Glancing Back, Focusing Forward: 2018 in Rearview

2018-review

As December closes out and the festivities of the season die down it’s always a great time to reflect on the year that was. I’ve done this in the past and I was doubly inspired by the lovely Charlotte’s recent post. So I definitely want to take stock on what happened to me in 2018 and, importantly, have a think about where I want 2019 to go too. Obviously it’s futile to really commit too rigidly to goals for the year as stuff invariably happens that cannot be foreseen but that doesn’t stop one from being as aspirational.

There were a handful of “big” events that I’m very proud of having taken place in 2018.

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Freshly graduated! 😎🎓 #KingstonUniversity

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The first of these was my graduation this summer. In the past I may have alluded to some dissatisfaction with the Creative Writing course I undertook at Kingston University, which is an experience I still feel I should chronicle in my blog in the new year now my immediate, somewhat… passionate thoughts about have subsided and mellowed. One thing from the whole experience that I take away is a sense of pride that I managed to get through it and succeed in this endeavour. My graduation was a very happy event and I end 2018 in the knowledge that I made my friends, family and most importantly myself proud with the achievement.

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The second “event” of this year has to be the finishing of the first, gruelling edit of my work-in-progress novel The Thaw, which I’ve mentioned previously I’m sure of. I went to Kingston to expend the remainder of my printer credits to print off the second draft which I’m very proud to have completed. I’m doubly excited as I’ve just received some of the first substantive feedback (thanks to the amazing Rosie) to that draft that I sent out in July; I’m eager to work on this project some more in the early part of 2019 so I can finally submit it to agents, editors and publishers. I’m still immensely proud of my work on this book, I definitely feel it’s a worthy piece of work and I look forward to taking it on the next step of its journey.

Reflecting on my year in reading I remain content that I made the right decision to not undertake a Goodreads reading challenge this year as it’s really helped with some anxiety that participating was otherwise emanating from that. I’ve had a more sedate year in reading in 2018, which is good as I’m better able to enjoy my books as opposed to racing through them.

Here’s my pick of the titles I read (or re-read) this year:

  1. The Boy on the Bridge by MR Carey. This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed – having previously been captivated by The Girl With All The Gifts I was intrigued to read the prequel. It was a haunting, atmospheric novel of the highest order.
  2. Artemis by Andy Weir – a case of lightning indeed striking twice with Andy Weir of The Martian fame – one I enjoyed a great deal, an excellent, accurate but not intimidating space thriller.
  3. Silo by Hugh Howey – One the bookseller in Waterstones highly recommended it when I bought it! Another example of enjoyable, atmospheric post-apocalyptic fiction in a well-realised, contained world. Very excited to read the second in the series, Shift in 2019!
  4. Misery by Stephen King – a re-read but a worthy one on the back of Charlotte’s review, and there’s just so much to take from this lean, taut thriller I might make it an annual re-read.
  5. The Fog by James Herbert – I was inspired to re-read this classic book from this Tweet from Iain Dale and the scene, and the book itself, remains a high-water mark of Herbert’s prowess. My collection of his work grows!

Still, however, I feel I’ve been a little… conservative in my reading and that does bother me a little – I find myself almost being slightly self-conscious of my reading, especially as I let Goodreads post to my Twitter in public view. I feel I need to be less in a comfort zone for authors/genres I like and experiment a little. I certainly want to read more non-fiction; indeed, I took a recommendation from a friend to take on Chernobyl by Serhii Plokhy – a book I do need to finish, as it happens, but it’s again great to be able to take these on entirely at my own pace.

Landlady_Cover_MockUpAnd lastly, going again back to another post by Charlotte, that of her Halloween Story, I want to try to write more short fiction again; I’ve done it in the past way back when and I feel it’d be great to do so again, especially as I had such a positive reaction to The Landlady, my first foray into horror fiction which I wrote for my Creative Writing dissertation. I’ve been absolutely amazed at the reaction from friends, well-wishers and colleagues to that endeavour which has been absolutely lovely.

Charlotte’s Halloween piece has inspired me to write more “seasonal” work for events such as Halloween, Christmas… I’ll see how it goes. I had planned to release a festive horror short about this time but personal circumstances have eaten in quite considerably to my writing time, but it’s an idea I would definitely like to try out more in 2019 – I have missed writing short stories a bit and, having reorganised my website in 2018, I had to look again at my early work and there’s some solid ideas. Maybe I might revisit them, we’ll see!

I also managed to lose about two stone this year which is fantastic – thanks to the brilliant Chris Kenny for being a great inspiration for my progress there! Let the side down a little toward the end of the year (who diets at Christmas?) but I’m already raring to reclaim the ground again in 2019 and really power through it!

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Weight Loss Journey: The Sixteen Week Hitch

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I last wrote about my weight loss journey back in late February. I’m very pleased to report that I’ve made some great progress: from 117Kg in early February I’m now down to around 105Kg which is a real achievement to me!

The whole process of Weight Watchers has now fully ingrained into my psyche in a positive way – my whole perception of food as a whole has really shifted. I’m now a lot more conscious of what I’m eating; before I was less so, and even when I attempted a simple calorie count, that’s not the big picture at all!

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I’m a convert to the Weight Watchers SmartPoints system – it’s a scientific approach to consolidating a lot of confusing and complicated nutritional stats into a system that can be understood a lot more at-a-glance! I’ve noticed it’s not foolproof (more on that later) but the results can be surprising and I’m finding it motivating.

I’ve noticed a lot of my go-to foods that seemed insignificant, like a McDonalds milkshake, or even a simple supermarket sandwich, are packed full of unnecessary, empty points and this is definitely an area I feel I was letting myself down with before. Less so now!

Overall though I’m feeling fantastic – others have noticed an appreciable difference in my physical appearance which is endearing and motivating, especially as I have no self-esteem when it comes to my appearance generally, so noticing I’m able to fit into older clothes again, and my current clothes are feeling and looking baggier is a happy result of my effort so far. One of the things I’m really having mixed feelings about, and have for a long time, is how to receive and handle praise but I’m doing my best to channel it into positive energy and it’s driving me forward!

However, it’s not been plain sailing. I’ve recently had a bit of a bump or plateau where I’ve not been losing (much) weight; indeed, I’ve actually put on a pound or two! This has been more a disappointment than anything.

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The important lesson I’ve learned from this recent wobble is firstly: not to panic. Some weeks are good, some are bad. That’s normal, that’s life. I’ve taken a few days to mull over my progress so far, which overall has still been encouraging. Firstly, what are the circumstances around my recent wobble? Easy:

  • Complacency: It’s so easy, even when strenuously trying to avoid it, to fall into the “I’ve lost so I can…” mindset. I’m certain in the last few weeks I have done this to a minor point, saying “my weekly points [intended as a buffer zone] can take it”. I need to be a lot more disciplined.
  • Lack of focus: The last few weeks I’ve both had to content with the mental struggles of my final year university deadlines and some time off work afterward. I hold my hands up to being less than completely focussed during that time on my weight loss goals and more on my immediate challenges and goals.
  • Time away: I also had a week off after my final deadlines which culminated in a pleasant, if not a bit undisciplined weekend away to see a friend. Honestly, that week I simply took my hands off the wheel.
  • Restrictive SmartPoints budget: This is an emergent challenge – as my weight decreases the suggested SmartPoints I should look to consume has shrunk also. This has been a challenge recently as my new target, 30, is remarkably easy to “blow” with an unwise, impulse-led food choice.

However I’ve taken this into account and I’ve given myself time to mull over where I’m potentially going wrong and, more positively, steps to take to rebuild my momentum:

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    View from a sunny walk in Sutton

    Getting active: This is a step that I initially tried last summer; now the long winter has ended and there’s some glorious weather I can finally get out for fitness walks. I do feel I do better to do multiple short-ish walks throughout the week – aiming for at least three 1.5 mile walks a week – than a few long ones for motivational reasons. They’re also great for starting the day and helping with my mental health!

  • Cutting out problem foods: I’ve decided that a go-to snack for me – pitta bread with houmous – has to go as I’m eating it to excess which negates the health and weight loss benefit. Because I know myself, it’s not enough to just say “no” internally; I’m just not having it in the house for a while.
  • Focusing my attitude: Ultimately I need to take this seriously again to get down to my personal goal weight of 95Kg; I’ve made good progress and I need to just carry on that momentum. Part of this was thinking I’d plateau’d but I don’t genuinely think this is the case and my mental focus just needs to be sharpened to the weaknesses I’ve identified.

So that’s my plan for the summer! I hope to be able to report more encouraging news next time!

Weight Loss Journey – Beginnings

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I was recently challenged by my fellow blogger Chris to write a post in a similar vein to his recent post regarding physical health and, after giving it a little thought – sure, why not!

I’m pleased to finally be able to say that I am making steps to address a longstanding issue that has bugged me for years – that being my weight.

But before we talk about now, how did we arrive here?

I think for the last nine or ten years I’ve had an issue with my weight, and I know precisely where it began. While I was at school, this required a two-mile walk from the bus to my house to school, twice a day. And that four miles, plus walking around school, kept my weight in check.

Then I left school and did pretty much nothing for best part of a year.

Well, I did eat. But I didn’t burn it off and, well, I’ve been overweight since that time in 2009.

I’ve wanted to address it – nagging from parents aside; that doesn’t particularly help, but weight loss feels like such a specious and arcane thing… it’s as if results take so long to see it’s easy to be put off by no apparent progress, and therefore be victim to temptation.

I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke – these are very unhealthy things – so, my mind tells me, what’s the real harm in this packet of Quavers. This blueberry muffin. This whole quiche. This Vienetta – it’s only £1.

In older posts I talked about my struggle throughout 2016 with my mental health problems and depression. I was by no means in the right frame of mind to address my weight; if anything, my depression took over and my physical health deteriorated quite badly.

And also, since 2009… I’ve gotten older. And I feel that age is creeping up on me.

Last year toward the end of the summer I did decide to take some action – I was talking to Chris about one specific thing that “triggered” my mental switch to take my weight seriously. I had to buy a pair of 40” jeans, and crossing that boundary seemed to trigger me into actually taking the issue seriously and not kicking it into the long grass. So I took myself out for a walk and tracked it. And it felt good.

I started calorie-counting from that point, setting a fairly aggressive total and I found I did start to lose weight – I went from 124Kg (19st 11lb) to 114Kg (17st 13lb) in the space of a couple of months or so. But then it got cold, it got near to Christmas and my resolve wavered. I was conscious of this but, doing what I do best – procrastination – I resolved to take the bull by the horns again in 2018.

But I did realise that calorie-counting on my own, while somewhat effective, is not the entire picture. And I am accountable only to me – and I am an unreliable judge.

So I’ve actually taken a fairly big, proactive step toward combatting this issue by joining Weight Watchers – because I feel being accountable to someone (in this case my coach) is going to greatly help my motivation. And I’m already feeling the mental switch in my attitude toward food – and that can only be seen as a positive. I’m more mindful now of what I’m eating – the Weight Watchers plan being focussed on “points” derived from a broader nutritional base, taking into account sugar and protein – and I’m actively interested in preparing my own food more and relying on ready-made meals less.

Already I feel I’m challenging myself – there’s a bit of a stigma that “Weight Watchers is for women” – though if it helps me achieve a more healthy lifestyle and goals in terms of my weight loss then I call that stigma bunkum, and as before with depression, I feel it’s a really unhelpful thing – best challenged!

And to keep myself accountable – which I feel is going to be the driving force behind this journey – I’m going to consider tweeting my weight loss progress out to my followers so it’s out there, in the public domain.

So let’s see how this goes! I can’t guarantee as regular updates as Chris but it’s certainly another journey I want to chronicle here on this site!

If you have a story or tip on losing weight then feel free to share it in the comments! Happy to read and reflect!

Year in Review 2017

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I realise I’ve been a little inattentive to this website for the last couple of months and that’s regrettable; unfortunately “real life” has had to take precedence. However I did want to round out the year as I have done similarly in previous years by having a glance back over my shoulder to see the accomplishments of 2017. Let’s get started!

I posted toward the beginning of the year a list of ten books I wanted to get read to improve my writing. Unfortunately, I only managed six out of the ten. My reading this year has been fairly poor which has upset me a little but I have identified the source of the anxiety I’ve had regarding my reading and why it’s not been great this year – the Goodreads Reading challenge, which I have limped over the line of after revising the goal to be more realistic. In the new year I will outline why I am not going to participate in this again but looking back on what I did get read here’s the standout hits:

  • Children of Men by PD James
  • The Fireman by Joe Hill
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

I’ve been a little lacking with reviews lately which is another thing I want to address in 2018. Reviews are great things to write as they force me to think critically about books that I read; what did I like, what didn’t I like and, importantly, why. So reviewing read books as a writer is an important activity I’ve been admittedly lazy with.

In a similar thread, my return to University has been a little underwhelming. I’m not massively enjoying my course these days; there’s a small part of it, following on from a pretty insipid and uninspiring second year, that I am enjoying but for the most part I’ve intellectually checked out as I don’t feel challenged. I want to reflect more closely on the University experience once I graduate but it’s been a mixed bag, to put it kindly.

One better result this year is that I completed the first draft of my post-apoc adventure novel The Thaw and I feel so proud of this! It’s a great piece of work that I am thrilled to have completed and, yeah, I’ve been a little lazy in editing the draft (again, other concerns have crept in) but I am so pleased and feeling so pumped to work on it in 2018. I definitely feel that it’s something worth pursuing, publishing-wise as I am committed to the story and the world I’ve created therein. I can’t wait to talk more about the journey this book is going to take in 2018!

Speaking of journeys… I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this website as a whole for the new year, and I’m feeling inspired and invigorated. So watch this space because I’m going to understand some work on the site, for a new direction I can’t wait to unveil in early January!

So despite this year being somewhat of an underwhelming one, I come out of 2017 feeling ready to resume course for something brilliant!