Don’t Be Satisfied With Stories …

I find I want to write something about creativity this week. I’ve had several conversations recently about the subject, around the subject and alluding to the subject, and each time my conversational partner has surprised me by suggesting that not everyone is creative.

Since I experience creativity as absolutely essential to my well-being, I cannot agree with this supposition, and wonder what has led to people thinking that the human species is divided into two: those who are creative and those who are not.

I think that part of the problem lies in the way our current culture defines creativity, and another part of it lies in the way our culture values it.

For many people, to speak of someone as ‘creative’, means they consider that person as ‘artistic’, innovatively productive, specifically successful in a particular field … at the very least, ‘they can knit’ or ‘they enjoy playing an instrument’. The concept that creativity is inherent in everything we do, is not one which many people seem to consider.

Our society has neatly confined creativity to specific areas of human experience, or sometimes to specific procedures. Painting definitely counts as a creative activity but mathematics rarely so, yet the thought processes involved must be just as ‘creative’, in that they must reach beyond previously visited boundaries and stretch into the unknown.

Creativity in common parlance is often perceived as the ability to imagine a completed project, and then to materialise it. The goal is the focus. But in reality, it is the process that is creative, regardless of the outcome. The ability to sit inside a task, not knowing where the application of attention will take you, perhaps not even knowing where to start, is at the heart of true creativity – and don’t all of us do that every day?

When we plant a garden, bake a cake, conceive a child, move house … we cannot possibly know what the end result will be. There may not even be one. What we are experiencing may be part of an on-going process. But one thing is sure, we could not do any of these things, nor a million other, if we did not have the essence of creativity within us.

Creativity is the way in which we express ourselves in the world. It is the relationship we have with the things and beings around us. It is how we respond to the sights, sounds and other sensual experiences which impact on us. It is inherent in the way we live. It is how we convert mere survival into actual living.

To be creative means to interact with something outside ourselves, as well as something within ourselves. It is to be open to discovery, to experience and to the unexpected. It is the ability to surrender control and to wait and see what comes of it ‘if I go that way’ or ‘if I go this way’.

And because our culture has reduced the concept of creativity to one which applies only in restricted circumstances, and one which is judged by the achieved – or nor achieved – end result, and has therefore allocated conceptions of perfection and accomplishment to what should be a process-oriented journey, it finds it has also created other unhelpful assumptions.

Not only does society believe that only certain people are creative, it also only perceives certain procedures are creative, thus resigning the rest of the populace to the aspiration of finding ‘a proper job’. Further, it attempts to contain the meanderings of a creative mind, with its dangerous tendencies towards challenging the status quo, within a designated creative community, whose productions we may go and visit – theatre, art gallery, cinema, etc. – but may not bring back home as a different perception of living and being in the world.

Imagination, that precious and indefinable energy at the heart of creativity, is just about allowable in the very young, barely tolerated in the young and completely dismissed as nonsensical in the old. Instead of encouraging a new generation to explore what can be explored in their mind’s eye, and teaching them how to question, how to perceive and conceive new ideas, how to collaborate with the unknown, the common curriculum is still – perhaps more than ever – focused on what is merely material, provable and functional.

And the idea that creativity might be encouraged as the activity which enables us to unfold into who we truly are, each as a creative individual, is most definitely discouraged, in favour of moulding people to fit predetermined stereotypes who can function-by-numbers.

The world is a beautiful, astonishing, surprising place and we should, I believe, allow ourselves to match that, and be willing to offer our best both to our communities, our culture and, ultimately, to ourselves. Otherwise, what’s the point?

To complete the quote in my title:

Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.    Jalaluddin Rumi

In  my opinion, the best advice a writer could get.

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Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

One of the interesting aspects of taking a holiday is – coming home!

If you’re lucky enough to be able to actually go away for your holiday, the transition you make on your return journey may help you ease back into your former routines and concerns.The nearer you get to where you live, the more familiar the surrounding landscape, the more your brain switches back to pre-holiday mode – but hopefully with the added benefit of having had a good rest in the interim.

Of course, that may not be everyone’s experience. For some, the increasing sense of gloom, depression and anxiety that accompanied their life prior to the break, returns ten times worse than before, because now it can be compared to lazier days, more interesting enterprises and fewer worries. The trauma of returning to a life you don’t actually want to be living, must be devastating.

For me, because I’ve holidayed at home, and filled my days with only tennis, eating, tennis, dogwalk, more tennis and more eating, the impact is two-fold.

On the one hand, I have now accumulated a long list of tasks that I put off just before, and during, said holiday period, and which now all seem to have assumed high priority status. On the other hand, it’s been a while since I wrote any chapters from either of my two ongoing novels, and this is not something I can just pick up and do, as I can with the washing up or the vacuuming.

I know that some writers struggle with this issue on a daily basis, believing they have to have inspiration to be able to write, and becoming adept at procrastination techniques as they grapple towards a solution.

I am lucky. I know I love writing. I know I am better for writing. I know it’s not inspiration that provides the trigger to re-engage but the willingness to re-connect. And I have a well-practised routine for enabling this. Just as procrastinating begets procrastination, so writing begets writing.

Sitting down and simply writing something – anything – will begin to free up my slightly rusted writing-joints and encourage my brain to spark and my imagination to flow. So this is where I start: writing a blog here, a piece of description there, flirting with an exercise or two, making up a dialogue between two previously unheard-of characters …

Along with this, because writing a novel requires one to be consistent within the plot-line, particularly in a detective story, I need to remind myself what’s happened so far.

That may sound strange. Since I’ve created the narrative, it might be a reasonable assumption that I’ll remember what I’ve written. But often I don’t, and that may be  a function of the way that I write. I never know where the story is going, what clues will be discovered next and what they will mean. Sometimes I don’t even know who has committed the crime!

It’s essential for me to get back inside the tale I’ve told so far, so that I can relate the next bit, because the following chapter won’t reveal itself until this one is finished. So I re-read the work up-to-date – doing a chapter log as I go of important details. When I’ve done – and this may take a few days – I pick up my pen and listen for what comes next.

This process happens naturally if I write every day because, it seems, a part of my brain remains connected to what I wrote yesterday. As if I have a special length of thread joining me to my story, from which I can walk away for a short while and which will still be there if I return soon enough. Still throbbing with life and energy, waiting for me to hook back in and ‘do’ the next section. My regular visits keep the thread alive and it can then feed me the story.

But if I’m away too long, the vibrations slow and the story drifts into the distance, looking, perhaps, for someone else to tell its tale.

My post-holiday task is to re-energise the trail, to pick up the thread and re-engage. To make myself available, be willing to co-operate and play my part in this mysterious enterprise. I don’t question it. I am, these days, too wise to risk that. Bringing my logical left-brain into play here, will kill the vibrations instantly and deny me access.

Gently, gently, I open my heart, awaken my spirit and allow my pen to flow. It takes only a day or so, once I begin writing again, for me to re-establish my writing routines and to feel re-connected.

Then the thread re-vitalised, transforms itself into a fabulous web of possibilities, each awaiting its appropriate place in the unfolding story. It wraps itself round me, like a butterfly’s cocoon, as we learn to speak each other’s language once more. Its shimmering energy is now accessible as pure inspiration.

I am home.

Celebrations!

Well, the tennis genius that is Roger Federer did it. Won a record-breaking 8th Wimbledon title at the age of 35. And, in conventional terms, you would have assumed he was nearer to 25, judging by the way he moved around the court. After Rafa’s 10th Roland Garros victory at 31 years old, and the fact that both of them have taken things a whole lot easier this last year in terms of entering tournaments, I’m delighted to see that they’re challenging accepted ‘given’s of the game.

The rules for achieving the ultimate goals in tennis, according to those who know about such things, consist of items like: ‘You have to work very hard’, ‘You have to train for six to eight hours a day’, ‘You have to enter warm-up tournaments before a Grand Slam’, ‘You’ll only get a few years to succeed’, ‘By the time you’re in your late 20’s, you’ll slow up too much to be capable of wining big titles’ …

As you know I love saying: so much for rules.

Listening to Roger talk about his approach to Wimbledon, I was caught by a particular phrase of his. He talked about his need to ‘get smart with [his] scheduling’. What a brilliant attitude. Here is a man, in love with what he does, wanting to continue to participate at the highest level beyond the usual ‘constraints’. Instead of complaining about his lot, or raging against the world, he takes full responsibility for his situation, ‘does the sums’ and makes some powerful decisions.

The result? He becomes even better at what he does, even happier with who he is, even more balanced at finding his way in the world and enjoying everything he’s lucky enough to have in his life.

As I write my fiftieth blog, (which I acknowledge as a terrific achievement for me, being someone with a tendency to start new things enthusiastically, on a regular basis, and still learning how to get to the promised ends,) I want to celebrate Roger’s strategy for being whole-heartedly inside his life. I want to learn from his willingness to take good care of himself, both physically and emotionally. I want to emulate his ability to be both realistic and idealistic at the same time.

The world of tennis – and possibly any sport – is a fabulous place to witness life-lessons. As a writer, I’m constantly re-assessing  my way forward, judging the validity of my next step, reconnecting to my inner truths. On the tennis court, I can watch people doing this continually.

Navratilova talked the other day about how tennis is full of contradictions, such as ‘You need to forget the mistake you just made, but you also need to remember your mistakes to learn from them’. I find it more helpful to think of this as ‘paradox’ rather than ‘contradiction’. Within a paradox, two apparently opposing positions are true at the same time – such as being realistic and idealistic. It’s pure quantum, and it’s beautiful life advice.

If I want to succeed as a writer, I have to be able to hold the reality of a slow start to selling my first novel, alongside the ever-building collection of 5-star reviews my book is receiving. I have to allow my disappointing progress in the short-term to have no bearing at all on my daily writing discipline, yet I have to address the implications of the low sales by spending some of my precious writing time learning about, and executing, effective advertising.

I have to be conscientious about creating new work, as well as fastidious about editing and formatting. I have to remain faithful to my ‘old-fashioned’ methods of generating ideas and listening to my characters, at the same time as being willing to learn about social media and building a website.

And alongside all of the above, I have to make sure I take care of my health and well-being, that I stay fit, eat well and rest plenty, that I remain in love with my new profession and continue to enjoy the process. Because without the process, the goal will always remain elusive. (Thanks to Jo Konta for that one.)

Being smart about my scheduling feels like a really good decision right now.

Wimbledon – The Stuff Of Fairy Tales

I’m exhausted. All this tennis is very tiring. I’m on my annual Wimbledon-Watch holiday and it’s proving even more emotionally draining than usual. But what stories it’s creating!

I’m a big fan of fairy tales: the traditional ones because of the truths about life that they reveal if you look closely and carefully, the newly-created ones, as they unfold in people’s lives each day, because they encourage us all to go on our own adventure. And it feels like there’s been a gazillion (love that word!) of them at Wimbledon so far, this year.

Take my hero from last year – Marcus Willis. Remember how he was on the verge of giving up tennis altogether, ranked 772 in the world, with no funds and no future, and ended up playing Roger Federer on Centre Court, thrilling everyone with his enthusiastic ‘have-a-go’ attitude?

His reward this year was that he was given a wild card – into Qualifying. He has brought his ranking up into the 300’s but that, apparently, is insufficient for the Wimbledon Committee. Still, it meant three less qualifying matches than last year when he had to undertake Pre-qualifying as well.

He didn’t make it. He lost his third match. Largely due to a knee injury he sustained during the course of it.

Not such a fairy tale, then. But wait a minute … The Committee had also given him a wild card straight into the main draw of the Men’s Doubles. He immediately teamed up with a youngster by the name of Jay Clarke, who’d also not made it through Qualifying, but who is considered to be ‘the next big thing’.

So what did the pair of them do? Made it easily into the second round where they knocked out the reigning champions in a fabulous five-set match! Brilliant! This guy so inspires me.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is story after story of players who are finding their best form at an age when tennis-players, traditionally, are supposed to retire.

For example, Rafa, at 31, after his sublime triumph in Roland Garros last month, made it to Wimbledon this year. Playing his first grass-court tennis in two years, he looked magnificent in the first week. Then, on Monday, he had another of ‘those’ matches. He came up against a guy who’s been around for ever, it seems. Gilles Muller, aged 34, has been on the tour for 17 years. He’d never won a title until this year. How could Rafa lose?

I held my breath all through week one of the tournament because there is something about Rafa on grass that brings out ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ performances from ‘Also Ran’s. It’s almost as if it’s part of his spiritual path, judging by the number of times he’s been beaten in four, or five, sets of unbelievably high-quality tennis, by a guy who’s never done anything before. But his previous defeats have all been to relative newcomers. Muller was not someone we should worry about.

I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed such a transformation. From an average, competent, ‘I can get through a few rounds’ player, a conqueror stepped forth. Nothing – and I mean nothing – shook him, as he worked his way into the match, winning the first set, then the second …

When Rafa won the next two, we all assumed we knew how this encounter would end, but Muller never wavered, leading Rafa into a fifth set, steadily, game by game, each time requiring the champion to match his tally of games won, constantly remaining one ahead.

They reached six games apiece; no tie-break in the fifth. They proceeded to seven, eight, nine games each. Neither would budge, neither cracked. If anything, it was Rafa who began to wobble. Ten games all, eleven. twelve … This was agonising, spectacular, enthralling. Everything a tennis fan could wish for. Not just because the outcome was no longer predictable but because the quality of the tennis being played was getting better and better as they went. No-one – perhaps not even the players – wanted it to end.

Total magic, ending eventually with a victory for Muller at 15-13.

And everywhere you look this year, there are other inspired players doing the same: Venus Williams, at 37, coming back to form after her devastating illness a few years ago, beating this year’s Roland Garros champion; Rybarikova, at 28, making it to the Semi’s after returning to the tour in the spring following two surgeries; Sam Querrey, aged 29, reaching his first Grand Slam Semi-Final by knocking out the World No.1, Andy Murray, today; and our own Jo Konta, getting ever closer to being the first British Women’s Champion since Virginia Wade in 1977.

And, of course, the greatest of them all, showing that age makes no difference, except that it improves you, Roger Federer, at 35, on the verge of winning his second Grand Slam of this year and an eighth Wimbledon title!

I tell you, there is nothing so inspiring as a fairy tale.

Quote Of The Day

One of the cool things about being a writer is that you have a legitimate reason for eavesdropping. Or at least, overhearing. And people do say the most incredible things …

I am just recovering from a very full-on woolly weekend which was full of other people’s conversations, passing comments and the general buzz of appreciation and amazement.

First, I went to Woolfest – the original festival of celebrating British wool, which has now been taking place for over ten years. It is a wonderland of fibres, yarns, looms and wheels, as well as live sheep and other creatures, usually attended by thousands of happy crafters, all keen to see the colours, feel the textures and hand over their money in gleeful anticipation.

It always used to land on the middle weekend of Wimbledon, making it a very hard decision for me about where my priorities lay. But these days, with the new extended grass court season, I can go to Woolfest – only just north of where I live – and be back in plenty of time to have my knitting ready for the Grand Slam. My perfect summer holiday.

This visit held as much promise as usual, with the added benefit for me of a little extra cash, saved up for something else which fell through. This year, I might even get to buy something!

I made my way steadily round the first half of the stallholders, checking against my list of possible speakers for the Guild (I’m currently part of the Programme Team), but systematically working my route to land at, in my opinion, the best stall of all: an indie hand-dyer from Wales, trading under the name of HillTop Cloud.

Having purchased fibres from her online, I was keen to see the goods displayed for real, in all their splendour. I was not disappointed. The magnificence of the array of colours greeting me, left me speechless, stunned and completely unable to choose what to buy since I couldn’t afford everything! How wonderful!

As I stood in the middle of the square-shaped display, ogling the fabulous display of colours and fibres on offer, I heard someone say, ‘Of course, you know that choice is bad for you.‘ What?!

The voice continued. ‘Apparently, Tesco have decided that too much choice in their store is not good. Their rivals only have a couple of options available at a time, and are making more sales. If there are too many choices, people get overwhelmed and end up not buying anything …

I remained speechless – now for entirely different reasons. I felt a blog coming on, but decided instead to concentrate my efforts on making glorious choices from the proud panorama facing me, hoping that such fiendish logic would never infect the world of warps, wefts, and wraps per inch.

Feeling suitably sated, I turned up the following day at our Guild’s own exhibition, part of a local Arts and Crafts Trail. I had volunteered to demonstrate some spinning. I entered a busy school hall, hung around with splendid exhibits from our members, and interested visitors wanting to ask how? what with? and can I have a go?

Of course, when I first joined the Guild, we could let people take a turn on our spinning wheels. I distinctly remember our first request for a Risk Assessment, when we were invited to take part in a day of country pursuits at a venue in the Lake District. We were included alongside activities such as charcoal-burning and apple-bobbing.

Somewhere along the line, someone had decided that the risk to the public from actively engaging with spinning wheels was too great, and we should no longer offer this option. How we had all survived so long was a mystery. I remember the feverish discussion about what we should enter on the paperwork. The biggest vote was to explain that if you pricked your finger, you might fall asleep for a hundred years …

Anyway, I digress, as usual. The point is, these days we only demonstrate, but we are geared up for talking coherently about what we are doing. I unpacked my wheel in a quiet corner, where there was room for a small crowd to congregate if necessary, fluffed up my Blue-Faced Leicester and began to spin.

It wasn’t long before interested people gathered both to watch and question. ‘So how do you get it to stay together?’ ‘How do you make it into yarn?’ ‘What will you do to it next?’ ‘What will you use it for?’

I found myself in a conversation with a lady who seemed genuinely interested in the process, and I was just explaining to her what I was doing – letting the twist run down into the fibre, using a short-forward draw, making a ‘singles’ thread – and she was asking what happened next to make it into a usable yarn.

As I spoke, telling her there were a number of ways to ply it, and explaining that the simplest was to create two bobbins and twist them together, when she suddenly said, in a tone of utter disgust: ‘Nothing’s ever easy, is it?‘ and marched away.

To say I was speechless, for the second time in as many days, would be something of an understatement. I wondered what she had been expecting, what she hoped I would say, why she wanted the process to be easy … Doesn’t it always take some effort to get to somewhere worthwhile?

I guess the gain to me is that I now have plenty of new material to ponder on, several interesting characters to explore, and some fascinating scenery to use. But I’ve saved the best ’til last.

On my way around the vast surroundings of Woolfest, peering at my Guide and trying to get my bearings, two women walked past me. I wondered whether they had mysteriously arrived from outer space, beamed into the heart of an unknown location, as one commented to the other, apparently in surprise: ‘There’s an awful lot of arty-crafty people here.

How To Turn A Simple Task Into An Extravaganza

The things about necessary tasks is that they tend behave exponentially, if you don’t keep a careful eye on them. Even if things go to plan, the chores and errands one needs to accomplish within a single day, can easily expand to fill the time allotted to them, and then some. In my life, things rarely go to plan.

But all good stories must start somewhere, and it is in the unravelling of the tale, that a writer earns their keep. Take for example, my offer to water my friend’s plants while she went on holiday …

This was supposed to be a minimal task. Perhaps calling at the house a couple of times over the course of the fortnight to give a quick spray around with the hosepipe. See – not even a watering-can affair. How difficult could that be? How could that possibly interfere with my serious routine of writing and tennis-watching?

Neither of us anticipated a heat-wave. So hot, I haven’t dared venture out of the house for much of the last four days – except, of course, to water those plants.

The thing is, I haven’t actually used a hosepipe before. I’ve seen other people using them, and thought how nice it would be to have one, perhaps for the allotment (if only I could afford it/get round to it/find somewhere to store it), but I’ve never actually picked one up and used the spray gun. Until a couple of days ago.

Things started well. I found the plants … sitting in their containers. I found the hose … attached to the wall and connected to a tap. I turned said tap on, moved confidently towards the first container, pressed the control button and nearly blew the container over!

At that stage, I still had the sense to let go, which immediately switched the water off. Sensible. I returned to the wall, and turned the tap down. Also, sensible. What I hadn’t realised was that the force of the water had loosened the joint between the hose and the gun …

I merrily continued down the garden, spraying a little bit here, a dollop there, and a good dowsing over there, every so often discovering that the hose wasn’t coming with me, giving it a bit of a tug to chivy it along and returning to the patio when it managed to get itself wrapped around a plant pot and wasn’t budging. I even managed to diagnose a blockage – a kink in the pipe – when the supply diminished into a dribble and tried to give up.

It was when I had reached the end of the garden, and was trying to water a rather large ‘tree’, which I couldn’t reach and had to stretch for, that the pipe and the gun finally parted company. Water sprayed everywhere! Mostly over me, missing the tree completely. My dog, who had been quietly sniffing her way around the garden up to that point, swiftly ran into the kitchen as the heavens opened above her.

It shouldn’t have been a disaster. But the one thing my friend had imprinted in my brain was the necessity NOT to flood next door’s garden. Such an incident was spelled out to me as the worst kind of doom.

On receipt of the vision of an overflowing watery cataclysm, something in my brain took a shortcut, and told me the quickest way to stop the water was to put my thumb over the now open end of the hosepipe. How stupid can one be?!!!

Whatever I was thinking about my superhuman strength and ability to enact my own personal version of King Canute, I cannot now begin to imagine.

I am fortunate in having a fairly flexible brain these days, and on discovering that I was now dripping from head to toe (first time I’d been cool all day), and trying to constrain something akin to a whirling dervish crossed with a dancing cobra in my hand, I realised that the sensible solution was to put the monster down, run back to the wall and turn the tap off.

I won’t bore you with the details of how many times I had to refit the spray gun before I could get it to stay connected to the end of the pipe, nor how many times I had to go back and check the tap was turned off before I could bring myself to go home. But I believed I had finally cracked the procedure when I made a second visit a few days later, and this time, only watered my feet.

The best thing about being a writer – the stories!

La Decima!

What a weekend. Those of you who know me, even in the slightest, must be expecting a tennis-based blog today. For those of you whose universe passes through a different dimension, on Sunday, Rafa (otherwise known as Rafael Nadal) accomplished the unheard-of: a tenth Roland Garros title!

No other player in the open era has ever won ten of the same Grand Slam titles. His win was celebrated by the presentation of a special replica trophy, engraved with his ten successes on the red clay.

Rafa is very special to me. Not least because his wins are not always easily come by but are always beautifully executed. He is someone who has learned the power of connecting mind and heart in order to achieve excellence.

Beyond excellence, actually. There were shots during his last two matches this year that defied physics. They were not just unbelievable; they were – in the ‘normal’ world – impossible. His opponents, as well as the spectators, could only stand and applaud. Even the commentators were heard to say: ‘I have no words.’

I have found Rafa personally inspiring since the very first time I saw him play. That was back in 2005 when he won his first French Open title. I’d never seen clay-court tennis before. It wasn’t generally accessible on Freeview TV and I’d only heard about it on the radio. I grew up watching Wimbledon – in black and white on the BBC.

My tennis experience (and, I hasten to add, as a spectator only – I’m rubbish at playing it) was entirely grass-based, with competitors wearing pristine white clothing, hitting the ball ‘politely’ over the net and rallies lasting three or four shots , if you were lucky. All nicely contained and ‘proper’.

Suddenly, I was confronted by two youngsters, wearing bright colours, sleeveless T-shirts and ‘capri’ pants. My recollection is of them ‘scrapping it out’ on the court, extended rallies of twenty or more shots – and they were sliding! They were treating the place like a playground.

Not only that but the umpire kept getting out of his chair;  every time a line call was dubious, he would climb down and visit the spot to view the mark the ball had made, while the crowd boo-ed and whistled. This was not something I could ever imagine tennis could be. And I was exhilarated by it.

It was also Rafa’s first attempt at Roland Garros. At the age of 19, (he had his birthday on the day of the semi-final with Federer!) he won his first Grand Slam. He has only ever lost twice at the French since then, and on both occasions, he was injured but played on in deference to his opponent.

And this is something else I love about him. His complete and utter respect for whoever is on the other side of the net. Regardless of their ranking, Rafa brings the best game he has to each occasion.

Actually, he brings it to each point. He never plays a point without the intensity and concentration he would give to a match point. He never backs off, or takes it easy, or plays as if he can’t be bothered. He never goes into a despair-tantrum or stops trying or gives up.

If he makes a mistake, if a ball goes out or misses its mark, he merely registers that as a brief disappointment and lets it go. Next point, new opportunity. As simple as that. Always in the moment. Always present.

These are glorious qualities, made all the more remarkable by the history of breaks he’s had to take from his career due to injury. This latest achievement follows a withdrawal from last year’s Roland Garros where Rafa left in tears due to a wrist injury, and the press querying whether he would ever play at his best again. The last time they said that, he returned to win three Grand Slams in a row, ending the year as world no.1.

He carries within him a true warrior archetype, and I think this was what spoke to me the first time I watched him play. He bore a remarkable resemblance to the Sioux Indians I used to side with in old westerns. I was slowly recovering from nearly a decade of chronic illness, and his fighting spirit ignited something inside me which eventually resulted in a return to college and a second career.

In the interim, I have seen him accomplish greater and greater goals but never losing touch with his humanity or his humility in the process. And each time, I feel inspired to re-examine my own life and see where I might do the same. To become more of myself.

Three years ago, after a devastating year of loss and tragedy, I was trying to turn my life around again, when Rafa won his last Roland Garros. On that occasion, he had to beat Djokovic who was playing at his finest, and who was attempting to complete his own personal set of all four Grand Slam titles. Djokovic had never won the French. No-one other than Rafa had for the previous decade – except Federer, once.

At the time, I was contemplating taking up writing seriously. I had been going to a Creative Writing class since the autumn and found I loved writing fiction. Just as Rafa won his ninth French victory, we were challenged in the class to compose a traditional sonnet. Fourteen lines, classical rhyming pattern, iambic pentameter! That was another point at which Rafa’s determination and willingness to ‘go there’, inspired me.

The sonnet I produced is not brilliant but it captures something of what I felt on seeing him perform, More importantly, it confirmed for me where my future lay. It was at that point that I made the decision to turn my scribblings into my first novel and become a writer. I reproduce it here in deep gratitude and loving respect for my ‘mentor’.

In midst of heat and dust, two warriors came

Each bent on shaping history in their wake

The Serb with three Grand titles to his name

But never this, the red at which men quake

The Matador who’d lost but once in France

And more than sixty conquests since his start

With gutted weapons they began their dance

A fierce perfection driving on their art

They played with architectural loops and serves

Ferocious spins at thousands rpm

With graceful arcs and unrelenting curves

They bent the laws of time and space – and then

Bent double, reaching for his breath, his play,

His gut, his heart, his win. The King Of Clay