"Tim, thanks very much for your interview. And finally, are there any tips you can offer new writers?"
Usually I answer with the tired old familiars. Read a lot, write a lot, persist, learn from rejection, don't let the bastards grind you down. They're all perfectly valid statements, and I don't think there are many who'd disagree with any of them. Least of all write a lot. You can't be a writer if you don't write a lot. That's just madness.
But lately my answer to that familiar question (almost as familiar as where do you get your ideas from?, but I'm hoping that'll be answered by another guest blogger, because it's always embarrassing to admit that you steal them), is something new, and something surprising:
To be a writer, it helps to be fit.
Picture the scene:
A knock at the door (you're not paid enough to buy batteries for the doorbell). You answer. A pleasant-looking guy is standing there, nicely dressed, smiling ... perhaps with a twinkle of something other in his eye. You sigh and point pointedly (is there any other way?) at the NO COLD CALLERS sign you've nailed to your doorframe, and then those words...
"I'm your greatest fan."
You close your eyes, a little flattered, perhaps a little troubled ... and then open them and turn your head in slow motion as you hear the unmistakeable snisssh-wush-slahhhhh of metal on leather, and the knife is in his hand, and he says, "I want to see inside your brain."
You kick the door closed, but his foot's already inside. Next comes his knife hand, waving the blade in a carotid-seeking manner. You duck and punch his arm, shoving the door hard as you gauge your options––fight, or flight?
The telephone rings. Probably someone called Garfield wanting to sell you cheap phone calls, and he's clogging the line, so a quick call to the police is out of the question.
So you know now that it is time for you to run.
And that's one reason why to be a writer, it helps to be fit.
Something a little like this has never happened to me. Neither has something exactly like this, thankfully. But there are other reasons why being/getting fit can benefit your writerly habit.
I'm almost 42. I like real ale, red wine, Indian/Chinese/Italian food. Chocolate is good, too. So are Jelly Babies. And Pringles. And stilton cheese. And ... you get the picture. I've always done a little exercise––walking, cycling, a bit of running. I've been through several 'I'm-a-member-of-this-gym-now-so-my-life-is-going-to-change-forever' phases, quickly followed by 'I-can't-be-bothered-I'll-just-watch-an-episode-of-The Shield-and-have-a-bottle-of-wine.'
But lately, something happened. I blame my mate Pete who, over the space of several months at the beginning of 2010, Got Fit.
"Bloody hell!" I said, upon seeing him for the first time in a while. "What happened to you?"
"Got Fit," he said. Whereupon I said to myself, I need to do that.
This isn't a fitness instruction blog. This isn't the TimPlan Diet. I'm not going to release a DVD of me exercising with two photos on the front, one before and one after, because quite frankly ... well, looks-wise I haven't changed that much at all. Still got a bit of a beer belly. Sue me.
But I'm now running four times each week, from 3 to 6 miles, and looking to up those distances. I'm entering 10k races, have just completed the national Three Peaks Challenge, and I'm signing up for more such madness, including the Sodbury Slog, the Brecon Beacons Mountain Trail Challenge, and next year myself and some friends aim to complete the Welsh 3000s (Google them. Insanity, mostly with mud). I cycle, exercise three times each week in the house for half an hour, and love hill walking. I still drink beer and red wine, and eat nice food, but in moderation, and alongside more fruit and other healthy stuff.
I feel better than I have in years. And I'm writing better, and more, because of that.
That's a pretty rash statement, but it's true. Writers sit in front of a computer screen a lot. It's ... well, pretty essential really. Writers who don't sit writing for long periods usually end up as not-writers, and within a few months of not-writing they lose their contracts and get a job at the local taxi firm cleaning puke and semen from the back seats of the firm's fleet. But I've found that exercising your body means your mind is fitter too. It's easier to write when you're not so tired. The buzz after a run can fuel a whole afternoon of enthusiastic creativity. When I'm out walking or running the ideas flow, and if I'm up against a problem in a current story/novel/screenplay, leaving the house and venturing out into the countryside will often offer up the solution.
Honestly. Try it. You'll feel much better, and your writing will benefit as much as everything else.
And then there's that mad fan with a knife, of course. I'm climbing over the garden fence now, using muscles which three months ago were shrivelled like sun-dried tomatoes. He's close behind me, because stalkers are fit too––they've been dreaming of this moment for years, after all. I drop into the lane behind my house and run, breathing easily, checking my pace, settling into a relaxed rhythm. I can hear him behind me, running shoes slapping the pavement and knife swish-swishing at the air as he pumps his arms. Below that, his crazy giggle.
I leave the village and head out into the countryside, taking him to ground that I know. The local woods. There are places in there I can hide, and other places where I might be able to ambush him, and hopefully––
Then there's a screech of brakes, a sharp cry, and a sound like a rucksack filled with cooked pasta and whole watermelons being crushed. I slow to a jog and turn around, and my stalker is a stain beneath the wheels of a souped-up BMW.
Three months ago he'd have caught me before I even reached my back fence, decapitated me, peeled my face from my head to wear later as he paraded naked in front of a mirror in his sordid little flat, and then opened my skull and delved into my brain to find the plot to the Berserk sequel I'm never going to write.
To be a writer, it helps to be fit.
Tim Lebbon's new novel ECHO CITY is out soon from Orbit UK.