Personal best

It’s the stories behind the gold medals at London 2012 that have intrigued and heartened me because they apply not only to sport, but to anything we each choose to do or to be or to become.

In writing, it is in the rewriting (which often means many many drafts) that the real work begins: the first draft is the clay from which the story will be sculpted. And the disappointment that comes when a piece of work is rejected acts as the spur to deciding what to do next: how to improve the piece, what to cut, what to strengthen, how to write the next rewrite. Sometimes a completely new approach is necessary.

The heptathlete, Jessica Ennis, sat at home during the Beijing Olympics four years ago with a fractured foot (see the Guardian, Saturday 4 August). She was told she might not run competitively ever again. But she fought her way back and I can only imagine the courage, tenacity, determination and pain of every kind she had to fight and find her way through to get there. A year later she was world champion and at this Olympics, three years after that, she won gold with a personal best of 6,955 points.

The heart of the matter is the personal best, not the gold. Very few win gold medals. In my profession very few win the Man Booker. But we can all strive for our own personal bests in our own chosen fields with strong hearts and steady determination, without giving in or giving up, whatever the setbacks. It’s the only way to make our best work. As Robert Browning wrote, in his poem Andrea del Sarto:

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,                             Or what’s a heaven for?

Without difficulties overcome along the way, how much less sweet (and how much less likely) the final reward.

And the thing I’d love to have made this month is the Heatherwick Studio’s magnificent Olympic torch. I didn’t know, on the opening night, or didn’t take it in, that the Studio had designed it: all I could think was what an extraordinary genius of an engineer (or engineers) must have imagined it (and now I also wonder about the setbacks they might have encountered and overcome along the way):

The Heatherwick Studio’s Olympic copper cauldron

And now that the torch has been extinguished, each country will take home one of the 204 petals to remember this extraordinary Olympian coming-together. The Heatherwick Studio (Thomas Heatherwick, the founder, is head of a studio of 83 designers) has an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum in London until the end of September.

About Angela

I write fiction about the difficulty we have when we try to say what's in our hearts.
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