On Saturday, I have a date with a Buddhist monk. Shaved heads and acid orange. Yum. Well perhaps not strictly a date – more a search for spiritual solace. Not religion though – I don’t want the whole package. I did consider a Catholic priest – as Catholicism is my default setting and I did go to school with nuns – but no. Meeting up with a priest of that persuasion is like having dinner with a second hand car salesman. Eventually, they try and flog you something. Buddhism simply contains beliefs that largely correspond with my own but more importantly, they give guidelines to coping. Especially with anger. At present I have lots of that emotion; I am overflowing with it. Anger at loss. Anger at not achieving enough. Anger at exhaustion. You get the picture.
So back to the monk. I used to meditate, which had a wonderful calming effect on my impatient, twitchy personality. I want to learn that again, to learn how to centre myself again. As a child I was a very gentle daffy sort, who liked nothing better than counting stones in the garden, or adoring animals to the point of worship. That back please, or at least a little pocket of it that can be held at the core, to counteract all the crap of modern life.
So that is step 1 for returning normal service – essential for everyone around me who is endlessly patient and loving, namely my family. It’s selfish to be so indulgent (Buddha, he say NO to selfishness - apparently)
Step 2 is to help others – to life coach a writer friend who is suffering literary angst of the most critical kind. I have set aside a day to bring her back to a good place. How easy it is to give advice, whatever mess you are in yourself. Also, I have joined a Good Neighbour Club that visits lonely people. I love older people (after all, we are all old people in training) and also their stories. I was dithering about it but I was then invited to a party for all the Good Neighbour Volunteers to meet. Free cake! Tea! They knew how to entice this greedy slattern. But what are a few hours a week? It’s injustice that anyone is lonely in a society with billions of people, all talking to themselves (allegedly into their phones) or clutching fucking Blackberries (I like a good crumble myself.) When I was cat-hunting (no spears, honestly) I found aching loneliness in people, that desperate need to make contact. Every day for example, an old lady with an ancient dog crosses the road to my house and reads my Lost Cat notice. Every day. Then she wipes away a tear, pats her dog and stumbles on. Then I wipe away a tear at her wiping away a tear and awash I am with sentimentality. I can barely hold down my Special Brew. (I’m kidding – I have not succumbed to the demons of drink. I did have a packet of……..crisps though yesterday. I half expected Jamie Oliver to helicopter in with a megaphone, to hear that over-sized tongue announce my betrayal to good food in that cheeky mockney voice.)
Where was I….step 3…bloody hell…I have pledged to two writers friends that I will write 10,000 words of a novel by November 7th. I am also writing fillers, articles etc so quickly that my fingers leave steam on the keyboard. Zipped one off to The Guardian yesterday and now am about to write one for The Sunday Times. I have had a few already in the latter some time ago and they pay £200 for what is to me about half an hours work. Ker-ching. I also entered The Asham Award and for once, I was truly proud of my story. Not that I pretend brilliance or perfection – but that I absolutely felt in the skin of my characters. So much so that I had sensory delusions. It was set in India and I could smell it, feel the heat. Wonderful – like being actor.
Step 4 – to return to the bosom of The Workhouse to post a story and get back into a wonderful community. Also to critique…an important skill.
So there it is. Hope in the darkness.
- Julia Bohanna
- Shortlisted Bath Short Story Award 2013 Runner-up Cinnamon Press Competition 2013 WNNER: Don Louth Writer of the Year (run by Reading Writers) WINNER: Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012. SHORTLISTED: Scott Prize (Salt Publishing) 2012 for a short story collection. Writer/ Journalist - assistant editor and writer for the art and books pages of Wolfprint. Most recently published in Independent on Sunday and short story anthologies: Sentinel Champions No 9, 100 Stories for Queensland, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Haiti and From Hell to Eternity. In a recent writing competition, Joanne Harris described my writing as '...compelling (but quite creepy)'
- ► 2009 (13)
Prizes and Writing Awards
- Winner Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012
- Shortlisted for Salt Publishing's Scott Prize for short story collections 2012
- Finalist in Brit Writers' Award 2011
- 2nd in Sentinel Literary Competition 2011
- Whitechapel Society Anthology to be published 2010
- Shortlisted for the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2009
- Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2009
- Joint winner of the Penguin/Decibel Prize 2008 - Asian Invisible. Published as The Map of Me
- Highly Commended in The National Galleries of Scotland Short Story Competition 2008
- Runner-up in Segora Short Story Prize 2008
- Joint Winner of The Lancet Short Story Competition 2007: The Resurrection Girl.
- Runner-up in Virgin Trains/The Guardian Short Story Competition 2007: A Small Revolution
- Winner of the Woman and Home Short Story Competition 2006: Ghosts of Jamaica.
- Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2005
- Runner-up in the Good Housekeeping Short Story Competition 2003
- Winner of The Sunday Telegraph Tourism for Tomorrow Travel Writing Competition 2002: Wolves of Rumania. Winner
- Winner and also Winner of Most Original Short Story in the Competition in Trowell and District Writers' Competition 2006