Top Five Tips for not being put off by the Top Ten Tips that tell you you’re dreadful

Poetry is one of those subjects that seems to court strong opinion on not only its value, but also on what it actually is. There are countless blog posts; usually written by poets, arts journalists or reviewers, about what makes good poetry, how to write a good poem, what poetry isn’t, even what the correct and incorrect way of reading poetry is. I genuinely think that these sort of posts must be written by people totally at ease and confident in their own poetry and their own style of poetry, people that are absolutely certain of what poetry is. God, how I envy those people! I find posts that tell me what the wrong sort of poetry is make me a bit wobbly, they make me question whether my own poetry is wrong. I also see a lot of blog posts and social media posts talking about the poetic voice, specifically the ‘I’ voice in poetry.  These posts tend to infer that the ‘I’ voice is too inward looking, too navel gazing, that the way to write poetry is to look outwards, not inwards. Of course, the ‘I’ voice, by its very nature, tends to talk about personal experience, either of the writer or through the prism of the writer’s experience. Are we not to write about our own personal experiences? Is that navel gazing? The idea that people shouldn’t write about their personal experiences is an odd one. Every poem ever written was written with the writer as filter, and that filter is always the writers personal experience, whether they are the subject or not. You cannot avoid that filter, nor should you, that’s what makes poetry the incredible and subjective art form that it is, not whether it has the word shard in it, or whether it explores the breakdown of your marriage,  experiences of illness, sex, body image, death, being unstable or mentally ill, or the experience of watching a play of drinking a coffee or imagining the rustle of Elizabeth the first’s dress or describing a journey or the existential crisis of the human condition, but whether it connects on an emotional level to the reader, whether it elicits an emotional response and causes a reaction. That’s a difficult quality to define.

There are lots and lots of absolutely brilliant writers writing about their personal experiences at the minute, a lot of them are women. For a long time, women were put off writing about there own experiences, because women’s experiences tended to be unrepresented in what was a very male dominated arena. The idea was that women’s experiences, and I’m specifically thinking about experiences seen through a woman’s eyes whether childbirth, menstruation, motherhood, sex, marriage, work, whatever, that those experiences were unimportant because the world was directed in its gaze to the ‘real’ world as seen from a male perspective. I think writing about the experience of being a women is still somewhat frowned upon, even women writers question the validity of their story. But my point, my very long winded point, is that who’s to say what is right and wrong here. Good poetry is good poetry and what is good to one person isn’t necessarily good to another. I think there’s room for a lot of different styles and voices as I think there is room for lots of different styles of music. In fact, poetry is very much like music. There are the same sort of arguments that go round and round about what does and doesn’t constitute music. If you’re trying to write poetry and are being frightened off it by what is and isn’t a poem, don’t be, especially if you’re just starting out. So here are my top five tips for not being put off by all the top ten tips available to poetry writers:

  1. The first rule of poetry club is to write it, don’t talk about it, don’t think about it, just write. You can’t write a poem unless you actually write a poem. It doesn’t matter if you never show it to anyone, it doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish or you think it’s rubbish, if that pen isn’t on the paper or the keys aren’t being pressed then it’s never going to be written. What’s the worst that could happen? You write something that someone else doesn’t like. So what.
  2. Bear in mind that articles that tell you what you are doing wrong are click bait, they play on the insecurities of emerging writers looking for advice, they’re there to boost blog posts and draw people to websites. Every time you search for advice and all those negative sites come up, ask yourself why they aren’t telling you what you’re doing right when you write.
  3. As just mentioned, if you’re looking for advice, look for websites and blog posts that tell you what you are doing right, or what you could do right rather than pointing out what you’re doing wrong. They are generally more genuine and helpful. Also look on reputable websites where it is in their interests to encourage good writing: magazine and society websites are a good starting point.
  4. Allow yourself to get it wrong. With all due respect to the brilliant writers that are trying to help emerging writers along, the only way to get it right is to get it wrong a few times. Set yourself a challenge: my big challenge was always sonnets and how not to make them look like awful twisted Shakespeare rip offs. Keep going, keep making mistakes, and at some point you will have made all the mistakes and you’ll be poet laureate and ride around in a gold carriage wearing a crown made out of parchment. Or at least you will know that you have learnt the rules. A long gone friend of mine used to say ‘you can’t follow the rules unless you know how to break them first’.
  5. You don’t have to be the best. If you want to write, just write. If it makes you happy to write, then write. If you do want to be the best, then keep going. Ask advice from real writers and editors, the best way is to fork out the six to twelve quid that it might cost you to get feedback on your poem from a genuine writer that you admire, they will usually critique poetry but we do like to buy food and pay our bills too so best to offer payment. You could always take your work to a writer’s surgery or apply for some of the brilliant free enterprises that are about that are designed to help writers gain experience from other writers.

Finally, write about your own experience, they make the world richer. How does anyone ever know what anyone else’s experiences are if we don’t write about them. Try and be unique with it, try and write in a way that means that you own it, that your story is yours alone, but do not be put off telling your story because someone else thinks you should only write about stuff that isn’t you. Write about that AS WELL. The two are not mutually exclusive and a poet that can be as easy in their own skin, opening up their heart to the world as they are describing a stage show, or a flower or a drink or a pike or a hawk in the rain is holding all the cards. Don’t label yourself and put yourself in a filing cabinet, just write.

 

x

 

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So Long, 2017: The Boring NYE Round Up

In many ways, 2017 was a quiet year. But the quietness was not a desolate, empty quiet, it was a contended, slow moving river of quiet; a thick, silvery slide of being, of just being. I am slowly learning to accept the moment, and more, to enjoy the moment and not strive and not regret, just to be here in the present. That was what I was aiming for in 2017 and I feel like I have achieved that. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my lows, I have had my wobbles, I have worried about my career, I have been bereft with grief for my daughter, for the family we won’t have, but I have not lived in that grief, I have not drowned in the very bleak lows that I have experienced on occasion this year. On the whole, this has been a good year. The highlight, of course, was my latest collection coming out with Valley Press. I’d been anxious about it, not knowing whether it was a strong enough collection to be published, but it’s out there, I’m happy with it, it’s selling well. I can’t ask for more than that, I don’t want to ask for more than that. I’ve had some really lovely feedback from readers, and that is the best sort of accolade one can have. I read a twitter post by Jandra Sutton (@jandralee) today which said:

‘Your book doesn’t have to be one of the ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2018′ to be worthwhile. You’ve done something huge, and sharing it with the world takes courage. Don’t let some arbitrary list take away your joy!’

It sums up very nicely how I feel. I am terrible for comparing myself to other people, especially on social media, where the fish eye lens exaggerates and enhances everyone you look at whilst diminishing your own successes. But I feel I am moving forward with a greater sense of my own abilities and my imposter syndrome muzzled and under control. One of my greatest memories for the year is from my book launch and the absolute happiness of a room full of smiling people, cake, wine, chatting and feeling at ease in my own skin. I’ll remember that for a long time; the way the November light etched into the window and the warm wood of the panelled room held us all. My friends from Newcastle had travelled down to see me that day and a good friend from Hebdon Bridge had travelled over too, there were friends i’ve not seen for years, people I used to work with, ex students and mentees and the room was a mixture of poetry people and non poetry people, some of which were experiencing a poetry ‘event’ for the first time. I feel honoured that that event was my book launch. So yes, good, warm, solid memories. The sort of memories that can’t be eaten up with anxiety, instead, they become the memories that when you think of that time, that moment, your back gets a little straighter, your head gets a little higher.

My other highlights include becoming a columnist for Yorkshire Life Magazine which means I have the opportunity to write about life on the coast, pretty much a dream come true for me. It was a big tick on the things I wanted to achieve in 2017. And it is part of my other big tick, which was to make headway in the plan to become a full time writer. I’d wanted to increase the amount of work I was doing that was directly related to writing and poetry, whilst decreasing the amount of work I was doing which had nothing to do with writing and I managed that. I’d given up dog walking a few months ago, but then made the decision to close down my animal care business altogether in December. I realised, after a couple of particularly manic weeks where I couldn’t fit everything in and I found myself turning down paid writing work to do some animal care jobs, that I was using it as an excuse. I was hiding behind the animal care business because I was afraid to make that big step from one boat to another. That’s how it feels, to me, when I imagine it, like I had a a foot in two boats. The time was right to give it up and trust myself to be a full time writer. I know I have done the right thing, because I can feel it in my chest, like my conscience had been tap tap tapping me and telling me I wasn’t being true to myself. It was a huge relief, making the decision, but tinged with fear. Yesterday I spent the morning clearing my office and changing my filing cabinets around to reflect the change in priorities. I came across various bits and pieces from 2014 when I was starting the animal care business: my first business cards, my first posters, all really happy memories. I have a warm, happy feeling of accomplishment looking at them. I  did that, I worked with a foot in the animal care business and a foot in the writing world, juggling university at the same time to get to this point and it is a good, good feeling to now be putting both feet into my writing career. Without the animal care business I will now be able to work on my PhD more thoroughly too. I already feel like a big stress-weight has been lifted, everything is so much less chaotic all of a sudden. I don’t know how I was doing everything at once, but I have a feeling I wasn’t doing any of it to the best of my abilities.

Which brings me to next year and the plans I have. Next year is the year that I will be putting together the next collection. I’ll be spending the year writing new poems to add to the ones I already have, doing some research and really getting my teeth into it. I have deliberately kept the amount of new stuff I’m doing down to a minimum for next year so that I can give the work I am doing my full attention. I think this might be some of the best work I’ve ever produced, but no doubt this feeling will be followed by crushing self doubt once I get down to it. The three things I have planned for 2018 are getting the backbone of my PhD written, the new collection and getting my writing workshop up and running again. These are not small projects, so it’s important that I am self aware enough that I don’t put some procrastination devices in between me and the work. Procrastination, I have discovered, is much more about a lack of confidence than anything to do with laziness. I hope to pre empt that lack of confidence by being aware of it, if that makes sense. I am hoping that I may get some help with funding so that I can free up more time to concentrate on the collection but if I’m not lucky enough to get the funding I will be working on it at the weekends, which is no different to what I have always done. I’ve been juggling different parts of my life for what seems like forever.  Ideally I would have three months of solid work on it, but without funding this is much more likely to take the whole year and the project would be reduced in scope, unfortunately. So fingers crossed that one of the organisations I am applying to thinks this is a good idea and wants to help me. I don’t want to say too much about it all yet as it involves some big ideas and I don’t want to jinx myself. I am very much treating it as a project that will have a degree of community engagement, but as I say, I am keeping it under my hat for now so watch this space.

Other new year’s resolutions include being a bit stricter with my daily meditation sessions; I’ve let them slip when I am busy and that’s really the opposite of how it should work. I’m also having another crack at veganism in January and my journey towards being zero waste continues, very very slowly. I guess my biggest resolution is in the form of how I talk to myself, how I use social media and how I live my life: there needs to be more living in the moment, less attachment to striving for success.less comparison with other writers. Success comes in so many different forms. I think the sort of success that I am aiming for is to just write, to do the thing that I am driven to do. I don’t want to ask for more than that. If I am writing, then I am content.

There are so many people in the poetry community that have helped me, bolstered my confidence and inspired me, so thank you and thank you to the writers who keep writing. FullSizeRender-10

Happy New Year

x

 

The Mole is in Physical Form

Since I last posted I have been super busy, as usual. I am continuing to work on the Stillbirth Commission, working on an arts funding application for a community project in Scarborough, I’ve written an article for a magazine, interviewed Helen Mort and Kate Fox (both incredible and a joy to interview) worked like a maniac to get enough abstracts written so that I can hand in a good chunk of invoices (which ensures that my mortgage and bills are paid and I get to eat food for the month) and had a productive PhD meeting with my new supervisors. The big news, though, is that my new collection, Gifts the Mole Gave Me is back from the printers and ready for me to go pick it up next Thursday, which is its official launch date. Between now and then I am frantically trying to get the marketing information that lovely Valley Press have asked me to put together for publicity purposes, trying to organise a nice launch, which will be in Scarborough and getting ready to get this out and get reading from it.

This is the point in the publication process where my nerve wavers a little. The book is now in physical form. I have received some terrific feedback and endorsements from Carole Bromley,  Deborah Alma and Richard Skinner, but now this thing that I created, this book of thoughts and little doorways into my life and my personal life is up and away into people’s homes where they will read and either like or dislike it, or feel nothing about it whatsoever. The real worry is that, even though the book’s themes are about physical movement and how that is mirrored in psychological movement, walking, travelling, observing, and the search for belonging; the rooting for roots,  I am still writing about still birth and miscarriage and these are things that I have written about before, in all of my collections. The fear is that people will think me a one trick pony. Why should I be bothered by this? I’m not sure. Rationally I want to say strongly: this is my story, these are the poems I have written at a time in my life when I was tunnelling out of my daughter’s death. I write what I write when the poems are there. I can only write when the poems are there. The poem-fishing process is a delicate trout tickling affair when it comes to catching the slippery little blighters, the poems will only be there when they are there. But then, I find I am justifying myself to…who? Myself? Do I think I have to justify writing about my daughter’s death because I’ve written about it before? If I was mentoring myself I’d tell myself that the poems speak for themselves, if they are strong poems then they are strong poems, I am not stuck here, I am not writing the same poem repeatedly, it is more like the poems are tracking my journey. Be proud, Wendy, you’re allowed to be proud of your work. It is not a loud collection, it does not shout, it does not stamp or crash into the lime light, this is a quiet, subterranean collection. The metaphorical mole is on a journey, always, underground, in the dark, until that moment when the earth is turned and the mole feels the light, suddenly, and can suddenly see how far its come (here biology messes with my metaphor as moles have ridiculously bad eye sight and probably cannot see where they have been or are going, they only exist in their own moment…which is another metaphor entirely)

I am moving like the mole, through and up to the light. I am disturbing the earth and turning up treasures I didn’t know existed.

My first reading from the new book is at Mark Conner’s Word club in Leeds on the 27th. I will admit to being a bit nervous. There are a fair few Yorkshire based poems in the collection, I shall probably read those. It’s nice to be around Yorkshire folk for the first reading. It’d be smashing to see you there.

Until next week

x

 

Working and Relaxing

This week has been a bit of a mixed bag. I had a gig to cover for Northern Soul on Friday, which I never managed to get to due to illness and though every person I was supposed to interview was absolutely lovely, I have ended up feeling really rubbish about it. I’m hoping to reschedule the interviews soon, but I was gutted to have missed out on the incredible Contains Strong Language festival in Hull, and to have missed out on meeting some of my poetry idols and influences. However, I’m going to try not to beat myself up too much, these things happen.

Being self employed is absolutely brilliant, but it’s also very very stressful. I’m trying to move into freelance writing, and a find work as a jobbing poet, with some success, but while I am building my reputation as a poet/writer/workshop facilitator and taking on some less creative work there is always pressure to find paid work and to do enough of that work to pay the mortgage and my tuition fees etc. I end up working and working and trying to fit study time in too and sometimes it gets a bit too much, I get worn down. So to make sure I look after myself I’ve been factoring in more pleasant activities amongst the work work. I didn’t do anything after I came home on Friday except watch back to back films and feel sorry for myself. On Saturday it was much the same, then on Sunday I baked bread. There is something absolutely wonderful about the slow, homely process of making bread. I listened to the radio and pottered along and felt my head clearing. I’ve always loved cooking and baking, but this was my first attempt at bread making and it worked brilliantly. It’s been on my list of things to try since I began making moves towards living a zero waste, or at least a drastically reduced waste, life. The bread freezes really well so I don’t see why I can’t make it a regular thing to have fresh bread every week. Much nicer than shop bought and no non recyclable packaging to deal with. I did think about investing in a bread making machine, but to be honest, I found the hand made process therapeutic, very meditative.

On Monday morning it was bright and beautiful so I walked my dog on the beach. I took my big SLR and started taking photos. I’ve not used my big camera for ages and it felt brilliant to be instantly creative, really looking closely at structures, shapes and textures. Where the bread making process is a slow one with a sense of pride and purpose, the photography experience is one of instant pleasure, and anticipation, you never really know what the pictures will look like until they are on your computer. I’m tweaking them this week and I might have a couple printed and mounted. I felt so much better after a few down time days that I was ready to get back to abstracting and freelancing, and other bits and pieces of paid work.

A couple of my old workshop attendees contacted me this week too to see if I will be running workshops again. Now I’m a jobbing writer it seems like an obvious thing to start again so I began looking around for appropriate venues. I like a workshop space to be inspirational, and I think I have found the right place at the right price. I shall be going along today to have a look. Hopefully I’ll be running the writers workshop again, which is basically a facilitated group to get writers writing and help them develop their projects and I will probably re-run the beginners fiction writing course, possibly also a beginners poetry writing course. I have an idea for a short course based on different structured forms of poetry too. I think people re frightened of form and it puts them off using it. I’ve always found that writing within a structure, as long as it is the right structure for the content, can distill a poem and really bring something different out. I’d like to run an online course too, but all these things take time and planning so they’re on the back burner for now and we’ll see how we get on. This week I’ve also started costing out a possible Scarborough based poetry project which I feel is really exciting. I have a meeting with Scarborough council next week to discuss it which feels very positive.

This afternoon I’m popping into the Valley Press offices to have a look at some cover designs for the new book. It’s going to print very soon so this will likely be the last tweaking session before I hold the real thing in my hands. Exciting!

I’ve spent the morning writing about my dog, Toby, for a magazine article. It has been absolutely lovely. I don’t get to just sit down and do something creative and pleasurable very often, I want to be able to do more of this. I do love my beautiful boy, despite the fact that he really is a handful. And now I am about to do some more abstracting before I get to some uni work and then into Scarborough to do all the other bits and pieces. After that I am spending the late afternoon/early evening with the guinea pigs who are coming inside for the winter. I cannot wait to have their squidgy little bodies back in the conservatory where I can watch their antics.

 

See you later, alligator.

**all photos featured are my own work, please ask if you want to use them

Poetry and Art Collaborations

It can sometimes seem as if all art forms are running along in their own gullies: visual artists staying in their lanes, fiction writers in theirs, poetry and pottery never encroaching on each others territories, all art and artists staying within their circles, poets talking to poets and so on and so on. But it’s important to occasionally put your head over the top of your own personal ditch and see what other creatives are doing. Working with someone in a different field is exhilarating, stimulating, it pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to look with an entirely different perspective at the thing that you know so well. I am very lucky to have been chosen by the artist Adinda van ‘t klooster alongside seven other poets in a commissioned collaboration for a project called Still Born. There has already been a Manchester exhibition of the Still Born art works and the next stage is for the poets chosen to be given a piece of Adinda’s art work as stimulus for a poem. This will then be made into a book that can be purchased. I received my chosen picture a couple of weeks ago and have been allowing the images to trickle through the filter of my own experience. Generally the process of writing the poem is not about me sitting down with it, not at this stage anyway, it’s more something that is happening whilst I’m out and about, walking the dog or sitting quietly at home. This is how it is arriving: like an animal in the hedgerow, or birds waiting to come down to feed at a bird table, shyly, unsure of its footing. It has presence and its rhythms are forming, I can feel it in my mouth sometimes as if I am about to recite it, and i can hear its heart somewhere, or a voice on a string telephone trying to get through. This is how it always is, it can’t be forced. The poem has not arrived yet, and will not for a while, but if I put my ear to the train rail that it is on, I can hear it.

I have worked with artists before, on various different projects, but never on something so close to my self. I feel that it is important for my growth as a person, as a writer, to experience as many different things as possible. To really experience though someone else’s eyes, something that has happened to yourself, is a catalyst for growth. To push out of your own enclosure, to burrow towards someone else, it’s almost metaphorical in itself, the process. That I am connecting with a person, on this subject, through the midway point, the translator that is the art work, is a beautiful thing.

The whole project is necessary, beautiful, heart breaking and it’s important because stillbirth is just not talked about enough. Like anything that frightens people, stillbirth is hidden. Added to this fear of baby death in particular, we have an odd way of treating death altogether in our culture. We don’t treat death as a part of life, we hide it, we try to sanitise it, we segregate ourselves from it. The Irish tradition is to have the body in the house while family visit and the ‘sitting in’ is going on, the body is visited and revisited and fully involved in the family get together that happens around it, goodbyes are said properly, grieving is a manifest, open process, not hidden. In Mexico the day of the dead is spent at the graveside of loved ones, singing, eating, drinking. We don’t talk about death here. And it’s important to. It’s important for the grieving, and there are a lot of us, to talk, and to be listened to, and it’s important that people know that not all pregnancies end well, not so we can frighten people, but so we can address it, fund research, help stop it happening, give women the power to question their own treatment, to speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Stillbirth is not ‘just one of those things’ most stillbirths occur due to placenta problems, and with the right care, with thorough and sustained care, a lot of these problems can be managed. Babies can survive, parents can remain whole, not broken.  It’s important to connect and it’s important for art to cross boundaries and for creation to be collaborative. I’m very pleased to be working on this with Adinda, and excited to be working alongside Karen mcCarthy WolfRebecca GossChristine BousfieldClaire PotterJennie Farley, Roger Bloor and Sarah James.

Obviously it’s an important topic for me because of my own experiences with still birth and pregnancy loss, and infertility to a certain extent. I still need to talk about what happened to us, I still need to write abut what happened to us, but I’m in a place where it isn’t such a frantic, desperate desire to make sense of it and come to terms with it. Seven years has worn the pain down to something familiar, but not unbearable. When I was looking for images for the header on this blog I came across a lot of scan pictures in the search engine, and many inventive ways of announcing pregnancies.  I felt the sharp stomach clench of grief, knowing that this will now never be us again, and remembering when it was us. But yes, joy too, because it was us, once, a lifetime ago and yesterday it was us, when I couldn’t imagine the pain of this loss, we loved and smiled and grinned and tried not to jinx ourselves. The day we went to the clinic to start treatment I found a shiny copper penny on the steps of the hospital, it was a lucky penny. I have it now and have felt a variety of emotions over the years. Now I feel lucky again, we were lucky to have her. The image, incidentally, is the bodhisattva Jizo a sort of patron saint in Buddhism, and protector of travellers and children who have died, including miscarriages and stillbirths. Statues of jizo play a physical role in grieving for couples in Japan, that physical grieving process is very important. Go to any cemetery in England and you will see the children’s graves dressed up, changing with seasons and birthdays, Christmas trees and easter bunnies, cards for birthdays, occasionally a bottle of champagne or a pint of beer when that lost little child reaches eighteen or twenty one. This physical grieving is more than just marking time, it’s used as a practical way to deal with the incomprehensible loss. When you lose a child your hands and arms don’t know what to do, they seem to search for the thing they’ve lost, almost independently. I think that’s why creative practices help so much. That’s why writing and creative arts are so important for translating emotion.

 

image via <a href=”http://www.peakpx.com”>Peakpx</a&gt;

What it’s like to run the Great North Run in too small shoes.

It’s a week ago today that I ran the Great North Run to raise money for Tommy’s . Tommy’s fund research into stillbirth, miscarriage and premature birth, all of which I have experienced. It meant a great deal to be running for them, I was running in memory of my daughter, Matilda, so it was quite emotionally charged.

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I’d wanted to run last year but then during a training session, about a two weeks before the date, I injured my knee as I was running down a hill, and it put me out of action, running wise, for a good four or five months. However, Tommy’s were brilliant, they allowed me to put my name down for the following year and all my sponsors were moved. I was gutted, but determined to be there this year.

Training went reasonably well to start with, I was walking a lot anyway as a dog walker, and started running short runs, building up over time. My training plan included a variety of different work outs alongside the running: Monday Yoga, Tuesday Kettlebells, Wednesday a short two mile run, Thursday spinning, Friday a five KM (3.2 mile run), Saturday rest day and Sunday a long run, extending the route each time by a little way.

I’d managed to get up to around six miles of walking and running when I went to Mexico in July. It was all inclusive, there was booze, food, and the heat was incredible. I’d taken my kit to continue my training, but after getting a migraine after one session in the hotel gym, I decided to just enjoy the holiday and get back to it when I returned. Only, when I returned it took me about two weeks to recover, I’d been bitten mercilessly by mosquitos and my leg had swollen, and then there was the jet lag. By the time I got back to training it was like starting all over again and the panic began to set in. This was August, I got up to around 7.5 miles, but that was the furthest I managed. However, one thing that did improve my waining confidence was meeting someone in the pub who was a runner. She was late fifties early sixties and she had recently run her first 10km, she’d run all the way without stopping. I almost begged her to tell me what the secret to running without stopping was. Turns out it’s to run slower. She told me to just slow down, don’t think about what everyone else is doing, the only person I’m competing against is myself. It was a lightbulb moment, and the following week I managed my first 5km without stopping even once. Suddenly my confidence was up again. However, work conspired against me and my training suffered yet again as I couldn’t fit it in. And then, suddenly, it was the day before and I hadn’t even gotten my Tommy’s vest out to check I could run in it. I’d hoped to lose weight before the race, but in fact, thanks to Mexico, I’d gained an extra stone. In a bid to feel better about myself I decided to go to Sports Direct and grab a new T-shirt and leggings to run in. Possibly the worst thing you can do is to change your kit for a race, if you’ve trained in something it’s best to stick with it. However, it didn’t matter, because even though I’d taken the biggest size they had on the rails they didn’t fit when I got home. I was mortified. And even though I KNOW that Sports Direct have weirdly smaller sizes, I was mortified and cried. And when my friend rang me to see if I was prepared for the race, I cried. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried and cried and cried because I already felt like a failure. What on earth was I doing? I was the only person ever to GAIN weight while training for a half marathon. I was going to let my sponsors down, I was going to let Tommy’s down and worst, oh far worst than that, I was letting Matilda down. I could not pull myself together.

I decided to order a big carb loaded Chinese takeaway and have a couple of pints of beer. I got my kit out, I shoved the crappy tiny Sports Direct clothes into the back of the wardrobe and I got my Tommy’s shirt out. I sat and filled in the back panel with Matilda’s name. I went to bed. I was resigned to walking the thirteen miles. I did not sleep a wink. Or rather I dreamt the whole night through. I dreamt I’d run it in flip flops, I dreamt I’d run it in a heavy rain coat with an umbrella, I dreamt I’d run along a crumbling cliff top, and then the alarm went off. And suddenly, all that nervous energy poured into me like fire. I got up and I KNEW I could do it. I don’t know what changed, I just felt entirely different. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought ‘I have done more taxing things than this, I’m running this because once I went to hell and I came back again. Thirteen miles is nowt.’

I got my stuff together, I took a photo for my Instagram account and I got in the car. I was doing it, and I was excited. The sun was just coming up over the moors and the sky was the most beautiful shade of blush pink, the heather was the most purple I’d seen it and Chris and I chatted to each other and joked and laughed, it felt like a day out, rather than something looming horribly.

It took a while to get there, to get the metro, which was packed, and to find where we were going. But it seemed to all go so quickly, before I knew it I was waving at Chris on the other side of the barrier and waiting to get started. There is an incredible feeling to the Great North Run; everyone is on the same side, there is banter on the cramped metro, complete strangers cheer you on from the sidelines. It’s an incredible feeling to be a part of it.

I cried quite a lot before and during the race, first when they played music in memory of the people that the charity fundraisers were running for, then when the count down started, once when someone, a complete random person shouted to me and told me I could do it, that I had come so far. This was at a point when I thought I couldn’t do it, when I felt I couldn’t finish. It spurred me on.

It took about an hour to get to the start line, once the racee had started, so far back was I in the slow slow group, and then we were off and I was trying to start my fitbit and panicking and then I was jogging and smiling and trying to slow my pace a little as I knew I was going faster than the pace I had trained at. It was exhilarating, enjoyable, the course was not unlike the hills around my home town and I felt confident. I missed the first mile marker, the first time I realised I’d gone anywhere past it was when I realised I was about to run over the Tyne bridge, and that fission of excitement and pleasure went through me, I was really doing it! After watching it on TV for years, I was doing it and I was doing it for Matilda. Around about the five km point it started to become much more uphill, and I started to struggle with the hills, but I kept on going, trying to slow myself down because I knew that slowing my pace meant that I would run much further. At around four miles my hamstrings felt tight, but not impossibly so, and I noticed a slight tug on my toes. I wondered, briefly, if my shoes might be too small, but dismissed the thought immediately because I’d been training in them for over a year, surely I would have noticed if they were too small?

I had to walk a tiny bit at five miles, a tiny bit at six miles, but at this point I was still running quiet well. When I passed seven miles and then the ten km marker I checked my times and was almost exactly the same as I had been for the York 10KM, I was set to achieve my target of two and a half hours. Then my knee started to tug a little, and the pain in my toes was starting to feel worse, it actually felt like I had put my toe through the end of my sock, like a tightening, but I’d passed seven miles I was doing well, I carried on, but the uphills, which seemed to be long and slow and hard as hard were wearing me out. Psychologically, I’d thought that once I reached ten miles I would be ok, because it was then ONLY three miles to the finish. I knew I could do three miles, it was nothing. But then I passed mile eight and hit the wall. The fabled wall. I pushed against it and slowed down, walked a little and actually stopped to stretch my ham strings as it was beginning to be very painful. Then I got back on it, but I was starting to weave a little and felt like I was in a dream. I swear the miles got longer at this point. I walked more, ran less, couldn’t stop thinking about the increasing pain in my toes. Mile nine just about killed me. Each time I stopped to walk the little bits I was allowing myself my toes were throbbing, I was looking at my shoes all the time, certain that I would start to see blood pooling though, and I had to stop to stretch out my hamstrings on that dodgy right leg more and more. At one point my knee felt like it had when I had injured it, but it immediately went off. I’d forgotten my energy gels, I’d left them in the car, so I substituted jelly babies that were being given out, and hoped for a sugar rush.  I drank more water, but I turned down the beers that people kept offering, yes, really! I allowed myself to walk for maybe a quarter of a mile. Then I checked my fitbit and realised I had lost the speed and momentum I’d had and my finish time was getting further away.

I finally made ten miles and didn’t get the rush of adrenaline I had counted on. I was passing the medical tents, limping a little now as my leg was so painful and my toes, oh god my toes were so painful. I found I was fine as I was running, they went numb, sort of, but I just could no longer run very far, the hills were killing me. I’d gone too fast at the beginning and burned myself out a bit, but I just kept thinking  ‘if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll get there’.  I stared at the ground, I couldn’t bear to see the world passing by so slowly. And then someone, someone random shouted my name, they’d read it on the front of my vest, ‘You can do this, Wendy, come on!’ and I started crying a bit because I was so knackered and my feet hurt so much and my hamstrings were so painful, my knee and my glutes and my lower back were so painful and I just kept looking at the medical tents and thinking how badly I wanted to collapse into there, and imagining myself telling people “I did my best’ and then I suddenly thought – I can do this – I can do this, I walk thirteen miles a day dog walking. So what if I walk the rest. I can do this. My body can do this. And my pace picked up.

At eleven miles I started to feel a bit of a second wind and found that, actually, on the flat I could still run for a good while before slowing and walking and I did, I started over taking people, I let go of the idea of finishing in any sort of good time and just concentrated on getting my body over the line. The crowds were incredible, the Tommy’s cheering point was a massive boost. I must have just looked in so much pain. But I managed a strangled ‘whoop’ and a thumbs up as I went by. Then I saw an Elvis impersonator singing in the middle of the road and it made me laugh, and another runner called Wendy shuffled past and gave the thumbs up and I saw a bunch of girls in tutus run off into KFC and that made me laugh too and I remembered that I wasn’t a professional runner and that I had just dragged myself around eleven miles, and I was doing ok. I was doing ok. Then I was turning the corner, up up up up up this hill, up and up this hill, and suddenly there was the sea. There was the beautiful, sparkling, perfect sea and the biggest, steepest down hill, and I knew I was so close. I ran down the hill and I ran around the corner and I started seeing people with medals and shiny blankets walking back from the finish line. And then there was the sign for 800 meters, there were no more miles, just meters and I tried so hard to run the rest of it, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. Then I saw the sign for 200 meters, and then I heard my husband shout me and I saw him in the stand and waved and grinned, because I was so close, and I cried a bit because he loves me and was shouting for me and cheering me on. I started running, and my toes felt like they were exploding, but I could see the finish and I had wanted, forever, forever and ever to be someone who got that finishing sprint in. I ran hard as I could, big strides, big painful strides and arms in the air cheering myself on through the finish and I grinned and grinned, and staggered. I staggered, and grinned and cried. And when they put my medal round my neck I cried and cried because I’d done it for Matilda. And I’d done it for myself.

I was so pleased I’d remembered to bring my sandals with me, my most comfortable shoes, Chris had carried them for me. I felt sure my toe nails would be off when I took my shoes off, but there was nothing to see. However, by the time we eventually got home, some six or seven hours later, it was clear that my shoes had in fact been a little too small, my left foot nails are now black and blue, my right toe nail developed a blister underneath the nail bed, where the under the skin end had repeatedly been rammed into the soft nail bed. So painful. I managed to lance it myself, thank goodness. I did not want to be the person visiting their GP with a pitiful blister. It was not pretty, but strangely satisfying. I am now able to walk again after two days were I could barely get on my feet. I am actually looking forward to wearing my finishers shirt to the gym, and doing my first little run since the race.

The donation page is still open, so if you fancy donating to a chubby girl who ran thirteen miles in too small shoes, please do. The link is here: Virgin money giving

One of the first things I said when I crossed the line, to Chris, was that I would never do that again. Never ever again. By the end of the next day I had signed up for 2018 GNR, and Chris has too.

3 hours, four minutes. Boom.