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I finished my book!

I finished my book this morning, the Australia one – rewrote the end, finally found the right words after weeks, months of sitting at my laptop and writing things and then deleting them over and over until I finally go ‘PRICK!’ at myself and slam it shut. But now it’s done.

What does ‘done’ mean in this context? Well, it means I’ve finished the end. But now I have to go back to the start and make that good too. When I edited it for the fourth time back in March, it was good, but here’s the thing with writing a book: it takes so damn long that by the time you’ve reached the end, you’ve changed enough that you hate the start. Repeat, apparently, forever.

Regardless – it’s a milestone. I’m treating myself to a Turkish Delight and a banana-flavoured Elf bar. Back in the day I’d have gotten pissed to celebrate, but I’m done with that. I haven’t had a cig in twenty eight days, not a sip of alcohol in seventeen. Am I slimmer? No, because I eat lots of chocolate bars. Am I wealthier? Also no, because I spend a lot of money on Muller Corners and bus tickets and the occasional stint at the climbing gym. But hey, it’s something. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m getting better at self-denial.

And that makes me feel good, you know? Because it was always a very bad trait of mine. I could never say no to anything, always impulsive. I called it all fun at the time, wild youth, but looking at it from the wrong side of 30, it was probably just weakness. Because what’s the point of all that craziness, all those shenanigans, if you’ve nothing to show for it when it all dries up? Memories, sure – but you can’t survive off nostalgia. The opposite, in fact: it’ll eat you up. It’s vampiric, nostalgia. Too much’ll bleed you dry. I damn near keeled over, bingeing on nostalgia. You can’t do that. You’ve got to get on with it – build things. Do things that make you proud.

So here I am, living the life of a monk, with a social schedule that would make Roy Cropper squint in scepticism. ‘Really?’ he’d ask, adjusting his handbag strap on his shoulder, ‘Your plan for Friday night is… two yoghurts, a 0% Guinness, and a film about dungeons and dragons?’ Well—yes.

And yeah, at times it’s shitty and I feel bummed, and I miss the days when I used to be a real exciting person, going to art galleries and getting drunk in them and jumping into fountains. But it’s also nice to be clear-headed enough to do the things I always talked about doing. Like getting a damn book published. It’s a harder and far less glamorous path to walk, but it’s what I need right now. Self restraint, discipline – who’d have thunk?

I’m still figuring out this new decade – what it means to be 30 and beyond, whether it means anything at all. I remember last year in Mexico, in some hostel – no idea where, memory bad – sitting around chatting, and some 23 year old who didn’t know my age – because I don’t look my age, baby face – said: ‘I went to a club last night, but it was all old people, everybody was like, 30’. And my eyes bulged and I went quiet for 45 minutes before drifting away to bed, to ponder. Nobody ever called me old before.

The main thing I keep returning to is that getting older doesn’t sting quite so bad as long as you’re doing stuff. Building things. Could be a career, a family, a home, or writing a book – but whatever: doing stuff.

I went to a salsa class last week, by myself. Could have asked my mate Pube Head, but I fancied a challenge. I’d planned on getting properly stuck into salsa when I got back from Colombia, but in the end I only went to one class, back in March, and the comparison was bleak. In Colombia, of course, everybody was hot and young, wheeling around in the heat, beaming and glowing. In Leeds on a winter’s evening, with some Sheffield teacher barking orders in thick twang, and men in flat caps and women with their arms in pot, it felt more like Phoenix Nights. But ah – that’s nostalgia, you see, eating away at potential Fun. Ditch the comparisons and it’s nice: people dancing, people being happy. People glowing. It’s all just perspective.

So I went alone to the salsa class, 8pm until 10pm every Wednesday, in the function room above a curryhouse. I almost didn’t go inside. I was too scared, imagination flashing with dreadful scenes of humiliation and failure. But it was a long bus ride back home, and I knew I’d be calling myself a knobhead the whole way. I didn’t want to disappoint myself.

Inside the decor is Indian, patterned wood-beams, and in a chair beside the dancefloor I watched as people trickled in, some young, some old, some pairs, some solo. At five past eight somebody yelled that it was starting, and people split off into their separate classes: beginner, intermediate, advanced. Three weeks of lessons in Cali have faded fast, so I hopped into the beginner’s group.

I stepped up, sheepish, and to my dismay saw the only other attendants were four men. Salsa is a leader-follower dance, and typically, in Latin America, the men lead the dance. Well, the other four men looked as dismayed as me, each of us eyeballing each other suspiciously, and the two teachers – one man, one woman – said ‘Oh, this is unusual. Okay, who wants to be a leader?’

Of course the boys all put their hands up, but somebody needs to follow, so I said I would. And then we learned the basic steps, very slowly, and then got paired off. I was put with a young Michael Gove-looking fellow named Dom, and we danced together, and then we rotated pairs and I danced with a man named Pavil, and a man named Armani. I chatted to each of them as we held hands and danced, and they were actually all very pleasant chaps, and we chuckled a good bunch as they span me around on my toes.

I finished the night feeling very proud, and very happy. It’s all about getting stuck in, isn’t it – that’s what gives life its spice. I’m still searching for a home – somewhere to lay my hat a while, find a little peace, let roots grow at last – but the search doesn’t have to suck ass. I don’t have to mope, panic, feel trapped by my hometown. You can have a nice time anywhere if you put the effort in.

I always wanted to be happy effortlessly, you see. I never wanted to have to work for happiness – it always sounded like a vexing contradiction in terms. But years of yearning have taught me that the best things in life are not free. The things that really get you all a-glow, they’re buried a little deeper – and it’s the digging that gives them meaning. I wish I’d known that three years ago; I truly, madly do. But I can’t change it. All I can do is be better now. It’s the best apology I can give.

And I did something else cool that I wanna tell you about. Last night I dicked around a while with one of those AI image creators. I hate them on principle of course, but I couldn’t resist the urge to have a play. I’ve always dreamt of having my own book covers, and I wanted a glimpse of what they might look like. So – I fired up the AI and I detailed a few scenes from a fairytale adventure I wrote, seven years ago in Berlin. It took a few attempts, but I got some gorgeous imagery out of it – and I damn near cried in the end, to finally see the scenes I’ve only ever known in my mind’s eye, finally displayed before me. It was utterly cathartic to see. This is what I want to do. This is what I want to contribute to the world. I am absolutely certain of it.

It put me on a high that’s lasted until today – topped off this morning by finishing the end of my Australia book. So – anyway. Here they are. I love them very much.

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