Gods and The Wanderer

Yesterday I signed up for the Edinburgh half-marathon. I often tell people that I do well with deadlines, and I really do. I need the pressure to get me going in all areas of life, from writing to exercise to… well, spending time with people even. Otherwise I just lie around stagnant, like water in a pipe waiting for the tap to be turned on, probably growing mould and smelling a bit funny.

The pressure works really well. I get motivated and creative and I DO stuff. And then I get carried away and sometimes I accidentally put a bit too much pressure on myself and water-me sort of blurts out everywhere in panic, and lands up as a useless puddle on the sideboard, waiting to be wiped up.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Not a review: ‘Bookworm’ by Lucy Mangan

Note: this really is not a review. My about-a-book entries are never reviews, just me gushing about books I’ve absolutely loved and have time to write about. Take it for granted that if this was a review it would be a five-star thing, though, because I’m coming out of the tail-end of a migraine right now and shouldn’t be looking at a screen, but am compelled to write this. 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

“You have to bloody love it”: The Word Factory

Yesterday evening I attended my first Word Factory Short Story Salon event. I almost didn’t go – the usual warm house v. wailing wind and rain v. spending two hours in a room full of strangers – but I’m glad I did. If you like reading stories, listening to storytellers, or writing stories, this is really an evening for you. Wine, enthusiasm and books abound.
Continue reading

Life After Books: Atkinson, Donoghue and Ness

Oh, heavens. I just realised that technically speaking the whole ‘New Year’ entry was a special edition so I’m still supposed to write one this week, preferably before the evening is over.

I don’t want to wake up early to go back to work tomorrow. I want to wake up early to walk the dogs, do all the little things I need and want to do, and settle in to write some stuff. January blues, hey ho. I just need a patch of actual blue in the sky or some such cheerfulness in the morning to make things seem a bit better. Or just some sleep. And a few hours to finish reading Patrick Ness’s More Than This.

No, no, don’t tell me what happens. I received a good haul of literature for Christmas – and, purely by coincidence, it’s set me on a fantastic streak of stories that make you question reality and the permanence of life as we know or understand it. But all in different ways, and all brilliant. 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.

This old world must still be spinning round

I’m a day late with this, because I spent the weekend celebrating my 31st birthday with visiting and London friends, and then pretty much used up my writing mojo on (bad) lyrics and a letter. Actually it’s a bit weird admitting that I spent the weekend celebrating, because in my 20s I went out of my way to avoid admitting I was even having a birthday. Apparently my 30s are going to involve enjoying the passing days a bit more, which is nice, actually. 30 was a fairly good year, but 31 feels as though changes are afoot. It certainly feels better than the uncertainty of 21. I mean, everything’s uncertain, but I’m a hell of a lot more confident about doing the things I want to do now, even if I go about it the wrong way a lot of a time. Basically, 30-something feels nothing like Bridget Jones’ Diary, and that’s a relief.

I thought about writing another list of things to do, but before 32 this time. However, I already have a number of ongoing projects that I can work at without have to write out that I want to do them – the aforementioned lyrics for one.  I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I had the bare bones of something I like, and that I’d recorded a rough version, pacing round the kitchen. I played it to a few people for some feedback. Overall, folks were kind about it, or genuinely like it. One of them is a musician friend who was quite gratifyingly enthusiastic about it (words like ‘goosebumps’ and ‘excited’ were thrown around). He asked if he could take the recording and add instruments, which suits me just fine because I don’t know how to even start that stage of things. If I don’t like result, we can change it (but the conversation was such that I think I will). If I like it, I can do a good recording of the vocals. You know, if it ever gets to that stage – maybe he won’t have time to do anything with it. Meanwhile, it’s spurred me on to write more things, which can only be a good thing. And maybe I’ll even get the nerve up to do an open mic night or something.

Oh, feck off Simon.

Oh feck off, Simon.

The other project on the go is a shadow puppet film, based on a short story by Fingerwords (for whom I’m Acting Muse. Which is to say that when inspiration doesn’t strike, I use threats and alcohol to bully him into writing). Quite a lot of research to do for that one before anything happens, but I’d like it to be this year’s visual project, because if we get it right it will be both beautiful and spooky.

My friends got me a book called Waterlog, by Roger Deakin, for my birthday. I read the first four pages on the way home and have decided that I’m just going to go and float around in a lido or bathing pond at some point this weekend, because, and I quote Deakin, “I can dive in with a long face and what feels like a terminal case of depression, and come out grinning like an idiot.No front crawl, no pushing it (I promise, Mum!). Just float about for a bit and gaze at the sky. I had my second round of blood tests and a chest x-ray last Friday, with the results due in about a week. I’m sick of walking everywhere and avoiding hills. I miss cycling, even, and that’s my nemesis. As incredibly exciting as it was following Rowena’s amazing 70.3 success last week, I was choked by a massive lump of jealousy (sorry, Ro!). I love the fact that her twitter feed has gone from worry and logistics to sheer confidence and excitement about her next tri – and I want that. Floating about aimlessly might help a bit.

The other obsession

I thought I’d rattle on for a short while about my reading habits and how I’m finally choosing which books to write about. This is because I’ve actually come across a couple that have brought on the need to ramble (Stella Duffy’s The Room of Lost Things and Drew Magary’s The Exit Specialist (or, as it’s more commonly known, The Postmortal) – watch this space). Also I thought it’d be nice to give a break to those readers (’cause it turns out I do have them!) who aren’t that interested in the sport side of things. Those who are interested in that side of things – don’t worry. There’s another one of those entries brewing. Continue reading

Lost in Sofia

We’ve just returned from a Sofia Coppola (or Giovanni Ribisi, depending on your poison) double bill at the Prince Charles. The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. I wasn’t sure whether to go or not, because I’m a bit low and watching those films could, I figured, push me either way. I’ve never seen The Virgin Suicides on a big screen before – I bought the music before I ever saw the film (by Air – check it out), love the book, love the film. I had forgotten or blocked out the more upsetting bits.

Continue reading