Monthly Archives: September 2014

Trope Spotting

Recently, I reached episode two-hundred of ‘Prisoner: Cell Block H’, an episode which contained a plot where top dog, Bea Smith, has amnesia. Now, I don’t normally entertain storylines about memory loss because, in my opinion, they are generally badly scripted, badly acted, and a bad excuse for a lazy writer to turn their villains into heroes and their heroes into victims (there are exceptions to the rule, of course, and one of these is the hollywood blockbuster ‘Memento’ which stars Aussie actor Guy Pearce); I also especially hate it when, for convenience’s sake, the writers decide to predictably smack these same characters over the head with a blunt object so that they can justify magically restoring their pasts and their previous personalities.

Funnily enough, I started watching Prisoner when I was locked up in an adolescent psychiatric unit at the age of fifteen. Finally, after almost a year of being disbelieved, fobbed off, and randomly accused of being on drugs by doctors, I received the diagnosis that I had retrograde, anterograde and post traumatic amnesia (not one but three bloody amnesias) and this was the result of an acquired brain injury; I also had clinical depression – but then who wouldn’t after all I’d been through – so it was decided that it would be for my own good to have inpatient treatment.

It was common practice, in the psychiatric unit, for us to be confined to our rooms from around nine pm (and lights out followed shortly afterwards). However, when ‘the two Anne’s were on the night shift they would sit up in the day room with their tea and biscuits watching Prisoner, and it became a ritual that anyone else who was a fan of the program could get to stay up to watch it too. By then I’d already gained an ‘us and them’ mentality, just like Bea Smith and the inmates of Wentworth, and I’d learnt to grab all the priviledges I could, especially if it meant putting one over on authority figures, and so I became a fan by default.

I suppose you could say I found affinity with the TV program and I continued watching it for several years after I was released. I also tuned in to the Canadian prison drama ‘Dangerous Woman’ when it was on UK Living and then later ‘Bad Girls’ followed by ‘Prison Break’, ‘Oz’ and more recently the TV shows ‘Wentworth’ and ‘Orange Is The New Black’. I did try to watch 1960s English prison drama ‘Within These Walls’ but Granada Gold showed the episodes in a random order and I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

Anyway, initially, I had to switch my laptop off ten minutes into this milestone episode because it was making me cringe. However, my fondess of the show won through; plus I was very curious to see how the story developed because, ironically, despite having watched nearly every Prisoner episode back in the nineties and early noughties, I have no recollection of Bea ever having amnesia. (I do, however, remember there being another storyline, much later in the series, which involved armed robber Reb Keane losing her memory – and I’m sure Reb was later released on compassionate grounds.)

The plot started off a couple of episodes earlier with Bea, a twice convicted murdress, and the only survivor of a road accident which occured whilst she was being transferred from Barnhurst back to Wentworth Detention Centre, stumbling from a prison van. Concussed and disorientated, she sought out her old home, then her daughter Debbie who unbeknowst to her had died, then finally Mum Brooks, an ex-con, who is out on parole (and the only person she can remember), before being recaptured and hauled back to Wenworth. Fair enough, I thought, it is a soap opera after all… And in the end, I quite enjoyed it, despite the cliched climax where Bea’s memory returns like the flick of a light switch, after she receives a predictable bump on the head during a bashing from fellow inmate Margot Gaffney.

Now, I would love to chew the fat with veteran actor Val Lehman aka Queen Bea about her inspiration and ideas behind that amnesia storyline. And, even better, if the producers of Wenthworth ever thought about re-enacting it with Danielle Cormack and wanted someone with real life experience (nudge, nudge)… well … I would be more than happy to step into the blue denim breech…

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The Amateur Detective Novelist

On Sunday I attended the tail end of Noirwich, Norwich’s first crime writing festival. I had never been to Norwich before, and I probably would have gone sooner, if only I had opened my Mslexia magazine when it arrived I’d have discovered that the bloody events kicked off on Wednesday.

My friend Elaine has been telling me for years that I should try my hand at writing crime fiction. She writes it herself and often asks me to proof read early drafts of her manuscripts because I’m good at spotting red herrings and unravelling literary puzzles – unfortunately the same can’t be said when it comes to TV and film versions, because I often get confused with who’s who when two or more characters of the same ethnicity, gender and approximate age appear on the screen at the same time.

The thing is – aside from trying to avoid the genre because I didn’t want to tarred as just another stereotypical lesbian mystery writer – I don’t actually know that much about crime fiction. I mean, OK, I’ve watched a fair few film noirs (Bound, Brick, Double Indemnity and most movies starring Humphrey Bogart) plus several series’ of Poirot in a row and, I did once attempt to cowrite a dystopian-lesbian-vegan detective script set in Glasgow during a fictitious third world war – but I’ve only ever read one Agatha Christie novel (and that was last month) and until recently not much else.

Elaine is also a retired procurator fiscal with a late husband who was in the CID, so she has connections stretching all the way from the court room to the rest room of her local police precint, whereas I haven’t got a clue about the law (aside from the stories I heard from my ex-students back in the creative writing class in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution).

Of course, what I’ve realised over the last few weeks, as I’ve been delving into everything from classic pulp fiction to tartan neo-noir, is that I much prefer hardboiled detective novels to police procedurals or cosy murder mysteries; and reading about forensics and post mortems bores me rigid.

So that’s a start I suppose.

At the moment, I’m working on my first assignment of module one, ‘Crime, Mystery And Suspense Writing’ from the distance learning course I’ve signed up to; I’m also trying to figure out who to kill off and who to frame in my novel ‘Kingstreet’ (previously a transgender comedy about a troupe of drag kings who enter a Glaswegian LGBT talent contest), because after seven years of cutting and tweaking and trying to get the story lines right I’ve decided to lose the whole plot and recast my narrator as an accidental amateur detective who just happens to be transsexual.

Personally I think there’s a lot of mileage in using things like false beards and spirit gum. Old Agatha seemed to think so anyway, and she’s still a best seller.

When Vag Met Veg

It has been a very exciting week: first of all I managed to buy the first ever edition of ‘Vegan Life’ (a mainstream magazine which promotes cruelty-free living in the UK) in my local WH Smith; then my much-anticipated copy of ‘Out There’ (the first Scottish writing anthology in over twenty years dedicated to showcasing the work of LGBT authors) dropped into my mailbox. Throw in an episode of ‘Wentworth’ season two, and a tasty romantic meal in a Vietnamese restaurant in Colchester where the waiter didn’t even blink at the two thirty-something gay ladies cozied up in the corner sharing their vegetable spring rolls, and life really couldn’t get any better. Or so I thought.

Earlier today, Antonia and I reached the highligh of our week when we took a trip to Cineworld in Ipswich to see ‘Pride’, a movie about a London-based gay and lesbian group who changed history when they campaigned to raise money for the families affected by the Welsh mining strikes in the summer of 1984. Now, I rarely find new films these days that make me laugh out loud, never mind ones that pack an emotional punch that leaves my guts twisting and my eyes watering at the end. But this one did. And I recommend that everyone – gay, straight, in between or undecided – buy a ticket to see this.

I think the part of the film that resonated most with me was when Gwen, an octogenarian Welsh lady played by Menna Trussler, asked the principal female couple if it was true that all lesbians were vegetarians. One of them replied, ‘Actually we’re vegan.’ This prompted a gleeful response from both myself and Antonia, and since then I can’t stop thinking about Portia and Ellen Degeneres and Ellen Page and all the other visible celesbivegans. (The jury’s still out on Anne Hathaway’s bisexuality) Not that I am suggesting that all lesbians have an aversion to animal products. Or that all vegans have a predisposition to gayness. It’s just that in the days before I joined the VEG (Vegan Edinburgh Glasgow) group, the only vegans (or lapsed ones) I’d ever met were queer women (or ‘leaf munchers’ as I like to call them).

Anyway, I remember having this conversation at VEG before, about what can happen when one persecuted minority group meets another persecuted minority group, and I think we all agreed that people who opt for an ‘alternative’ lifestyle are usually more openminded and have more sympathy for others who are in some way marginalised.

Personally, I found coming out as vegan more problematic than coming out as gay. And it was other folk’s attitudes and the scarily aggressive stance they took when they found out I was a meat avoider which hindered me: ‘But it’s not normal,’ they’d say looking terribly offended, or ‘well, I don’t agree with only eating vegetables’; and heaven forbid if I was to suggest dining at a place that didn’t serve steak.

To quote Wentworth’s Nicole Da Silva aka Frankie Doyle: ‘I don’t eat sausage… I’m a vagitarian.’

And I’m bloody proud.

In And Around The Rabbit Hole

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So yesterday, after several weeks of planning our first post-move-to-Sudbury trip to London, Antonia and I managed to miss the 9.30am train. Personally, I was raging because I’d booked an appointment at ‘The Rabbit Hole’ – a vegan hair salon in Shepherd’s Bush – I’d never been before, and I didn’t know where it was, and I wanted to walk around then go for lunch at To-Fu, a vegan Asian-fusion buffet, which was only a few minutes walk from the hair salon.

Antonia, non-chalantly, suggested we go to Waitrose so that she could have her daily cup of free tea, whilst we waited another hour for the next train. (This is typical of her, because she used to spend the Monday afternoons she had off college in IKEA with our friend Sophie Norman aka ‘the original bean cruncher’, just to enjoy unlimited cups of tea) She’d also brought some homemade blueberry muffins with her. Sorry, ‘enchanted bluebell’ muffins. Apparently, they’d been ‘energised with crystal magic and love’. Hmm. So that’s what she was doing in my kitchen the other day when she was dancing round, swinging a quartz pendulum over the cooker, whist making dinging noises.

When we finally arrived, it turned out the Asian-Fusion place had shut down. This was doubly disappointing because a) we only had an hour to eat lunch then find the hair salon and b) the words ‘vegan’ and ‘buffet’ rarely go together. Instead, we found a lovely wee place called ‘The Green Café’, which although not specifically meat-free, did have the best hummus and falafel wraps I’ve ever tasted – everything was homemade; and it was a bonus that the wraps were made from dairy-free naan bread, because naan usually contains yoghurt.

From there, we walked around the market and I commented on how I’d never seen so many women wearing veils. Antonia said it reminded her of the Glasgow Barras. I couldn’t quite see the connection myself: a traditional muslim woman hanging around the East End of Glasgow, in a full body burka, is more likely to receive abuse than a stall to sell her oriental vegetables on.

Dori, the Hungarian hairdresser, who owns The Rabbit Hole messaged to say that the place was ‘hidden’ inside an old barber’s shop with a yellow door – there were in fact two barber’s shops in Goldhawk Road with yellow doors so if it hadn’t been for Antonia, I might have ended up with a Sweeny Todd special.

It was dark inside The the Rabbit Hole, and as I moved through the entrance I had the vaguest feeling that I was floating inches above the ground, because I couldn’t see my feet. I was met by a hat-wearing hairdresser who didn’t actually work there (yet), but she looked like she fitted right in with the tea pot wallpaper, and the white rabbit mosaic, and the beautiful bespoke light fittings with the tea cups on the ends. Neither Dori nor Natalie the hatter seemed phased at all when I said I wanted ‘rising phoenix’ hair.

I had a lovely afternoon. And despite the whimsical backdrop, the weirdest thing that happened – apart from my crazy mane snapping a brush in two – was when two strange men barged in like mafia during my shampoo. (It turned out they were father and son, and the older man was the previous owner who’d apparently come over from Cyprus to reminisce)

It was nice being able able to say ‘yes’ to a cup of coffee with almond milk, and nicer not having to ask what was on the ingredients list at the back of the shampoo bottle. (A visit to the hair dressers’ really shouldn’t have to involve worrying whether the stuff they’re putting on your noggin contains dead prawns or some equally unpleasant animal cadaver but often does for vegans.)

When I emerged over four hours later with my new copper and blonde bonce, I had worked up an appetite. And Antonia was in a brilliant mood because she’d gotten a gorgeous new cut-price ’do because it turned out Natalie was there for a trial at the salon. So we caught the tube to Itadaki Zen at King’s Cross, where we took photos of each other eating a lot of very tasty vegan Japanese food that we couldn’t pronounce. And I dropped my chopsticks thirty or forty times and chased my rice around the plate for an hour before Antonia asked for a spoon on my behalf.

Back at Liverpool Street Station, Antonia still wasn’t completely satisfied until she’d bought a cup of tea to drink on the train whilst eating one of her magic muffins. I couldn’t eat anything else because I’d scoffed her sushi and half of her miso soup as well as my own.

When I got home it was nearly midnight, and I was so tired I didn’t even watch Wentworth.

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