“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are—it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
When a man is in the throes of sexual intercourse and he shoots his load, his enthusiasm predictably diminishes. But if he was to persevere and keep thrusting for a little longer then on the rare occasion he would experience the elation of a second ejaculation. It’s comparable to when you crack an egg into a frying pan and discover a double yolk. For one moment, you feel like the king of the world—and it’s simply delicious. I guess the lesson to be learned is that putting in that little bit more effort can lead to good things.
My name is Ben. Unlike most middle-aged men, so far, I’ve managed to navigate life with my dreams still intact. I am approaching fifty and it’s fair to say that I haven’t yet achieved anything of note—but I’m relatively happy, and of the opinion that life can change in a day.
Winston Churchill once described success as going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. The sombre realists amongst us—who drive their metal coffins to jobs they hate on a daily basis in order to buy shit they don’t need—may call it delusional, but I prefer Churchill’s more romantic notion.
My passion in life is writing. I write and self-publish children’s books. I can picture you rolling your eyes, judging me, but don’t be so harsh. Even though it’s not how I make my living yet, I do possess some talent. Making it as an author is a dream that consumes me, eating up all my time and draining what little money I have. But I refuse to quit and accept a mediocre existence—I can’t. Creating characters, crafting stories; it’s like heroin to me.
I am a writer!
Albeit one who sells stamps in his spare time.
My early mornings are spent moulding masterpieces. I’m one of those twats who sits in Costa, hogging a four-seat table with a laptop in front of me as I wistfully stare out of the window, waiting for inspiration to take my mind on a new journey. Whether I’m in the zone and writing copiously, or just staring at a blank screen, it’s a daily ritual I enjoy. Particularly as it allows me to indulge one of my great loves: black coffee.
There is something sensual, almost sexual about black coffee. In its unspoilt form, the intense aroma and deep colour allude to something dark and mysterious. Up until four years ago, I had always drunk coffee with a splash of milk, but a woman that I loved deeply put me on to drinking it in its naked state. I will always be grateful to her for both that and the introduction of marmite into my life. Try a teaspoon in boiling water or spread it on toast, they’re equally fantastic.
The American culture of coffee shop chains has exploded in our towns over the last decade. It seems we can’t get enough of them. Alcohol, heroin and cocaine may spring to mind when we discuss drug use, but just imagine if coffee beans became extinct. Road rage incidents would quadruple as grumpy people roam the earth in a semi-conscious state: the dawn of a modern-day zombie apocalypse. In the twenty-first century, caffeine is the true drug of choice. Costa is my office, and coffee, the fuel that allows my imagination to roam…I guess that makes me an addict.
You’ve probably already made your mind up about me, a dreamer perhaps, maybe even a fantasist? But the truth is, I’m no different from most people. I meander through life, grabbing moments of happiness and contentment. My job in a post office does not challenge or energise me at all, but it allows me a modest lifestyle.
I wake every morning, shower, and crack on with the daily grind. The one thing that gets me through is the thought of a better tomorrow. Whether that’s falling in love or writing a bestseller, I have to believe that something good will happen. After all, life is about moments and the idea is to fill it up with as many good ones as possible.
As humans, we’re all fucked up, emotional, irrational, and riddled with insecurities. No matter how people’s Facebook pages appear, nobody gets to live a perfect life. But the fragility that makes us vulnerable also manifests in ways that make us unique and beautiful. The billionaire may lead a lavish existence, but he or she constantly fears their children being kidnapped. Everyone has their price to pay.
A wise man in Wetherspoons once told me that if you do something that you love for a living then you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Becoming rich isn’t important to me—I just want to pay the bills with the words that swirl around my head. Writing is my sanctuary, a world to which I can escape—when modern life frees up enough time. Ultimately, it will be my salvation, too. This belief is unwavering; it’s what gets me through each day.
Speaking of days, that brings me nicely to a rather beautiful autumnal one in late November…
There is a frosty chill in the air—cool, but not biting—accompanied by a clear, piercing blue sky. I love these crisp days, and savour my morning walk to Costa, arriving fresh and invigorated. I’ve mislaid my gloves, but my hands soon warm up as I wrap them around an Americano and allow the aroma to envelop me. After a few careful sips, I get down to business.
Writing is a solitary pursuit, but behind my calm exterior, a multitude of ideas churn inside my head. My only means of expressing them are the words I type on to the screen.
It’s the start of a new week, and I’m in a bullish mood. Anything seems possible. There are no limits to imagination, and that’s what makes writing stories such a fascinating art. I often get taken in directions that would have seemed inconceivable when I embarked on the story.
People often ask me where my ideas come from, but the truth is, I’m not sure. Dancing Prince-loving dogs, unloved Christmas puddings, and kangaroos that play guitar have all emerged from my fertile imagination—not to mention a sandwich-loving hairy, purple, three-eyed monster named Fergus, who has two books to his name.
As it happens, you have joined me at a particularly exciting time. My latest caper is beginning to take shape. Like the majority of my stories, it’s set during Christmas—a time of year I have always loved. I’m not one of those people who puts their tree up in mid November, but I do play Christmas songs in the car for the entire month of December without getting sick of them. Being loathed and loved in equal measures, it’s a season that divides people. The day itself rarely lives up to the anticipation. It’s too much hype for any event to sustain—and hence, my favourite day has always been Christmas Eve.
In every story I write, I try to replicate the excitement I felt on that day as a child. I’m in the business of pure fantasy and escapism. My carefully crafted words give a child’s imagination licence to roam. What can be more exciting than that?
Up until now, I have written short, rhyming stories, which are suitable for picture books, with an image accompanying every sixteen-line page. The stories seem popular amongst young children in my local area, but not so much with agents and publishers. I predominantly sell them at Christmas fairs and markets, where the response is generally positive. The images are striking, and customers love having them signed and dedicated by the author, which does my ego no harm.
Three years in, the cost of self-publishing has left me a long way from profit, and I might never get there. But for some children, I’m their favourite author, and one of my stories or characters has become a memorable part of their childhood. You can’t put a monetary value on that.
As I’ve found out to my detriment, the children’s book market is an incredibly tough nut to crack—unless, of course, you happen to be a camp television comedian, ex-boy band lead singer or footballer lending their name to a title. I’m not bitter, but at times, when pitted against famous people dipping their toe in literary waters, my efforts seem hopeless.
I recently sent a few (rejected) manuscripts to an agent who receives around eighty stories a day—but only takes on two clients a year. I’m climbing Everest backwards with a blindfold on, but I’m still moving. The current book I’m working on is a little different—dare I say it, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” of children’s picture books. Maybe it will propel me to stardom and worldwide critical acclaim? Who knows?
It’s entitled “The Sprout Who Loved Me and it’s a barn-buster of a yarn: a love story, no less. It has chapters which will contain more than a hundred illustrations, and it’s written entirely in rhyme—all 228 pages! I’m enjoying the challenge, and the new format lends more room to expression. The creative juices have been coursing through my veins—reflected in the quality of work I’ve recently been producing.
Sometimes there isn’t enough waking hours in the day to process all the ideas that seep into my conscious mind. This results in my sleep being disrupted with thoughts of a sprout (with legs) riding a bike through a vibrant land inhabited by the most weird and wonderful creatures. He also has a female carrot sitting in a wooden basket attached to the front. I have taken to sleeping with a pen and paper on my bedside table. It’s the curse of creativity that I gladly bear—oh, to be a writer!
The central character is a romantic sprout named Henry. He is besotted with an elegant carrot called Olivia. But as in life, things are never simple. The festive season looms menacingly, and Henry and Olivia know their fate is sealed. If they remain on the farm, they will be taken to market, and ultimately end up on someone’s Christmas dinner. Taking matters into their own hands early one morning, the enamoured duo escape on a bicycle—albeit without a plan, but in search of a brighter tomorrow. Think Titanic, but with vegetables and a happier ending.
The job of a writer (be it for children or any other market) is to engage the reader enough to keep turning the page. Given the attention span of the average person in this swipe-and-scroll society, this is no mean feat. If I’m presently succeeding in the achievement of this goal, feel free to read on for a little longer!
If my story is to have the slimmest chance of longevity, holding children’s attention is paramount. Interesting and engaging characters and entertaining scenarios which amuse and delight the child are a must.
But with children, you know where you are. They make the best critics—often brutal, but always honest.
Just like life, my story is all about the journey, and I’m making Henry’s and Olivia’s a memorable one:
Sweeping through magical valleys
Inhabited by wizards
Grinning cats, smiley bats
And laughing lizards
All the while
With a smile
Poor old Henry pedals away
Throughout the day
Finding their way out of a maze of monkeys
Proves quite a test
Guarded by an angry ghost
With a hairy chest
Not forgetting the polar bears
Sat in armchairs
Watching the world go by
In top hats
And bow tie
The illustrations will follow after the story is written. For now, they remain marvellous images that have taken residence within my mind.
Imagining how the fruits of my labour will manifest themselves in printed form is a thrilling prospect. Creating a work that will still be regarded fondly long after I have departed this divine planet, a legacy that will endure beyond my earthly years, is my ultimate aspiration.
Very few get to choose the timing of their final hours. Some poor souls are extinguished in an instant. But if I am one of the lucky few who gets the opportunity to reflect on their life when death comes knocking, it will be comforting to know I made a difference.
Ulverston is a beautiful market town, and the quaint cobbled streets around Costa are bustling on this frosty morning. Undiscouraged by the cold, people are well wrapped up and cheerily going about their business.
On the weekend just gone, the town staged their famous Dickensian festival, which incorporates the Christmas lights switch-on. Thousands of people decked out in frocks or top hats and tails descended on the town to enjoy the best in local Lakeland fare. There were stalls, live music, and plenty of mulled wine on offer. The event always delivers, and Ulverston’s picture postcard town provides the perfect setting.
But this festive shindig isn’t what originally put Ulverston on the map. That distinction belongs to a famous former resident who was born in the town: namely, one Arthur Stanley Jefferson, better known simply as Stan Laurel. He was born in a house not more than five minutes’ walk away from where I now sit.
As people seek respite from the cold today, Costa is doing brisk business. Alongside more familiar favourites, the Christmas menu is proving popular as customers come to terms with the immanency of the festive season. I myself am rather partial to their seasonal warm spiced apple drink, and have, when feeling reckless on occasion, recently forgone my usual tipple of choice. Despite my overriding feeling of merriment, however, this morning isn’t one of those days.
If you’ve been paying attention thus far, you’ll remember that I recognise the huge significance of moments. Of course, our days are littered with them, and most melt away with fleeting regularity. But I believe that for most people, one or two moments will define a lifetime. Some give cause for reflection, while others will propel our lives in a new direction. Then, there are the spectacular ones that scoop you up like a tornado, spin you around, and smash your world to smithereens. On this average kind of Monday, I’m about to experience one of those moments.
Even in a busy coffee shop, I don’t struggle to concentrate on my writing. If anything, I welcome the hustle and bustle; it feels more real than silence, and I feed off the energy. Without realising it, I may occasionally indulge in some people-watching.
In these moments, the creative juices have usually stopped flowing, and I’m more prone to distraction. It can, however, be fascinating to see how humans interact in a social environment and refreshing to hear them take an interest in each others’ lives. The amount of times you see a person in company cradling their metal best friend and scrolling incessantly as a loved one talks or sits in silence—that’s mobile technology for you, the archenemy of conversation!
Today, I am flying, in the zone, and I can’t type quickly enough. In this heightened state of creativity, I can produce paragraphs, even chapters of brilliance. If the Ulverston Town band marched through the shop, banging out a stirring rendition of “Fairy Tale of New York,” I’d remain oblivious. My mind is submerged deeply in the realms of fantasy. It is a wonderful way to while away a few hours, and richly productive.
I pray for these moments to last, but flashes of genius coupled with clarity come in spurts. All I can do is maximise the opportunity and fill my boots.
The story is ambling along nicely this morning, and I’m pleased with the direction it’s taking. Following their dash for freedom, the love struck pair become acquainted with the world that lies beyond the farm. Along with the sunlight, Henry’s and Olivia’s initial excitement has faded, giving way to fear and a growing desire to find shelter for the night.
The engulfing darkness is shrouded in mystery, and brings its own flavour of tension as new waves of curious creatures come out to play….
The dark brings quiet
A deafening hush
Henry is alert
Danger lurks behind every bush
In the dead of night
Nocturnal animals roam
Strutting their stuff
In a frightening land
They call home
Spooky sounds fill the air
Once night replaces day
As floating ghosts
And freaky clowns in dressing gowns
Come out to play
Owls with scowls
Sit on branches
Surveying their prey
While crafty cats
Chase juicy rats
Search for love
Foxes wearing leathers
Out in all weathers
Hunt in packs
Henry and Olivia keep moving
Watching each others’ backs
It feels a dangerous time
For a carrot and sprout
To be mooching about
At the moment, I have chapter headings and a basic structure for the story pinned down. But fresh ideas can unexpectedly take things in an unforeseen direction. For instance, after escaping the jaws of an eagle, Henry and Olivia are forced underground. There, they stumble on a nightclub, complete with butch badgers in tuxedos guarding the doors. It turns out to be a regular haunt for rocking rabbits, hipster hedgehogs, and swinging squirrels. Just the notion that somewhere deep underground is a funky place where hedgehogs are head banging the night away delights me.
Jolly customers chatter away, happily slurping down gallons of coffee as the sounds of cups jingling on saucers reverberate around the sunlit shop. I still frantically type away, my hands struggling to keep pace with my thoughts. Words continue to seep out of my mind with reassuring regularity.
A feeling of invincibility is forming. I’ve transcended into writing Nirvana, a place rarely visited or consciously recollected. Freddie Mercury wrote “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in a hotel bath in Munich, and it took him twenty-eight minutes. When Bernie Taupin sat on the rooftop of a record company building, killing time as he waited for a young musician called Elton John, he kicked off the moss and scribbled down the lyrics to “Your Song.” History is littered with seminal moments of genius; maybe this could be mine. I’m standing on the shoulder of giants, and it feels liberating.
Fate can be the most beautiful thing as a specific moment in time profoundly changes the course of a person’s life. For instance meeting somebody who turns out to be the love of your life—or maybe stumbling accidentally on a million pound idea.
Fate, however, is unpredictable, and every twist isn’t filled with wonder. It has a cruel dark side that’s tinged with tragedy, too. If you spend your life trying to figure out the what and why of everything that happens to you, then you’ll drive yourself insane. Sometimes, you have to give it up to the gods of fate and play the hand they deal you. If you knew everything life had in store for you from now until your demise, then your existence would be wholly mundane.
In the midst of an avalanche of ideas, I write freely, and this lends a more natural feel to my story. I’m exploring and unearthing parts of my imagination that previously lay undiscovered, operating in a conscious state that exists beyond my comprehension. At this defining moment in my fledging literary career, all I want to do is forget about time, remain oblivious to the world around me, and ride the wave.
But fate chooses this exact moment to make an appearance.
At the point my creativity is building up to a crescendo, a sound breaks free from the plethora of background noise, and captures my attention. The very distinctive clink of stiletto on stone in perfect symmetry proves wholly irresistible. Woefully unprepared for the enchanting figure that’s about to transfix me, I glance towards the counter. It will be the first time that I’ll see the coffee shop girl.
This striking woman exudes elegance, moving with the grace and majesty of an evergreen Federer serenely floating around Wimbledon’s fabled centre court. She possesses a level of exterior beauty that has no right to be bestowed on a solitary mortal being. It’s reassuringly natural, layered with an entrancing freshness. Picture a radiant Anna Friel at her delectably alluring best, and you’re in the right ballpark.
Her long black hair appears raw and silky in the winter sun. With perfect poise, she flicks it away from her eyes and surveys the shop before ordering. It’s extremely busy; perhaps this will dictate if her coffee is to go. I watch intently as she orders and waits patiently.
What comes next will be crucial to the longevity of the gorgeous moment I’m so hopelessly lost in. Will it be crockery laid on a tray, or a paper cup? The suspense is delicious but barely palpable.
I quickly scan the shop. Shit, the only spare seats are wrapped around my table! Abruptly, my golden moment shatters into shards of panic. I sit on the precipice of despair. All that remains is the fear of impending humiliation. My blood runs cold with the realization that I’m not confident enough to survive in the presence of such ferocious beauty.
My one strand of hope lies in the fact that this goddess seems blissfully unaware of just how beautiful she really is. This refreshing observation temporarily rejuvenates my soul, but there is scant hope that her humility will make up for my dilapidated stock of self-confidence.
My heart is now beating vigorously amidst a sea of fretful anticipation. Drink in or takeaway—surely my destiny hasn’t come down to this? She’s Barcelona, and I’m Dagenham & Redbridge, so probably not. But here I still sit, frozen, like a petrified defendant waiting for the jury to deliver their potentially damming verdict. I’m facing my Waterloo.
Finally the result is in! Here comes the order….
It’s a burgundy paper cup! I breathe out deeply as the tension that has temporarily shackled my body rapidly dissipates. How lucky am I? The opportunity to converse with a stunning, once-in-a-lifetime woman has been extinguished, and I’m actually happy about it! Inwardly, I am bitterly disappointed to be deriving pleasure from the fact I’m a complete coward. But at least now I get to console myself with romantic thoughts of what might have been, rather than living with the aftertaste of stinging rejection.
Prior to her departure, my eyes remain set on the coffee shop girl. With the briefest of glances, she fails to catch my gaze before striding purposefully for the door. Her dark, untamed locks bounce zestfully on her shoulders. I pray for her to pause, look back, and flash me the merest suggestion of a smile. Just an indication that she is aware of my existence.
I utter the infamous words of Dirty Harry under my breath: “Make my day.” But even on this momentous occasion, its one wish too far; I’ve lived my beautiful moment.
Then she’s gone, like a fading dream that I have no business holding on to, just another person walking the quaint but cold cobbled streets under a darkening sky. She belongs to the night, and I’m left trapped in a sense of wonder.