Monday 25th January

Dawn is breaking as Pants and I come back from morning walk; great cracks of crimson and violet splitting the dome of the sky. We’ve been to the orchard field, and we go down to the cricket so I can walk clean my boots.

I know my cheeks must be flushed pink, and my hair is wild. I feel vitally, wonderfully alive; the wind is soft against my face, and the air smells of green-things and earth, of new life and living.

We’ve been away for a week, playing in the French Alps, and I walk the cricket a much stronger and renewed person than before we left. Things that seemed black and impossible before have shrunk to a more reasonable size: nothing hard work and determination couldn’t fix.

I swish my boots through the over-long grass, making my strides big and looped. In places, the grass is past my shins; it’s been too wet to cut, and grows in thick, green shocks. There are lighter circles and darker circles; distinctly patched in colour.

Pants suddenly starts and then leaps in circles, barking at new horses arrived in the Prickett’s field.  One is a grey that looks familiar, and I wonder if she’s the mare that lived here before. Her coat has a faint, pinkish sheen in the dawn.

I reach the pavilion, and sit briefly on the low wall that protects sun-bathing supporters in the summer. Now, the wall is empty of pint glasses and abandoned flip-flops, and gently prickles with seed-setting cushions of moss. I press one lightly, with my finger, testing the springiness.

Walking has made me warm, and I roll my sleeves. My forearms look pale and oddly bone-like in the early light. I hold one up, out from my body, and see the intense pink of the sky reflected from my winter skin.

The sky almost couldn’t be more beautiful, more ecstatic, and I know that it heralds rain and greyness to come, but I don’t care. I stand and stretch, pulling in the pink air around me.

Sometimes it’s worth the bad bits, in order to revel in the good.

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Thursday 14th January

It’s cold today, just above freezing, and I’ve stolen Ellie’s navy-blue bobble hat to wear on my head. The dogs and I have been out for an hour, and my fingers are all white and corpse-like. Pants is still looping the field in his endless stride, but Dora is next to me, on George and Rose’s bench. The slats of the bench are cold beneath my thighs, frozen despite the sun. I’m eating chocolate coins that taste of scented candle, and Dora is watching me.

It was bad news for the book. Agent J felt it wasn’t quite right for the market, and rather than rewrite, to try something else. She told me on the phone, on Monday, as kindly and quickly as she could, and I didn’t cry until she hung up.

Today is four days later, and I’m in the cricket. In my mind, the grass of the field is uniformly green, like a bag of Bird’s Eye peas, but it’s not like that at all in real life. It’s of different lengths and textures; it rolls over tiny hills, clumps thickly in shallow dips. It’s long enough to move in the freezing wind, and it changes character completely with the sun behind a cloud.
Recognizing the difference between what I think and then the actual reality is hard.  It’s hard to trust my own judgement, my own intelligence. I thought I’d pitched the book right for the market; I thought that this time, this time, it would all work.
It’s hard to describe failure. It happens to all of us at some point, but I never really remember what it’s like until I’m in it, like child birth. Then I remember, God, yes. This hurts. But oddly, it seems to hurt less than it did when I was younger. It still matters just as much, but no one’s broken my wrist to stop me writing; no one’s taken my children into care, or repossessed my house. I can still write, I can still try again, and again, and again, and I will.

Both of the daughters squashed me in a hug when I told them, and my eldest said, ‘Never mind, Mummy. At least you’re not a quitter.’

Stevie was prosaic. He told me to just get on with the next one, and by the way, what’s for dinner and did I get the cheques to the bank in the end? I’m so grateful for my family. I’m so lucky that they view my writing as just something I’ve got to do, like cleaning my teeth or cooking dinner.

I look out at the field, seeing my ghost-self on her never-ending march. I’ve marched a lot this week, stamped my feet down over the shadows of self-pity and indulgence. I’ve been angry at myself for not doing what I set out to do, and I mind not being able to show I can achieve something for which I’m trying so hard.

I imagine myself jumping on mole-hills for some light-relief, up and down, double-footed, my arms waving to keep my balance.  The image makes me smile. Frustration and false pride and bitterness, all squashed flat, beaten beneath my boots.

Dora is shivering now, beside me. She’s tucked into the side of my coat, watching Pants watch sparrows. She senses my attention and looks at me, her foxy face asking a question.

‘Yes,’ I say. I stand up. ‘Come on then. Onwards.’

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On waiting, waiting.

It’s 8:40, and Dora and I have just seen one of the daughters onto the bus, and now we’re in the cricket field. There was a frost last night, the first, proper hard one of winter. The sky is an ethereal, faded blue, stitched with the tracks of far-above aeroplanes.  I swallow, trying to still the nerves swinging through my stomach, making me feel sick. I try to concentrate on the sound of my feet through the frozen grass. Swish-one, swish-two.

Today is the day I hear back from my agent, Judith, to see if the book I sent before Christmas will make it. No one’s read this one, and I don’t know if it’s worked, if the story has translated properly from my head.  But it doesn’t just have to work, it has to work better than anything I’ve ever written, and Judith has to fall in love with the people in it – enough to persuade commissioning editors to read it. The what-if’s and may-be’s are stacked like a Jenga tower in my head, and I gulp deep breaths of frigid air, trying to slow my heart-beat.

I watch the ground as I walk. I’m wearing S’s enormous green wellies and it’s like watching someone else’s feet. Each blade of grass is etched white along its edges, leaving a slender needle of green in the middle; S’s boots hardly dent them. The veins of the fallen oak leaves are sharply delineated; their complication stops me in my march, draws me closer. But not for long. The moment I’m still, my mind returns to the Jenga tower, my stomach lurches as the whole thing appears to sway.

I’m nearly out of time. My youngest daughter is in her last year of primary school, and I always promised that if I hadn’t sold a book by then, that I would  bow out gracefully, shuffle my priorities, be a better wife and mother and get back out there, hustle for some work. The thought of not writing, of not writing with the focus and intensity I do now, makes me feel hollow with desperation.

Dora jumps up on my thigh, making me realise I’ve stopped, and that I’m staring out sightlessly over Prickett’s field. ‘Sorry,’ I say. Dora watches me, and I bend to fuss her. I try to tell myself that my proportions are wrong, that I could be a Syrian refugee, or I could be ill, or my children ill. I live in a beautiful place, my family are happy and healthy; selling the book shouldn’t mean so much.  I walk on, lecturing myself on luck, and first-world whingeing, and all the hundreds of other writers that found other ways to work. It’s hardly life-and-death, it’s hardly vital.

I walk past the Pavilion, chalk-white in the morning sun.  I reach the gap in the fence that leads onto Lane Close, and home, and I pause. It’s too early for Judith to ring, too early to do anything but jobs of which  I’ll do half, before forgetting to finish, then starting something else. I turn away, and look back over the field. The sun is still low on the horizon; the oaks stand in its way, casting long shadows that are still silvered with frost. Beyond the field the valley sweeps away, then back up, to Spring Field with its hidden roe deer.  I can see the Warwick Road, with the cars of commuters driving to work. I could be one of them again. I could do it. I’ve done it before; writing with a job, two babies. It would be easier this time round, I wouldn’t have to type and rock a bouncer with my foot.

I give the field one last look, and I stand tall in the too-big wellies. Then I turn and walk home, to wait for Judith’s call.

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The Year of The Cricket

Every day, every single day, I walk around the cricket field. It’s where I go when I’m happy or miserable, when I’m in a tearing hurry, or whether I’ve got hours. Every dog walk ends or begins with the Field, and I’ll go alone, or with the daughters, or S, or with friends. I walk it clockwise, anticlockwise, traverse as if tacking a dinghy, diagonally or all over randomly, like a big ant.

This year, I’m going to write about my circles of the Field and how it enriches my life. Walking in general has always been a sort of catharsis for me – a way of balancing soaring highs and gut-wrenching lows – but it’s the Field that has become my centre. My children have grown up playing in it, my dogs have chased a million balls in it, and I’ve watched a hundred cricketers smack sixes from it. I’ve had some brilliant nights in it and made life-long friends in it.

It acts as my barometer; my Nature calendar and a place in which to be gloriously mindless, or earnestly mindful. I’ve walked it wearing ski-gear in minus 6, and I’ve streaked across it at dawn, wearing nothing but wellies and granny-pants, after a fox.

I’m not going to write about any cricket gossip, nor village gossip for that matter, because I can’t bear it when people ask me (repeatedly) when they’re going to be in the blog, or add ‘don’t write about this, will you?’ on the end of every sentence. Yes, because you’re so fascinating. I don’t promise not to satirise any of the more silly comments, but if I do, it won’t be here.

Whenever I walk, regardless of weather, mood, footwear (often unsuitable), company or time, I never stop being grateful for the fact I can. Thank you to Horley Cricket Club for the privilege, and for keeping the field in exactly the perfect way they do.