My latest book, A WINTER’S DREAM, tells the story of Liberty who feels her life is stuck in a rut – so she challenges herself to say yes to everything for the month of December.
“Every opportunity, every invitation, I’ll accept. Every difficult dilemma, I won’t let myself go for the easy option. I’ll do the opposite instead. And every day I’ll do at least one thing that takes me out of my comfort zone.”
A Winter’s Dream by Sophie Claire.
Since the story is about being brave and overcoming your fears, I decided that the best way to research this was to have a year of being brave myself. Gulp.
I needed to feel the fear exactly like my character would, I needed to experience how it felt to dig deep and find the courage to overcome difficult hurdles. So I began by thinking hard about what we find scary, and a quick poll on Facebook made me realise that it’s different for everyone. Yes, the obvious ones are heights and parachute jumps, and spiders and insects featured heavily too, but my biggest fear is getting up to speak in public.
It terrifies me.
I chose not to make a speech at my wedding, I was a nervous wreck when I had to give presentations for work, and I would do anything rather than find myself on a stage, tongue-tied with a room full of faces all watching me.
So that was obviously going to be my first challenge, then!
I booked myself on a course for honing your presentation skills, and although it was fun (especially the bit where I had to read aloud whilst having socks thrown at me!) and I learned some useful tips, I was still nervous.
Then I won a short story competition and was invited to read my work at the awards ceremony. It would have been so easy to say I wasn't available – but just like Liberty I made myself do the opposite and accepted the invitation. I followed the advice I’d learned of practising, and speaking slowly and loudly. I also printed my story in an enormous font so I could read it easily. I was really nervous beforehand. Would I mess it up? Stumble over my words?
|Chester Prize for Literature 2019|
The big day came and I was even more nervous when I discovered there was no podium to hide behind and no microphone either. My legs were shaking so much I was sure everyone would see.
But I did it.
I read clearly and didn’t mumble or get tongue-tied, and afterwards people came to tell me how much they’d enjoyed my story. I was by no means the best speaker – one lady read with such expression it was liking watching an actress at work and I was full of admiration – but I did ok.
The relief was overwhelming. And the sense of achievement too. I’d surprised myself and I was elated. If I could do this, what else could I do that I’d never dared try before? Suddenly the world didn’t seem such a frightening place after all.
What else did I do in my year of being brave? Well, on a research trip to Provence I drove a hire car in France for the first time. Driving on the right-hand side was the trickiest part, and getting used to the gearstick on the right took some time. I also left the Sat Nav in French mode rather than English because this was not the easy option, but great research. And I managed, even if I did drive up one particularly windy mountain road in 2nd gear all the way! (I used that experience in the book).
My year of being brave brought some great memories, and my confidence really grew as a result. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was fabulous research for my book, and the sense of achievement when I accomplished something I hadn’t thought possible was unbeatable.
But it's not over yet.
For the month of December I'm going to follow Liberty's example and say YES to challenges set for me by friends and family. There'll be around half a dozen, and they will include:
- running 10km
- a sewing challenge (Liberty's a keen quilter)
- a baking challenge to make the 13 desserts of Christmas (a Provencal tradition mentioned in the book)
I must admit, I'm quite daunted by the prospect of facing these challenges: there will be nowhere to hide if I don't succeed in them. But I've learned that half the battle is being willing to simply have a go. So here's to a month of being brave. Wish me luck!
Sophie’s latest book, A WINTER’S DREAM, is available in Tesco, online and in bookshops.