Photosynthesis. Plants. See what I did there?

One of my favourite things to listen to is the magnificent Desert Island Discs. I rarely get chance to listen to it on the radio, instead gobbling it in podcast form. Sometimes I’ll smash through six or seven of them in a day.

For those that haven’t heard of it, the format is simple. A famous person is interviewed about their life and career. The list of interviewees ranges from politicians to musicians and writers. Each castaway chooses 8 records to take with them when they’re stranded on a desert island. Hence the title.

Since lockdown began, I’ve been changing what music I listen to more often than I’ve changed my pants (although rest assured, I still change those daily). It all depends on mood.

When writing Lionhearts, my very angry novel about northern pride and the insidious impact of nationalism, I was hammering the music of Idles. They’re a ferocious live act and their songs are not an easy listen. Idles ramped me to write the prose style and content that I needed to for this book.

I should add, I listen to music before writing, not during. The way athletes get pumped up in the dressing room before a match.

Now that novel is in the can and waiting to be sent out into the world, I’m moving on. The rage I needed for Lionhearts has passed and left me empty on the inside. I need comfort now. I need laughs. I need a change.

I started another book, Static, that has hit the skids. Despite finding the voice I wanted, I didn’t quite find the joy in it that I needed. The story didn’t light me up. Didn’t keep me thinking about it in the way that my other novels have. The foundations are there, maybe just the timing is all wrong.

I took a deep breath. Dusted down my pride. Put it on pause. 40k words on hold.

I hate not having a project. I have to be busy. Putting this book on hold, consigned me to empty time. My nemesis.

As I do when I feel down or slightly off, I turn to music. This one was an easy choice. I fell back to an old favourite. A firm classic in our household, so much so that my three year-old daughter knows all the words.

Photosynthesis by Frank Turner.

A defiant song about living life your own way and on your terms, it’s the antidote to work and all the other things that sometimes take up space in my head.

“But no-one’s yet explained to me exactly what’s so great, about slaving fifty years away on something that you hate.

Or by meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity, if that’s your road then take it but it’s not the road for me.”

Blasting this song and having a little dance in the kitchen with my daughter helped me to let go of the novel that wasn’t working. Like when it helps me forget the drudgery of the day job, this song helped my worries that this novel wasn’t quite right slip from my mind.

Life isn’t about being mediocre or making do. It’s about finding what lights you up. About following that through. Making the best of it.

For me, that’s what writing is about too. Pausing a novel is hard when writing time is limited. But for now, it was the right call. I needed to clear my head. Fill up the well with books and music and get some joy back.

I took the time out. I turned to Frank. He provided. A weight has been lifted.

And the best part of it all? I’ve cracked what I’m writing next.

Long story short. We all deserve a little bit of joy, especially with what’s going on in the world right now. Find your joy. Find your desert island discs – the songs that keep you going and save your life on demand. The songs that help you remember that work is not who you are. That writing and reading and expressing yourself can keep you human and sane and happy. Focus on those things and do your best to keep smiling.

Look after yourselves.


Missing the Match

One of the most misquoted statements about football came from Bill Shankly: –

‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’

I’ve seen it trotted out a lot by fans who can’t wait for the season to start again. The notion that football is more important than anyone’s life is beyond ridiculous, yet this Saturday, the German league is to restart behind closed doors. This is despite protests from fan groups that football without the fans is nothing (correct) and legitimate concerns about the health of the players. For what it’s worth, my opinion is that this is all too much, too soon.

Shankly is often misquoted because his words were a poignant reflection of a career in the game that was coming to an end, as well as a meditation on time missed with his family as a result of chasing glory. It is not a rallying call for people to push players and their families into a situation where they can be exposed to the virus for nothing more than preserving a contract with Rupert Murdoch.

I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about football since play has been suspended. Of all the trivial things that can be missed, it is top of my list. Nothing makes me feel more privileged and guilty than missing trivial things when I’m safe working from home and others are putting themselves at risk every day to save the lives of others.

But guilt is just one emotion. To yearn and to grieve is to display another side of the human condition. Within reason, it is OK to do these things, as long as we don’t lose perspective on the bigger matters in hand.

Football shouldn’t return until the safety of everyone involved can be assured. Not just players but team officials, those who work behind the scenes and on match days, those that work in the media, as well as the heart and soul of the game – the fans.

But, that day will come. We have to believe that or what else is there?

One day we will all be able to walk towards the ground together, with our friends and families or on our own. We’ll get that buzz of seeing the floodlights or the stands from a distance. We’ll ask our friends for score predictions and team selections. We’ll smell frying food from burger vans and chippies on the way. We’ll hear music pumping through the PA as the players warm up.

We’ll take our seats in the stands and rise to our feet as the teams come out to start the match. We’ll scream at the referee and the opposition. We’ll dance and cheer and howl at the moon when our team scores.

But for now, we will have to sit at home and relive memories through YouTube clips and nostalgia shows. And that’s enough for now. It has to be.

This too shall pass.