Saturday, 30 July 2016
I am standing behind Rey in a lift. I don't know whether to tell her that Bandai is on my foot. I decide not to, it's not heavy. This is my first experience of YALC. Encouraged by Comi Con downstairs I have made a half hearted effort to dress up, I look like something from my mother's era; Dark blue denim roll up's, a secret cinema Dirty Dancing Kellerman's t-shirt and a head scarf. There's a lot of pastel hair and piercings. I have pastel hair envy. I dyed mine pale pink using Bleach London the day before. It washed out and didn't cover the grey.
I'm a middle aged mother writer in a sea of teen girls. There are others of my clan, you can spot them eagerly clutching notebooks, business cards and neatly typed synopsis for our yet-unpublished novels. I put mine back in my bag and decide to just enjoy the experience.
Young Adult is written for teens and not by teens so why is it so popular? Maybe it's the authenticity. For the same reason I used to rush home from my secondary comp to watch Grange Hill, it's more of the same - seeing other characters experiencing what I was experiencing. Jenny McLachlan (Star Struck)in the talk ' She Who Laughs Last Laughs Laughiest' agrees:
'No matter how bad your day, something worse has happened to one of the characters in my book.'
'Failing is so important, all interesting people fail.' Heartened I decide to stay on for the agent 1-2-1 anyway and meet the lovely Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency. We spend most of our five minutes discussing my Kellermans t-shirt, but I manage to pitch my novel Girl In The Box and get a contact. I pick up as many freebies as I can carry, bump into an ex-Birkbeck MA colleague and buy her book, (The excellent The Otherlife - Julia Gray), she signs it for me and I coo at her baby, meet up wtih Kathryn Kettle for the Golden Egg Academy and then head home.
If you're a writer of YA, give YALC a go, it's good to see what else is out there, enjoy the community of writers, workshops and talk and the teen fans, after all, they are your audience. Just don't try dying your hair.
Monday, 11 April 2016
The Cambridge Literature Festival has blossomed and grown, there's now a supply of live music and champagne outside the union and the one in, one out author timetable reflects its popularity. It's given me the opportunity to see writers, thinkers and actors close at hand - Clive James, Ali Smith, Bill Nighy and now one of my favourite comedians and all round people - Ruby Wax.
Inside, the chamber is packed. We are pitched in rows as if for battle, our attention drawn by the entrance of a small woman who takes her seat on stage. When she speaks it's scatter-gun with purpose, like the voice of an MGM cartoon character with the wisdom of Aristotle. You can't help but listen. She's dynamic, effervescent, a pocket rocket, a firecracker exclamation of black hair and red lips. I could go on with a ready supply of attempts at fronted adverbial's, but it turns out Ruby is just like the rest of us - Frazzled. Hence the name of her new book born out of research into mindfulness and the achievement of a Masters in mindfulness based cognitive therapy at Oxford Univeristy (The Cambridge Dons in the audience wince). The study was born out of the desire to understand and control the depression that was hounding her with its black dog ways. The process seems to have been successful, her work on mental health awareness gained her an OBE a few years back.
Why Frazzled? 'It's in my veins, and they say, write about something you know.... so I thought, lets build a career on that.' There is a rush of laughter around the chamber, we know she's only half joking. She was drawn to mindfulness because of the science behind it's effects. 'There's a plague of slight hysteria everywhere. Not everyone, there are people who live out of this, somewhere in Oxfordshire, milking their chickens, but the rest of us battle with overload in our reactive culture. We have to accept that stress is not a badge of honour, it breaks down your immune defence, its a disease and its reaching epidemic proportions.'
I know Ruby Wax from her comedy persona, appearing in Girls On Top alongside Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, then there was the writing and her documentary work. She wanted to be noticed, she created this character, this loud, American stereotype; People started treating her like that,
'I was running on non-stop adrenaline, I'd be doing stand up for the milkman.' Ruby explains how we have yet to evolve beyond our stress response, 'You're always, 'on' we haven't evolved to have a handbrake for this stress, we don't have an off switch, now the fear is invisible' It's not a sabre tooth tiger lurking round the corner.
She ask us not to judge ourselves for the flow of negative thoughts, we haven't done anything wrong, 'Four out of our five thoughts are negative, we have to counterbalance that.' and then she gives the audience a few exercise to try, and we are quiet, reflective, listening to her instruction, focusing on the senses. I feel it would be good to try this with a fractious class and stressed staff in the school where I work.
It's not a cure all, it won't work for everybody, but 'Mindfulness is good practice, (it won't replace medication, if you're ill you need to take the medication, she says) thoughts can lose their solidity, minds can be scrambled, it's like watching a thunderstorm from under an umbrella. You have to get ready for when the shit hits the fan.
So armed, I buy a copy of her book and get her to sign it for my teenage daughter, but I'll read it first.
Monday, 15 February 2016
Far too much time has elapsed since I ventured into the blogosphere. Injury and illness led to extended housebound periods and a long lapse into reflection. I could read, and read I did, but to write evaded me. As the poet, Nan Shepherd, said:
'One reaches these dumb places in life. I suppose there's nothing for it but to go on living , Speech may come. Or it may not. And if it doesn't I suppose one just hasd to be content to be dumb. At least not shout for the mere sake of making a noise.'
Some new ventures were suspended as I gently found my way back into the world and other new ventures launched. I'm working and writing again, the fiction is on hold while I complete a project for the Story Terrace,
A biography for a client who is neither celebrity nor star, but an ordinary life with extraordinary moments. We all have a story to tell. I've been re-reading biographies, the excellent, verbose Clive James, Unreliable Memoirs, and the moving M Train by Patti Smith,
Friday, 9 October 2015
Everyone has something to say about our beloved NHS, now more than ever. My first job out of Uni was as a medical personnel Officer for our local health authority, I went out with a nurse, I lived in nurses homes, I worked for the NHS,it was management and admin heavy, a cacophony of activity, one hand never knowing what the other was doing. The means of communication is now better, but not much has changed, there's still a lot of people running round like headless chickens.
I love it though, all babies born on the NHS should be stamped with product of NHS on their bottom, like a quality kite mark, it's something we should really be proud of in Britain, something we should fight for.
At the tail end of September I had one of those days planned when you know you've taken on too much, but you do it anyway - a drive cross county to run through an assault course activity with She Who Dares, followed by a trip into London to meet a friend, cocktails at Callooh' Callahay and curry at Dishoon. I had a funny feeling when I woke up that perhaps it would all be too much, but I just went for it. I really should learn to listen to my instinct.
Splayed out on the forest floor in agony my mind started to compensate, the girls held me, held my legs, held my hand, wiped my brow, kept me going, what amazing creatures we are, what capacity for compassion and care, I wasn't being brave, I was reduced to the dependency level of an infant, and these were my mothers, I'd do anything they told me if it would take the pain away. Helpless, I was tended by paramedics, helped into an off road buggy for a slow ride under the tree canopy to the waiting ambulance. Thank god I was outside, and could look at the softly waving foliage and the blue sky as a sign of hope, I'd be OK, I'd be OK. For the next week I've never felt so Human, and the Killers 'are we human, or are we dancer, has been playing on a loop in my head. I've been over emotional, pathetic, brave, insane, drugged out, wasted, hysterical, run the gaumont through a soup of emotion. Through it all I've had fantastic care from the nurses and doctors in the NHS, inspirational advice, help and love from my friends and family. I'm lucky to have them, thank you. And at the back of my mind - the thought that - well - this could all be experience to feed your writing.
While slumped in a hospital bed for five nights with the leg elevated (dislocated and fractured ankle, broken tibia and fibia) a numb immobility descends that's more than physical. The body, in shock, shuts down the creative spark, I couldn't even read, I'd just stare, thought or predication was hard, staring was easy. I could stare and watch, stuck under powdered light, longing to see the outside world. Across the way I could hear Martha's* (name change) soft scouse mumbles, I act as her interpreter, the youngest of six, trained to be a nurse at Alder Hey. I believe her because she told me, but she couldn't remember where she was, she wanted to go home, didn't we all, and thought I was her niece. I was on Martha guard duty at night, understaffed, she was left to sleep, but she would swing her legs over the side of the bed and start to shuffle off with her broken shoulder, pressing my buzzer, shouting, 'Martha's on the move again.' she looked daggers at me, I'd betrayed her. I wonder how far she would have got without me. Nurse came and went, changed shifts, took obs, bloods, changed bed pans, brought food. I dreamed of being able to have a shower, of using a toilet. My neighbour longed for ice cream, the Lithuanian lady by the window, also with Alzheimers, sang folk songs and shouted at us when she was hungry, 'Yum, Yum!' most of the time.
An evening shift change (12 hours with half hour break, three days on the trot, few hours off before nights)and the nurse asks Martha,
'Have they been good to you today.'
Martha - 'I'm thinking about it.'
I've thought about it, they have, the NHS has been good to us, we ought to be good to it back.