When I was a kid, most boys I knew wanted to be like Yuri Gagarin. I was a girl, so I wanted to be like Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. I imagined myself going through vigorous training and then finally going on a mission that would seem like a year to me but would last three hundred years on Earth. I saw myself shaking hands with an alien and eating borsht out of a tube. Of course, adults made sure that I understood all the difficulties of my future profession as soon as they found out about my dream. ‘You might end up training all your life and never going into space. Ever,’ some said. ‘Or you’ll come back to a planet that is so different that you wouldn’t want to be on it.’ I am not a cosmonaut now, so their warnings must have had some effect on my five-year-old self. Instead, I have become a writer. And it has now occured to me that these two professions are very similar. You might write all your life and never get published. Ever. Although in our age of self-publishing that’s becoming increasingly unlikely. And just like a cosmonaut, you lose track of time and sometimes come back after a particularly intensive period of work on a story to a planet that seems so different to the one you’ve just been on that you don’t always want to stay. You get to meet strange aliens that populate your imagination. And you have to be as brave, if not more, as a cosmonaut, to resolve to write no matter what. Whether you ever get to go on a real mission or not. You just do it. You just write.

I was very happy when I read in today’s Guardian that a statue of Yuri Gagarin is to be placed in London opposite the statue of Captain Cook. Gagarin is a symbol of aspiration, courage and success in Russia, and it’s great that our kids in the UK will have a reason to find out more about this great man and maybe to be inspired to be brave when it comes to following a dream.

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At the beginning of March I challenged myself to two tasks. One was to read one short story a day and the other – to write one story a day. The reading challenge seemed easy. I read a lot, and it doesn’t seem to require quite as much preparation as writing. I can read anywhere, and if I can’t read, for example when I am at the gym, I have been listening to short stories on my i-pod instead (check out these lovely podcasts from The Guardian, The New Yorker and The BBC World Book Club). But writing is different. For the first week, I wrote one short story a day. They were all quite short even for a short story, but given the time frame, I felt very excited to be able to finish something every day. Then an idea came for a story that was to be slightly longer. I still wrote every day, but I was writing the same story. And that’s where the complications began. My Internal Critic (IC), a very nasty, unpleasant person, appeared. ‘Does that really count as one story per day challenge?’ he kept enquiring in a sickly sweet voice. ‘Let’s say that it does,’ I told him, and then sent him far far away where birds don’t sing. He didn’t want to leave. ‘Does writing in Russian count?’ he wanted to know. To add to that, I started to lose momentum. Like an inexperienced runner who shoots off at the start only to be overtaken a few hundred metres later by those who pace themselves, I was struggling for breath. And to make matters even worse, I was getting distracted on the way. Other things had to become priority (after all, I am a mother of two boys, but that’s probably just an excuse). Eventually, I took a break. Not literally, because I still had all my other work to do – the one that pays the bills right now. But I took a break from the challenge.
Now, week 3, and I count myself still in the game. Of course, my IC thinks I have failed miserably. But I choose to ignore him and I continue on. I have hope. If I write two short stories per day on the good days, surely that will allow me to catch up? Hang on, I am doing it again. Pace yourself, Maia, haven’t you learnt anything from your school PE lessons?
I think we as writers tend to be very unfair both to ourselves and other writers. We suffer from the Impostor Syndrom, we imagine that other, Real Writers, never ever miss a day, or struggle with the plot, or just lose momentum. I was talking to my dad today, who has been writing for decades, and to his question about my novel I complained that I seem to run out of steam, and that as soon as I stop for a breather, my internal critic ruins the whole thing until I lose any desire to continue. My dad laughed and said that he and probably everyone else has exactly the same problem. It makes sense. But I can almost quarantee that I will forget that again the next time that I am lost.

We are fascinated by lies, aren’t we? We even have a whole day when we are expected to lie! But the best thing about lying seems to be telling the truth afterwards. We are compelled to lie, and then we are compelled to come clean.
I tend to be honest most of the time. Maybe I’m missing out on all the fun. I wonder how I would feel if I lied more. Probably very tired – the reason I don’t lie is because I just can’t be bothered. Once you make something up, you have to maintain that further and that’s tiring. I do remember one time when I was probably five or six when I made something up. I really wanted a Barbie doll but at that point in Russia not everyone had them. And there was one girl that I played with at the time who kept showing off all her dolls and generally being very annoying. So I told her, never thinking that she would believe me, that I had several Barbies at home, complete with a huge doll house and lots of other doll accessories that I can’t remember now. To my shock, she took me seriously, and for the rest of the week I had to make up more and more stories to fit with the original one. Eventually I stopped playing with her because the pressure of constant lying was getting to me.
And that’s another thing about lies that I find very curious. It seems that the more unlikely the lie, the easier people believe it. Try it yourself. Just not today. Have a great April’s Fool day and tell me about your best lies afterwards.