Also known as ‘being illuminated by the bulb!’
I’m sure that makes no sense to you, dear reader. Not many things I say probably do, but where would be the fun if they did, hmmm? Well, let me enlighten you.
I would hope, a little over a week ago, certain things I said did make sense. A little over a week ago, I had the genuine delight of visiting Chelmsford in Essex. I’d been asked to pop down (as much as you can pop when the journey takes a little over 3 hours each way) and chat to a writing group – The Write Bulb.
I was actually asked a year ago but, for one reason and another, I couldn’t go. The invitation was always there, hanging in the air like a cloud. Not one of those nasty, dark, angry ones though, the ones that make you run and hide so they don’t drench you or jab at you with their lightning. No, this was one of those light types that drift about the clear sky on a summer morn. The kind that happily change shape from dragon to butterfly to rocket ship to keep you entertained whilst life is keeping you occupied.
So, finally, everything fell into place for the visit to take… erm… place.
Having never been to Essex before, I was pleased that Google Maps was my friend. I set off nice and early (around 8:09am) with my supply of Sin postcards, Sin paperbacks and Lincolnshire Pork Sausages.
Yes, that’s what I said, sausages. Not just any old sausage, either. Lincolnshire Pork ones. And not just any old Lincolnshire Pork ones. Pettits award winning Lincolnshire Pork Sausages! If you haven’t tasted them, you are missing something good. Now you may think that’s an odd thing to take to a writers’ group meeting. I’d tend to agree, not least because it was a tray of 40, but they were a special request from the person who invited me down.
Carlie Cullen, step forward. Carlie is a wonderful writer, author of the equally wonderful Heart Search. She’s part of the Myrddin Publishing Group I’m also a member of, and through which my Dark Places anthology is published. And a finer group of people you’d be hard pressed to meet.
So. The journey down was fairly uneventful, apart from me having to listen to a steady stream of static from my car stereo which seemed unable to grab hold of a station long enough to let loose audible music from the car speakers. Even though I hadn’t met either Carlie or her lovely daughter Maria before, I felt like we were old friends. The crispy bacon butty she made me for lunch cemented that feeling.
Did I mention I was a little nervous about the visit? Or did you guess based on previous posts? I feel I never know what to say or how to start. I think it’s because I’m not entirely sure I have anything to say! Or anything worth listening to, at least. I say my ‘stuff’ in my books. I ramble and delve and ponder in my writing through my characters. Telling people about one of my characters is easy. Telling people about me, not so much.
I walked into the room with Carlie and Maria, hoping we’d be early and I could psyche (remember, psyche with an ‘e’ not an ‘o’) myself up prior to the arrival of the rest of the group. I didn’t have that chance. A good few were already there with others joining us steadily. And I was given the seat at the head of the table!
First up, after introductions, was the writing challenge. I agreed to take part and had brought my journal all ready to go. The subject was ‘The room in the tower,’ and we could write anything we liked along those lines. We just had to ‘go for it’. So I went for it.
As is usual for me, I had no idea where I was going with the story. I still don’t really. The 35 minutes we had, though, gave me chance to get a good start. One or two of the troupe read out their stories, then I was asked to.
Still, it seemed to go down well. I think.
Eventually, it was my turn to talk. My escape routes were blocked and, at the head of the table, I could hardly duck my head and remain quiet. But, what to say? How to start? OK, I knew what I wanted to actually tell them – my writing and publishing ‘career’, but…
Then John, a lovely, funny Scot, jumped in with a question before I had chance to draw a breath. From that point on, things went pretty smoothly, I think. The members of the group seemed interested in what I had to say (though they could be good actors) and asked some in-depth, great questions that actually made me think about my own writing. I found myself realising things about how and why I produce the work I do, so even this became a sort of therapy. I just hope I don’t get the bill through the post! At least Sin doesn’t charge!
A few of them were gracious enough to buy copies of my book, for which I’m grateful, and some remained behind afterwards (even though we’d run over by half an hour) to chat. I appreciated that. Sarah-Jane – I hope your writing brings you the help it’s brought me (and thanks for following me on Twitter!), and James, please finish your story. I want to see where it goes!
I thoroughly enjoyed myself with The Write Bulb and sincerely hope they remain in touch. There are some talented people there and the group, as a whole, are a delight.
Oh, and I accepted the writing challenge of a 1000 word story on The Masquerade. I’d best get started then! In my defence, I have spent a fair amount of time reading, and when you’re sailing in a South Sea Bubble or dipping your toe in the Ocean at the End of the Lane, it’s difficult to put pen to paper.
Thank you Carlie, Maria and the Writer’s Bulb. It was a long but enjoyable and fulfilling day. I’ll maybe see you again next year!
Sin. You know, I can’t entirely even remember where the idea came from? I think it ‘popped’ into my head as Sin the name rather than ‘sin’ the act or ideal. Even then, though, it wasn’t particularly an idea.
It was just a name.
And then a short story was born.
I’d always wanted to write a novel. A full length book. I tried many times, but, for various reasons, I never finished. So I wrote short stories or poems. I don’t write a specific genre, I write a story and it turns out how it turns out, so I could, effectively, write about anything.
I also, very rarely plan out a story. I start with the beginning and the middle and end vie for who’s going to be next. With Sin’s blog posts (http://singularityspoint.blogspot.com) in most cases I have that first sentence and no idea of which way it is going to go or what is going to happen.
Such it was with Sin. I was writing short stories, and that’s what I did. I wrote a short story about a guy called Sin. I didn’t know, until it happened, that people would die around him. I didn’t know he’d find a two pence coin or that it would be the catalyst of everything else that happened to him. I also had no idea that he wouldn’t know how to be quiet.
After Sin (the story) was finished, I went on to write other stories too. I went through a stage of writing only poetry, but that was fine as that’s, simply, how it went. I don’t force it, I write what I write. If I do try to make myself work on a particular piece, it goes horribly wrong and I end up deleting sections or whole works.
But Sin was playing in the back of my mind. Like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape (one of my favourite films), he was in the cooler with his glove and ball. He was locked up in his asylum waiting to sneak out and play with my head.
So, then, Sin grew. Again, I didn’t know what was going to happen or where he might go, but he seemed to know himself. At one point of the book, he’s walking, stranded, along a country lane. That’s how I felt when I was writing it then. There was a long road ahead of me, and I couldn’t see which way to go. Then a van pulled up and took me (and Sin) away with it.
For a whole year, I didn’t write a single word. Not in Sin in poetry or in short story. There was nothing there. I had various issues going on, and the impetus to write was somehow lacking. But then things changed and suddenly Sin was flowing again. I could only manage little bits of it here and there – lunchtimes and so on – but he kept needing to be voiced. It helped that so much of myself and my experiences became part of Sin’s outlook and history (such as the Seven Hills in chapter 13) as I could write almost as me.
When I went to Egypt last year, I was so in the zone that I wrote 15,000 words and could taste the end, though I forced myself not to think ahead in fear of spoiling it and over-thinking what might happen.
And now he’s here and he’s being described as ‘an incredible read’, ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘dark, disturbing and amazing’. I can’t describe how good that feels. Not least as that original short story was started ten years ago. I know that, during November, the NaNo writers producing 50,000 words plus in that one month. I wish I could, but i don’t know if I’d be happy with those words. Sin’s 105,000 took a decade, not a month or two.
Now, though, possibly because he’s taken so long to become fully formed, he’s so much more of a real person. My ‘dark half’. He has a sequel already started, and he ‘writes’ regular diary entries from his asylum in the form of his blog.
He took ten years of my life to get here, but it feels like he’s helped my life actually start now he’s arrived.Learn More
Freddie Mercury and James Walshboth sang about it. Freddie, I’ve been a fan of since forever and James (@jamesstarsailor)since I saw him earlier this year supporting Bon Jovi.
The aforementioned ‘It’ is Barcelona. I was there the weekend before last and I loved it.
The journey kind of started back in February. My wife had surprised me with an overnight visit to Belton Woods, a very nice hotel, for Valentine’s Day. On the way home, I was telling her how great it was. She said “That’s good. You can sort the wedding anniversary. Barcelona sounds good!”
Apparently, I discovered only whilst we were there, she’d immediately forgotten that jokey comment.
Our wedding anniversary, our first, was in September. Unfortunately, almost every year, I have a ‘shutdown’ at work which means I work seven days a week, more or less, and ten hour days. It’s usually in September/October. Last year was one of the few years where a shutdown didn’t happen. It means, however, that our wedding anniversary is now right in the middle of the shutdown! I’m used to my birthday (October) being then anyway, but neither of us twigged with the shutdown.
Oh well. It meant we’d just have to go later.
Waaaay back in April, I began to look into this Barcelona trip thinking my wife was at least half serious. I looked into other places too, such as Prague and Dubrovnik, but kept going back to the Big B. We went to Budapest for our honeymoon last year and absolutely loved the city – I was sure this would be a similar experience.
So. The hotel. In Budapest we stayed in a lovely little boutique hotel. We prefer those to a big, flash affair. Something more intimate. As such, and with TripAdvisor as my friend, I was on the hunt. Finding the right place, when you have a specific idea of what you’re after, can be exhaustive, but I hit what I assumed was gold in the end. The Praktik Rambla. Excellent reviews and perfect location. Apparently some of the rooms where meant to be cramped, but I’d pay for one of their Superior Rooms so hopefully that wouldn’t be a problem.
Then the flights. I’m used to flying from Manchester when going abroad. I’ve gone from East Midlands or Humberside (my local airport) when going to Paris with work, and once from Heathrow and Gatwick, but otherwise, I think it’s been exclusively from Manchester. The cheapest flights I could find, though, were from Leeds Bradford. And the times were perfect. Flying out at half seven on the Friday morning and flying back at half six on the Monday evening. That gave plenty of time in the city.
Add in airport parking and travel insurance and we were done. I was going to pay for an executive car to take us to the hotel, but I opted for the Aerobus which picks up outside the airport and drops off a block away from the hotel – and was only about 11 Euros each, return!
My wife played a game on her phone called 4 Pics 1 Word, in which you have to find a song title from four cryptic pictures. I took this idea and chose four photos – Freddie and Monserrat, Barcelona’s Magic Fountain, an airplane and the entrance to the hotel – and made a card for her to figure out. I slipped it into an envelope and that was one of her gifts. I also wrote a poem in her card where the initial letter of each line spelled out B, A, R, C, E… You get the picture.
It took a little time and a lot of disbelief for her to figure out what it meant, but she did and I had the reaction I’d hoped for.
I was told Leeds Bradford airport wasn’t the easiest to get to. I have to agree. Especially in the dark with Google Maps on your phone to guide you. No matter. After a 3:39 am start, we reached Sentinel Parking just before 5:00 am. I wanted to make sure we were at the airport a good two hours or so before our flight…
When we went to Budapest, there were only two lanes on at airport security and a HUGE queue of people to go through. Due to the handbag my wife had (which had to go in her hand-luggage case) having a diamante skull on it and the X-Ray guy not being able to figure that out, her case had to go through about four times! As such, we had to run to the gate with the stewardess calling to us that the gate was closing. The only reason we made the flight was because of the overhead lockers being full so two other couples’ and our cases had to go in the hold.
Anywho. Sentinel was spot on. A quick check in with them and we were at the airport within about 5 minutes then, a couple of hours later we were in the air. I have to say, considering Monarch are a low cost airline, I was impressed with the standard of the plane. I expected things to look a little worn, for example, as I’ve encountered on other airlines. Apart from having not that much leg room, the plane was of quite a high standard.
We landed and took the bus to our destination, the Plaza de Cataluña, a gorgeous square with two large fountains, a plethora of pigeons and various other ornamental features. Not, of course, that the pigeons were ornamental, but you know what I mean.
A quick walk around the square, Google Maps in hand, along a short street and we were at our hotel. The Praktik Ramble has a small entrance. It’s one doorway. But it spreads out above across the establishments either side, both eateries. The entrance way is lovely and, once you’re at reception, you can see up through the floors to the roof.
Our rooms weren’t ready (check in was 2:09 pm and it was not long after lunch), so we left our cases and went for a wander. By the time we’d returned, our room was ours and we booked in happily.
The room was fab. Super high ceilings, massive bed, rainfall shower and a balcony to the tree lined street below. Exactly what we wanted. The free Wi-Fi signal was fairly weak so, when we were actually in the hotel, we pretty much used our normal data roaming – thanks to Vodafone’s Euro Traveller option. It’s not often I have nice things to say about Vodafone, but Euro Traveller is quite good.
My wife loved the room, which was what I’d hoped for. And she also loved the ambience of the hotel. It had a massive terrace with free tea and coffee facilities for relaxation and a library (which I’d meant but forgotten to add a couple of my own books to). The doorway to the room was massive, making us feel we were going through Alice’s rabbit hole.
All the staff we met there, including Johanes, whom I’d mainly chatted through via email prior to the day, were excellent. Very courteous, with a sense of humour and a keen desire for you to enjoy your stay.
My wife has hip problems due to the severe SPD she suffered whilst pregnant. At the time, she ended up on crutches and as such took a walking stick with her. We did a lot of walking! Just as in Budapest, we walked where we wanted and used Google Maps to find our way back. This method is great for finding small cafes or (in the case of Barcelona) huge squares only accessed by alleys and side streets.
There were a great many warnings, prior to going, that pick-pockets were rife, especially in La Ramblas, where we were staying. I saw one comment that called Barcelona the ‘Mugging Capital of Europe’. A friend of mine told me of how she’d experienced someone trying to steal from her handbag when she was there. As such, we were super careful. My wife had her bag strap across her body and carried it in front. I had my phone and wallet in my front pockets, with some cash in the pocket rather than my wallet so I didn’t have to advertise its presence when I needed to pay for something. When we were crossing roads, amidst a group of people, or when we were watching the street entertainers at night – break dancers, artists etc. – I kept my hands in front of my pockets so I’d feel if anything was amiss. We didn’t experience anything untoward, thankfully, though a couple we’d met on the way there told us a pickpocket had, somewhat brazenly, tried taking his wallet from his pocket.
Overall, we thought Barcelona was wonderful. The Familia Sagrada was impressive, the food lovely and the people, on the whole, very friendly. Near the hotel was a huge amount of eating and drinking places, so there was a massive choice. We ate at the same place for breakfast a couple of times and found a small student type bar that sold pints of lager and sangria for only 1.50 Euros. We ate at the Hard Rock, which was OK for food but had wonderful staff, and my wife had noodles out of a box from Wok the Walk. And on the last day, whilst waiting for the bus, we had an excellent meal of paella. La Ramblas, even at the end of October, is very busy, long into the night. Even though the hotel is at the top end, it was fairly quiet. Closer to the southern end of La Ramblas, near the sea, there are living statues expertly done.
Oh, and the weather was fantastic! We left the UK to severe storm warnings, high winds and rain. In Barcelona, it was mostly clear skies and around 26°C. I couldn’t have asked for more.
One thing we did do was go to a show. There is a theatre around the corner from the hotel which had a pair of massive inflatable legs sticking out the top and THE HOLE across the front. How could we resist?
Our only worry was that the show was entirely in Spanish, except for some English songs. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Our Spanish consisted of ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’, so of course we should.
Well. The Hole is a little difficult to classify, I think. I’d put it at a cross between Rocky Horror and Burlesque. There was a lot of speaking in the show, mainly from the ‘hostess’ who spent most of her time in a black basque and stockings. As much as my wife and I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying, the rest of the audience were in fits of laughter, with many wiping tears from their eyes. Other than that, the show was pretty spectacular, and we still found much to laugh at. The four gents in suits were brilliant, being butler type characters who sang Accapella in various comedic ways. There was a host of acrobatics, spinning high in the air and fast roller-skating action (from a man who really didn’t like keeping his clothes on). Yes, The Hole has an amount of semi nudity in it – apart from the man on skates, who had no real way to hide anything he had. But, you don’t go into this with your eyes closed and you keep your tongue in your cheek. It’s fun and a laugh and, if you actually understand it, hilarious.
It received a standing ovation. Can’t argue with that!
Apparently, they may possibly be coming to the UK. If they are, sign me up!
After a delay at the airport due to a mix-up with paperwork, and Terminal 2 of Barcelona Airport actually running out of paper to print on (!), we were on our way home with smiles on our faces. Great place, great hotel and great people. By midnight we were home (it’s almost a two hour drive).
By the end of the next day, we were ready for another holiday, of course, but that’s another story!
So. Barcelona. Would I recommend it? Yes! Would I recommend the Praktik Rambla Hotel? Oh yes!
What’s next on the list? In the last three years we’ve done Luxor (wow) and Budapest. Majorca was earlier in the year and now Barcelona. Possibly we’ll visit Amsterdam. Definitely, at some point over the years, Prague, Croatia, Moscow, New York and Rio for their carnival. Oh, we got a great deal on Disneyland Paris for half term holiday next year. I don’t know who’s looking forward to that more, us or our children.
Anywho. Suggestions anyone? Where would you like to go?