Monday, 19 August 2013

The Forty Foot And The Writer

My relationship with swimming is a somewhat chequered one. In the past, I've been fished out of the River Barrow by my friend's older brother, fished out of a public pool (ignominiously, by something resembling a giant tadpole net minus the net), laughed at for being very white (in Italy), and for running screaming from a lake in the Tirol (what? it was full of water snakes). This is why swimming in the Forty Foot, above, found me facing my fears, most of which were focused on what the name implies, i.e. the forty watery feet which would be below me.

But, as a wise woman once said, feel the fear and do it anyway. So, with dry mouth and stomach full of butterflies, I descended the concrete steps, fingers white-gripping the stainless steel rail, and entered the cool waters of the Irish Sea. "Can you still feel the bottom?" I asked my companion anxiously at five-second intervals - with all the unconcern of the wetsuited that he, un-be-wetsuited, could probably not feel his legs.

Reader, I did it. Doggy-paddled in the forty foot, never more than a few meters from the steps, and probably only a few inches out of my depth.

But what lessons for the writer?

1. When you have come to the end of your first draft of a novel (or a novel-in-stories, as the case may be), and have set it aside, and during that set-aside period instead of painting the house or cleaning the house or feeding the children you get an idea for another novel, there may be nothing for it but to dive in. Otherwise you could find yourself engaged in daft personal challenges egged on by daft eighties self-help books.

2. Bad idea getting into the sea right beside the James Joyce Martello Tower which can't fail conjure the idea of wading into a sea of green snot.

3. Find better ways to describe the physical manifestations of fear. 'Dry mouth'? 'Stomach full of butterflies'? I mean, really.


  1. Great post Paula! Can relate to the Forty Foot swimming fear and, I have to admit, a certain over use of stomach imagery...

  2. Thanks Andy. Maybe the fear comes from being landlubbers....

  3. I love your life lessons - very tongue-in-cheek! I've also discovered that manuscript and wet hair do not mix, so my plans for editing my first draft at the beach were disastrous!

  4. Thanks Marina. Yes, sometimes there's no getting away from that bum-on-seat thing, less about applying oneself/discipline etc, and more about preventing sand in your ms and soggy bottoms.