bric-a-brac, basically

I’m writing a blog post, which is how you all know I’m procrastinating. We’ve got this massive whiteboard propped against the fake fireplace (the furnishing skills of myself and CM are such that our home permanently looks like a long-con grifter HQ crossed with a bric-a-brac stall. This morning I woke to find that the Giant Toy Hedgehog that we use as a pillow for long car journeys had been propped on a shelf in our room between a rarely-used Gothic chess set, and my TBR book stack and necklace stand that I made by warping a cooling tray. It was staring at me. I nearly had a heart attack, and our room looks more like a storage box than ever…)… Continue reading

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NWA aftermath

So, update time. Nothing but Writing News in this post. I’ll do a more general entry later this week.

Last time we were here I’d just won a Northern Writers Award. Which was (is, still) pretty exciting, after it sunk in. In the classic way of all things writing, there was a whirl of a few weeks with tonnes of activity – followed by weeks of quiet, just me, in a room, swearing at a screen.

First up was a pitching workshop, which was invaluable and taught a group of us how to network, essentially. Which is a skill no one actually teaches, I don’t think, except for maybe finishing schools. There’s an art to strolling up to strangers in a crowded room and being able to smoothly introduce yourself and why you’re there and be able to pitch/promote your book / project without umming and erring and feeling silly.

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More news…

I’m exhausted – but the good kind of exhausted. The kind of exhausted you get when you’ve been swimming in the sea, fighting against the tide, learning to roll with the big waves and enjoying the ripple of the smaller waves, occasionally worrying about the lack of control and being dragged out to sea, every so often realising that it’s all much deeper than you realised. And then – when you smack a hand into the sand and pebbles – realising that you’ve floated back to shallower shores and can stand for a while. Which I where I am now: utterly exhilarated and knackered but, after a good sleep, wanting to go back for more. Continue reading

Warning: accidental pep talk

Saturday, April 1st – and the local council’s April Fool is to set workmen going with a jackhammer right outside the house, uprooting lampposts. Again, it’s Saturday. It’s the weekend. Everyone’s home trying to have a little lie-in and then do some household chores – at least, they are at this time in the morning. When the noise started up, I went to the window to snoop and scowl, and it seemed all the people in our little cul-de-sac had moved as one. We scowled at each other across the tarmac and then at the poor workmen who, let’s face it, probably don’t want to be working on a Saturday any more than we want them to be. I imagine in a short while there will be a mass exodus just to get away from the rattling.

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Chorus

Four months, according to WordPress, since I posted here saying I would not be posting regularly anymore, if at all. Two months since the post I stand by, the one that some people told me was scaremongering and over-reacting while I fervently hoped they were right – only so far nothing I’ve read in the news (and I mean verified facts) is making me feel that they might be.

So, in the new tradition of a post every two months, here’s one that is not about global news. Back to the good old days of updates about life, home life, projects, the little bubble that I live in. That sort of thing.

I’m musicking, these days. I’m musicking the fuck out of my life, in a way I haven’t since I was many many years younger. There are songs written and being written, and I am working with a lovely producer (though that title really stretches to collaborator) and recording songs. There’s one song out. It’s even had airplay on BBC Introducing, which is nice. And on local interweb radio show The Grind. It hasn’t had airplay anywhere else, but then I haven’t sent it anywhere else. It has a pretty video and a couple of fans. I have a Facebook page and perform under the name that I’ve used for the internet since I was about twelve.

coming-soon-2

There’s an EP on the way, too, which basically means I’m recording a little cluster of songs and sending them out into the world together next year. Truly, if I never do music again after this, I’ll be pleased that I did this much.

Hell, I’m doing a gig at the end of January. Yep, this is the woman who had ‘play an open mic’ on her to do list for something in the region of 15 years. I haven’t figured out the logistics of gigging and instruments, but I will. I have to, because I already said I’d do it. The biggest upside to putting the fucking fear of whatever into myself by saying yes is that open mics seem even less scary by comparison.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a person for whom the world and the unknown isn’t scary as hell. I’m just a lot better at throwing myself at the scary stuff and not worrying too much about landing on my face. Speaking of said face, I think I’m going to have to get over my general dislike of mine and start putting it out there a bit as well. I’ve been meaning to get a couple of reasonable photos done for the writing side of things for the past few months. I think I probably need a couple of the music side of things as well. I wonder if I can get away with the same photo for both?

God, but asking for portraits is weird though, isn’t it? ‘Please do not make me look like me. A more musical version, please. A more writerly one. And also unrecognisable. Can I wear a mask?’ There are some rather brilliant pictures of my sister-poet that were taken last week. We look slightly similar. I’m toying with the idea of just stealing those and pretending it’s me.

Anyway. Photographer suggestions welcome. The whole art and marketing side of things continues to baffle me, but again, I’ll figure them out. I know what I don’t want, and that’s a start.

Writing – I’ve levelled up. I’ve been shortlisted for Bristol and Bridport this year, which feels like a breakthrough though I also haven’t managed to complete a short story since. But then I also haven’t completed a blog entry (duh), a letter, or a poem. I’ve managed a song. I’ve managed articles I had to write. Writing’s been tough, is what I’m saying. It seems like a selfish act in a world that needs loud voices and less selfishness, and less hot-takes and more action. So it’s not been happening. Except for right now, because I am sat in a café waiting to catch a train.

Shit, guys, I feel as though I should be making this more of a call to arms or something. Or some sort of perky lifestyle inspiration. But neither of those things is my bag (honest to god, the aforementioned portraits should be of me looking slightly tired in slightly dusty dim surroundings, if they’re going to be at all honest. Just please – reduce chin. Add cheekbones.)

Reading over this with my editor eyes on (and Editor Me is sniffing and saying that this really isn’t good enough – but traditionally I have just thrown words on to the screen when blogging. I’m nothing If not giving the honest-to-god thoughts from my brain) and here’s the thing tying all of this rambling together. Some point in the last year, my voice kicked in. Writing, singing, speaking up. Turns out I have one after all. I mean, obviously I always did, but it was kind of squeaky and deferential. These days, it does better. It can hold the tone and hold the note, and it’s got power coming from the core and it is very much all my own work – and it has taken work. Feels kind of good to use it.

Lists of foreigners

I’ve rarely used this space to comment on politics in depth, or world events in depth beyond the emotional impact. I’ve always looked at the abundance of hot takes, statuses and tweets out there and figured one more voice yelling the same thing of sympathy/condemnation/etc made not much difference. I’ve also always been careful, in my own reading, not to be swayed by media rhetoric; I dig for the facts, look for the information and try to think for myself because I think that’s the conscientious thing to do. Better not to be led by the nose and someone else’s ambitions or careful spin.

But that’s not the case anymore – because most people are led by the papers and the headlines that shout loudest, and what they are told spun in the way they’ll agree to it, and right now, those headlines and the leaders creating them are leading readers to facism. So this is absolutely the time for one more voice, and then one more, and as many loud voices as possible to say, ‘No, enough, not in my fucking name and – actually – not at all.’

 

Looking at the news and plans coming out of the Conservative conference, and looking at the way it’s being reported in the press, I can’t sit quietly. It’s been brewing and rising for a long time, this xenophobia, and I’ve touched on it before. And I’ve been scared by it before. I had a proper cry after the result of the referendum because it felt like we as a country had just thrown ourselves into a fuck-off great pit that we will have considerable difficulty crawling out of. And now, a few months on, I feel like I’m watching the government and the newspapers and a terrifyingly large (but hopefully not large enough) percentage of the country grab shovels and keep digging that pit deeper, until, presumably, we hit some version of Facist gold. A new state, a pure one, no foreigners.

 

All those films, all that history recorded and taught, all that horror – and we’re, as someone pointed out on twitter, sleep-walking straight back into it. And I’ve tried to believe (truly have because it would be more comfortable and I could sleep better at night) that this is some sort of hysterical reaction. There’s no way that we, in this country, would ever let things get as bad as they did in Nazi Germany, right? But the Germans thought that, too. It’s how it works: bit by bit, move along, until suddenly there are concentration camps and ghettos and it all seems perfectly inevitable and nobody says anything because that’s just the way things are.

 

The right has become far-right, the left has all but stopped opposing while it fights internally and the government and media are howling about the evil of all people foreign and how we (yes we, hi there) are a threat to jobs and safety, and ‘suggestions’ being put forward by the party in charge include making companies provide lists of foreign workers, well. It’s happening, isn’t it? After the lists, do we get badges? How far will the suggestions go? ‘Should we remove them from schools so British kids get better educations without them getting in the way?* Maybe we should set up special areas where the foreigners can live out of the way of the real Britishers while we figure out what to do with them? Wait, how do we qualify foreign? Everything got so liberal and mixed up over these past years – should we check skin colour or parentage back to grandparents? Place of birth or place of growing up? First language spoken?’

 

I would really, really love to believe that I’m looking at this as a worst-case scenario and I want, more than anything, to look at this post in a couple of years and laugh and say ‘flash in the pan, over-reaction, you muppet’. I want to look ridiculous. I’m willing to look ridiculous in order to say no. Not in my fucking name. No, never.

 

And to say: I will not put my head down and pass as British in this day and age – by my own choice, not because there’s a list or a badge. By almost any of the most basic standards of what constitutes foreign, I’m foreign. I was raised here, not born here. I got British nationality at 21 (at my mum’s insistence  – and props to her for having the foresight). My parents are not purely British. My dad is an Australian immigrant. He got British nationality around the same time I did. My mum is the daughter of a German immigrant, and to her grandchildren she is Oma, not Gran. She’s a nurse, by the way – yay healthcare). On any day, on any street, you wouldn’t pick them out and it has never mattered. (Unlike for people of colour who have to deal with shit on the regular whether British or not, and now are dealing with even more shit as it’s been framed as acceptable to be a racist fuck). But today, now, they aren’t welcome, apparently. I’m not welcome. Stick us on lists.

 

I’m taking comfort in the fact that so many people are standing up and saying no, not in my name, in the face of everything that’s saying that it absolutely is in your name, for your own good you silly liberal, now sit down and shut up. I’m taking comfort in that there are these voices out there saying it in my world in real life. Not just in the echo chamber of Twitter, but people in the Northeastern town where I live, one that voted for Brexit, but still, still, had 44% of us wanting to stay. I’m trying to take comfort in that, by the referendum numbers alone, it was close. A massive chunk of the country is not taken in by racist rhetoric. But then again, the Nazi party only needed 33% and a coalition government.
*UPDATE: I’ve just found out that the government have updated school census questions and demanded schools record the nationality and country of birth of students. So. Yeah.

So this is goodbye (for now)

This post is a non-post, really. A note to say that I won’t be updating this blog for a good long while. I’ve been lax about it this year anyway, so this is not a huge change except that by putting ‘I’m taking a break’ in writing, I get to stop trying to think of how and if I even can address the world as it is at the moment in a post. A lot of other people seem to have that covered. Everything I want to say I’m not brave enough to post, or else needs more thought than my throwaway approach to this place allows. Maybe I’ll do some longer essays at some point, but not blogs. The page of published stuff will stay up and keep being updated because it’s basically my CV; all the old posts will sit there; I might add some music.

In a nutshell: I can’t face writing about the bad things, and they’re happening too fast and too often to offer any perspective. I don’t want to write about the good things, they are happening so fast that to stop and write about them would be to jinx them and miss them. So I give up, for now. Thanks for reading for this long, and for all comments and support. x

 

Wheel of Fortune

It’s that time again – the time I should be getting some freelance work done, so I write a blog post instead.

Last weekend I went to York for a friend’s birthday. Sorry we went, and had our first experience of being recent-test-passers on the motorway, in an old old (borrowed) car with no power steering which coughed and hrrrmed its way from 30 to 70 in about ten minutes. Speedsters.

Anyway, while in York, I had my fortune read for the first time in my life. For £1, by an old man with a monkey puppet, in the middle of the street. Definitely legit. Definitely accurate.

He did the whole ‘swing a necklace over my hand and it’ll answer a question’ thing, which failed dismally to move much at all. “It’s a very faint possible yes,” he said, as we all stared at the motionless pendant. My question was ‘Will I buy a better car than the one we drove down in?’ so, you know, hopefully he’s right. It’s possible the answer hinged on whether we survived the trip back.

Then the fortune telling cards, where card#1 claimed that I have a friend not to be trusted (is it you?). No one has noticeably screwed me over yet, but now I’m braced for it, untrustworthy one.

cards_

Half a google later, and I can confirm they were these cards.

Card #2 says I have good news coming in the mail, apparently. “Definitely by post,” said the fortune teller. “Not by email.” Nothing’s come yet, mind. So far just a ‘leave’ leaflet, of the type we seem to be getting daily. I ripped up the last one and left it stuck out of the letter box on the other side of the door hoping whoever is dropping them in will take the hint. Rebellion fail: it escaped the mailbox and blew all over the garden. Really, though, campaigning is fine, and I’ll listen to factual information, though you’d better believe I make the effort to research that ‘facts’ I’m told (unless a fortune-teller says it. Then I’ll believe every word). But this is the sort of sneaky pamphlet that starts out with ‘You’re probably wondering how to vote. Here are some not-at-all skewed, completely unbiased facts that we have re-worded slightly and left out important details from’ and ends with ‘if you had this information before we even joined the EU, would you have bothered to join WOULD YOU WOULD YOU HUH IT’S A WASTE OF SPACE OBVIOUSLY VOTE LEAVE’. Not biased at all. No. *rolls eyes*

I will freely admit that I am biased on a totally personal level, and the clarified facts keep me that way. But beyond that the idea of the bunch of self-involved government wankers that actually were elected having total power – without the unelected folk from other countries enforcing useful things like human rights – scares the shit out of me. I could go on. I won’t.

Anyway. Cards three-to-five basically said I ought to be coming into some money. Lots of money. I’m susceptible enough that I actually started hoping maybe this meant I was getting a writing grant I applied for. Ladies and gents, I didn’t even get shortlisted. So. *sob*. But if you want to rebuild my dreams and faith in street-corner fortunes, please do send me some cash. Safe to say, by the way, that that particular no-win stung a bit. I wallowed for, oooof, at least half a day (am Teflon, these days. Feeling so brave that I even, in an email regarding music, wrote the words ‘I’m thick-skinned, I promise’ and then wondered if that really applies to the music stuff yet.)

The wound also healed quite fast courtesy of a couple of things. One – a new story out! On the brilliant Loss Lit site, no less, which is full of the sort of sad, strange, dark, lyrical writing I adore, so I’m pleased to be in it alongside such fab writers as Vanessa Gebbie and Josephine Corcoran. You should, of course, go and read the entire Bumper Issue 3.

And then the wonderful Georgia Bellas, of Mr Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon, got in touch to say she’d picked out a couple of previously published stories to read out on Boston Free Radio that evening. (You should listen to the podcast every week, by the way, if you like stories and poems. It’s a gem.) I was especially chuffed that she chose to read ‘Lost to Dolly’, which was written as a radio piece, really. The other story was ‘Sea Monster’ – it was a creature themed show (there’s links to the published versions of both stories on my stories page). God, but your words sounds different when someone else says them, don’t they? Sentences there that I’d forgotten I strung together, but they were just right. Anyway, have a listen HERE if you wish.

Back to the fortune: so, loads of money apparently incoming. Also an opportunity I should grasp immediately because it will not come again. This was translated as “you’ll see something I want to buy, but when I go back it will be gone, so you should by it straight away”. But I think fortune-speak is flexible, so I’m twisting it to my own ends and using it as a kick up the bum for things that I’ll save for later entries.

OR maybe that money comes from a change in jobs! A fork in the road, says the fortune teller of the seventh and final card, a new opportunity, a new job, a life alteration. I mean, this could just be that the Mega Project is at the printers now and will be in people’s hands very very soon, and if I’ve somehow got something very wrong I could be out of a job? [As I, perhaps unwisely, admitted to a board member, I’m torn between it being a success because I worked so bloody hard on it, and it crashing and burning horribly so that I never have to do that work again. (I want it to be a success, of course. My name’s on it for heaven’s sake – and that thought makes me feel a bit nauseous, so moving on…)]

Huh. I think that actually the fortune teller might have told my 2015 fortune. Job, money, opportunities, untrustworthy friends. Yup.

Oh well.


BOOKS: I have finally (after ekeing it out) finished Beastings by Benjamin Myers, which is so richly written I had to read it a bit at a time, then digest. The ending made me want to be sick and also cry. Hell of a combination. And I’m halfway through Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction stuff, and I’ve started The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Can’t speak highly enough of that last one. I had to read the first three pages out loud because they are just so *nnnngh* (<noise trying to relay total perfection). I need two copies so I can underline stuff. It is also, unfortunately, the sort of book that’s written so much the way I want to be able to write that it’s simultaneously inspiring me and crushing me. (Sample convo with Coffee Monster, after I made him read the first three pages. ‘It reminds me of your stuff.’ ‘It’s exactly how I want to write.’ ‘It’s like how you write, but distilled, like the between parts are gone that aren’t like that.’ ‘You mean edited?’ ‘No. Yes? Wait…’ ‘But I DO edit my stuff!’ ‘Um.’ *sulk*)

MUSIC: I pulled out the Southway CD we bought off them on the street a couple of years ago and have been enjoying. Also very recent (like, this morning) discovery of There There, who are synthy and lyrical. Also more Eve Conway ‘cause she sang her EP a week or so ago at an open mic night and I adore her voice. And for Gothic ennui and historical, wonderful weirdness, The Black Sheep Frederick Dickens just shared their single Shrines.

A shambles of thoughticles

Today my hands were blue with cold and I wore a heavy winter scarf for the journey to work. Seasons are not real.


I’ve always been pretty good at fading into the background – I have a face that manages to be both politely vaguely familiar and completely unmemorable. It suits my wallflower tendencies. It’s also something that comes in handy on trains where, I’ve discovered, if I don’t move to get my ticket when the ticket inspector comes by, they assume they’ve ticketed me before and don’t bother me. (I am not avoiding buying train tickets – I have a month pass that doesn’t need stamping.) Now, though, I wonder if they’ve seen me often enough that they do recognise me, and know that I’ll have a pass and it’s not worth asking me. A train regular. Can’t decide if I like the idea of being invisible or often visible better. Continue reading