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“Work is so busy”.

“I’m too tired in the evenings”.

“The kids take up all my time”.

“I just can’t think of anything to write”.

The list goes on.

Writers are society’s great procrastinators, forever finding excuses for not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

And I’m no different.

Aside from (some claim unhealthy) daily absorption in social media, primarily Facebook, I have written little of consequence over the past eighteen months, in fact a total of twenty five posts on my blog, admittedly most of which were of considerable length.

But it is now three years since I published A Half-Forgotten Triumph with my late, lamented co-author, Martin Moseling, to some acclaim in cricketing circles. That was to be the – somewhat idiosyncratic – launch pad for a writing career that, frankly, was always going to be more likely to bring modest pleasure to a small proportion of the reading public than any riches to its author.

Based on a host of articles written on annual trips to San Francisco, I planned to follow Triumph up in 2015 with a book celebrating, from an English traveller’s perspective, the City by the Bay. By the time I’m writing this piece, I would have hoped to have published it.

Not so.

A significant chunk of Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco is still sitting on my desk in the nicely decorated binder I bought for the express purpose. Less developed is the manuscript of High Kicks and Red Rocks: A South West Road Trip which was the next planned work.

Now, this is where, in the classic writer’s fashion, I reel out my own excuses – deteriorating health and ultimate death of my father, which took a physical and mental toll, the passing of two other close friends, including the aforementioned Martin, two major operations for myself and, during this calendar year, the need to sell two properties and purchase another fifty miles apart.

Under cross-examination, I do believe I could make a case for partly justifying my inaction in respect of some of those issues, but, ultimately, my natural indolence took control of my writing energies.

But I can no longer cite them, or any other factors for that matter, as reasons for not getting “back on the horse”.

So it is time to dust off that nicely decorated binder and get to work on Cloudy Day, and following that, High Kicks. 

And I will.

However.

(I know – procrastinating again).

A slight spanner has been thrown into the works in the past few months which has had both a positive and potentially negative impact on my writing plans.

Folkestone.

My new home on the Channel coast has given me both a source of renewed inspiration and motivation. Without it, I doubt whether I would have been able to exorcise those demons I listed above.

It has been the subject of my four most recent blog posts, the last three alone written in the two and a half months since I arrived in the town that had generated so many happy memories from half a century ago.

But the danger, of course, is that its charms might divert me from the plans I have just outlined for those two books. I suspect that there may one day be a need to make Folkestone the main protagonist of another, more substantial, piece, but, for now, it has to be the light relief, the day job if you like. Aside from the requirement to sustain interest in the upcoming San Francisco book, ever more important as completion approaches, it will continue to be the primary focus of my social media activity.

Now where did I say that nicely decorated binder was?

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Shortly after the publication of my first book, A Half-Forgotten Triumph, I outlined my initial thoughts on what was already being referred to as “the San Francisco book”:

https://tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/the-next-book/

At that time, I was considering various options on its subject matter and format:

  • standard travel diary;
  • guide book;
  • reflections on aspects of life in the city;
  • features on some of its larger than life characters; and
  • analysis of the British influence on the City.

A year on, all of those options still appeal to me, and I would fully intend to tackle them all in the future. But if I am to make progress with this first book in the series, the time has come to set aside doubts and decide which course to take.

I keep returning to the idea of a combination of the first three options. Indeed, the material that I have written already has adopted that approach.

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The book will follow an English couple on a month long vacation in the City. From their rental cottage in Bernal Heights, they will explore both the most celebrated and lesser known locations, reflecting, not only on their experiences, but also the issues affecting tourists and residents alike in modern day San Francisco.

Those reflections will inevitably carry an English flavour, similar to the style of both my blog and the Tony Quarrington: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco Facebook page.

I have had an acceptable working title for some time – Smiling on a Cloudy Day Some readers may recognise the direct quote which, I think, reflects neatly my habitual engagement with the “City by the Bay”.

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I’ll confess that even reaching this point has not been easy, and progress has been slow.

Perhaps it’s laziness, perhaps lack of imagination – or, more likely, both – but I struggle to write authentically about San Francisco when I am domiciled most of the time more than five thousand miles away.

There is so much support material available online – not only websites and other resources, but hundreds of videos online on every aspect of life in the City.

Want to ride the Powell and Hyde cable car line?

Click on the one of several YouTube videos.

Want to know what it’s really like living in the Mission district?

Click on one of the many “vox pop” interviews with residents on YouTube.

Want to absorb yourself in one of the many festivals that abound in San Francisco on almost any given weekend?

I think you know the answer.

Easy then isn’t it?

No. It’s very hard – well, at least for me.

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James Joyce may have been able to capture the essence of daily life in Dublin despite only occasionally, and then briefly, returning to his native city a handful of times after first leaving it in the year in which Ulysses is set.

It helps, of course, if you have spent the first twenty two years of your life in that environment. Being a genius and a master of the English language too are hardly handicaps.

I can claim neither of those advantages.

So I’m left with memories from a dozen visits, bolstered by notes and blog articles at the time, and those YouTube videos to convey the spirit of life in the city.

Ultimately, the readers will be the judge of how successful I have been.

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Finally, there are a number of practical decisions to make over the coming months as the book comes together, notably the projected publication date and form the book will take (print or e-version).

On timing, my current plans are to publish midway between my planned trips to the City in May and September of next year, enabling me to promote it locally.

I will continue to use this blog to relay my emerging thoughts, and, where appropriate, trail some of the content.

 

 

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With my first book, A Half-Forgotten Triumph, co-written with Martin Moseling, now in print, I am keen to proceed with the second. It will represent a significant departure from my first publication which explored in detail the fortunes of one sports team a century ago.  Not only will I be writing on my own this time but I will also be focusing on a subject that exceeds even my passion for cricket – San Francisco.

I am grappling at the moment, however, with the precise form that the book might take.  Initially, I envisaged writing a standard travel diary, based on my experiences over ten visits to the city, varying between three and twenty eight nights, during the past eighteen years. Of course, I would try to make it witty and interesting but it would still be a travel diary.

But there are other options.

I have written nearly twenty blog articles on San Franciscan characters and eccentrics, some famous, others notorious (the characters, not the posts). An expanded work on that subject – along the lines perhaps of “50 Great San Francisco characters” is still an objective. But perhaps not now.

I am intrigued by the unanimously thrilled reaction of my countrymen – and women – to their first acquaintance with San Francisco. Though many may never return, and certainly not as often as I have and will continue to do, they retain fond memories of their visit. The most recent figures from the San Francisco Travel Association show that, at 11.6% of the total of 15.92 million, the proportion of visitors from the United Kingdom only just falls short of those from Canada, the country unsurprisingly supplying the most.

The British have a clear affinity with the city, as witnessed by such literary luminaries as  Dylan Thomas (“you wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist”) and John Lennon (“we’re crazy about this city”), as well as countless thousands of tourists from its isles.

i think there may, therefore, be some mileage in assessing the British impact on San Francisco since Sir Francis Drake first landed the Golden Hind near the Golden Gate in June 1579, almost two hundred years before the city was officially “founded” by the Spanish. But again perhaps not yet.

Despite its popularity and the literature it has spawned, there are still aspects of the San Francisco story that have yet to be explored.

My final approach, and possibly the most likely at present, is a more fluid series of reminiscences and reflections on the everyday life and culture of the city. More challenging would be to convert that material into a fictional narrative, partly because I doubt that I have the skill to do so, but equally because I would have the massive shadow of Armistead Maupin standing over me. An English angle might mollify the challenge but it would still be a daunting task to set myself.

But in a sense, it doesn’t quite matter yet as I am currently pulling together all the pieces I have written on the subject in my blog over the past two and a half years. The strength – or otherwise – of that content might actually help me to identify in which direction I need to go.

So there is no immediate urgency to make that decision while I carry out the necessary research and review the existing material. Equally, however, I cannot afford to let it drift as I want to have some material available to present to prospective publishers towards the end of the year.

I will continue to use this blog to relay my emerging thoughts and perhaps trail some of the content.

Wish me luck! 

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Born in October 1952 on the day tea rationing ended in Britain (good timing that, given my mother’s obsession – and subsequently mine – with the brew) and, as an only child, I enjoyed a happy childhood, revolving mainly around football and cricket.  I had the good fortune of growing up during the sixties, the music of which provided a thrilling soundtrack to my that period.

I attained a BA (Honours) in English and European Literature at Essex University, writing my dissertation on the novel At Swim-Two-Birds by Irish novelist and journalist Flann O’Brien.  This was followed by studying towards an MA in Anglo-Irish Literature at Leeds, majoring on James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and W.B.Yeats, including writing a treatise on the novels of Patrick Kavanagh (The Green Fool and Tarry Flynn).

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Eventually, I exchanged academia – via portering in a major department store and “making” sultana cookies and other exotic (for the time) biscuits – for the last refuge of the modern scoundrel and joined the UK civil service in March 1980.  I subsequently spent 29 years in the Department for Work and Pensions and its many antecedents, latterly in human resources and diversity before poaching early retirement in March 2009.

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My interest in the subject led me to undertake a Level 3 BTEC Advanced Certificate in Travel and Tourism via home learning.  I completed the course in December 2010, achieving a Distinction in all three elements – understanding the travel and tourism industry, tourist destinations and tour operations.  My ambition now is to concentrate on writing and, hopefully, to publish on a regular basis.  I have been focusing principally on my passions of San Francisco, cricket and travel, though I am not able to resist on pontificating on life in general from time to time.

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This blog has now been active for nearly two and a half years. But I want to do more than that. At present, I am in the final throes of co-writing a book on the centenary of Kent County Cricket Club’s fourth County Championship title in eight years, and future writing projects include a series of short stories based in San Francisco and an expansion of our U.S. road trip diary of September / October last year.

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Aside from the above topics, my other serious interests are walking, skiing, baseball (a fan from afar of the San Francisco Giants), association football (a life long fan of Gillingham), music (principally folk, blues, country and West Coast rock borne of the original Summer of Love in 1967), going to the theatre and eating out.

I feel extremely grateful to have the health and energy to pursue all of those interests, as I am also for the support and encouragement of my wonderful wife Janet whom I married in Vegas on Halloween 2009 after 27 years together (that makes it 31 now!).

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I have been inundated lately with enquiries as to why I haven’t posted on this blog since before Christmas, and the overwhelming tumult has finally forced me to fess up.

Well, actually, nobody has asked me – not one individual.

Personne.

Nessuno.

Nadie.

Niemand.

So it is purely guilt that has forced me to explain myself now. And I for one am sick of opening the blog to find my ten favourite Christmas songs staring – and blaring – at me. And, by the way, I have already changed my mind about them (but you will have to wait another nine months to discover the details).

So why the silence?

Well, it’s not – as might be presumed – because I have contracted writer’s block, lost my muse (if I ever had one) or given up because it’s just got too difficult.

No, it’s because I am writing a book!

Not alone though, I have a co-author.

Having made the decision in early December I felt to do it justice, and the fact that there is time pressure on its launch, I would avoid the complication of posting blog articles at the same time. Focusing on a single aspect of your writing is not what the experts tell us is advisable, and had I not been collaborating with someone else, I might have attempted to do both in tandem.

So, anyway, what’s this book about?

At this stage, with seven eighths of the writing done, I’d rather not disclose any more information to the world (though friends and associates already know), other than to say that it is a non-fiction book about a niche subject, stretching to 300 pages with masses of photographs and other illustrations. A well established author and expert on the subject has agreed to write the foreword.

We hope to round up the actual writing by the end of March with a view to publication in early summer (we have been given quotes by several prospective publishers already, though we may yet self-publish).

I will blog again shortly on the lessons to be learnt from my first book writing experience (the three part novel about the little white bull, written at the age of seven, doesn’t count). Writing with another person who lives 150 miles away has posed additional challenges, though I have to confess that the process has been relatively painless.

With the writing complete, I will return to the blog with a vengeance. With a whole month in summer in San Francisco ahead of me I will be focusing once again on this endlessly fascinating subject.

There – what a relief, at least I won’t now have to look at that Christmas song list any more.

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One of several writing magazines to which I subscribe, Writer’s Forum, has a regular feature on the inside back cover entitled Where I Write, in which established authors describe the space in which they do most of their work. This month’s (August!) edition also contains a longer article headed Room to Write in which eight writers explain where they escape to write, and whether they regard such a place as a “necessity or a luxury”.

Amongst the “offices” cited by the respondents are specially designed, sound proofed studies, pergolas, sheds, beach huts, inglenook fireplaces and even the corner of the kitchen table. The accompaniment of dogs and music figure high in judgements of what aids creativity.

As I am never likely to be invited to contribute to such a feature, I thought I would take this opportunity to inflict my own preferences on you.

Firstly, there is no single place where I do all, or even the bulk of, my “writing”. The absence of a settled location in my house means I have to take my chances where I can.

Despite being from a generation reared on pen/pencil and paper, I tend to compose directly onto a computer, although I do, as the scribbling sages advise, have a notebook and pen (and now smartphone) with me at all times to capture those rare and precious moments of inspiration.

In no particular order here are my regular writing locations:

The front (second) bedroom before the purchase, three years ago, of my laptop, and last year, my netbook, the fact that our single desktop PC resided here meant that this was the most common venue for my work. The fact, however, that it overlooks the road at the front of the house, and that there is a TV in it (and, of course, a bed!), all play to my innate inattentiveness, so it was hardly ideal. And then, for some unaccountable reason, guests staying in the room started to complain when they found me hunched over the desk at three o’clock in the morning with one finger stuck to the “delete” button on the keyboard.

The kitchen / diner – plenty of space, the most suitable table in the house and my most prized books almost within touching distance, but the insidious presence of yet more TVs in both the conservatory and living room, and all that food intoning “eat me” from fridge, freezer and cupboards alike make this far too distracting, though less so towards the end of the week when I feel as if I am auditioning for the role of Old Mother Hubbard.

(Pause for the fifth cup of tea of the day).
The (south facing) garden – a nice idea in the summer (if and when it arrives), but the glare of the sun, my recently acquired susceptibility to hay fever, and the noise of the neighbours’ children (or rather their fishwife of a mother), render it inconducive to concentration.  There is a brick shed at the end of the garden, but I doubt that the mice, spiders and triffids would be too enthusiastic about sharing their home with me on a regular basis.

The train – despite having cashed in my chips at the commuter casino three years ago, I still make a number of train journeys, principally to London and back. At around an hour they are useful for planning writing exercises, and if the compartment is relatively quiet (no loud mouth Blackberry users confusing it for their office or shopping parties discussing last night’s soap story lines), I might just be able to write something worthwhile. The main drawback, however, is what I call the “Meopham triangle”, a 20 minute stretch of the journey when my broadband signal tends to wander off.

The library – all the local libraries provide a healthy number of computers for people to use, primarily, it would seem, for job search and social networking. This alone, for my part, demonstrates that they continue to add value to the community. Although time on the PCs is limited to an hour at a time and no more than two hours per day, the additional provision of quiet study areas enables me to use my netbook there too. Those with (cheap) coffee machines get an extra point – which leads me to what, in many respects, are my favourite places to compose……

Cafés and Coffee shops (is there a distinction?) – there is something about the environment that lends itself to both thinking and writing, and that is not just the smell of fresh coffee or the availability of free wifi and (not so free) cake. Perhaps it is the steady procession of customers, inadvertently, in their demeanour or conversation, offering up ideas for characters, situations or thought trails. Inconveniently, however, you are usually obliged to buy coffee, which can be expensive.  If it could stay hot for longer than 15 minutes this would be the ideal place – maximum time, minimum cost. The only solution is to buy a frappé, frappuccino or cooler (depending on your vendor of choice) – I can make a medium sized version last a couple of hours.

Having seen what I have written above it is interesting to note that I appear to prefer, and get more written, out of the house – in a library or café – than in it. I think that reinforces my belief that there is a clear need to separate home from writing, though as some writers have claimed, that can be achieved in the physical space that constitutes that home. In the final analysis, I suppose it is, as the article in Writer’s Forum concludes, a matter of “finding your own space, whatever and wherever it is, where you feel comfortable and are the most productive”.

The dream of a discreet study, either in the house itself or in its grounds, and surrounded by all my books, lives on.

For the record. I have written parts of this article in a variety of places, including the kitchen, conservatory (with the fishwife in fine voice next door), on the 16.52 train from London Victoria to Ramsgate and Dover Priory and in my hairdresser’s waiting area.

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Today is my first day being a writer.

Huh? What d’ya mean, first day being a writer? You’ve had this blog for 17 months, posted 128 articles, written nearly 90,000 words and had 35,000 views!

I thought you’d put all that “am I / aren’t” I nonsense behind you when you posted the article http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/yes-i-am-a-writer/ .

So did I, but I was wrong. I may be writing but I’m not living the life of a writer.

Yes, I’ve derived some personal satisfaction from doing it and thought some pieces were actually pretty good. And I’ve had a number of gratifying compliments along the way. But it just doesn’t feel right.

So what does this “living the life of a writer” that you’re so obviously failing at really mean?

It’s difficult to define but it’s to do with it being at the centre of my life – and it’s not. I have other commitments which, when push comes to shove, take priority and demand my time at the expense of writing.

Well, of course, we all do, and it’s only right and proper that they should on occasions. I think you’re being too hard on yourself.

Perhaps. I suppose, like everything in life, it’s a question of balance and something that I just have to keep working at.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge a second of the other important things in my life. It’s the time in which I could write that I am not making the most of.

So what do you need to change?

I continue to be too easily prone to distractions – social, digital and psychological. I have always been so and probably will never change. But I need to eliminate, or at least manage, them better than I do, starting today.

So that’s all you have to do then is it?

Hardly, that’s only improving the environment in which I can operate – there’s much more to it than that. I knew from the outset that, in this ultra-competitive world of writing, I was not going to be “discovered” overnight and handed a multi-book deal or a prestige magazine column just by virtue of a few blog posts.

But in effect that’s what I have done – sat back and waited for someone with influence to say “hey Tony, we really like your work, can you write us an article on x, we’ll pay you for it”. Not going to happen.

It’s not only sisters that are doing it for themselves nowadays – I need to put myself out there, make things happen.

So what specifically do you need to do?

I have a significant body of work, some of which I know can be adapted into pieces for relevant magazines, competition entries and more substantial commissions, and, essentially, made better.

I need to be more disciplined, dynamic and determined. The compulsion to write is definitely there but indolence still reigns (thought I’d throw in a Diamond Jubilee reference there).

At the beginning of this year I set myself writing goals for the next 3 years and detailed plans for this year, but, after a satisfactory start, they are not being followed through at present. I could blame, as always, distractions such as the April holiday in San Francisco and subsequent long days spent at the cricket, both of which have spawned some writing pieces, but it is too easy to do that and I won’t do it anymore.

It’s time for proper planning, structure, organisation – and drive.

Time to contact those magazines that might find both my existing and future work interesting and worthy, just possibly, of publishing, however meagre the remuneration might be.

Time to enter those writing competitions (I have identified a couple today that have deadlines of the end of June/ beginning of July that look promising and require “only” a revision and adaptatation of articles that have appeared previously on the blog).

Time to eliminate the distractions – not have e mails, Facebook, Twitter and cricket forums open on my laptop when I’m meant to be writing, let the telephone go to voicemail, and stop flicking the television on to catch the Piers Morgan Tonight show on CNN or the latest jousting at the Leveson enquiry (which drone on interminably but are nonetheless fascinating).

Time to read much more.

Time to stop talking (and scribbling) about doing all of those things and get on and do them.

Time to get serious.

Well, I wish you luck.

Thanks, now where’s that e mail I must reply to?

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