22 November 2012

fibromyalgia and running

A condition some believe may be fictitious or at least exaggerated. Try it for a while and see. The pain is intense and debilitating yet the only visible signs are a slight swelling and a warmth to the touch. Let's not overlook the psychological effects either, the miserable impact of an inability to perform simple physical tasks. Since leaving my job in financial services, which was at times stressful, my own fibromyalgia has receded. It lurks unfelt behind the scenes – and in the connective tissue – occasionally for months at a time. Such was the suddenness of my initial relief that I took a whole new lease on life.

There are fourteen medically acknowledged points around the body which can typically be affected by swelling, stiffness and pain but my condition is mostly restricted to the upper body, elbows mainly but also jaw, neck, shoulders, wrists and fingers. Flare-ups returned at times of anxiety and sometimes for no apparent reason but eventually held off long enough for me to take up running five years ago, something that would have been unthinkable before. Vigorous exercise has had no adverse effect on me, in fact quite the opposite. I am convinced that running hard, often for hours at a time has brought big benefits all round, proof that my old doctor Bernie Bedford was right when he told me, ‘there’s no contra-indication to exercise’.

It’s not all plain sailing. Bouts drop out of the blue, stay for up to forty-eight hours then mysteriously vanish but a combination of diet, sleep and exercise seems to hold the condition at bay. Still something unexpected will arrive. On Sunday I ran a half marathon in two hours one and a half minutes, a personal best by thirty seconds, and felt great afterwards. Two days later on Monday I noticed a dull pain developing in my right hip, definitely not post-run pain, I know all about that. During the night I awoke hourly, grunting and grimacing as I tossed and turned unable to find relief from the pain. By Tuesday morning I could barely put weight on my right leg and I limped all day. Wednesday morning... gone, and I ran five miles in forty-two minutes averaging 7mph.


I have just finished reading two books about self-editing for writers. I was aware while I read that I already employ some of the suggested techniques but I learnt new and excellent ideas. Today I started James Lee Burke’s Pegasus Descending and saw from the first paragraph the advice I had recently received put to beautiful and thrilling use. It is without doubt possible to learn the craft of the novelist but takes a lifetime of practice to challenge Burke's lyrical prose.

08 November 2012

writing a novel

In recent weeks I have settled down to write. I had several ideas on my mind and I began by refining them into workable plots: a fast-paced thriller with science fiction aspects; a deep study in character and ‘coming-of-age’; a mystery within a tangle of modern relationships; and a slightly supernatural tale with elements of time shift.
I chose one of these and wrote the preliminary draft of a first chapter, a hook baited to attract the curious reader. I quite liked the idea and set about the necessary leg work. Using Excel worksheets I fleshed out personalities for seven or eight characters, giving them appearances, habits, backgrounds and lifestyles, oh – and names. Fortunately there are many Internet resources which help with name popularity in given decades. Next I drew up a timeline of events (a very useful tool for a story that might span a couple of decades).
I was keen to get cracking but no, now I needed to research locations and residences. I took screen shots of street maps. To help me with character definition I also saved images of males and females who looked right for the roles I had in mind for them.
Ready to write? No, not quite. I wanted a way of keeping track of this project as it grows. My good friend Excel provided the platform to keep records. I have a workbook with columns for chapter, scene, time and date, setting, action and characters. I have set up hyperlinks from the spreadsheet to the relevant Word Documents where my initial writing sits.
You’d think I’d be ready to let the pen fly by now... well, nearly. I doubled the length of the first chapter but changed most of the characters’ names and revised the timeline significantly. Best to do all that before getting in too deep, right? I started a second chapter. It may not end up as chapter two because I haven’t decided the narrative order yet. By the way, I have written so far from a third person point of view. That’s ok isn’t it? It enables me to cover the actions and thoughts of everyone.
Last night I began rewriting, this time in the first person, and found that being able to delve deeper into the character of the protagonist was a great improvement. There are obviously constraints, the main character can only relay what he has seen and experienced himself. However there are subtle ways of delivering information that lies outside his knowledge and that can make for interesting dialogue.
So, now I am trying to choose between first and third person points of view. To rewrite a large chunk from a different viewpoint would require full scale restructuring so I am halting progress while I decide. When it all gets too much I pull on my shorts and trainers and run. It feels good.

01 November 2012

piecing the clues together

As something of a jigsaw puzzle fiend I was pleased to find this one by acclaimed Austrian puzzle maker Piatnik in our local thrift store. Usual approach, sift out and start on the edge pieces. That was the only familiar aspect to a challenge that turned out to be the hardest puzzle I’ve come across. What next..? There were no colours to collect, no sky. So I progressed by gathering pieces with vertical lines, those representing the ends of bars. After much effort I had a skeletal framework. So much for the easy part!

A click on the Piatnik site revealed this example is sixth on their seven-tier difficulty scale – Extreme - but it isn’t in my nature to be beaten. I dug seriously deep within my limited knowledge of music notation. Easy enough to sort out the alphabetic dynamics but when I ran out of these I hit the slurs and ties (curved lines), rests and clefs etc. Eventually I had to work through the remaining large pile of staves and notes.
A few minutes here and there totalling maybe an hour a day and fourteen days later I slipped the final piece into place... well there are four ominous gaps. What can you expect from a cheapie.