Day 6: A lake, a pitch and a ponder

The main thing I want to do on this sabbatical break is get fit. I've tried to deal with my sedentary ills by variously using a stand-up desk, a stepper at my stand-up desk and a rebounder on screen breaks but, in short (and excuse my French), I'm f*^ked if I spend the next 10 years sitting and typing for eight hours a day. As the physio said about my tech neck: "You need to look at lifestyle change." Which is a real bummer when you love what you do.

So today was a bit of a fitness test. We walked six miles on a round trip to the Bearded Lake, near Aberdovey, but it was a hard six miles of ranging Welsh hills. The views kept me going but today was a 22,500-step day according to my Fitbit surveillance. I'm always amazed that our hills and mountains are full of superfit oldies by the way. I hope to become one of them some day. In the meantime, here was the end prize…

The Bearded Lake
The Bearded Lake (is a long way away)

Accompanied by a slightly pained expression…

Me at Bearded Lake
So happy to be sitting down

In other sab-news, I applied for author Jojo Moyes writer's retreat, using her Suffolk cottage for a week to kick-start a writing project. I'm 99% sure I won't get an offer as she'll be swamped but here was my application, subject line "A pitch from a procrastinator":

Hi Jojo

I'm sure you'll be inundated with entries so to get straight to the point, I'm a journalist-turned-blogger with 50+ travel diaries that I would like to see if I can turn into 'something'.

I started doing this in January and produced a single chapter before RSI got the better of me – it's impossible to edit all day and write all night when you have physical limitations and sore arms. Last week, however, I was let go from a long contract and I'm now free to write for myself.

I can do this at home, of course, but the big advantage for me personally in getting away is that I'm answerable to someone (you)! All my creative writing has been done when I am producing a piece of work for a reason – a course, a teacher, a deadline. Otherwise life, DIY, our two bunnies, and other procrastination opportunities get in the way.

I'd also love to talk to you about how to go from a 1000-word feature journalist or 600-word blogger to 80,000 words. I'm not sure I have the mentality. And how do you switch off the editing instinct to rewrite before you've barely started?

So those are my weaknesses and my hopes.

Thank you for offering your cottage.

So that happened today. We'll see. Those travel diaries aren't going to transform themselves.

In other news – oh the irony of sabbatical leave – I received another work offer involving online sub-editing training. This is based on a course I ran a few years ago. Thanks SEO from 2012. Now what to do? I'm supposed to be on a break.

looking ahead
Thinking, thinking…

Day 5: Edward Snowden and crab racing

A heavy mist enveloped Aberdovey until lunchtime (or was it cloud? – we are currently located up a very steep hill) – so the morning was spent doing something I've been looking forward to for ages: reading books. Editing words on a computer screen all day means the last thing I want to do at night is read more words. But now…

The Snowden Files
I spy… Edward Snowden

The Snowden Files by Luke Harding was a birthday gift a year ago. As a former journalist, I was fascinated as much by how the scoop played out as much as the content of the story. The Citizenfour documentary delivered Snowden's story in real-time, with the actual source and the actual journalists up there on screen. It offered an unprecendented insight into the state of the world's cybersecurity and surveillance, but also what it's like to be the journalists given the biggest story of their career. You should see it if you haven't already. The book is filling out some of the gaps and has me equally gripped. (I also have a cybersecurity course lined up.)

"Help me!"

A world away from espionage, we found ourselves caught up in crab racing this afternoon. I had no idea this was a thing.

A father and twenty-something daughter team had crammed their bucket full of crabs caught using a raw bacon lure. About 30 crabs were then dumped on the sand where they were to race at high speed into the sea. The middle-aged father seemed hugely disappointed that the near-suffocated beasties were barely moving and we were soon involved in a rescue mission to help the crabs return to the Dyfi estuary. Why do humans do what they do?

aberdovey beach
Just us and the seaweed

Aberdovey developed as a seaside resort in Victorian times but, heading into October, it is pleasantly deserted. Apart from mad crabbers and a few dog walkers we had the long, wide, dune-rimmed beach to ourselves. Hot walkers feet cooled in the incoming tide and then escaped to the hinterlands, across the dunes, over a golf course and train tracks, and finally to the pub.

mini dune
World of sand

Day 3: I do like Mondays

Monday has always been manic on the work front but I wake up on day three of sabbatical leave with an empty day ahead and a bright idea. My dreaming brain has obviously been stewing over recent conversations, especially mentoring for girls and young teens, and helping them sort their heads out. I've also been thinking about how I coped when things fell apart, as they did in 2001 and 2008, and what got me through. And these two things have somehow come together to form an idea that scales beyond a school talk. Even better, it won't cost too much. Just a bit of research, copywriting and design is all that is required. I'll say no more for now.

That was just the start of a day full of positive signs and feeling kind of exhilarated that I can now act on my ideas rather than filing them away for some future time for action.

There were also three offers of freelance work throughout the day, one potentially with a semi-famous person (no name dropping – yet); a call for submissions to my old degree course in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton; and a suggestion to apply for an author's offer of a free writer's retreat (along with a thousand others I'm sure).

This afternoon I was actually free to visit BOM, where Pete is a fellow. A contingent of Indonesians were visiting to discuss opportunities to collaborate in helping women's empowerment in Indonesia through tech. So, of course, I went in all excited to practise my Indonesian, brushing up on such relevant vocab as artist (seniman), surveillance culture (budaya pengawasan) and 'sorry, I've forgotten my Indonesian' (Maaf, saya lupa Indonesian saya). They, of course, spoke perfect English and we had a good conversation about art and politics and AI and oppression. Who knows there may even be future connections and *jumps the gun totally* a chance to revisit Bandung and Yogyakarta, two of my favourite places in Java.

Today has been a day full of possibilities on many fronts. But on a simple level, I'm also enjoying being able to go out, off the cuff, for a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich at Cherry Reds with Pete. That is one of the real luxuries of not being a slave to the lunch hour grind.

tea-and-bacon-sandwich pete-fi-cherry-red

Day 2: Is it a sabbatical if it's the weekend?

Day two of my sabbatical was partly spent wielding an axe in order to get some knobbly tree and rose roots out of the ground. Heavy physical work and I'm very much enjoying being a tank girl not a microserf. Also, I moved rubble from A to B.

As it's a Sunday I still feel as if I have a week of work ahead of me so I guess it hasn't sunk in yet that my life has radically changed.

(In other news, I seem to have volunteered to test out my sister's yoga lessons. She is in her second year of training and needs a putz willing volunteer to practise on. Have also reconnected with a few people through comments and responses so it's Saul Goodman.)

Day 1: End of an era – so what comes next?

Getting off the treadmill.
Getting off the treadmill.

After coming to the end, yesterday, of the longest freelance booking I've ever had (seven and a quarter years to be precise), I had a vague idea that I might blog every day for 30 days. Just to document, y'know, the end of an era and a major change of life. And because that's what a blogger/diarist/writer does.

It's a bit like being thrown off the merry-go-round – although not at full speed as this has been coming since February – but there is a very definite stop. And after such a long ride I'm not quite ready to get back on another carousel just yet.

In fact there are a few things that have been on hold since 2009, and since getting my notice I've spent the summer putting together some plans.

There's a list (isn't there always?) on Workflowy that is now up to at least a hundred items long. Some are obvious (oh how I have missed my travels); some enforced (time to get fit and undo some of the damage caused by my sedentary job); some are random challenges or things I want to learn (be a cool backwards skater, learn 2000 words of Indonesian); and some are about giving back (becoming a mentor, trainer, speaker,  or perhaps just a better friend).

I also have the beginnings of a list of people I want to meet and talk to and listen to, and invitations to coffee/tea have started to go out. After years of solitary working from home, I'm looking forward to making new connections and getting out there again.

Many people have inspired me to go on this new journey: Sam Underwood, who gave a PechaKucha talk on his intended sabbatical a few years back; Pete, who has been on his own journey to full-time artist; my mum, who launched a new fundraising career in her 60s; Paul Murphy, the Belfast/Brum musician and activist, who died earlier this year after a life extremely well lived.

Google Cardboard
Looking into the future.

Then there's Helga Henry, Liz Dexter, Nora Young (Morley), John Popham, Justina Hart, Jackie Pieterick and Candi Miller for their inspiring work and projects; those unnamed people who've been through or are currently going through such hardships that it's amazing they even get up in the mornings; and close long-time friends who, even today, still managed to come up with a few new ideas that may have me volunteering to talk at schools about working in the media and how to be your own boss.

Basically I'm all ears. Who knows what may happen?

So, yeah, day one of blogging for myself and putting some stuff out there. There are many plans, this is one of them.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at]