12 October 2016

Harold believed his journey was truly beginning. He had thought it started the moment he decided to walk to Berwick, but he saw now that he had been naïve. Beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways.

These are lines from my first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which was published in my 50th year, and just goes to prove that new beginnings are not simply for the young and neither do they happen once.

The thing about beginnings is that they don't always come when you think they are going to come, and neither do they come in the way that you expect. You might resolve to change, and discover that what you are doing is simply a version of the thing you were doing before. Harold Fry makes a fresh start at the age of sixty-five, when he thinks he is off to post a letter. That is what I like about beginnings. They are, by their very nature, both new and unknown. They take us by surprise.

Writing a novel at 49 was a new beginning for me, but it was also the tying up of an old thread. I had always wanted to write a book, even when I was small. In the time between, I had been a young woman, a mother, an actress, a writer of radio drama - not to mention a terrible waitress in a wine bar, a door-to-door sales girl for one morning, and an assistant in a souvenir shop.

The day I got my publishing deal, I thought of a day when I was 14. I had secretly sent a children's story to a publishers under a pseudonym. (I don't know why I opted for a pseudonym. Maybe I believed it would make me more exotic and increase my chances of success. I was wrong on both counts.) So the grown-up me thought of the teenager me tearing open that rejection letter, and it was a quiet moment of very private but profound triumph. It was like recognizing that, even though that beginning couldn't happen for me when I was fourteen, I'd waited and waited and kept trying - and finally, finally it came.

So even as I write this, I know that beginnings come out of endings. That you cannot have on without the other. Maybe a beginning is really an acknowledgement that we keep moving and changing. That we have to say goodbye to one thing and partly close the door, in order to open another.

For all these reasons, January 1st is my favourite day of the year. I end the final pages of my new novel, Perfect, with a frosted New Year's morning, and I see it as a time of great hope. There is a a young moon, so fragile it seems to be made of cloud. The land is silvery blue, the first of the catkins are already dangling from the black network of branches like pale threads. The year is starting all over again.

bench in the snow

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