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.

cliff diving

Any takers for cliff diving?!!!

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Stand-up and Abseil Down

I’m doing it again!

I’ve signed up to take part in the Funny Women Awards 2014, and my heat takes place on Tuesday 29 April – the day after my birthday – in Stoke Newington, London.

“ You’re so brave. I could never do that,” is a common response when I share the news with people, but what I suspect they’re really thinking is “ARE YOU COMPLETELY OUT OF YOUR MIND?”

Time will tell. When I performed stand-up the last time, it was as part of my research for my novel The Dare Club – I wanted to experience it so that I could write authentically about someone finding the courage to do it. Here’s the link to see me performing on that occasion at Up The Creek in Greenwich. But this time I don’t have that motivation – I’m doing it for the pure pleasure of it. Yes, pleasure – because the feeling of achievement afterwards was completely amazing.

This time it will be different – I have to deliver a 5 minute set. Last time it was 3 minutes. There will also be a competitive element, and alas, my mate Sharon can’t be there to film me and offer me support. I tried to convince her it wasn’t too far to come back from Mexico where she’s going to be on holiday, but she wasn’t convinced.

Anyway, I have some new material to add to some of the stuff I used last time and I’m doing a lot of practising in front of a mirror with a hairbrush microphone. (Or a pepper mill, depending which mirror I’m using).

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The stand-up heat will be one event in an exciting week for me – on Thursday 1 May I’m on Future Radio in Norwich, chatting about The Dare Club and how it has inspired myself and my friends to set up our own dare club! Our first event is a 20-metre charity abseil on 21 June in aid of the charity Keeping Abreast. If you’d like to sponsor us, we’d be very grateful! Click on the link here.

 

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The setting for our Charity Abseil on 21 June

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Checking out the venue

Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Fashioning a year of challenges

My year of taking part in challenges continued on Tuesday evening when I was one of 13 volunteer models in a charity fashion show in my home town of Norwich.

The show was organised by Sarah Morgan, who is an Image Consultant. As part of her work, she helps clients to weed out their wardrobes. Sarah found that the pile of discarded impulse buys was growing taller than she was, and decided she wanted to do something really worthwhile with these clothes. So Sarah Morgan Charity Fashion Sales was born.

“Wear your best knickers!” was Sarah’s advice to us before we went down to the restaurant on Monday evening where the fashion show was to take place. “The changing will be very communal.” It was. But fun too. Thirteen women sorting through shelves to find 4 outfits each, then trying them on and waiting to get Ms Morgan’s approval. “Too drab! You need more colour.” “No, that’s far too big for you.” “Try this; you won’t recognise yourself.” Sarah Morgan showed very little stress as she dealt with us all.

Next evening, us models duly reported for duty, a bundle of excited nerves as we waited to have our hair and make-up done and rehearsed how we were to move through the room to show off our outfits. By 7.15pm, the place was packed, and Sarah began her talk about how the fashion show idea had come about and the two charities she had chosen to receive the profits – The Big C and Stonham Women’s refuge. Then it was time for us to perform…

I was in the final group of 4 models to go in. When it was my turn, Sarah introduced me in this way: “Here’s Margaret K Johnson, a famous novelist.” Thank you, Sarah! Hopefully one day.

The evening was a huge success – it was totally packed out, the models were received by enthusiastic applause, and, most importantly, £3000 was raised for the two charities.  It was also a whole lot of fun.

And me? Well, the experience has got to go into a book, hasn’t it? Watch this space.

Here’s the link to see a picture of Sarah and us models just before the show.

www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk

Click on the image to buy from Amazon

Click on the image to buy from Amazon

My Stand-up Comedy Challenge Achieved!! Yay!

I did it! Last Tuesday night I went to London and performed my 3-minute stand-up comedy routine at Up the Creek in Greenwich in front of an audience of around 200 people! I’ve been waiting to tell you about it until I had the footage, and now I can reveal all!

Those of you who have been reading my blog regularly know that I set myself this challenge as part of the research for The Dare Club – the novel I’m writing about a group of newly divorced and separated people who set themselves challenges as part of their recovery process. My character Colette is going to have a go at stand-up comedy, so I had to do it. I don’t feel the need to try out all my characters’ dares – after all I have got an imagination. But I really felt I needed to experience the terror of this particular one.

The day started at The London Theatre with a 1-1 with Harry Denford, the comedian who delivers the course. Feeling nervous, I ran through my material, and Harry suggested I cut some things and change others. I wasn’t entirely sure I agreed with everything he said, but hey, I’m the rookie – he’s been doing this for 20years or more, so I took his advice. Then we ran through it again, focussing on how to perform it so that the audience was involved rather than just being recited to. The session finished with him telling me that the other comedians were meeting in a noodle bar near Up the Creek at 5.45pm. “Look for a group of people who don’t look as if they should be together,” he advised me. “All sorts of people do this course.”

I went to Greenwich to look at the outside of the venue. It seemed surreal that later on I would be performing inside! But I didn’t feel tempted to flee to the nearest station to get the hell out of there. It had been far too difficult arranging childcare etc for that! Besides, I wanted to see what I was capable of.

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I killed the rest of the afternoon by alternately taking in the sights of Greenwich and practising my act in toilet cubicles. Close to the Cutty Sark, I spotted a man walking round talking to himself. “I bet he’s one of the comedians,” I thought, and sure enough, when I approached a group of people in the noodle bar at 5.45, there he was.

I made myself eat something and exchanged nervous chatter. Then all too soon it was time to go. I loved the inside of the comedy club, but all those empty seats were daunting. The other comedians had invited between 20-40 guests each! Mad! I’d invited 1, my mate Sharon, who I met when I went on holiday to Cuba. She had promised to film me doing my act.

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Harry told us all to have a go on stage, to practise going on and off and looking at the ‘audience’. The lights were so bright, you couldn’t see anything! How the heck was I supposed to choose someone to deliver my punch lines to? Then we went upstairs to a room dominated by a picture based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, but with the faces of 1980s comedians replacing the usual cast. Julian Clary looked particularly fetching.

The Comedy Last Supper painting

The Comedy Last Supper painting

After a long wait and lots more angst and practise, Harry announced the running order. I was to go 4th, after a guy who looked like a younger Colin Firth. I was happy with 4th – not 1st, but not having to wait too long. Good.

Then it was time to go downstairs.

The place was packed out – not a spare seat! Sharon was at the front with her video camera. It was real – it was actually going to happen!

The chairs for the performers were arranged around the back of the club. It was a bit like one of those hairdressers where you don’t need an appointment and you keep moving round until it’s you turn. But when I got to the last seat, I couldn’t sit down. I was too pumped up with adrenalin. Just before the MC announced my name, I did a few jumps and arms wings, limbering up. I expect I looked like a prat, but that was the least of my concerns at that moment.

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Then it was time. And amazingly, a feeling of calm settled over me as I went up the steps to the stage. We’d been told to take the mic out of the stand and to put the stand behind us. I did so – it took an age. But then I looked out at the invisible audience, said ‘hello’ and dived in.

Ok, it wasn’t perfect.

I didn’t have the mic quite in the right place to begin with so I started off a bit quiet.

I forgot to include one of my jokes, which meant the one that preceded it didn’t work quite so well.

Because I’d made some cuts, my routine was slightly short.

But I loved it! People laughed and it felt amazing. I didn’t want it to end. And when total strangers congratulated me at the bar later, I just felt so proud of myself. All the next day, I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt transformed. Who’d have thought that I, who’d once been so painfully shy I couldn’t speak up in front of people at all, could actually go up on stage and entertain a large crowd of people?

I whole-heartedly recommend the experience to everyone.

If you’d like to see my performance, you can view it on YouTube by clicking here. But be warned, it contains swearing, lies and smut, so give it a miss if these are likely to offend you!

Would I do it again? You bet your life I would! In fact, I need to seek out opportunities to make it happen.

And Colette? How is she going to get on? Well, she’s going to have a mixed experience. She’s got a particular reason for wanting to do this challenge, and because of that, she’s going to choose to ignore some of her tutor’s advice. So it could all go horribly wrong for her… Well, it’s fiction, isn’t it? I can’t give my characters a completely easy ride.

Watch this space!

The Dare Club will be out later in 2013. It is the follow up book to The Goddess Workshop, which is available on Amazon now.

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Available for Kindle and in paperback from http://www.amazon.co.uk

 

Coming later in 2013!

Coming later in 2013!

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk

Facebook: Margaret K Johnson Author

My Stand-Up Comedy challenge – Part Two Approaches

I’ve gone and done it!

I’ve arranged to return to London on 21 May to complete part Two of my Stand-up comedy challenge! Part One was a weekend course where I learnt to move a mic without it falling over, got to spout rubbish, found out about set-up punch and had a go at writing and delivering it.

Part Two will involve doing a 3 minute slot in front of an audience, instead of just the other members of the course, at Up The Creek, in Greenwich. Only friends and family of course members are invited, and I’m very pleased that my friend Sharon, who lives in London is going to come. She’s also volunteered to film my debut, so provided it doesn’t go too badly, I’ll be able to post that film. I kind of hope the film is all shaky because she’s laughing…

I wanted to complete the challenge on a personal level to show myself and others I could do it. But also, if I don’t complete it, then the scenes in The Dare Club where my character Colette takes to the stage won’t be so authentic.

I’ve been very inspired by peoples’ reactions to me doing this too – so thank you, everyone!

ImageMy empty stage awaits!

Here’s one of my gags to be going on with. (All lies, by the way, and I hope you don’t mind its moderately saucy nature).

One of my ex-husband was a trombone player. It was exhausting. He was in out, in out, all the time.

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk

Facebook: Margaret K Johnson Author

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Reaching the Heights Then Tarzan-swinging off Them!

Huzzah! I successfully completed the Tree Top Challenge at Go Ape yesterday!

Here’s me before the start, looking very unglamorous next to an ape sculpture.

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I’m very proud of myself because I did the whole course, not even chickening out at the very scary Tarzan Swing plummet. There was an easier option here, and I nearly succumbed to its temptation – it was only the encouragement of my partner and total strangers around me that made me do it! Thanks, guys!

I’m relieved that, physically, I only have slightly aching arms to show for it all.  🙂

Here’s the certificate, as proof!

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I did it as research for The Dare Club – the book I’m writing. My characters, who meet at a divorced and separated course, are challenging themselves to do things they find scary. It’s partly a distraction, to stop them thinking about their changed circumstances, but they also just want to test themselves to see what they can do. And have fun too, of course!

I could never have imagined what it would feel like to do The Tree Top Challenge without having done it. Obviously, I thought it would be frightening at times, and I hoped it would be exhilarating too. The pre-course training was excellent and inspired confidence as far as it could – all essential details for writing about it.

Here’s me, post training, setting off for the tree tops!

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There’s nothing like the reality of taking your first leap off a platform towards a Tarzan net and then finding out that you need quite a lot of strength in your arms to climb up to the next platform (and not been completely sure that you have enough strength to do it…) Or walking across a bit of flimsy rope high up in the sky. Fortunately, I’m not scared of heights, and this is obviously a distinct advantage!

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Another good thing is that I never need do the Tree Top Challenge again! But I think I’ve certainly developed a taste for challenging myself. It makes you feel really alive when you successfully achieve something scary – something a bit out of your comfort zone.

My next challenge for The Dare Club is to imagine my characters turning up at Go Ape. How will they be feeling? Will one of them emerge as a natural leader? Will they work well together as a group? I don’t think I’ll make it easy for them. I think they might get lost on the way and turn up at the last minute in a fraught state, blaming each other for being late. Something like that. My partner and I were so worried about being late, we had an hour and a half to kill. Yes, an hour and a half! That’s seriously punctual, and very dull, I realize! Ha ha!

Bring on the next challenge! I’m ready!

Book Research – how far would you go?

In the name of research for my novel The Dare club, I have just booked to go to Go Ape to do their Tree Top Challenge in a couple of weeks time. Now I’m not scared of heights, but I’m not exactly the muscle-bound fitness freak type of person either. My exercise is generally restricted to taking the dog out between bouts of typing at my my desk. And it’s not that I haven’t got a good imagination, because I think I have – my stint at the comedy club kind of proved that for me. I don’t know where half that stuff came from! But… I’m not sure how well I could write about the challenge of hurtling through the air high up in the treetops on a Tarzan swing unless I’d done it.

OK, so my characters could dare each other to knit the world’s longest scarf, but it doesn’t pack the same kind of punch, does it? I wanted to have a go at abseiling  and I might yet. But the only opportunity I could find in the next few weeks was a sponsored challenge to abseil down a 150 metre tower in Norwich, and as I’ve never done it before, that seemed a little too much. I mean, I’m not mad.

Or am I? I’ll let you know!

What lengths have you gone to in the name of research? I’d love to know.

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