I didn't get the job – a freelance project manager for a local tree charity – despite doing loads of preparation and (I think) doing well at interview. I just didn't have enough experience and, like a teenager looking for their first job, I can't get that experience without getting the job. Career transitions are hard.
I also didn't get a place on a well-known UK publisher's workshop despite working evenings and weekends to get my submission of travel micro-memoirs ready. There's only general feedback for this one, though. Either my application pitch wasn't strong enough, or it was the extract, or perhaps both.
There is disappointment and feelings of crapness and failure, of course. But I'm ok. For the job, I've taken it as fate; a sign to focus my efforts elsewhere. And for the book, I only started writing it after I decided I wanted to it to exist regardless of whether it was published. I'm on a journey with it. The real failure is not to have tried at all.
There is also now freedom to follow my own creative path rather than be beholden to others. My book is much further along than before as a result of trying to jump through set-deadline publishing hoops (three of them so far). As the old proverb goes: "Fall down seven times, stand up eight." I still have a few more falls to go.
What has been a comfort each day has been my reading book and that is what I was going to write about.
Two nights ago I finished a 500-page Pulitzer-prize-winning memoir by William Finnegan called Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, which I got for my birthday. Now I feel bereft. A bit like when my Mad Men bingewatch came to an end back on Day 61.
Every night, no matter what the stresses and strains of the day, I knew I could slip into a hot bath and be transported out of Birmingham coronavirus lockdown to the Hawaii of the late 60s, the California of the 70s, Fiji, Indonesia, South Africa, Madeira and even coastal New York for some exhilarating waves, each described in surprisingly different detail.
The irony of lying in a contained few inches of hot soap-sudded water while reading about double-overhead barrels at high speed did occur to me.
Now it's over. And I want to escape again.
I asked for book recos on social media but book tastes are so peculiarly personal that this rarely works. But still it's always a good discussion and I did get Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman out of a past thread. The friend suggestions are ones for when the library reopens, which I think has been pushed back to September.
Very late last night I ended up spending the last of my Glass Room Foyles gift voucher on 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race' by Reni Eddo-Lodge and 'Men Without Women' by Haruki Murakami.
While I wait for them to arrive, I thought I'd list the books I've read so far this year… and my 'best of 2019' book recommendations. And if any surf memoir chums want to borrow 'Barbarian Days', it's waiting here for you.
This year I've read the following. Five were gifts or bought new, and 10 were borrowed from the Birmingham library system:
- Fleishman is in Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner (brilliant)
- The Rhyming Rabbit – Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (witty kids book)
- Dementia: Support for Family and Friends – Dave Pulsford and Rachel Thompson (insight for a friend)
- In Praise of Walking – Shane O'Mara (interesting as it is from a neuroscientist's perspective)
- Over The Top: My Story – Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye guy memoir)
- Lowborn – Kerry Hudson (memoir of being working class)
- Ways to Wander – Clare Qualman, Claire Hind (women art-walking)
- A Spy Among Friends – Ben Macintyre (about double agent Kim Philby)
- Why Are Leaves Green? A Tree Miscellany – J Stokes, J White
- I'm Just A Person – Tig Notaro (a comedian's cancer memoir)
- Ghost in the Wires – Kevin Mitnick (hacker memoir)
- How To Write A Children's Picture Book – Andrea Shavick
- Dark Matters –Nick Dunn (on walking at night)
- The Life You Want – Emily Barr (backpacking fiction)
- Barbarian Days – William Finnegan
I highly recommend rejoining and supporting your local library. I've been surprised how I can get hold of new releases if I'm prepared to wait a few weeks. I also tend to donate my new books to them once I've read them. I did panic borrow 14 books on the day the library closed for lockdown but now I can't wait for Stirchley Library to reopen.
I tried to read more books last year and I read 37, so not bad. Having a regular bath book habit has helped. My standout, top picks from last year are:
- Educated – Tara Westover (astonishing memoir)
- True Stories – Sophie Calle (art, photography and stories combined)
- The Salt Path – Raynor Wynn (life crises – simultaneous homelessness and terminal illness – that led to a middle-aged couple walking the 630-mile SW Coast Path)
- Three Women – Lisa Taddeo (a journalistically reported story of three women's experience of their desire)
- The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs – Tristan Gooley (the kind of book that wakes you up to a new layer of seeing the world)
I have no idea if you would enjoy these as much as I have but they are each fascinating stories well told in their own way.
Today I am thankful for the ability to escape – into books, into music, into nature. A rich inner life is probably own my personal version of God.
Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com