Claire King


Archive for the ‘Thoughts while running’ Category

Drawing Breath

Posted on: August 3rd, 2015 by Claire - 8 Comments

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

I am learning to swim.

I did learn to swim as a child, and somehow I competed in swimming as part of Modern Pentathlon at university. But in fact I was rubbish at swimming and only managed to be on the team because I was pretty good at all the other stuff and managed to pull up my average that way, floundering my way to completion in the swim and hoping no one remembered that bit. It turned out I had never learned to swim really, despite having my badges from 10m (purple)…


…to 1500m (teal), I had only learned to get from one side of the pool to the other without drowning. 1500mBadge

Time moves on twenty years. Children have been born. Years have been spent teaching THEM to swim (bear with the story, the punchline is great). And now they can swim unaided and our nearby town has a summer pool (outdoor) where twice a week there is a swimming club, and adults can go and be taught to swim better. And I am doing that.

It’s good to learn a new thing. The learning process itself affects your brain. Remembering how little you know, accepting to be ignorant, trying to be better. And so every Monday and Thursday I get in the pool with lean, fit, twenty-somethings and strive to do a little better than last time. To be stronger. To be suppler. To be more co-ordinated. But the thing I am having to relearn most of all is how to breathe.

When to breathe.

What part of my body to breathe with.

And the teacher tells me ‘Souffle!‘ when she wants me to breathe out.

And the teacher tells me ‘Inspire!‘ when she wants me to breathe in.

When she wants me to breathe in, to gasp for air, she tells me, ‘Inspire!

No one has ever had to tell me how to breathe in French before (even when I was in labour all they cared about was the souffle).

And so perhaps that is why I never realised that in French, the verb to inspire is the same as the verb to breathe.

And inspiration is the same as taking a breath.*


*From wikipédia:

Le terme inspiration a principalement deux significations.


Take Care of the Pennies

Posted on: June 10th, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

What do getting fit, writing a novel and retirement have in common?

Well, one thing is that they’re all things on my mind at the moment. Not that I’m ready to retire, of course, but I am wondering how I’m going to finance all the lovely things I plan to do in my golden years…

And getting fit – well my youngest is now 3 1/2 and at nursery school, so why I should be hefting about all this baby weight still…Ooh, my back.

So anyway, I was out running, and whilst I was thinking about the novel I’m writing, and Where To Go From Here, a few nagging, puppyish thoughts crept in about the money we’re spending on finally closing up the holes in our walls and putting in some heating. There were also a few moments when I thought  ‘I wonder how many calories this run is worth so far’.

And it struck me that all of these things can be treated with the same approach.

If you’ve ever embarked on a ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight’ effort, you may be familiar with this sensation a few days in, as the unpalatable reality hits: this is going to take *months*. The goal is still appealing, or even absolutely necessary, but the enormity of the gap between here and there seems overwhelming. A testament to this is the number of gym memberships that lie dormant…paid for, but unused.

We would all like to have a happy retirement, no more work and lots of lovely holidays, time to spend with the grandchildren, take up new hobbies or learning. We may now all have twenty or thirty years of retirement ahead of us and it’s clear the government is not going to support us in our old age. It’s down to us to make plans. So what are we doing about it? Do we have an idea how much money we will need and are we saving a little every month? (Honestly, here, not enough. But the money only stretches so far. What should we give up today so we are secure in thirty years’ time? Can’t we have our retirement cake and eat it?)

When we set out to write a novel we can be carried by our enthusiasm for a little while, by dreams of turning what is in our head into something other people can (and will) enjoy. But eventually real life can get in the way of that momentum, the words mount up much more slowly than we would hope. The editing is chewy and painful. Incidentally, this often manifests itself in new writers starting to approach agents and publishers before their book is ready.

Three objectives, one solution – take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.

It’s an every day thing, not a quick fix – every day walk a few more steps, write a few more words, save a few more pennies (quite a few, actually) and in a year, two years, thirty years the jar should be looking good.

Oh and maybe cancel that gym subscription and put the money into the pension pot.

On on!


Heads up, everybody!

Posted on: April 22nd, 2011 by Claire - 22 Comments

Most days, when I’m running (or walking) the view looks something like this.

And this is what I’m thinking…

  • I’m about half way around now.
  • I must post that letter when I get home.
  • How do I improve that short story I’m writing?
  • I wonder if my invoice has been paid today.
  • How do I develop the conflict in this novel I’m writing.
  • I must answer that e-mail. How to best phrase my response?
  • What will we have for dinner? Shall I shop first or get the ironing out of the way?
  • Where’ve those dogs got to?
  • It’s getting hot, I ought to have another drink of water.
  • No, but really, how would that character react in that situation…

Then sometimes, occasionally, I remember that I’m not driving a car. That I am allowed to take my eyes off the road. And that I can lift my focus away from the path and from where I’m putting my feet. I remember where I am, what I am doing. And then this is the view.


After that I’m no longer thinking about all the things I have to do. I can take a few deep breaths and then get back to concentrating on one thing, which for me is always mulling over the story I’m writing.

Now, I know that not everyone has this particular view, but it does work in towns and cities too. Even in supermarkets. Try it. Zoom out from your focus, from the pavement or the people in front of you or the shortest distance between you and your objective, and have a look around. See the big picture that you’re in. Change your perspective, notice your environment and see what effect that has.

NB – I still don’t advise this while driving!

I think that this applies also to writing fiction. Sometimes we can get too caught up in propelling our characters through their character arc and forget that although they may be the focus of the story, they are still part of a bigger context. Pulling out from a tight character viewpoint and bringing in the bigger picture is not a change of location, or a change of scene, but a change of  perspective. It acknowledges the world in which the narrative is taking place. And for the reader it can offer a moment’s rest.

I bet in screenwriting there is a name for this. Does anyone know?


Running up that Hill

Posted on: April 2nd, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

I do NOT look like this when running. Part of me wishes I did.

I do NOT look like this when running. Part of me wishes I did.

“Just to that tree there, then I’ll stop and walk.” I must say this to myself dozens of times on every run.

I’m fine at running downhill, really, I’m very good at that. But I’m rubbish at running uphill. I gasp for breath, my muscles burn, my knees wobble. Rubbish. I look nothing like that woman in the photo. Perhaps I’ll get someone to take a picture of me in the act just so you can have a laugh.

But if I pick a tree, not too far away, and tell myself I’ll just keep going until that tree and then we can reconsider, things look much better. The hill becomes less daunting, and I often get past quite a few trees before I revert to ‘walking smartly’.

And it’s the same with writing.

For me, in particular, novel first drafts. The whole task seems so daunting at times. I tell myself I’ll just write the next 1000 words and then we’ll see…

The eyeball effect

Posted on: January 12th, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

What do you think about the eyeball effect?

What do you think about the eyeball effect?

There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That’s noted for fresh air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was young Albert,
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
With a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle,
The finest that Woolworth’s could sell.

They didn’t think much of the Ocean:
The waves, they were fiddlin’ and small,
There was no wrecks and nobody drownded,
Fact, nothing to laugh at at all.


I hope I’m not the only one old enough and Northern enough to recognise this passage from Marriott Edgar’s Albert and the Lion.

I was reminded about it after having read several articles in the news this week about the escalation of ‘wrecks and drowndings’ in ‘Eastenders’ and other places. That there is a market for this kind of entertainment makes me feel sad. Personally, I prefer fiction, theatre and film that ultimately shows people to be good at heart and courageous. I find that reassuring, positive, uplifting. So one of my real bête noirs is gratuitous use of:

Death (murder, suicide or accidental); Rape; Child Abuse; Domestic Violence or indeed any other kind of violence; Tragic illnesses including cancer, brain tumours and the like…and there’s no need to go on with this list really.

In literary terms, I like Martha Williams’ description of this: the eyeball effect – ie if you start a story with ‘The eyeball rolled slowly down the hill…’ you’ve grabbed attention. I’m pretty sure there is a market for this, but it’s not necessarily what I like to read. I don’t mean there shouldn’t be conflict, challenges, even disaster, or even any of the above (of course). Just that it needs to be justified by the plot and the characters. Illustrating with a few examples:

Reading Caroline Smaile’s debut novel ‘In Search of Adam‘  – I was in perpetual fear of turning the page to see what terrible things would happen next. It is a wonderful book, but everything is authentic, everything is justified.

By contrast, in Emma Donaghue’s ‘Room’ (which is brilliant) – I was very disappointed when a character which had been very sympathetic and heroic suddenly behaved out of character (see the above list, trying not to spoil) towards the end. I accept that the behaviour could be authentic, of course, but having felt in safe hands all the way through the delicate treatment of traumatic issues in the book, I felt let down towards the end.

On the other hand, three cheers for Christopher Brookmyre and his ‘Sacred Art of Stealing’ – a wonderful satire full of non-violent bank robbers.

Then there is ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’: The tragedy is inevitable, but the build up is handled with such finesse and the details, when they come, are spare.

Finally I must mention Jodi Picoult – a writer for whom I have enormous admiration. Not only does she sell millions of books, but I have enyoyed plenty of them, usually while blarting. Sometimes, though, it seems like she’s just gathered all the eyeballs within striking distance and put them into one book, one after another.

So, how do you feel about eyeballs, wrecks and ‘drowndings’? Do you like to watch them? Do you like to write them? Do you like to read them?

Feeling all emotional

Posted on: December 3rd, 2010 by Claire - 4 Comments

What emotions do you most love to tackle in your writing? What emotions are difficult?”

I thought I’d share this question with you, because I’ve been ruminating on it for a few days. It’s a wonderful question that has been asked of me in an interview (coming in January, more on this soon), and it really got me thinking. What emotions do I lean towards in my writing? My first reaction was – Love, Fear, Anger, Sadness, Joy, Pleasure, Confusion. That doesn’t seem like many emotions for quite a few thousand words of fiction in the last year. Which ones am I missing? I did a quick google for inspiration and here is a selection:

Affection, Amusement, Anger, 
Angst, Anticipation, Apathy, Anxiety, Awe, Contempt, Contentment, Curiosity, Depression, Desire, Despair, Disappointment, Disgust, Ecstasy, Excitement, Empathy, 
Envy, Embarrassment, Euphoria, Fear, Frustration, Gratitude, Grief, Guilt, Happiness, Hatred, Hope, Horror, Hostility, Hysteria, Interest, Jealousy, Joy, Loathing, Longing, Love, Lust, Misery, Optimism, Pity, Pride, Rage, Regret, Relief, Remorse, Sadness, Satisfaction, Scorn, Sensory pleasure, Shame, Shyness, Sorrow, Suffering, Surprise, Wonder, Worry.

That’s a rich seam of character building potential right there. Are there any that take your fancy?

One that stands out for me is Contempt. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink he talks about researcher John Gottman, who, after watching couples interact briefly, can predict with extraordinary accuracy the durability of their marriage. And the killer emotion – contempt.

Gottman has found, in fact, that the presence of contempt in a marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or a wife gets; in other words, having someone you love express contempt toward you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of your immune system.”

Isn’t that an extraordinary discovery?

So, I’ve decided that I’ve been neglecting my emotional side. So in the next few short stories I write I’m going to get to grips with emotions one by one. I think I’ll start with ecstasy. How about you?

Architecture, Writing and Life: Three things that should be hard work.

Posted on: November 22nd, 2010 by Claire - 10 Comments

This week I’ve read a number of blog posts about writers’ need for emotional support of some kind – sympathy for our plight, recognition of our efforts, appreciation of our work.

In particular, this post by Kirsty Logan “Art is not hard” (coal mining, she very rightly reminds us, is hard job, writing – not so much).

I’ve been thinking about this post a lot. I grew up in a coal mining village, in a coal mining family. My father, grandfather, several uncles, neighbours – they all went down the mines and did a job which is punishing, unpleasant and badly paid. I would rather write for a living than go down the pit.

But like the majority of writers I know I do not write for a living. We write as well as holding down at least one other job (generally, nevertheless, not coal mining) and often raising children at the same time. When you’re in that situation, writing eats into the time that could otherwise be ‘me’ time – time that could otherwise be spent having a bath, getting some sleep, watching the television, reading a book. But you allow that to happen – you make that happen – even if you are physically or emotionally drained, because you are working towards something, you are creating something.

In my Metazen Interview this summer I described writing a novel as like building a house: “It has depth and height and layers and elements you can’t see but that have to be there to make water come out of the tap and the fridge stay cold enough to chill the wine…Drafts and foundations, plans and frameworks and structure and aesthetics and furniture and layers and layers of everything. It’s exhausting. But when it’s done people will just say – Nice house, Claire.”

But on reflection, a house is not the metaphor I’m aiming for. I want to create something that will make people catch their breath. Evoke an emotional response. Something like a cathedral. And with writing as with architecture, having that vision is not enough. You have to decide to build it, with all the application and sacrifice that entails.

I do think that writing should be hard. That you should push yourself to make it the best you can, or else why bother? Not just writing in fact. Life. I am reminded of a quote from Matt Taylor, an architect, designer, inventor, teacher, facilitator, sailor and entrepreneur who inspires me.

You cannot have uncommon results by common means. Nature does not allow it. Only the too socialized believe they can have excellence and their comfort. Only the dull confuse the tools of building with the act of building. The insecure wants his rules. Only a coward wants control. Life must be lived, not managed.

Blinded by fear and ambition and stale used up rules, we battle our way through embittered days. We take all the joy out of our work. We succumb to accountancy. And, we destroy our lives and our planet. Heartless, joyless we become killers. We kill the Human Spirit, and in doing so, kill everything else.

… To build is to reveal your soul. To build is to engage, to act, to touch, to love. If you want a Cathedral you have to be a Cathedral builder. You have to stand in bright light and be counted. You cannot hide in mists of mediocrity and safety – of normalcy. You cannot accept limits, yours or anybody’s, as mandated, given, immutable…

A Cathedral is not ordinary and it cannot be had by ordinary means. I have one question to ask of you: Why? Why would you ever build anything less than a Cathedral?

Someone recently said to me “…yes you don’t have any heating in your house yet, but you live in France and you have a lovely husband and lovely children and work that you enjoy and now you’ve written a book and just imagine soon you could be a published author. You’re so lucky.”

I felt, at that moment, that they had walked into my half-built cathedral and were admiring its beauty, while I’m still aching a little from the effort of hoiking lumps of stone about and thinking it would be good to get a roof on sometime soon.