Wild swimming. No chlorine, no tannoy, no lanes, and frequently no other company... To many people, plunging in to cold lakes, rivers or seas sounds like madness. To me, it sounds like bliss.
I've always been a bit of a water baby, but when I came to live on the edge of the Lake District in 1996, in seemed like a license to bathe. Whether it was from the gravel shores of Crummock Water or the stony banks of the River Derwent, sleepily wending through some of the most ancient woodlands in the country, as soon as the sun shone, I loved to get out and swim.
In 2008, time and heat wave never once coincided. This year, I was in the river by the beginning of May.
It's refreshing, renewing, great exercise and simply as if you've immersed yourself in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
So what does swimming in lakes and rivers have to do with writing?
The fact is, whenever I'm struggling with a story, a quick dip never fails to get things moving again. Sometimes I think that's because wild swimming is such an overwhelmingly sensual experience. It's a whole body touch, sometimes bracingly, oh-my-God-I'm-going-to-die cold, sometimes almost decadently warm. The water, your whole world, smells and tastes sweet. Hear the slap and trickle of water on the move, then duck your head beneath the surface to hear in the wet-noise the squeak-speak of stones disturbed, or the eternally optimistic quacking of a foraging duck.
Opening your eyes to see a dragonfly, in yellow and green motley, hawking overhead, and beyond him the wisps of white cloud evaporating in the sunshine.
The senses come alive. I start to think about how my characters feel in different settings, how their senses are engaged. What sound conjures a childhood holiday? Which scent makes them think of past loves?
Then, of course, there is The Fear.
Most outdoor swimmers have encountered the breath-stealing moment of deep water fear. That horrible, there's-something-down-there terror that can be sparked by a shadow, a twig... almost anything. I get it nearly every time I go out of my depth, especially when I can't see the bottom (rare in Lakeland's crystal clear waters). You have to push through it, breathe deep, conquer the moment. Swim on.
You think, "can I do this?" and you have to tell yourself that you can.
Just like when you're not sure you can carry off that difficult plot point or when you wonder if this new genre is a good choice for you. When you know that as long as you don't submit a manuscript, you can't be rejected by a publisher.
When those moments come, whether you're deep in writer's doubt, or shivering on the edge of Blackmoss Pot in Langstrath Beck, you simply have to swim on.
It's worth it.
For more information on Anna and her books visit her website.
Anna's latest book, DANGEROUS LIES from Medallion Press.
An appology and a correction for yesterday's post...The conference experience was that of multi-published saga writer Elizabeth Gill and not as first attributed.
The weekend's post will be a look at another To Be Read Pile, Bernardine Kennedy's.