like a dementia patient. I have to keep reminding myself every day that this is where we’re meant to be right now; that there is a life here for my children; that my wife is doing good work here just as she does good work wherever she goes it seems; that – for better and worse – I’m simply not meant to be in Bangladesh. Maybe one day, maybe not ever, but certainly not now. It tears my heart apart, but it’s true nonetheless.

And so, instead of running for the airport, I shuffled away from the meeting – delighted, refilled, refreshed and yet just a little bit more broken at the same time.

My family in Bangladesh

My family in Bangladesh

Posted in Bangladesh, LAMB, Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

In two minds

Recently quite a few of my friends from Bangladesh – specifically at LAMB – have been posting pictures on Facebook. On those pictures you can see recognisable parts of the NGO – the pukur, training centre, living apartments, inside the hospital and so on – and I’m guessing that now the temperature will have dropped from the stifling heat of the monsoon season so people are going outside again in what, for deshis, is autumn but for us brits would be a glorious summer.

Seeing these pictures have made me awfully homesick for Bangladesh .

I can’t get over just how much I wish I was still there – or at least financially secure enough to be able to save for a visit abroad. I still feel the umbilical cord joining us with our friends, our family, over there. It’s tight, strained and painful.

At the same time, I’m writing this in my study with a nice cup of tea, Vaughan-Williams playing in the background, all my books around me and feeling very content. I have the home I wished for in a friendly, peaceful village. I take walks by the beach, sup a pint at the pub just down the road while reading a good book and – bar the lack of a very good income – I’m pretty much living the dream as a self-employed writer. And even that said about the income, I’m pretty much working solidly for editors now and the income is growing much more rapidly than I expected. Life is good.

And yet, no matter how much that is true, the pain of losing Bangladesh  hasn’t abated one tiny bit. I wrote many months ago about the advice you receive, people telling you to ‘give it time’. I have; the pain isn’t receding. I seem to have something of a split personality about it all.

What I do have on my side, however, is age. Experience has taught me that things are rarely as bad as they seem and that even when things are bad, there’s always good things to be found too. So, as best I can, I’m enjoying what I have now and not squandering that pining for something I just can’t have any longer. I am enjoying life despite the grief and despite the troubles (which I won’t go into) which are in the air around me. I am grateful for my health (it’s never been better); I am grateful for my friends (both here and in Bangladesh); I am grateful that I’m able to work for myself and leave the rat race behind.

Most of all, I’m grateful for my family. While I always love them, sometimes they amaze me. Sometimes I can’t figure out just why or how my wifey is so strong and how she has the gift of getting on with people so well – much better than I do; sometimes I can’t figure out just how my son, Thing II, got to be so skilled on the guitar or have such a loving, pleasant, easy-to-get-along-with personality; sometimes I can’t figure out how my daughter, Thing I, got to be so pretty, so irritatingly clever with words and so mature. I know I may have had influence but none of those qualities fit me (least of all being ‘pretty’!) so I can’t lay claim to being the cause. All I can do is marvel at the privilege of seeing my children grow up. It’s been – it is – a rocky road at times, but they are turning out just fine.

Recently I wrote a post about pictures I took at the wedding of two ex-students of mine. At the end I tagged on a photo of Thing I and I dancing. I was amazed then that she wanted to dance with her embarrassingly loud old man. What she did next – a few days later -brought me to tears. You can read if for yourself by clicking here, if you so wish. I didn’t know she was going to write this and her words simply stunned me.

I guess that’s why I’m happy here, despite the grieving over losing Bangladesh: I’m loved – uncalled for, not deserved – but loved anyway. Yes sir, I’m definitely living the dream.

Posted in Bangladesh, British, children, LAMB, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Friend in Eid

Eid mubarak to all my Muslim friends wherever you are in the world. I hope my little pun in the title of this post will be forgiven but it seemed quite apt to me. I’ll explain why.

This is the first year in the last six where I’ve not visited the home of a Muslim friend (or usually several homes of Muslim friends) and enjoyed the hospitality you only find on this most special of Eid holidays. I miss my time in Bangladesh so much it still hurts like an open wound and while I’ve enjoyed the delights of British culture and good friends back in the UK, Eid is a painful time for me because it is times like this I feel the wound more than ever.

While life back in Cumbria means life with the most beautiful hills and idyllic lakes (which I truly missed in flat, lowland Bangladesh), there isn’t much of an Asian community here and so my family and I often feel very isolated. There’s too many bideshis around here! Except of course, that they’re not foreigners at all…and nor are we, no matter how much we feel we are.

So, this is a time of the year when I really do feel in need of a friend. Not just any kind of friend – wonderful though so many of you are – but one who understands the dislocation my family and I feel right now. Such friends are few and far between.

But Eid is a time for celebrating and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel this post is a downer on the event. Far from it. While I may be separated from my beloved shona Bangla I am, nevertheless, very aware of the blessings we’ve received over the 10 months back in England. Those blessings have seen my family through some very hard times and we hope and trust they will see us through more of same we fear are to come. I’m also grateful for the many wonderful memories I have of innumerable Eid celebrations – I can almost taste the curry, the nasta, the bhat and dhal on my lips as I write! I haven’t forgotten, nor will I ever.

I was saddened, on waking up this morning, to read a post on Facebook from a British Muslim friend who was upset one of her friends had post a tirade against Muslims. I felt for her because I know that the images we see on our TVs and read in the media bear no relation to any of the Muslims I’ve known, loved and respected all these years.

It’s very apparent (given the bigotry of atheists which fill the internet) that no one has learned anything from the days when the Christian church ruled half the world and was arrogant in its treatment of so many; or from the many decades of hardship suffered by the Russian people under atheist soviet Russia. The lesson to learn is this: Bad people do bad things and use whatever politically expedient ideology happens to be best at the time.

Bad things happened in the name of Jesus, Allah or the state regardless of what the scriptures or ideals actually say. They happen because bad people do bad things and not because of a belief system followed (in the case of Islam) by 1.6 billion good people. Until people start to realise this, we will continue to live in fear of anyone who seems to be different to us. This makes me sad – it wouldn’t happen, I’m certain, if people engaged with others as human beings rather than representations of twisted ideologies.

I’ve rambled a little and will come back on track. I’m grateful for the many different types of people who have come into my life. I miss so many I left behind in Bangladesh but I’m blessed by the ones I’ve returned to here in the UK. Today, during Eid, I may not be visiting anyone for a dawat but I shall certainly enjoy reading on Facebook of the many wonderful times of celebration my friends will be enjoying and clicking ‘like’ on as many pictures as I can. I hope all my Muslim friends will have a wonderful weekend without having to put up with the belligerence of others. I can honestly say ‘they don’t know what they’re missing’.

Posted in Bangladesh, British, Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments