Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Writing A Marathon

This weekend sees the annual London Marathon take place, probably the first mass public sporting event in the run up to the London Olympics.  For the spectators lining the route it will be a long and, judging by the weather forecast, cool day waiting at various points hoping to catch a glimpse of one or more people they know to be running.

For the runners it will be an arduous and tiring day that will start with a logistical nightmare and end, hopefully, with a feeling of elation and absolute exhaustion.  At least, that's been my experience, having completed the course twice.  The logistics start with getting to London from wherever you live, generally the day before, then making your way to the start line without the help of the London Underground service.  Well, that's probably a little dramatic as it's almost impossible to get to the start line without using the Underground, but they don't make it easy, mainly because they traditionally have a relatively late start on Sunday mornings, and marathons don't appear to have any special leverage over them.  At least that's what I found a few years back.

Then there's the run, the cumulation of months of training in all weathers, week in, week out.  To be Marathon ready you have to train hard enough to be able to finish, but not so hard you'll injure yourself just before the big day.  A tough balancing act, as any runner will tell you.

Having completed the London twice, the Great North Run half three times and a small number of other distance runs I find I only have two pieces of advice.  First, no matter how good you are, don't expect to get a personal best on a major race such as the London - it's crowded and you'll be shuffling for the first few miles, unless you end up near the front with the near elite club runners as I did by mistake on my last London.  One hour in I'd covered more miles in that time than I'd ever managed in sixty minutes outside of a car or aircraft, such was the pace set around me, and I don't mind admitting that the fast start nearly crippled me.  The second piece of advice is that it will hurt, like hell, by the time you cross that line, but you know what?  You probably won't mind.  After finishing the last London, the first thing I said to my wife was to never let me do anything like that again - and within a week I'd signed up for the Great North Run.  Such is running memory.

Writing a novel is very much like training for and then completing a Marathon.  As in Marathon running, you can't expect to hit the distance overnight.  OK, you don't find yourself writing the same paragraphs over and over, but you sure do revisit some of them a few times.  And you find yourself writing to a regime, trying to hit a target word count every day.  You have good days and bad days, and sometimes you just blow a gasket and have to take some time out.

You find the paradox that the closer you get to the end, the harder it gets.  You find all those threads you've carefully lain out throughout your novel needing to converge and twist together neatly like the final sprint down the Mall.  I say sprint, well, all I can say is it felt fast after the previous few miles!

And then you cross the line, the book is finished, months of work is complete.  You give yourself a virtual medal and swear that you'll never put yourself through that again.  And many stick to their promise - why not, they've proven the adage that there's a book in all of us for their specific self, if not for the whole of society.  Many people make the same promise after crossing the line at the London Marathon and are happy to say they did it, they have nothing more to prove.

But many find a day or so after finishing the Marathon they pop out for light six mile jog, the kind of run that would have left them in a heap nine months' earlier.  That's not a runner, that's a competitor. And some people find themselves facing a blank screen, then setting down the start to what may be a short story, a novella or a full blown thriller the day after finishing their first book.  That's not a scribbler, that's a writer.

Good luck to all running in London on Sunday, and here's to all who start their second novel, it's a journey worth taking.

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