You know sometimes, when you get in a real strop with yourself and with your life, and you feel hard done by, and you think, is this really worth it? I had one of those times recently. I was on holiday with several members of my family, and I’d been looking forward to it for ages. A week in Cornwall, followed by a week in Somerset. I’d been working really hard on the writing, having a couple of deadlines to meet with my own books, plus I had some beta reading to do for other writers, the hassle of the day job, and of course, the stress of a recent house move. I was ready for a break. I’d promised myself – and my poor family – no writing while I’m away. I swore I wouldn’t even take my laptop.
In the event, that went out of the window – the promise I mean, not the laptop. I hadn’t finished my book and it needed to go to the beta readers, as it was booked in with the editor in just a few short weeks, and I was running out of time fast. So, that first week of my holiday found me hunched over the table every evening, frantically tapping away, as I worked on my novel and tried not to feel bitterly resentful that I couldn’t just have a normal holiday like everyone else.
As an avid reader, as well as a writer, I fully realise that books have themes. They can be quite subtle, or they can hit you over the head with all the force of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, but they’re there – almost guaranteed. But what I didn’t expect was to find a theme developing for my holiday. I mean, you wouldn’t, would you? Holidays are just time out. A break from real life. A time to chill and relax and forget about everything else. So it came as quite a surprise when I realised, during that second week, while in Somerset, that a very strong theme was developing, and the universe seemed quite determined to point it out to me.
It started with Glastonbury. I’ve been fascinated by the place since I first heard of it, when I was about twenty years old. Arthurian legend, the Isle of Avalon, all that myth and magic and mystery, stirred my imagination and made me long to visit, just to see the place for myself. So, a few years ago, I finally got my wish and we went to Glastonbury. The town was everything I’d imagined it would be, and I loved the mix of quirky shops, buskers, and eccentric people wandering the streets dressed in strange clothing, and no one batting an eyelid at them. Where else would you find an ancient abbey – once one of the most important places of Christian worship in England – just a couple of streets from a Goddess Temple? Where else would you find the burial place of a king that – whisper it – possibly never even existed? Where else would you find a thorn bush that is reputed to have sprung from the ground, when no less than Joseph of Arimathea planted his staff there while he rested? It’s no ordinary town, that’s for sure, and probably its most noticeable landmark, visible for miles around, is Glastonbury Tor.
This mystical place is steeped in myths and legends – far too many for me to go into right now. If you want to know more about the place, click here. The point is, at the top of the Tor is the remains of an old church. St Michael’s tower is such a recognisable landmark that it became quite an obsession with me. One day, I decided, I would climb the Tor and enter that tower.
Anyone who knows me will know that’s not as simple as it sounds. Between the writing and the day job, I sit behind a desk for around ten hours a day. I have a Fitbit which has lived in a drawer for the best part of a year. When I did finally take it out of its bag and charge it up, I discovered that I was averaging less than two thousand steps a day. I got breathless walking down a hill, never mind up one. How was I ever going to climb Glastonbury Tor?
When we first visited, around four years ago, I’ll confess that I didn’t even attempt it. Just looking at it filled me with dread. I was convinced I would fail, and so DH made the climb himself. Except, he has a fear of heights, and although he got tantalisingly close to the summit, he simply couldn’t make it the whole way alone. Yeah, I know. We’re a right pair, aren’t we?
This year, we had our son, daughter, and daughter-in-law with us. All sprightly twenty-somethings, full of beans, and with joints that didn’t creak and threaten to snap at any sign of stress, they listened to us droning on about the Tor and said, “Okay, so when are we going to climb it?”
We looked at each other. “I’ll do it if you will,” DH said. “Do you think you can do it?”
“I can do it,” I said. After all, I’d been losing weight for a few months, and I’d managed to up my steps to an average of between seven and eight thousand a day. I was feeling confident and determined. So, off we went.
Oh dear. The first problem was that there is no parking near the Tor, so we had to find the nearest car park. You then have to walk from the car park up a steep (to me!) lane, then across a sloping (upwards!) field before you even reach the bottom of the Tor itself. I was already exhausted and breathless by the time I reached it. This didn’t bode well. The second problem was, I’d visualised a sloping path to the summit. In fact, what I was faced with was a neverending flight of steps. I struggle with steps. They jar my knees. I looked at DH. “I don’t think I’m going to do this,” I wheezed. “We’ll just take it slowly,” he promised.
And we did. Oh, boy, we really did. The kids waited patiently for all of five minutes, then skipped off ahead of us. We caught sight of them strolling up the Tor, laughing and joking with each other as if they were walking along a level path. DH and I looked at each other as we sat gloomily on the first bench. “Come on,” he said, and held out his hand.
Not wishing to admit defeat after climbing not much higher than our German Shepherd could jump, I gamely struggled on. I got as far as a very handy boulder and then sank down in relief. Another ten minutes went by while I peered upwards at the steps and calculated my chances of survival if I really attempted such an impossible feat. An elderly couple passed by, nodding and smiling at us. We tried to look as if we were just admiring the view. “Hey,” DH said suddenly, “where are they going?”
We watched, puzzled, as the couple ignored the steps and began to follow an earth path around the side of the Tor instead. A short cut? Hopefully, we stood and began to follow them, after making sure they were out of sight before we attempted it. Well, we didn’t want to look as if we were searching for an easy way out, did we? The path cut across the hillside. We passed some rather bemused looking sheep, and honestly thought we’d cracked it. Then disaster! The path entered into woodland, and then it rose steeply. We looked around and spotted the elderly couple climbing up the steepest steps I’ve ever seen. I looked at DH. No chance. Defeated, I turned back and he followed me, assuring me it was okay and never mind, and it was just one of those things.
Back on our boulder, I stared at the landscape spread out before me and tried to pretend that it was fine. The view, even from this high up, was amazing, and maybe climbing the Tor was just one of those things that I’d never manage. Or maybe I could put it on my bucket list – something I’d get round to doing one day, before it was too late. Then a man passed us, on his way down from the summit. He smiled and nodded at us and we gaped back at him, then at each other. He was on crutches! This man had climbed the Tor on crutches! Oh, the shame of it. I looked upwards and something in me just snapped. “I’m going to climb this thing,” I said. “I’m not giving up until I’ve done it.”
And, do you know what? We did it. Yes, it took us ages. Yes, DH did grip my hand very tightly the higher we climbed. Yes, I had to stop several times for a rest. Yes, at one point I really did wonder which would give up first, my legs or my heart. But I never again thought, I’m going to give up. No way. I had made up my mind and that was that. Walking into the tower of St Michael’s was one of the best moments of my life. I know I hadn’t exactly conquered Everest, but to me, it was a huge achievement. I honestly could have cried. We looked at each other, threw our arms around each other and said, rather breathlessly, “We did it!”
From our holiday cottage, we could see Glastonbury Tor from our bedroom window, and the next morning, I opened the curtains and stared across the fields at it and thought, I did it. I climbed that. It was an incredible feeling.
A few days later, we went to Stonehenge. As I looked at those huge stones, and listened to the excited tourists, from as far away as Japan and America, discussing the mystery of what they meant and what they’d been used for, I thought about the sheer effort it must have taken to bring those massive boulders all the way to Salisbury Plain, and put them in place. I thought about the work involved, and the determination those ancient ancestors of ours must have had to create this incredible monument. How much it must have mattered to them. How determined they must have been to see it through.
After leaving Stonehenge, we drove into Salisbury, and I visited the cathedral. I hadn’t realised how enormous Salisbury Cathedral really is, and I wandered around with my eyes wide and my mouth open as I marvelled at the beauty and majesty of the place. In one quiet little corner, there was a small painting of Jesus, and in front of it, a row of candles burned brightly – lit by various visitors, perhaps in memory of loved ones, or as part of a private prayer. I looked at them, and without warning, tears sprang into my eyes. I thought, how much love and faith did the people who built this cathedral have? It apparently took four decades to complete, and it really is a marvel. How much hard work and dedication was involved? How much determination and belief? How many times did they want to give up? What if they had? What if it had seemed like an impossible dream?
And that’s when it hit me – the lesson that the universe seemed determined to teach me. If you want to do something, if you really want it to happen, it’s all down to you. You have to put in the work. You have to make up your mind to go for it, and then you have to give it everything you’ve got. It may be tough. It may be back breaking. It may be exhausting and infuriating and depressing and frustrating. But, if you really want it, keep going and never give up, because it’s only when you give up that you don’t succeed. You may mess up. You may need to take a lot of breathers along the way, but it’s only if you decide not to take the risk that you’ve really failed.
The fact is, I want to write. I love to write. Sometimes, it’s a joy to sit in front of that computer and lose myself in my imaginary worlds. Most times, it’s a real slog. I look out of the window and I think, I could be outside doing something fun. When I was supposed to be on holiday and everyone else was drinking wine, playing games, chatting away to each other, and I was sitting at the table with my Word document open, it was easy to feel resentful and exhausted and wonder why I should even bother. But I didn’t give up. I kept going. Now Book Eight has been read and commented on by the beta readers, I’ve polished it up some more, and it’s about to go off to my editor. Eight books! How on earth did that happen? Maybe because, in spite of how much hard work it is, I didn’t give up. And that doesn’t just apply to writing. I’ve spent the best part of this year dieting. That’s tough. I’ve not exactly lost stacks of weight, but I have lost a couple of stones and it’s still going down. Yes, I’ve had slip-ups, but it’s a long slow process, and I intend to see it through. My fitness levels are slowly getting better. From being barely able to walk to the gate, I’m climbing a freaking mini-mountain! It’s true of anyone, whatever it is they want to achieve. Believe it.
I made a promise to myself last week. From now on, whenever I think I can’t do something, when I think it’s going to be too hard, too much effort, or beyond my capabilities, I’m going to say two little words to myself. Glastonbury Tor. If I can climb my own personal Everest, I can do anything.
And it’s all thanks to two cheery pensioners, a man on crutches, and a few puzzled sheep. Who knew?
Have a great week.