An author’s life: country walks

Forest Bathing

It’s not about getting naked and dousing yourself in freezing water in a cold and frosty wood! But it is about something that refreshes the soul and relaxes the body.

I’ve recently written blogs on ‘an author’s life’ that have been about seasonal recipes: autumn, winter – comfort cooking and baking in these difficult times we’re living in at the moment. I will return to recipes for spring and summer, but just now I want to extol the virtues of forest bathing. Well, it’s not as chilly or even horrifying as it sounds. It’s about mindful walking (or standing still) in the countryside, woodland preferably, but it could be any stretch of open natural landscape, a garden, a park. It’s about emptying your mind of stresses and immersing yourself in nature and marvelling at its treasures.

It’s about really looking as you walk, at the wild flowers, the trees, the flora and fauna. It’s about listening to the birdsong or the wind rustling the leaves. It’s about breathing in the smell of the earth, the scent of the blossoms. Being aware of things we often take for granted. And it doesn’t have to be about trekking off into the countryside. At the weekend I just stood for a few minutes in my garden and listened and watched nature unfolding around me. It was amazing how much I saw and heard, and even smelled that I might have missed had I not been really focused on that experience rather than on the tangle of my latest plot line. I saw blue tits vying for the bird feeder, blackbirds pecking on the grass, robins eyeing the scene from the rhododendrons. I heard wood pigeons calling from the treetops, the twitter of sparrows flocking, crows in the fields beyond, the croak of the pheasant in the woodlands around me. I heard a distant train and idly wondered if it was on its way to London, glad I wasn’t on it! I smelled the damp earth and wet fallen leaves, and the fresh scent of new leaves opening and buds awaiting their time. I heard the peace.Then I could return to my work with a renewed energy.

So how does this fit into my working day? How can I make time for it? As an author I’ve done many interviews in my time and the most popular question is: how I organise my day when I’m writing? Before lockdown and tiers and all that, I used to go swimming every morning, do about 30-40 lengths, then a spell in the gym, and home by about 9.30 to start work on my writing for the day. Now I can’t do that: gyms and pools are closed for the duration. So instead I try to do some physical work first thing. It might be in my ‘home gym’ (well, that’s flattering it a little; it’s an exercise bike, a power plate machine and dumb-bells in the spare bedroom). Or it might be a yoga session. Hopefully it’s both! Then I can get down to the business of writing. for a morning’s session.

So, where does the forest bathing come in? At lunchtime, if the weather permits (intermittent in England) I like to go for a walk to clear my head or to rehearse my next scenes. The country walks around our home, through fields and woods, are so beautiful. Even on the dullest day, there’s plenty to see and listen to. I like to stop and look, try to empty my mind of its cares, or a difficult plot hole, and concentrate on what’s around me. I try to take in the wild flowers by the wayside and listen to the bird song.

W H Davies wrote “What is this life, if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” In these times, I think that’s even more relevant than before. So, if the weather is inclement for walking I might only be able to pop out into the garden to “stand and stare” for a few minutes. But even that is refreshing and relaxing for the rest of the day. And it’s amazing how much more energised and renewed you feel.

Then I’m ready to get back to the computer for the afternoon and remind myself of what my character was supposed to be doing …

New Year, New Me – and keep it up, Julia – after January

Here I come, 2016! Have you made your resolutions? And are you still keeping them in the second week of January? So many of us (me included. most years) start to give up by the middle of January and have completely forgotten what they were by the end of the month. My main resolution this year is to keep my other resolutions ALL YEAR …

I love food, I love cooking: hot comfort food when it’s cold outside. But then I hate to get a fat tum!

P1010494P1010146OK, so eat but then you need exercise.When it’s rainy, snowy and miserable in January and February,  I don’t feel like going out for a walk, getting soaked and cold. I want to sit by the fire, reading and eating.  So there’s a clear front runner for my resolutions. but will I keep to them?

 If you’re anything like me, you know It’s a lot easier if you choose carefully: ones that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. In other words, the good old SMART targets. Anything unrealistic or dependent on chance or fate or someone else, are not going to be achievable.

 “Lose weight” is a no-go. But “lose one stone in weight by July by means of diet and exercise” leads on to three other targets:
(1) use the Mediterranean diet/ reduce my portions by a third/ cut out bread as much as possible
(2) go to the gym three times a week/ take classes in yoga, aqua aerobics, Pilates/ swim 10 lengths all three visits
(3) weigh myself once a week and keep records of weight/body fat/measurements.
I could add “walk in the countryside once a week” or “use my exercise bike/power plate”, or whatever.

 Nobody is saying it will be easy (if it was, there wouldn’t be much point in doing it) but if it’s something that’s possible without changing your whole lifestyle, then it’s do-able. At my gym you have to book classes and if you don’t go, there are (apparently) dire consequences! Aaargh!  I don’t know what, but I daren’t find out! I’m trusted to be responsible and I’m accountable.

I need a reward for all my efforts, apart. of course, from being fitter and healthier. My “new me” is going to be so fit and healthy and slim by July that I will reward myself with a new dress.

I have a couple of others, with regard to choir and writing.

Choir is generalised, but re-join the local community choir and join Rock Choir – those are specific and do-able …I’ve checked my diary and the locations. OK.

Anything BIG like “publish a new book” is vague, generalised, and unspecific. But “complete the second draft of my WIP manuscript by the end of March” hits all the buttons of SMART.

So, there I go! I’m determined. What about you?