The Dare Club – when life imitates literature

THE DARE CLUB cover 2

Question: what do you get if you combine a novel featuring an abseiling woman on the cover, good weather, good friends and a deserving charity?

Answer: The Dare Club abseil challenge in aid of Keeping Abreast, which took place on Saturday 21 June at Aid Rope Access in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

It was a fabulous day – everyone was so brave. Quite a few of the ladies taking part were terrified of heights and were literally shaking as they climbed the steep steps to the top of the 20 metre abseil tower. There were 3 different heights to abseil from, but everyone went from the top, which was a real achievement.

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The 20m abseil tower at Aid Rope Access

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Me with my fellow Dare Club organisers – The Amazing Abseillers. Love them all!

There were 3 different heights to abseil from, but everyone went from the top, which was a real achievement. One of my friends said she was cursing me since it was my idea, but she did it anyway and felt amazing afterwards. But then I already knew she was brave, because she maintained a steadfastly positive outlook for the whole time she was being treated for breast cancer recently. She was also more than happy to help me with my research when I was writing The Dare Club, in which one of the characters – Colette – has had breast cancer.

As for me, I’d been fairly blasé about the whole thing right from the start – I went up the tower before the event and enjoyed looking at the views and the feeling of the wind in my hair. I’ve never had a problem with heights, so I wasn’t scared as I posed for photos before I began my ascent to the top.

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Posing before climbing to the top with the book that inspired it all!

But then I was actually standing at the open hatch with the distant view of the ground below and… well; let’s just say things were suddenly different. I still wasn’t scared of heights, but I was scared of imminent death. But of course that was never a possibility! The guys at Aid Rope Access who hosted the event were amazing, and our safety was never in doubt. And it had to feel scary, or else what was the point? People needed to be impressed to be inspired to donate, and donate they did. We raised almost three thousand pounds for Keeping Abreast, a charity that helps women who’ve had breast cancer by running support groups and providing information about reconstruction surgery.

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Coming down!! Eek!!!!!

And so, my novel about a dare club has inspired the existence of a true life dare club, and our inaugural event was a big success. “What’s the next event?” people kept asking me on Saturday. “Cliff diving,” I answered, deadpan. For just a fraction of a section, some of them believed it, but don’t worry, you won’t get me up there on top of a cliff. Now, white-water rafting, maybe.

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Any takers for cliff diving?!!!

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The right time isn’t always when you want it to be!

This week Eimear MCBride – an author in my home city of Norwich – won the Women’s Prize for Fiction with her novel A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing. I haven’t read Emear’s book, but I understand it centres on the relationship between a girl and her brother – who has a brain tumour – and is written using a stream-of-consciousness narration.

It’s always great to hear of success, especially to someone local, but Eimear’s particular case gives me hope for more reason than one. Because Eimear wrote her novel years ago – 9 years ago – and ever since then it has been rejected over and over again, ending up in the back of a drawer. Then a chance conversation between her husband and the manager of a local independent bookshop set off the train of events that led to Galley Beggar, a Norwich publisher, accepting the book. The rest, as they say, is history.

So what’s the link between Eimear and me, apart from both of us living in the same city? Well, none; except that I recently remembered a novel I finished more than 15 years ago that has since then, languished in 3 different attics. It’s called A Nightingale In Winter, and is set during the First World War. The reason I remembered it was because of the current centenary of the start of WW1. “I wonder if I could do anything with that old novel?” I thought, and duly dusted it off and sent it to 3 friends to read. I read it thoroughly myself too, and what a very strange experience it was! I could barely remember writing any of the actual words, although I can very clearly remember the writing process itself. I did a great deal of research for it, immersing myself in books and visiting the Imperial War Museum in London to study very moving original letters and diaries of both nurses and soldiers. At the time I had a full-time job as a guidance worker in a further education college, and it was a fairly demanding role. But each evening I would return home to have something to eat, followed by a brief catnap. Then I’d make a strong mug of coffee and pour myself a large glass of wine. The combination of caffeine and wine usually fired me up sufficiently to write for a good two hours a night. And so; very gradually, the novel was completed. But I had no idea whether it was any good or not, since it was a very different type of story to those I’d previously written.

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Here’s where I made my mistake, or not; depending which way you look at it, because maybe the time is right now and back then it just wasn’t. I sent Nightingale to a publisher who’d previously published some of my stories, but didn’t bear in mind that they published romances of the traditional kind; whereas Nightingale isn’t like that. There’s love in it, certainly, but also obsession and madness and the war. It’s strong stuff: certainly too strong for the publisher I sent it to. Their rejection letter fuelled my uncertainty about the story, and, since I had an idea for a new book, I put Nightingale away.

But now it has been rediscovered, and, since the feedback I’ve received from my 3 readers has been encouraging, it almost feels as if I’ve been gifted a novel! Whoopee! I do need to do a little work to it, and as soon as I’ve finished working on Taming Tom Jones, the novel I’m currently writing, I’ll get to work on it.

So congratulations, Eimear, and thank you for the encouragement of your story, even though you don’t me!