This week, in order to avoid the hideous roundabout of death, I am negotiating a small corner of the countryside on my cycle to work, but this means coming face to face with another, far worse, fear. At the roundabout of death too many drivers fail to see me. Cycling across the fen, it’s this invisibility I suddenly crave as the frisky gang of bullocks up ahead snigger and snort to each other the minute they see me coming. They time their moment perfectly to rampage gleefully across my path. I like to think my pathetic scream was just inside my head. Friends and family laugh at me when we’re out walking and I race ahead, refusing to dawdle and chat when crossing fields of cattle, but these fears are very rational. Every time someone is trampled horribly to death, I send a link of the story to those who scorn me.
Other fears I have are less rational, but equally beast-sized in my imagination. Fear of flying. Fear of talking about myself. Fear of being alone in the countryside. Fear of being told my writing is rubbish. Fear of talking out loud in a group or of being trampled by indifferent silence after doing a reading. I faced all of these in one intense week when I travelled to the other end of the UK to the middle of absolutely nowhere, 12 miles outside Inverness for a tutored writing retreat and some quality time with my newish story. After leaving my house at 8.30 in the morning, I made it to Moniack Mhor on a hot and sultry evening, just in time for some very welcome pre-dinner drinks. I had survived the flight – my first time flying without a companion – and had launched myself well and truly out of my comfort zone. I smiled at the people around me, sipped my wine and tried to ignore the creeping terror that there was no escape now from my remaining fears. I had arrived and was stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of complete strangers. I'll let you know what happened in Part II.