An August Challenge

In Others
July 31, 2009

So the new book is finished. Really finished. It has a title and everything: “The Lessons”. It’s going to be published on 15 April 2010. The one thing I have left to do with the text is to work with the copy-editor, but that’s things like “this person is 18 years old here and then, three years later, he’s 20. How shall we best fix that?” It’s not going to be major structural work, hopefully. It’s done.

It feels weird. It’s four years since I started working on this novel. I’ve spent longer writing my novel about Oxford than I actually spent at Oxford.*

Anyway, novel-writing is a famously lonely, isolating business, in which most of your time is spent indoors, trying to establish a writing routine. You know it’s going well, basically, when you spend weeks sitting indoors at your desk, or in the library (I’ve never understood how people can write in cafes), not doing much new.

But it’s over now. And although I’m starting research work for the new novel, I’m not at the “chained to the desk” stage yet. And it’s August tomorrow, when the working world goes a bit slowly. And I’m in London. And I can’t help feeling that although I’ve lived here my whole life, there are still many more things I haven’t seen than those I have. So, I have A Plan. Here it is.

The Challenge

Go somewhere new every day in August.

The Parameters

  • A new place, not a new thing. That is, this challenge isn’t fulfilled if I go to see a new play at a venue I’ve been to before. Or a new exhibition at a museum I’ve been to before.
  • There is no time or importance component. The challenge is fulfilled if I pop into a shop I’ve never been to before for five minutes. Although I hope I’ll do more interesting things than that. Part of the idea though is to just explore a bit more – it’s so easy to get stuck in ruts of going to the same newsagent to buy the paper, the same cafe for lunch… even changing these things counts.
  • Driving through doesn’t count. Walking through might count. Getting out of the car and taking some pictures definitely counts.
  • Trips to things local to me – a new restaurant on Brent Street, that weird shop on Church Road – count just as much as expeditions to Major Tourist Destinations.

The Evidence

To write something – a few sentences at least – about every new place I go to. And probably post pictures of most of them.

The Exception

I know that towards the end of August I’ll be going away to a place I went to a lot as a teenager but haven’t been back to for at least 15 years. Because, as we all know, The Past Is A Foreign Country, it counts. As long as I write about it.

So that’s it! Although I know that people typically do blog challenges far more intensely and always for a year for some reason, I’m still a bit nervous posting this. What if, after day seven, I am too exhausted or bored to carry on? What if I get ill? So the answer is: there’s no expectation of perfection here. This is my goal. Let’s see how I go with it.

Oh, and if you know me, and think you know somewhere cool I’ve never been to before, let me know and we’ll go together!

Edit at 5pm:

Two other thoughts on what counts and what doesn’t:

  • Going to a new branch of the same chain doesn’t count. eg, I’ve been to a Cafe Rouge before. Thus, for the purposes of this challenge, no Cafe Rouge counts.
  • Conversely, if there’s a specific event which transforms a public space at a particular time, then it probably counts. Judgement must be used but, eg, if I’ve walked through a road which has a farmer’s market before but never been there when the market is taking place, then going to the market counts. This makes sense to me!

* I went to hear Melvyn Bragg speak in Brighton a couple of months ago. He was talking about an autobiographical novel he’d written about how his family and home community changed while he was away at Oxford. He said “I didn’t want to write just another Oxford novel,” which of course made me spend two gloomy weeks going “oh God, I’ve spent four years on it, and it’s just another Oxford novel.”

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