Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Counting my Blessings

'It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’ The opening line of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, comes to mind for 2020. Despite this year being blighted by Covid 19, many good things came to pass for me. I am truly blessed to be married to the wonderful T. We have been together for seven and a half years, and our relationship is still getting better. We both were married before and know exactly how difficult ordinary life can be with the wrong people. During my treatment for advanced cancer, my dearest T was with me, every step of the way. She made a huge difference to this ordeal. I don’t think I could have survived it without her.

My second blessing is to be in good health. I am now four years clear of cancer. But I’m not counting my chickens just yet. The type of cancer I had has been known to recur even twenty years later. I travel hopefully, but remain vigilant (at times, hyper-vigilant). And this year, I’ve been doing plenty of that travelling by bike. The first lockdown was very good for cyclists with far fewer cars on the roads. I built up my strength and fitness to be able to regularly ride 150-200 miles a week. In August I rode 101 miles in one day. The furthest I had cycled in one go since 1998.

My third blessing is to be writing consistently. During my years of treatment and recovery I was writing very sporadically. This year I have been writing regularly and it has resulted in me finishing my second collection of poetry, The Skylark’s Call, and finding a publisher. Roger Robinson, the winner of the TS Eliot Prize 2019, said that after he got dozens of rejections from publishers, he was told to hone his craft and keep trying. I followed this excellent advice. Despite each rejection, I kept improving the manuscript and early this year my collection was taken by Dempsey & Windle. I’d like to thank all of those who helped me along the way, with special mentions going to Damian Smyth, Moyra Donaldson and the late Ciaran Carson. But, unlike Father Ted, who in his acceptance speech for the Golden Cleric award, also listed everyone who had caused him trouble, ‘and now, I move on to liars’, I won’t be mentioning any of those.

When I’d finalised the poetry manuscript and sent it to the publisher, I began to write a story. All I had to start with was one character and a setting. But I wrote every day and the story grew and grew. After three months of getting up early and scribbling away, I had 155,000 words and the first draft of a novel. Now that The Skylark’s Call has been launched, my next project will be to turn my first draft into something publishable. I’d never really tried to write a novel before. It just goes to show what is possible if you turn up every day and keep working at it.

My fourth blessing is to have remained free of the virus (indeed, any virus, as I haven’t caught a cold or the ‘flu either). Given my medical history, I was put on the shielding list. And I haven’t visited a cafe, restaurant or pub since February.  But I’m not complaining. Somehow I don’t think the generations that experienced the war and rationing would regard this as much of a hardship. Indeed, living with the threat of a fatal disease for the past ten years has prepared me well for this new threat. My resilience was able to rise to the challenge and like most people I adapted to the covid protocols for daily life. But no-one enjoys having to cope with an unavoidable extra burden. So I’m looking forward to getting the vaccine and being able to live a fuller life in 2021.

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