Several years ago in a moment of madness, I signed up to do the 57-mile London to Brighton Bike Ride. The Tour de France, it isn’t, but for a non-cyclist like me, those 57 miles were quite enough of a challenge.
For the first 25 miles or so, I cruised along happily enough, keeping pace with my little gaggle of friends and colleagues and having a bit of a laugh. Then I made the mistake of stopping, getting off my bike and sitting on something flat for a few minutes to enjoy a sandwich and a drink. Getting back on a bicycle seat after a rest-stop is a bit like trying to perch on the sharp end of a rusty pole whilst every single one of the 204 Olympic teams parades by (yes, it did take a while, didn’t it?). It does wonders for muscles you never realised you had and you learn things about your pain threshold that most people never need to know.
After 50 miles, perched on the sharp end of that rusty pole, you think you’re getting close to Brighton. You are. But before you get there, you have the one-mile trial of Ditchling Beacon. One mile, you’re saying, what’s the problem? The problem, dear reader, is the 1 in 10 gradient. That’s one mile of using your exhausted legs to push your worn-out bike upwards and upwards, towards the clouds. Crazy people pedal past you all the time and the road goes on, and on, and on.
It occurred to me that my efforts at writing my first novel map fairly closely on to the London to Brighton experience. I cruised the first several chapters in blissful ignorance of what lay ahead. Work pressures caused me to take a protracted break and to get me started again, I acquired a mentor. That’s when it got hard going – because it wasn’t just about writing, it was about writing a better, richer narrative, more compelling, more immediate, more… everything. And that demanded a great deal more of me than the random blatherings that formed my first few chapters. But I’ve been pushing forward, learning and developing my writing muscles, and they’ve carried me all the way to my own Ditchling Beacon.
The last month has been my uphill climb – a critical point in the narrative which I’ve been dreading, as I feared I might not be up to the task. I took my time, paced myself, wrote and re-wrote until I could read every line aloud to myself without cringing. I don’t know what anybody else thinks of it yet, but for the time being, I’m just pleased to be on the brow of the hill, with the finishing line within reach.
But what about the last few miles beyond Ditchling Beacon? It was a magnificent feet-in-the-air freewheel downhill all the way into Brighton town centre and along the seafront. By the time I’d pedalled up to the finish line, I’d not only recovered from the climb, I was exhilarated and triumphant. I’ve never forgotten how great it felt.
It makes me wonder as I begin my final couple of chapters, if I’ll be able to cruise through them at a pace and end up just as exhilarated and triumphant as when I crossed the line on Brighton seafront.