I still feel like a teenager
Writing a YA book has been by far my favourite genre to write. It was the most defining, scary, awful and exhilarating time of my life. In many ways I still feel like the person I was then. The biggest difference is I'm kinder to myself now. I'm a braver, more confident version of my teenage self, and I'm better at speaking out and not letting what other people think affect how I feel. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that it'll be okay. Writing The Definition of Us was partly my way of doing that.
I used to be a chef
I've never followed a straight career path. I had a place at university to study environmental science but pulled out at the last minute. In need of a job I walked into a vegetarian restaurant, told them I could cook and offered to work for free for a fortnight to prove it. Two weeks later I was assistant manager. I loved my job but when I became pregnant for the first time I was so sick I couldn't work near food. Instead I stayed at home and wrote my first novel: a book about a pregnant woman who owned her own café!
Writing's not easy
Most of the advice I read about writing is to do a little every day. I'm terrible at this. I have a day job and can't always find the time or the head space to write. I can go for months without writing and then write everyday and do little else. Most of the time I find it really hard to start and spend ages avoiding it. As soon as I do start I wonder why I kept putting it off. After years of feeling like I'm doing it wrong, I've concluded that there is no right or wrong way to write a book. You have to do what feels right for you.
I'm a tiny bit terrified
Just like my character, Jasper in The Definition of Us, I would describe myself as 90% joyful, 10% terrified. I had debilitating anxiety and panic attacks as a teenager and spent too long telling myself that I couldn't do things. It's taken me a long time to train myself to 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. Now I feel almost entirely brave, but there are still some things I find difficult. Public speaking is one. Book signings, school visits and talks are all things I'm asked to do as a writer. I love meeting people and wish I could say yes. This is my work in progress...
The outdoors is awesome!
I have a day job as a project manager for a charity which manages a country park. This park is in my village and I've visited it regularly since I moved here 15 years ago. As part of my job I'm often 'on duty' in the park. On those days I'll always take a walk and chat to people when I can. What strikes me is how passionate people can be about the park. I've had many people tell me that just getting outdoors regularly kept them going through a difficult time. Dog walkers, park runners, our all-ability cycling group, open water swimmers, canoeists, mums' in the playground, so many stories, so many people feeling a benefit from having access to this lovely green space. I see this benefit every day. If you ever feel low and want some head space, go and find a little patch of green. It will do wonders for your wellbeing.
Volunteering is good for the soul
Forget National Service, volunteering should be compulsory. I don't just mean for the benefit it gives our local charities and communities but for the physical and mental health benefits it gives you back. There are so many people doing great work in every neighbourhood that couldn't do what they do without volunteers. People who give their time freely to help others are gold dust and they're paid back with new friends, new skills and deserve to sleep well at night. Some of my best experiences have been working in a group of volunteers.
Running is the best high.
Sport is not something I was ever any good at. Growing up in Loughborough, walking through the university to school, I would watch the track runners and wonder if they were a different species entirely. Ever since I was a teenager I've tried to teach myself to run like them and failed. I do a couch to 5K, get myself up to running a half hour 5K, then usually injure myself or get a winter cold and have to start all over again. It doesn't come easily: I go purple and sweaty, I'm slow and get overtaken by everything, but it makes me feel almost rebelliously happy. I have a running playlist, head for the river and grin like those dogs you see hanging their heads out of car windows. It's the best feeling. Even when it feels like a chore to get out and do it I never, ever regret a run.
Swimming lessons are my favourite thing
Growing up I had free access to the university pool at the back of my house and went almost daily for many years. I never had lessons, my style was totally made up, but I felt completely at home under water. Sometime after I had children I realised I'd regressed to one of those ladies who does the breast stroke without getting her hair wet. I got inexplicably scared of putting my face in the water. I missed the days of swimming beneath people and barely coming up for air. This year I started having swimming lessons and suddenly I feel in control again. You're never too old to have swimming lessons. It's great to learn or relearn a new skill and it's currently my favourite part of the week.
Bikes are special.
I'm completely unsentimental about possessions. I don't care when I lose or break something, even things I've had for years, I don't worry when my car gets bumped or I leave my phone on the train. I just don't care. I do, however, love my bike. It's an old Raleigh 531C frame, resprayed and built up with vintage parts and downtube shifters. It rides like a dream, it feels like a part of me, and I love it almost as much as a person.
Writing is a world of opportunity
I've got so many hobbies and interests I don't have time to do them all. Writing is therefore a great way of bringing them all together. I could have been just as happy studying psychology, the arts, English Literature, marketing. I'm fascinated by nature, meteorology, statistics. I love cooking, creating, architecture, travel. I wish I'd tried harder to find a sport I loved when I was younger. I haven't got time to explore all of my interests but I can if I weave them into a story. That is why I love books. Stories have no limits.
The Definition of Us by Sarah Harris is published in paperback on 12th July, £7.99