Promises, promises

Promises, promises

The world has changed since I last ventured here. My beautiful daughter Georgina Louise Anderson breathed her final breath in the early hours of 14 November 2013. I, too, have been changed – knocked sideways- by her illness and her dying.

A mere four months passed between Georgina’s diagnosis and death, but at least this gave her enough time for us to say some of what we had to say to each other (though no amount of time would  have ever really been enough). And  in her brave, selfless way, she expressed  her fears that her Dad and I would crumble without her, and her determination that this should not be so. We promised to try not to – that we’d look after each other and ourselves, and keep going.

We made our clever daughter a lot of promises that have proved quite tricky to stick to. For example, Georgina instructed that her family and friends should “smile and be happy”. I’m  managing a scary grimace, and packing myself off to comedy nights and arranging holidays, to try and fulfill that one.But, more importantly, I’m keeping writing, which she also wanted for me. A committed songwriter, herself, Georgina knew the power of words.

The writing is the easy part ; stuff is fighting to spew out into my notebooks and my diary and my i-Phone and onto serviettes and leaflets (should I be caught short). As my head is emptied of one stream of thoughts, the vacated space is immediately crammed with another series of questions and observations and memories. Not for the first time, I am shamelessly exploiting writing’s therapeutic potential.

The real challenge- sooner or later- will be to give this material shape. To arrange and transpose this outpouring into something that people might actually wish to read  and might benefit from.

Sooner or later. For now, I’m keeping writing.

I promised.

Where I’ve been

Where I’ve been

It’s been a while. A lot has happened. After a concerted push, I finished the first draft of my novel Blues and was excited when an agent loved its concept and asked me to send her a sample. I waited for her response. I waited some more, trying to guess whether the ‘delay’ (does 6 weeks constitute a delay in the publishing world?) in hearing back was a good or bad sign.

But by the time I did hear back, it didn’t even matter – even though the book has been on my mind fairly non-stop (can ‘non-stop’ be modified?)  for the last two years.  By the time I received the agent’s encouraging-but-ultimately-negative reply, my (talented, velvet-voiced) daughter had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Seeking representation for Blues would only have proven a distraction from the really important stuff. Plus, its subject-matter – of a woman’s desperate search for her ‘lost’ daughter- was slightly too close to my detached, 1960s home for psychological comfort.

My book may see the light of day again if times become brighter, but for now my inclination is to wrap it up with a pretty ribbon and file it in my ‘maybe one day’ drawer.

For some weeks, I couldn’t write. I didn’t have much energy left over from the considerable task of stopping myself from drowning. If I managed to feel anything at all, it was that writing would make a mockery of the seriousness of my daughter’s situation – a futile attempt to hold back a tidal wave of desperation.

But, as I learn the new language of chemo and all that comes with parenting a sick teenager, writing has thrown me a make-shift (probably somewhat holey) life-belt. My notebook is starting to fill, like an occluded drip,with witterings and words.

Like my daughter’s wayward cells, they don’t yet have a shape or a determined purpose. But they make me feel something – which, for the moment, feels better than nothing. And the words which find their way to the page feel necessary.

Maybe one day.beached

Performance anxiety

Performance anxiety

This afternoon, I sat on the pavement  next to the pier and glared menacingly at total strangers, for an hour. This is not standard behaviour, even for me – I was acting as unofficial minder to my daughter, who wanted to try her hand at busking. Anxious (probably over-anxious) to encourage her musical talent and entrepreneurial bent, I volunteered to stand by whilst she sang an acoustic set.

I was worried that someone would hit her over the head (because they wanted to nick her money – not as any sort of comment on her singing). But the session passed off without incident, except for praise from passers by, and apart from the owner of the arcade making us move two step forwards, past the bollards which apparently demarcate her private domain.

To make myself feel useful once this excitement was over, I started giving my daughter handy hints about mike position and singing from the diaphragm.I should add that she does not get her singing ability from me, and is classically trained, so she was not exactly begging me for advice. In fact, she suggested that I busy myself writing a poem or something (of course, keeping up the menacing glares, in case the gold (okay – pound coins) in her guitar case attracted the attention of any magpies)

I didn’t actually do anything so productive, but I did ponder my own past, literary performances, and felt thankful that I am booked in for a Darlington Arts Festival  workshop to hone these very skills. On Thursday, I will be on the receiving end of somewhat more expert tips on how to engage audiences when performing poetry and reading stories (actually out loud). And even though, after that, I will be totally, fantabulously confident – and may even be able to look up from the page every once in a while to make (eeek!) eye contact – I don’t think I’ll be needing my daughter to reciprocate and glare menacingly at potential muggers or crazed fans for me, any time soon.Georgina's busking 2

Stalking

Stalking

rockpools 3Recently, I started to allow myself to believe that I may actually be a writer. For some time, I have  been practising calling myself  a writer at every opportunity – or, at least, on every appropriate occasion, such as  when people enquire as to how I fill my long, lonely days. I don’t go round just randomly shouting “I’m a writer!” in Morrisons – not unless I’ve had  a particularly stressful morning because I’ve broken a nail or something.

But calling yourself something doesn’t magically turn you into it anymore than calling your child ‘Duke’ or ‘Princess’ convinces anyone that they went to Eton. You have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I think it’s that way round – you’ve definitely got to do lots of stuff at once.

My writerly activities over the past fortnight have included

  • attending a local peer writing group (‘peer’ as in ‘person with stuff in common with me’, as opposed to Lords and Ladies) and starting preparing for a showcase of our work.
  • spending a therapeutic writing day in Whitby with LAPIDUS , exploring the theme of ‘journeys’ and learning lots from clever people who use creative writing to make sad and poorly people feel better.
  • watching an eclectic mix of spoken word artists perform thought-provoking work at the Electric Kool-Aid Cabaret. Not to forget my extensive networking at this event, especially after my (*ahem , *cough) ‘two’ glasses of wine.
  • catching up with a friend from my MA course over lunch. It’s a hard life, and we did make sure we talked about our writing – as this was  the stated purpose of our meeting – before descending into general silliness.
  • a telephone interview with Carole, lovely PR lady for Homestart Bridgwater, about my writing history and “future career”, so that she can send out press releases about my short story prize (I think I may have mentioned this somewhere on this blog at some point…)

So, I was feeling quite hopeful and reasonably switched on about the literary ‘scene’ when I attended a writers’ conference yesterday.

But,  as I listened to panels  of publishing professionals talking about  their full lists and narrow markets and millenia taken to bring a book to print, even when you’ve convinced an agent that you are worth a risk and the agent has convinced an editor that they are worth a risk and  they have convinced Sales and Marketing (*pause for deep breath), I was grabbed from behind and placed in a stranglehold by my nemesis.

Not the genteel, elderly Yorkshire lady with perilously pointy knees who was considering self-publishing her memoirs (although she did look like she may have a wicked streak)  but my old enemy Ms. Self-Doubt, who is starting to pop up in inappropriate places, at inopportune moments..

How do you know if you really ‘have something’, or if you’re as deluded as the authors who send naked pictures of themselves to agents, as a way of standing out in the slush pile ? (I am prepared to consider any strategies which will help me to the top of this game,  but you need to stand out in a good way. People of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook are safe, for now.)

No-one at the conference could quite put their finger on what makes a writer outstanding. After hearing vague talk about successful manuscripts with indefinable ‘special qualities’ and ‘something that spoke’, I almost felt desperate as the writers who apparently (i.e. according to  Twitter) shoved synopses at panel members as they made their way back to the station, back to London.  How do you know?

Looking back on my conference notes in the cold light of day (actually, it is warmish light, for once), however, I realise that all of the the speakers said (albeit in different ways, as they are creative, non-plagiarising folk) that it comes down to writing, and sending it out.

Amidst all this writerly activity, I am pleased to be able to say that I have actually been writing. I know – a writer who does real, live writing, and everything. Writing is the thing I like to do, and  have been doing, and do do – quite a lot, recently, if you must know.Before summer is out, it will be time to send Blues out there.

Ms Self-Doubt, I will be ready for you, this time.

ready, steady

ready, steady

I know that you’ll be highly relieved to learn that I did eventually procure sufficient  cocoa confections to fuel me through a crazily busy couple of post-Easter weeks.

Okay, so there was a bit of sugar-dip spluttering and the occasional over-rev -can you tell I know all the dead  technical driving terminology?- but I have survived a weekend trip to Somerset (via  overnight stays at my long-suffering and highly hospitable sister’s in London) so as to read out my short story ‘Results Day’ at the Bridgwater Homestart Short Story Competition awards ceremony.  And if you haven’t already heard my ‘Eeeeeeeeeeeek!’ from your corner of the globe (which, frankly, I find hard to believe, because all sorts of involuntary loud noises have been emitting from me, recently), I can inform you that I won First Prize and, perhaps more impressively, managed to read it out to the esteemed, kind audience without forgetting how to speak English or even falling off the stage or anything.

As well as receiving very encouraging and fortifying feedback from the competition judge, Dame Margaret Drabble, about the story, I was able to talk to her about Blues, whilst the photographer tried to find my ‘best’ angle. This took some time, so I was able to outline the reasons behind my recent sense of ‘stalling’ . Did I not know how the story was going to end? Oh yes, I had a synopsis and a chapter-by-chapter outline, so that  wasn’t it ……it  was just………erm…. no time?…er, no- not that… just….no good reason at all (Fear of Failure is not officially a Good Reason, apparently).

So, I came back from Bridgwater and my chats with all the lovely people I met there with renewed resolve and energy, determined to adopt a sensible fuel-economical approach to my writing, rather than binging on 10 Creme Eggs in 10 minutes, then not being able to face food for 10 weeks. And I’m starting to make out the muscle under the flab, already. Just think of how fantabulous Blues will look by Summer.

Sorry – what’s that you say, large -tin- of -Cadbury’s- Heroes -on– the bottom -shelf- of- the- kitchen- cupboard -next -to -the- fridge? Nope, I can’t hear you. I don’t even know you are there.CRW_7335

 

Cold, cross bun

Cold, cross bun

Happy Easter to ‘all’ (or should I say ‘both’?) of my followers (or should I say ‘readers’, in case people think I’ve got a Messiah complex?).

In spite of my unwavering dedication to the use of ‘bunny ear’ quotation marks (‘ ‘),I have to say that I am not a very happy Easter bunny. This may surprise you, but I have been pushed to the limits of my naturally Spring-like, sunny nature, as the other members of my household have trilaterally declared that they are too big for Easter eggs.

If anyone is too big for Easter eggs, it is me (about six dress-sizes too big). Yet, being the selfless mother that I am, I was prepared to sacrifice my waistline so that the ‘kiddies’ could enjoy their annual egg ‘hunt’ (does it qualify as a ‘hunt’ if you just hide the eggs behind the curtains like you have done for the last ten years?) I would have even helped them ‘choose’ which eggs to open first and shown them how to tackle them, leading by example.  But, no. I have raised a family of sugar-deniers (as in, ‘people who don’t believe in stuff’, rather than as in ‘7O denier supersoft opaque black with support panel’). So,  I am ‘enjoying’ a choc-free Easter.

I am trying to be gracious about it, but If one more tv presenter urges me not to eat all my eggs at once, I won’t be responsible for where I shove my basket. Also, if I am forced to admire another snap of a crocus as they tell us that  the weather’s going to be flaming freezing, again, I will snap someone or something’s cheery, brave head right off.

I can always plead diminished responsibility by reason of raging hypoglycemia.

Ho Hop Ho.

spring blues

 

Spectrum of terror

Spectrum of terror

Eeek. I am going through a phase of screeching at the beginning  and – if you’re very unlucky- at the end of my sentences and declarations. I’m aware that this has the potential to become highly annoying  and has already crossed the cool/uncool line, but I have spent the last few weeks in an excitable state and I need a multi-purpose, non-profane, non-blasphemous exclamation.

“Eeeek” is a highly useful term, which can be used to convey a range of emotions, from stirrings of excitement (eek) to complete ecstasy and joyous flipping-out (eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) It can also denote anxiety anywhere on the spectrum from slight misgivings (eek)  to intense terror (eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) It is great for social networking – not that I waste any time at all on any popular social networking sites because I am a serious writer, darlings, and everyone knows you disconnect from the internet while you are doing dead serious writing. It said so in this article I read on Facebook. Erm. Oops (also  useful declarations but Eeeek’s still my fave).

For example -and purely for illustrative purposes – if I had spent any time at all on Facebook or Twitter recently (and I will bash anyone who says I have) a selection of my posts might read as follows:

  • Eeek: helping teach my first creative writing class next month
  • Eeeeeek: looking forward to my first time facilitating a writing class tomorrow (maybe a slight fib at that stage)
  • Eeeeeeeeeeeek: learners arrive any minute!

In this case, there is some overlap between positive excitement and being scared silly, both of which are captured quite nicely, if I do say so myself.

Other extracts from my (ahem) hypothetical statuses  might include:

  • Eeek: packing for long weekend in Prague (Quite an excited one, but (note to self) perhaps a little spoilt and blase -sounding. Consider adding more eee’s )
  • Eeeeeeek: my son’s got a mouse in his room at uni and it’s sitting staring at him (Very scary stuff, but if I was nearer and was actually expected to go round and do something about it there would be even more eee’s)
  • Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek: shortlisted in short story competition (Some of you who fritter away your time on popular social networking sites may recognise this one. There was a lot of screeching chez moi when I found this out yesterday,  and it may have spilled over into the virtual world. Soz about that. If I actually get placed, I may have to replace the ‘e’ key on my laptop. Buy earplugs now. If not, it’s still worthy of an eek)

A natural perfectionist, I am tempted to check whether I have been consistent in the precise, relative  length of each of my Eeeks in this blog, but I am learning to take risks in my writing; to push the boundaries until there are none, darlings; to go with the organic flow.  I am truly living on the edge. Ee(e/ee/eeemouse)k.

Sugar, slugs, spice and snails

Sugar, slugs, spice and snails

I have ‘probably’ (i.e. ‘definitely’, but I am affecting a nonchalant attitude as nonchalance is one of my fave things of all time)  mentioned that I am writing a novel with the working title of Blues. This choice of title is really quite crafty, if I do say so myself. In fact, I did say so myself in my MA dissertation:

“The title of my novel refers both to the use of blue as a gender marker and to the popular perception of postnatal illness as mere ‘baby blues’.”

Put more simply, the main character is a totally deranged new mother who will not accept that she has been handed a baby who she cannot dress in pink bloomers. Well, she could, but society and her husband don’t think that that would be healthy for little John-Jake.

Like it or not, society likes to divide children into two “types”. As a lucky mother of “one of each”  (I am surpassing myself with inverted commas today), I have been pondering the differences between parenting boys and girls. Pregnant ladies know that, when asked if they would like a little Wayne or Waynetta, they are meant to say that they don’t mind – although they are allowed to say “as long as it’s healthy”, even though that might be a bit insulting to poorly people.

Them’s the roolz

But even as the twinkle in Daddy’s eye is charming its way into Mummy’s free-range nucleus, the parents will probably have some idea – fantasy and/or prejudice- of how their son or daughter might turn out. And this idea  will be influenced by the (admittedly shallow) expectations that society has about  boys’ and girls’ behaviour, interests, etc.
This examination of gender stereotypes is a key premise of my Work-In-Progress. Oops, there I go, getting all academic again, sorry.

You may have guessed that Blues may have been “inspired” by my own experience of ‘gender disappointment’.

 I did not actually try to put my firstborn (son) into lacy knickerbockers, but I did feel a smidge of (admittedly shallow) upset that I would be sartorially limited, when presenting my offspring to the world. I stretched the boundaries a bit with a bit of lemon smocking on a romper suit and cute little stripey pork pie hats, but generally, I stuck to the proscribed utilitarian, blue garments.

And, happily (we all love a happy ending), I love him to bits anyway and I was later blessed with a daughter, too, who tolerated my penchant for pink broderie-anglaise bonnets and miniature glittery tights until she developed self-awareness and speech.

As I was dragged around Topshop by my – now teenaged- daughter on a half-term retail mission,  this week, I reflected, misty-eyed, on my son’s “there’s nothing wrong with this old one except for a few holes” nonchalance, which I realise may or may not be linked to his maleness. Undoubtedly, though, there is something in this ‘reap what you sow’ lark.

In Primark, eight carrier bags and only a single purchase for myself later,  I eschewed stereotypes and gave in to the urge to chuck a monumental, maternal tantrum. I had to be taken straight home. Result.

Inspiring Blogger Nomination

Inspiring Blogger Nomination

I was chuffed to be nominated by Kerry- Ann Richardson – crime writer, blogger and self-styled (but truthfully so) generally nice person and  fellow graduate of Teesside’s MA in Creative Writing – for  ‘Very Inspiring Blogger Award’.Kerry explained the rules as follows:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 7 things about yourself.
  4. Nominate other bloggers for this award and to them.
  5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

I think the idea’s to give a gentle pat on the back and a nod of acknowledgement to people whose work you enjoy. You also get to ask them to share stuff about themselves that readers may not know,  which is nice to be able to do without being caused a nosy bat/over-intense stalker, for once.

Kerry kept my feet firmly on the ground by adding that she didn’t think that this was actually a real, live award at all.

Bah – pedantic semantics! You can’t get much more real than this fabulous logo, I’m sure you will agree (or else….)v-inspiring-blogger

Anyway, it is now my duty to spill some interesting beans about myself. This of course goes against my absolutely-no-self- promotion rule, but I will try to get over my natural modesty, in the public interest. Ahem. Here goes:

1. Like Kerry, I like to think of myself as a ‘generally good person’ but, unlike Kerry, I am not always worthy of my moniker. I made a boy’s nose bleed in junior’s because he wouldn’t let me play with the game he brought in on the last day of term. I can’t even remember what game it was but it was better than mine. The teacher didn’t believe his ‘tales’ as I was class swot. Maybe I am a good person, because I do feel very guilty. Does that get me any redemption points?

2. I used to work as a bingo-caller on Redcar seafront and would sometimes put on a deliberately overly sing-songy voice, to mix things up a bit at the end of a 12 hour stint.

3. I worked as a Christmas post lady and fell flat on my bum on my first day because I was only little and we didn’t get trollies, way back then. Now that they have trollies, and they don’t have to get up until the afternoon, I wouldn’t mind being a post lady again, as long as the weather swore down to stay nice.

4. People on our estate are starting to get artificial lawns ( I know, I know…) and sometimes on the way home from a glass of wine in the hostelry (I like to support local businesses), my friend Mrs Coeaux  and I  pluck blades of grass from gardens in our street, to determine who has falsies.

5. I get disconcerted by mis-matched semis and have to resist strong urges to post notes into offenders’ letter boxes, expressing my concerns accordingly.

6. My favourite writing music is ‘Moods For Mothers’ : a jazz/whale music/panpipes/Ave Maria combo present from the kids. I think they thought the CD said “Moody Mothers”.  I also have undue, encyclopedic knowledge of Barry Manilow and Elaine Paige lyrics. I describe my musical tastes as ‘eclectic’, to throw people off the scent, but I can name any tune in one.

7.  I am a vegetarian because I feel sorry for moo-cows and chicken-lickens and baa-lambs and bunny wabbits and gee-gees and fishy-wishies. I cannot feel the same compassion for an artichoke or an ear of corn. Or small children (just joking). Maybe that makes me a bad person?

If nothing else, this amazing voyage of self-discovery  and self-revelation (readers, I promise to keep well wrapped-up in future)  has shown me that I need to stray beyond this suburban conurbation – to sample the occasional Quorn kiev- if my writing is to continue  to be worthy of illustrious, virtual stickers.

Having enjoyed my two seconds under the spotlight (cheers, Kerry-Ann Richardson, but I am now perspiring like a jogger – see what I did there?), I would now like to pass on the esteemed baton to the generally nice, often funny, and always inspiring Sarah, just up the road at re-ravelling.blogspot.co.uk .

 

 

 

 

‘Blues’ sky thinking

‘Blues’ sky thinking

Encouraged by the fact that a week has elapsed since I publicly outed myself as a “writer” at the goggles shop, but  – to the best of my knowledge – the sky has not yet fallen in and the mocking laughter ringing in my ears is no longer interfering with my everyday functioning, I have actually buckled down and done some actual, real-life writing, on more than one occasion, this week. This was part of (oh okay, the sum total of) my radical, ‘New Year – New, Even More Improved Me’ shake-up.

Whoops, I just broke my ‘Guaranteed Resolution-Free Zone’ promise for this site. I don’t think anyone noticed.

So my novel, Blues, is once again truly in progress. Now, all I’ve got to do is prod it with a stick or wave a carrot cake in front of its nose every now and again, to keep it rolling, or – given my ongoing digital (hand, not computer-related) incapacity – at least juddering towards its destination.

I am compensating for my physical shortcomings by devoting extra psychological energy to eradicating sticky patches from the fabric of my narrative, as well as conducting stringent research into the Siege of Sarajevo and Disney’s Jungle Book. These topics, of course, are inextricably linked, for reasons which I could not possibly go into here, for fear of spoiling the eventual surprise (surprise for the reader, not me: hopefully, I have a vague idea of where I am going with this or that would be worryingly random, even by my standards).

I am also sorting through numerous, extremely assorted notebooks and marking all entries relevant to Blues with fetching, arrow-shaped, bright orange sticky notes, to be digitally (in both senses) transcribed, upon my recovery. For your information, since you enquire so politely, the fluorescent pink strips denote musings which may develop into deep ditties and the tasteful luminous yellow Post-Its cling determinedly on to pages where I have stumbled upon scribblings which may – just may- form the seeds of future stories- short, medium or long. Oh, the writerly possibilities….

But for now, orange is the only colour. My writing room may look like EasyJet’s head office,  and I may even have been mistaken for Stelios slightly more frequently than usual,  but I am gathering my loose ends to create a tangerine tapestry of themes, images and characters (flat, round, hexagonal and slightly squished).

Ladies and gentlemen, at the risk of being deafened by (probably mostly self-generated) hoots of scornful derision from the cockpit and tempting Fate to plunge me from the heavens and fracture every knuckle in my body,  I  would like to welcome you aboard. I have conducted my final checks and I am ready for take-off.

orange skies