Oh monster, my monster

As I start writing this, it’s 12.15am. In about six and a half hours I will be crawling out of bed to make a Pokémon cake for my nephew’s 10th birthday, before he arrives for a day of being spoiled. (‘What flavour?’ ‘Pokémon flavour!’ Vanilla will have to do.)

Anyway, he and his mum and her boyfriend came over earlier this afternoon. He fed the dogs lettuce until they were near ready to mug him for his pasta. He became best friends with Dog 1, who pinned him down with a paw and attempted to clean his head. After that they were inseparable. Dog 2 – less boisterous, likes her space – wagged her tail from a safe distance.

At some point in the evening he looked up at our mantelpiece, where everything gets stacked in a way that could be considered ‘decorative’ over the fake fire that we never plug in, and spotted my A Monster Calls print.

A-Monster-Calls-616x403

like this. (OBVIOUSLY, this is an illustration by artist genius Jim Kay)

That print was my first (possibly last) ‘big’ art buy, after I met Jim Kay’s agent at a launch Q&A (I think) for the book, with Kay and Patrick Ness.  2011. It was clear, then, how completely this story – this publication – would be a classic.

‘Look!’ says Nephew. ‘That’s the monster from A Monster Calls! It’s a good book.’

‘Yes, it is’ I say, meaning both yes, it is the monster, and yes, it is a good book. ‘That picture’s signed by Jim Kay, the illustrator.’

Nephew looks at me with great satisfaction. ‘I’ve got the book, and it’s signed to me, by both of them.’

‘I know,’ I say. ‘I got it for you for your second birthday. I think they thought I was a bit nuts, asking to have a book signed for a two year old.’

‘I wasn’t two!’

‘You were.’

I’m not sure he believes he was ever really two, but he smiles happily and leans back into his seat, goes back to his game. And I think – it doesn’t matter who got the book. It’s his – his story, signed for him, and always has been in his life as much as he remembers it.

And tomorrow he’s ten, and he’ll be rereading that book when he’s 20, and I hope it’s battered and loved and the ink has faded slightly, and that whenever he comes across it or any reference to it, he has a little jolt of special-ness – I have that book, and it was signed for me, and I have always owned it.

I am kicking myself – we peaked at birthday presents when he was two years old.

Books are brilliant, though.

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It’s been a long year

Tradition, isn’t it, to write a post summing up the year? I’m getting it out of the way a few days early, because 1) I’m having a little flap about the current Work In Progress right now, and so this is a nice procrastination and 2) in a couple days I am seeing my family and will have no time for posts, only for them and actually finishing a reasonable first draft of the WIP.

OH GOD I’m in imminent danger of being a writer bore, I’m so sorry.

Here’s a quick list of good and awful things that have happened over the course of this year, as much as I can remember on a mid-holiday day when I should be doing something else.

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Say hello, wave goodbye**

I keep thinking of subjects for these increasingly sparse blog entries and then deciding that no, that’s too big a subject – I’ll save it and write something longer and more in depth. Maybe I’ll try an essay. Which is not to say I don’t put effort into these posts. I do, but normally all that effort happens over the course of a couple of hours at most. I splurge words on whatever springs to mind, and edit and post soon afterwards. There’s a minimal amount of research involved, but I have, usually, had something to say.

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Snapshots

Seven-year itch

Okay, the itch is supposed to be about relationships rather than life, but there is a school of thought that says life runs in seven-year cycles: every seven years or so you change as a person (which would also explain the seven-year itch). Well, I’ve been living in London for just over 7.5 years, and working for the same company that entire time (and yes, I will miss them a lot). Prior to that I travelled and studied for seven years. So maybe there’s something to it. Continue reading

The writer next door

Last week, browsing the bookstands at Southbank (yes, again. I have an addiction), I picked up two books by Lillian Beckwith. There are a few names that leap out at me when I’m running my eye over a shelf, and hers is one of them.

Growing up, Lillian Beckwith was our next-door neighbour.  We didn’t know her as Lillian Beckwith. We knew her as Mrs Comber. When we first moved in, my dad mentioned that she was an author, and as a kid who liked to write, that caught my imagination. I honestly can’t remember, looking back, if I wanted to be a writer before we met the Combers, or if knowing them is what made me want to work with words. Continue reading

Pictures or it didn’t happen

I’m taking a terrible, but lovely, series of photos of my route to work over the next couple of months.

They’re terrible because I’m using my phone and I’m a bad photographer whatever the tools, but lovely to me because they’re sentimental. This is my London as me and many other people travelling into Victoria see it, even on the grey days. I’ve had conversations with fellow commuters, and I know that it’s not just me that gets a kick out of the band-name graffiti scrawled on the walls as you come into the station. Loads of other people have spent the day with “It Only Takes a Minute Girl” stuck in their head thanks to whoever painted that lyric on the side of a house. I’m not the only person who goes ‘Awww’ when we see the dogs residing at Battersea Cats and Dogs home being brought out for walks. I want to have a record of some of these things before they are cleaned up or are turned into a soul-less shopping centre. Continue reading

The Next Big Thing

It is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Migration has begun. Not just the birds; also the people who embraced the summer heat and then looked ahead to the winter and realised that they don’t want to wade through that again. Without thinking too hard I can name four people of my immediate acquaintance who have chosen to jet off to Spain, Italy or Australia before the rain arrives this year. (Or snow. Sometimes we have that, too.) The same sort of migration happens every year. Equally, there are people suddenly coming back to the UK, or who have chosen to stay when they had every intention of leaving. Continue reading

Jonesing: past, present and future

I’m typing this awkwardly with blistered hands from steam-cleaning the kitchen carpet – because that’s the sort of glamorous, rock-and-roll thing us London girls do at the weekend. The blisters are sort of worth it as, although the carpet is probably not cleaner, the dirt is more evenly distributed. I’m sharing this detail because it’s sort of relevant to the below post which, as you’d expect, meanders through three different subjects before stopping abruptly. Structured writing skills – I don’t haz.

Bridget Jones’ Diary has been the source of a lot of conversation this week. One of my friends was re-reading it, and that prompted me to pick it up and re-read it (actually I picked it up to try and get Coffee Monster to read it, but then I took it off him again). As a result, the book and the character have come up a few times in different discussions with different people.

Back when the book first came out, one of the reasons it was a hit was because Bridget is an Every Woman.  A thirty-something every woman, living in London, working in publishing – to some extent, she is still something of an Every Woman, at least in my circle of friends. One mate commented that her mother pointed out that her career path matched Bridget’s; another related how her friends had (insultingly) pinpointed her as being Bridget when they were all 16 and watching the film. I’m of an age now where I was curious to re-read the book and see how much of myself I recognised in it.

When it came out I was about 13 years old. I knew of it because I was the kind of weird 13-year-old that picked up the Sunday papers book section and pored over the bestsellers list and read the reviews and interviews and was very intent on building my ‘grown-up’ book collection. I mean, I actually had a separate shelf on my book shelves where I put all my ‘grown-up’ books. Stuff by Rick Moody and Esther Freud and JG Ballard separated from all the Jean Ure and Robert Swindells. Roald Dahl occupied places in both sections.

So when the little corner shop down the road had a copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary for sale in its tiny, dusty book section, I eventually scraped together the money (I also had a weekend job at this point) and bought it. Then I went home and snuck up to my room and read it in one day. I don’t know why I snuck up to my room with it – I was fairly secretive about the whole venture. But I read it and swallowed it whole and re-read it several squillion times, and nurtured the thought of a future working in publishing, in a City, writing stuff, hanging with friends.

Bridget Jones' Diary

Cup of tea, good read – way better than steam-cleaning the damn carpet.

The whole boyfriend/fuckwittage thing was amusing, but that really wasn’t much of a concern at 13 – in fact I went through school being a) an unattractive geek and b) very certain that school romances were a waste of time anyway, since school was nothing but a starting point and it would all be left behind in favour of a glamorous future. (And then Facebook came along and destroyed that fantasy for the world.) I was all about the lifestyle. That’s amusing now, because now I’m older clearly the point is that she’s not glamorous at all. She’s awkward and normal and broke and bored at work and has a damn good group of friends, and that is, if you’re lucky, basically life in a nutshell.

At 13 I really wanted to be a writer (I finished my first novella at 14 and it was appropriately dreadful. As has been pretty much everything since). I was reading the media stuff in the Sunday papers in part because I spent a lot of time dreaming of the wider world and writing and films and books and the future anyway, and then along comes Helen Fielding and BAM! Talk about reading (and rereading) at a formative age. Then I got older and, well, a bit bored of the whole thing… and now we’re here, where I find myself reading it all over again, but instead of relating to (or wanting to be)Bridget,  I seem to have morphed into Shazzer. Sweary, ranty, feminist Shazza. And that suits me just fine, because she always seems happy, if with a core of rage at the world, which is something I can totally relate to.  It also suits me because it fits nicely with my comfort zone – always the sidekick, never the star. I like being behind the scenes and helping things work. I don’t like being the centre of anything – it’s far too much pressure.

Some of you might be scoffing at that –yes, I have diva-ish moments. Notably when I’m ranting about shit. But the best way I can think to illustrate how I feel about my place in the world is like this… On university trips to the climbing wall, sat in a mini-van on the way home, driving through the mountains in the dark in the middle of nowhere, I used to play a rather morbid game of ‘Slasher Movie’ in my head. The game is essentially this : if the van broke down, and we were all being stalked by a crazy psycho in the middle of nowhere, who in this van would survive? Who is the star, who is the killer, who is which bit player? Who dies fighting, who dies running and who dies fucking? Apply all the movie tropes and see where you end up. I never cast myself as the star – I figured I’d probably be the one who was abruptly stabbed through the window after we heard spooky knocking at the doors. Quick and easy and out of the way. (I can’t be the only person in the world who considers these things?)

Anyway – obviously reading Bridget Jones’ Diary is not the be-all-and-end-all of why I live where I live and do what I do – I found out about the book in the book section, for heaven’s sake. Even if I hadn’t read it, no one from my past would be shocked that I work with words now. But, in retrospect, it might have genuinely shaped some of my choices. This, in turn, with babies and children on my mind (my sisters’, not mine, I hasten to add) makes me think about how much of an effect all the reading and writing and pictures and games has on kids today, and how much more glittery and how much worse it seems to me, looking at it with adult eyes. There’s nothing for me to be smug about – there was a lot of crap available when I was growing up as well, but it was easier for parents to protect kids from it. Now there’s such an onslaught of rubbish shaping minds. Everything is so photo-shopped and glamorous – really glamorous, not Bridget Jones glamorous. It’s fucking scary.

Picture this

Finally, the weekend. After spending the morning trailing from podiatrist (one day I will devote an entry to my disgusting feet, but not today) to pharmacy across most of South East London, and failing to be at bus stops at the same time as buses, and losing my patience and walking instead of waiting, I’m back home and taking a break before heading out this evening to a shindig hosted by Frozen Margaritas. Continue reading