Tag Archives: writing

Everything Is Lovely

12 Apr

I’ve been asked by the marvellous Anne L Harvey to carry on the torch of ‘My Lovely Blog.’ This is simply a relay-blog between fellow writers who share similar interests and take in life.  I’m going to have a stab at answering these questions and then will pass you onto two further buddies…

My First Memory

Plenty of little ‘flashes’ – lying on a pink and black checked blanket outside my parent’s house in East Manchester.  Feeling as though I was going to melt like one of those sticky lemonade lollies that we always clamoured for from the ‘Faircloughs’ ice-cream van that used to do the rounds. Yes, this was *that* summer of 1976 and my parents clearly hadn’t heard of sunscreen, sun hats and the fact that pale, white-blonde baby girls shouldn’t be dumped outside a house in order to sizzle.

Another memory from outside of our house – me doing a Houdini – escaping from the reins that bound me into the big red pram. Me bouncing up and down on the edge of it. Yet still more parental neglect? I bet Mum was havin’ a crafty fag out the back door. Or had gone to the Costa del Sol with the milkman or something.

What *was* it about parents in the 70's and their insistence on dumping kids on blankets in the sun?

What *was* it about parents in the 70’s and their insistence on dumping kids on blankets whenever there was a sniff of  the sun?

But my strongest memory is of 1977. I had just learned to dress myself and proudly trundled downstairs. Our kid was sitting at the kitchen dinette table that our Dad had lovingly built. The bro’ was eating in his usual disgusting fashion (‘I’ll mash up my Weetabix, add loads of sugar and then scoop it up with my fingers.’ And he was nearly 3 years older than me, for goodness sake!) Sadly however, my mother paid me no notice whatsoever. She was hanging around ‘the wireless’ and crying. The newsreader had just announced the death of Elvis Presley.

(Did I tell you that Elvis Presley was my dad? No? Well. He should have been. I bet he wouldn’t have tried to fry me, or allow me to abseil off the end of my pram or ignore my early efforts at wardrobe-assemblage.)

Books

Of course – I jest about my horribly neglected childhood.  One of the things that I am most grateful to my mum for, is the fact that whenever she had a spare minute she would try and shove  her nose into the nearest book.  I can’t think of a better role model for a child. Interestingly however, I was never that impressed with the books that she urged me to read; Milly Molly Mandy, the Famous Five, Black Beauty, Janet and John.  No I reckoned that these sorts of choices were too ‘posh, too ‘up-itself.’ The stuff that my mother had been urged to ‘develop’ her reading muscle with as a kid, just left me cold. I guess this was the beginning of a lifetime enslavement to my own form of inverted snobbery.  Poor Mum. She did her best to introduce me to a lot of the decent, more literary stuff for kids. But I just wasn’t buying it.

It wasn’t until a thirty years ago that I came up with the idea of ‘Chrissy’s Book-It List.’ All of the classics – the most critically acclaimed high-fallutin’ stuff – that you’re supposed to read according to University Literature departments across the world. The Top 100 or whatever – that the critics who reckon themselves to be ‘in the know’ – say that you just gotta rifle your way through. I produced my own list and yup! Am steadily working my way through them all. Plus scribblings produced by writer friends and books by friends of friends (such as those published by the northern company Bluemoose – their productions are always worth hurling a Tolstoy across the room for, when you’re in need of a modern, well-written read that isn’t accompanied by the usual silly, London-centric literary PR-fanfares.)

Thinking about my grown-up Book-It list a bit more though, it does very much reflect the themes that titillated me the most as a child. So I’m doing plenty of political and historical sagas, satirical stuff, tragedies and wisdom with a twist of spirituality.  Chick lit, bodice-rippers and aristocratic oppression of the masses ain’t on the cards, pal.

Libraries/ Bookshops

Bookshops? BOOKSHOPS? In your dreams. In my childhood’s neck of the woods, there was never any point in entering a bookshop unless you had recently had a birthday and a very thoughtful Auntie (who happened to you know you very well) had treated you to a book token. Even at University there was very little point in locating a bookshop. I couldn’t afford them. Neither could kids from similar backgrounds to me who managed to get to university on that hallowed grant system (there was one lad at Uni however, who was also working class and who always had the recommended texts on our course – but he used to nick them from Dillons, so he doesn’t count.)

So it was libraries for me. The library was just a few hundred yards from our house and I visited it several times a week. Walked on my own. Crossed a main road. From the age of 7. Swigged a can of Special Brew on the way (okay, okay – I made up the last bit but you know what? Those were FUN days to be a child…)

It felt like that I lived in the library during the summer holidays. My earliest ‘library memory’ involved me and my best friend getting told off by one of those really scary librarians whose face looked like a cat’s bum. Our crime? We had both taken out 4 books just after 9am and returned them during the afternoon. Wanting 4 more out each. We got a bollocking; “You’re not supposed to visit twice in one day! Our system doesn’t allow for things to be checked out more than once!”

Fortunately even at the age of 9, I realised that even our marvellous municipal libraries end up having to employ the odd miserable old trout or so and who hates kids.

And even though that particular ratty old bag has been pensioned off into the great beyond – it does seem  these days, rather too many of her relatives  have been employed by local authorities. You know the sorts. The guys n’ gals taking the decisions to shut down over half of our public libraries.The sorts who don’t have an imaginative bone in their body and for whom it wouldn’t even occur that a library isn’t just a place to borrow books, but that it’s the very heart and soul of a locality. That it’s a blueprint to mental survival. A lifeline for many a curious and contemplative child and for many a lonely adult. Or simply  a sanctuary for those who live, learn and lust for a bit of bookish adventure

Damn. See what you started?

Some people think that these kids are the lowest of the low. San children of Namibia. Go google.

Some people think that these kids are the lowest of the low. San children of Namibia. Go google.

What’s Your Passion

Apart from libraries, you mean? Okay… People who ‘lack the contacts’ in order to get a fair deal in life. Whether they be unemployed ex-offenders in Manchester, working class Pakistani-British in west yorkshire or impoverished and starving rural communities in Africa.  Looking back, I guess that this has always been the thread that has wound its way through my work and my life. Not consciously….

But somehow I always end up getting involved with the outcasts, the unlucky in life and the folk whom people in the positions of power all too often perceive to be ‘unfortunate scum’ (NB at this point I am tempted to add ‘And yes dear reader, I married him!’ Heh heh.)

Learning

My brother and I were the first in our family to go to University. It was all a bit of a culture shock for me. I spent 3 years crying into a public pay phone and naffing off the other kids in the queue. My conversations seemed to consist of ‘I hate it here! Please can I come home? Everyone is so much… posher than I am. They’ve all read these books that I haven’t. And I’ve eaten Mum’s frozen Quiche every day for four weeks now, so can she make me some more to freeze? Oh. And someone fed all of my Cup a Soups to the fish in the pond.’

Other kids on those pay phones seemed to have chats with their parents along the lines of; “And Oh My God – Jemima was like – so drunk, Mum – that she like, totally like, projectile vomited all over the President of our Hall – but he was like – totally cool with it and even, like – shagged her afterwards.” Or “I don’t care, Mummy. You just have to send me the extra £100 because I wore that ball gown last term and there is like, no way-over-my-dead-body that I’m wearing the same gown twice.”

Sadly I am not exaggerating about the conversations between these girls and their mothers. I remembered rushing back to my room at University in order to jot down these exact conversational shap-shots.

I was so poor at University that I couldn't afford a haircut. Or a longer skirt.

I was so poor at University that I couldn’t afford a haircut. Or a longer skirt.

So yes, I was the last of a dying breed. Kid who got to go to university on a government grant. Kid who felt like a fish out of water and worked her backside off in order to do her parents proud.

Theoretically, I think that I would have done well at university, whatever (that hard-work ethic) but the real learning that I accumulated there came from the adults  – a couple of pretty special tutors and the Brummies that I worked alongside in the local shop – rather than the actual courses that I took.   Which is why – when it comes to the big question of ‘University or Not’ for my kids – I feel pretty ambivalent. I reckon that true learning in life is not at all about academic – or career – achievements.

But I’ll save that for another blog and another day.

Writing

I struggle with writing about writing. Because for me, it’s just the same as breathing. If I can’t do it, I’ll explode. But then … to admit the NEED to write for me, took a long, long time.

There still exists a massive class barrier for those from the poorest sectors of society who want to write. The Writing World is still 99% controlled by well-off, well-educated, white folk who lack the societal, economic and often physical barriers faced by the masses who might be pen-savvy. Did I also mention that they’re almost exclusively London-based too? I did?   😉

Thankfully the internet and the indie route to publication and artistic expression is rocking the traditional world of publishing to its very core.  It certainly was more than time wasn’t it?

And maybe I’m just bobbins at promoting myself, my own writing (or maybe I’ m just lazy and simply just enjoy rather more rather more alternative avoidance tactics than watching The X Factor on telly) but I’d rather spend lots of my own time championing the writing of others. And especially on upping the writing chances of the underdog. Which reminds me. I must tell you more about why I’m involved with the fabulous writing charity ‘First Story.’ One for another blog methinks….)

————————–

Anyroadup. That’s this ‘My Lovely Blog’ shenanigans over for me. I’ll now pass you onto two writer-chums of mine.  Tim E Taylor and KB Walker. Both have been fantastic help to me in terms of advice on my own writing and both are hugely talented in other areas of life (I shall drop in some key words here – such as ‘musician’, ‘educator’, ‘farming’ and ‘community’) and also need to add that the two of them also happen to be incredibly nice, witty and charming people. (People like that. Make you feel sick, don’t they? Not that I’d ever say that about them in public, of course.)

Over to Tim and Kim!

KB Walker

Tim E Taylor

 

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WUDE WORDS FOR WORLD BOOK DAY

6 Mar

Everyone in our house enjoys World Book Day. Even more so this year!

The 5 year old’s school requested him to dress up as a character from his favourite book (disappointing me somewhat…I was hoping that he wanted to go as something rather literary, rather serious – such as Aslan the Lion, but no….bloody Spiderman. Again.)

My 9 year old had to bring her ‘favourite book’ into school and talk about it.  She told her teacher “Well, really – my favourite book is my mum’s new book. Sort of. I’m not really allowed to read it as it’s got rude words in it. But mum reckoned the teachers would like it as they read even dirtier things all of the time, when they go home…”

Cheers m’dears.  Happy reading folks!

Find my book here!

A Flat Head? EJ Howard, writing and the waterways…

3 Jan ej howard

One of our local librarians managed to push aside the fear of her own redundancy in order to try and engage with me. There I was.  Wild eyed and raddled mother of second, newborn baby. Desperate for something both entertaining and intelligent to get me through the wee small hours of brain and boobie-overdrive boredom…

Without Anon Librarian-Lady, I would never have heard of Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Or the Cazalet chronicles. Without Unknown Kirklees Library-Lass, I would never have ended up corresponding with E J Howard herself.

All it took was a certain librarian making a certain recommendation (sans Amazon, sans Kindle estimates of previous-purchases help…) “Oh – judging from your returned books – I think that you will like EJ Howard and the Cazalet chronicles – we don’t lend them out enough these days. A real shame!”

And this was…what? Some FOUR years before BBC Radio 4 decided to credit Elizabeth J Howard for her societal, spiritual, humanitarian and yes – beautiful prose, dialogue and character-observation.

Oh, dearest BBC Radio 4 commissioners I hate to say this, but yes. I really want to say ‘I told you so.’ Elizabeth’s writing was and is amazing.  Tasty, profound, political – without being preachy. Even though many of her contemporaries – and especially the Literahti – perceive her to be ‘domestic, upper class. old fashioned commercial women’s fiction’

Cobblers, my fellas. Just read her stuff.

And yes, how I wish that Radio 4 had re-discovered her before the very recent time where her Cazalet Chronicles were snatched up as new fodder for a Radio 4 audience who had enjoyed ‘Downton Abbey’ etc… But hey. Better now, than never.

I was fortunate to have been able to correspond with her directly.  She was an exceptionally rare person. A woman able to disreguard the birth prejudices of all of us in terms of economic family of origin.  A fellow ‘starting writer in heart’ even though she soared above us all.  She adored books, grassroots, off-the-wall, boho society. She admired socialism, quakerism and pacifist thought. She venerated books and the ‘simple life’. Here was a woman who ‘way back when’ had braved the infamous Standedge Tunnel and who still admired those crazies of us, who still square ourselves up for that all too rare  200 years old tunnel experience right here and now on the waterways today.

And poignantly, she admired and priorised the extended family. She was a subtle reminder to us all that ‘love affairs’ of the heart can and do change but that actually ‘being a parent’ has nothing to do with whether you have actually given birth or not.That parenting per se goes far beyond biology, paperwork and gushing sentiment…

As for me, I will never forget her kind responses and encouragements to my yearning to write whilst being a mother to small children. And that particular encouragement as to how parking the mammoth Cazalet chronicles on the noggin of child number two might not simply lead to a ‘peculiarly shaped, flat-head’…. but also might lead to a life-long love of books and learning…

ej howard

Death Penalty – a light-hearted distaction for Tory screw-ups…

6 Aug

I know that I shouldn’t be shocked.  But  I am. Apparently it’s the power of the public. The power of the petition. If enough people have enough strong views about something or other – our adorable Members of Parliament get to collectively debate it. With the potential of re-establishing the legal -snuffing out of human life, according to how you and I (i.e. a Jury) believe what the evil scummers have done.

Yep – the old Death Penalty chestnut finally wriggled its way out of the Tory coffers this week. I hope that readers are canny enough to see that the massive amounts of press and media coverage that surrounded this ‘new debate’ have very much heralded a convenient DISTRACTION for the disasters that we are now encountering as a result of this Tory-led coalition.

 So far, all that we have seen from this Government is a load of witless rhetoric from a bunch of public schoolboys who have the money and backing to pay for their own oratory tutorials and to purchase soundbite-awareness and the best PR/ Media  private company representation. These are a bunch of toffs , for whom it is clear that the only experience to encountering  the lives of anyone remotely working class has
been to purchase a kebab from ‘Jason’s Kebab Van’ in the middle of Oxford, round about 2 am during Trinity term and after a thoroughly smashing debate at The Union about whether more people  from those dodgy postcode areas (Academies! The New Comprehsensives! Eeek!!)should be allowed into Oxbridge….

It strikes me as highly amusing that this Government are obviously wetting their pants at the transparency of their links with a certain Mr Murdoch. Furthermore, it reeks of desperation now, that they are now going for the approach of ‘Well – if we are going to go by the strength of numbers via the general public signing petitions – Hell! Let’s drag the old death penalty one out!! An awful lot of people think that the death penalty will help our country out of all of these problems!  So surely, we have to listen to these people as an example of basic democracy! (Hoo…and those muslim-sorts are also pro-capital punishment aren’t they? We can even win back THEIR votes! Course, we wouldn’t want to go or the full beheading malarky. Bit messy that.  We would go with something nice and sanitised like the lethal injection.  Make a note – send fact-finding mission to Louisiana ASAP’…

As someone who has had a lot more to do with the subject of capital punishment during the last ten years.  Sadly, more so than the average member of the population in the UK. I am afraid that my feelings are obviously a wee-bit biased.  But my reaction is also just a little bit déjà-vouzed right now.  I feel incredulous that we are returning to this stupid debate, yet again.   As someone who lost one of their most wonderful friends – to a barbaric and ill-administered (i.e. tortuous) execution in Texas only a few years ago, I  feel utterly depressed at the prospect of any UK citizen who buys into this pathetic diatribe of ‘an open and public debate on capital punishment.’

Those of you who already know me, may remember than my own written words of a seven year friendship, even the  words of my (then) 3 year old daughter – were quoted in USA courts as an example of the sinister threats imposed by a poor, innocent black guy who was stitched up from the word go.  Anthony joked in a letter to my little girl, Ruby that he would like to teach her to fish (as she had requested earlier), using the prosecuting lawyer ‘as bait’.  He shared the same impish sense of humour as I still do. We spent many years getting to know each other, taking the P out of each other, sending tiny little tokens of care and love (so far as you can from Texas when you are not allowed to send anything out other than a drawing, or a letter…..so far as you can from the UK when you can’t even send anything other than a card or something printed off on a computer).

Little did we know that the crazy letters that we sent during the last year of his life – mine, my daughter’s, my mother’s, my husband’s, even my muslim brother and family ‘s (whom many people WRONGLY supposed would be pro-death penalty..) were confiscated before delivery to him.  Each one of us were just quietly, doing their best  to try and keep this guys head above the water. To keep him from taking his own life at the horror of life in virtual solitary confinement in Texas. But ever letter was  seized and used as evidence of ‘a violent and corrupted mind’ of our friend. Anthony had never, ever had a violent criminal record. His only crime was being brought up in the ghettoes of Dallas, to an absent father and a mother who couldnt cope. As the second eldest he had to look out for all of his younger siblings. Now you tell me. How the hell does a nine year old boy manage to look after his tiny siblings within the 1970’s- to feed and clothe them – without learning the ropes of ‘coping’ aka the wavy blue line of the law?

So just before Anthony was 16 – he nicked a car.  I am sure that he had been doing dodgy stuff now and then before this.  But he got caught.   And there happened to be a few dollars in the glove box. So he got a double rap. He told me that he hadn’t even been aware of this.  The daft bugger.  And he got out of prison when he was well into his 20s.  He then went on to work as a volunteer, advising ex-offenders who had just gotten out of prison.  He volunteered for the NAACP.

I won’t use this opportunity to tell you about the horrendous corruption that followed this in relation to a violent incident that Anthony and his nephew Claude were alleged to have carried out.  Anthony was hundreds of miles away from the robbery and murder (and had evidence to prove this – which got ‘lost’ by the police). There are MANY reasons as to why this case became a ‘stitch up’ and I won’t go into it here.   I am all too aware that Anthony’s nephew, Claude – is now on the 11th year of his life sentence in Texas. I am all too aware that the words I have muttered before – even light hearted banter between Anthony and a toddler – can nail a life in good ol’ Texas.

When Anthony realised that he only had a a couple of weeks to live, he asked me to witness his execution and to be there for him as his best friend. Even now, a few years later, I am still horrified when I think that the daft words exchanged between him and myself, and my tiny daugther were re-constructed as to become a death threat to a US lawyer.  I still can’t believe that every letter of the last week prior to his execution was  held back until after his execution. So he never received my family’s last words of love. (They were returned to all of us two weeks after his execution with a handwritten ‘Inmate Deceased’ written on them).

The issue of the death penalty is so much bigger than us so-called ‘bleeding heart liberals’. That caring, sharing, enlightened bunch who feel sorry for the poor inmates who never had much of a chance in life….There are  of course, the victims to consider.  And although I know that Anthony was not ‘your typical death row inmate’ and his case was somewhat unusual, in terms of the death penalty per se for ‘an eye for an eye’ for me, getting to know about organisations such as ‘Murder Victims for Reconciliation’ simply took my breath away. I got to meet  people like Bud Welch whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing and who himself became friends with Timothyy McVeigh’s father when he realised that execution would only make his situation and experience as the father of a murdered daughter much, much worse. I met the mothers of murdered children both in the UK and the USA who had somehow (God only knows how – I don’t know if I could do this) moved beyond baying for blood and who wanted some peace and form of reconciliation.

But as Bud Welch himself said to me, ‘no one would ever think that Tim Mcveigh’s dad is a victim. But he is as just as much a victim as my daughter’s family are. He loved his son, did not want to see him also killed.  He knew that his son had been misguided and messed up the most horrible degree. And now Tim’s dad – this poor guy has had to change his identity, name, state, livelihood – all because of something is son- not him – did.   He is in exile. As are the rest of Tim’s family.  This goes for everyone who is remotely related to someone who is executed.’

Remember this. We are not just executing people that we think are guilty. We are executing entire families – parents, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters and tiny little children- who have done nothing to deserve losing their loved ones. This is not something that you can share during a lunch break with a sympathetic colleague.  This is not something that you can chat about nonchalently to your next door neighbour.  You child screws up big time – or is stitched up big time – and you also have your own life, your own freedom – snuffed out.

And yes, despite what many of their loved ones have done – they are still utterly loved…. and so these relatives’ own lives become miserable and scarred – and many of them will tell you that they feel that they are not even worth living  – as a result.

So please, before you open your mouth with an opinion on the death penalty. Think beyond your own gut reaction. I know that if anyone hurt my own family or friends, I would want to see the perpetrator dead.  I would want to nail the bastard myself.  I know that this is only a natural reaction.  But I also know that – through my own experience – that ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world toothless and blind’… You may feel better for a few seconds, after crushing the one who hurt your dearest so badly. But to be a human is to be more than just blood-lust and knee-jerk reaction.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1090

For more on how/ why I got into all of this – see www.lifelines-uk.org

me and ant  (PHOTO)