For thousands of years, January has meant resolutions and fresh starts. The month takes its name from the Roman god Janus. He had two faces, to look both backwards and forwards. There’s a lot to be said for facing up and facing down, too. Facing up to the future, and facing down everything that is holding you back.
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… ‘ wrote Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. That describes January perfectly, doesn’t it? It is full of contrasts. The weather can be foul, the days are short, and Christmas seems a lifetime away. Then the sun comes out, a robin starts to sing, and snowdrops push up through last autumn’s fallen leaves.
The two headed god Janus would be carved on ancient thresholds with one face pointing outwards, the other inwards. At this time of the year we’re all looking into the empty, unfurnished room of 2023. Behind us are all the events which have made us what we are today. January is a time to face up to the future, and face down fears.
Life is a series of challenges. Some are enjoyable, while some aren’t. In my current work in progress, Hayley is making a fresh start in a new town. She has drawn a line under her past and wants to start again. She finds it’s not as easy as she thought it would be, but don’t worry—she creates her ‘happy ever after’.
While I never put myself into my books, I’ve based one of Hayley’s problems on something that happened to me. I left a great but poorly-paid job for a much better position in a different company. It was a huge mistake. The turnover of staff in the new firm was high, because bullying was a problem.
When I couldn’t stand working there any longer, I walked out and became a full time writer. Writing is great therapy. In a world where it is easy to feel powerless, inventing characters and storylines creates a safe space. Facing up to what wasn’t working in my life and facing down my doubts definitely changed my life for the better.
I enjoy doing research almost as much as I love writing fiction. Including real life details bring stories to life. There’s even more research involved in writing non-fiction. That’s why I jumped at the chance to write Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol.
Looking Straight Ahead
I couldn’t wait to get started on that commission, and booked myself into a Bristol hotel as soon as I could. That way I didn’t have to commute every day. I could be on the doorstep of the city archive when it opened each morning. However, moving from a sleepy little Gloucestershire village into the heart of the city was a real culture shock. My project nearly shuddered to a halt before it started.
I was born a few miles outside of Bristol, and had worked in the city centre for years. When I married, I moved away. I thought I knew the city like the back of my hand, but my memories were years out of date.
Life in the city was non-stop, and so different from the peaceful countryside. Skateboards and cyclists came at me from all directions. The press of people waiting at light-controlled crossings came as a shock. At home, I’m lucky to see half a dozen people in a whole day.
I stood at the bottom of Park Street, trying not to cover my ears against the racket. All I wanted to do was bolt back to my hotel…but I also wanted to research and write that book.
I knew I could make a great job of it. That, and the thought of disappointing my publisher were the only things that stopped me running away.
Standing in the middle of Bristol was not going to get the job done. I had to at least try and get to the archive. Studying the directions, I saw they could be broken down into several short sections. It was only a couple of hundred metres to the cathedral. If I could get there it was only twice that distance to the marina. I started to walk. Within about thirty seconds I had left the racket of the city centre behind. There were hardly any other pedestrians about. My stress levels plummeted, and I started to enjoy myself.
It’s a lovely walk along the harbourside. The huge bond warehouse housing the Bristol archive soon came into view, so I had something to aim for.
This was high summer. The moored houseboats and waterside houses were bright with hanging baskets and pots of flowers. Several people were watering their plants in the early morning sunshine. It was such a lovely day I completely forgot two rules of city living: never make eye contact, and never speak.
I said how much I liked their gardens. Once they had got over the shock of a stranger speaking to them, they came out of their shells. So did I. They asked where I was going, and were intrigued when I told them about my work. That was when I realised I wouldn’t be writing this book just for my own pleasure. Other people were interested in the subject, too.
Facing up to what I had to do meant that I had to face down my fears. Looking back, that seems a small challenge now, but it sowed seeds of success. Writing Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol inspired me to sign up as a mature student at the University of Gloucestershire. That was another enormous challenge for me, but I’ve lived to tell the tale.
Have you managed to challenge yourself yet this year?
You can find out more about me here, and see some of my books here.