Tag Archives: Sudbury

The Last Post

  

Today is my thirty-seventh birthday and the first anniversary of my residency in England; it’s also my final post for this blog.

Right from the start, I’d always intended for Bean Love to be a year long project, so I’m really happy to have gone the distance with it, even if I did go a little off topic a lot of the time.   

Back in the summer of 2014, when I decided to chronicle my house move from Renfrew’s concrete jungle to Sudbury’s soporific pastures, I knew that I would also be embarking on an intense psychological journey that would not only catapult me, as a disabled person, into a greater state of independence, but it would push me to diversify my writing even further as well as making or breaking my relationship with Antonia. I wanted to record my journey in a way that I could share it with people back home who I was unlikely to see for a while, which is why I chose to make the blog public. I’d also just finished reading Alison Bechdel’s ‘The Complete Dykes To Watch Out For’, and it reminded me of some of my friends and what I call the ‘Bean Scene’, and I was tickled by the idea of writing about queer culture and the way we gay ladies often perpetuate lesbian stereotypes ourselves.

Antonia, the wee delicate flower that she is (or was) said that moving to Glasgow was a ‘culture shock’ for her: she’d never before been exposed to the grittiness of West Coast living, nor had she encountered off-licenses with electronically-tagged Buckfast bottles; she’d also never heard anyone refer to their friend as a ‘cunt’ by way of friendly greeting and, as a result, she gained a whole new vocabulary in the three and a half years she spent there.

But was it a culture shock for me? Well, yes and no.

Sudbury is different from both Renfrew and Glasgow in lots of subtle ways: for instance, a garden here is not a garden unless it is at least half an acre, and most people talk ‘proper’ English and can’t understand half of what I say; there aren’t many buses in Sudbury either, because not many people need to use the bus – Antonia says most folk in this town wouldn’t even consider having less than two cars per household and that her family (of six) once had half a dozen cars in the driveway, and that was when two of them couldn’t even drive. Then there’s the ladies at the tennis club, who were terribly offended by the whole Scottish independence thing because they couldn’t understand why ‘but why?!’ Scottish people wouldn’t want to be in the United Kingdom. Of course, everyone is Sudbury is perfectly polite and nice to me – at least to my face – and on one of the two occasions I’ve heard someone shouting in the street here, one of the culprits sounded like they were from Govan.

Much like Renfrew, there’s not a big bean scene in Sudbury, nor is there a vegan one. But I know we’re not the only queers or meat avoiders in the village because I’ve seen a few lady-couples tramping around town in their wellies and Barbour jackets; and after recently joining the Suffolk Vegan group on Facebook, I’ve discovered there are a few fellow herbivores hiding in plain sight in Gainsborough Street’s ‘Niche Café’ behind their super salads. There’s also not much going on in terms of literary events and networks; and after my own attempt to start up the ‘Breakfast Writers’ Club’ failed, I joined the over fifty-five’s group at the library (and so far no-one has complained that I’m nearly two decades too young).

If my recent trip back to Scotland has taught me one thing it’s this: I am incredibly lucky to have lived in a place that allowed me easy access to the various diverse communities that helped shape the person I am today; and this, in turn, has prompted me to think about going back more often, as well as making me want to put more effort into venturing out into London and some of the other East Anglian towns in search of my tribe.

Overall, I’m stepping up my game in the coming year: I’ve been invited to an interview in East Acton with prison arts organisation the Koestler Trust, and I’ve posted my application for an eleven-week course aimed advanced writers in Covent Garden; I’ve also just signed the lease on my apartment for another year. And whilst, this may be my last post on this blog, I’m not saying I’ll never blog again, nor am I saying this is the last you’ll hear of Bean Love… a wise friend recently suggested that I should consider rewriting it as a work of fiction… and, you know what, I just might do that…

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Building Up My Endurance In A Literal Sense

I’ve covered a lot of ground this week in terms of both mental and physical goals: a solo trip to Ipswich on Monday; a coffee meet-up in Colchester on Tuesday; and then I jogged from my house to Long Melford and back (just over five miles) on both Wednesday and Thursday.

I thought it was about time I went to some places without Antonia that weren’t simply the co-op or the gym or Caffe Nero; because I’ve been in Sudbury for more than six months now, and even though going out for me means committing extra hours to route-planning and wandering round in circles (when I could simply stay home and write), it feels much more satisfying to do things independently.

I also wanted to re-ignite my passion for running.

A lot of people who read this blog will have seen me out pounding the Renfrew pavements many many times. Because for the best part of seventeen years I was always training for a ten mile race or a half marathon or simply trying to improve my stamina. I used to regularly do a ten kilometre round trip from Renfrew to Paisley and back (because I was scared of varying my route when I was out on my own in case I got lost) and in 2006 during my preparation for the Edinburgh marathon I did this multiple times a day. Aside from that, running helped fuel my writing because I’m a kinetic thinker, and for me there’s nothing quite like striding along with the wind in my hair and letting the ideas bounce around in my brain.

That was until a couple of years ago when I ended up with plantar fasciitis*. And the pains in my feet were so severe that I was forced to give up running for nine months. I tried swimming instead, but it just wasn’t the same. And because my running was so intrinsically linked with the the words I normally put down on paper, my ability to come up with new and exciting stories began to suffer too. As did my diet, because even though I’m one of those vegans who prefers a bowl of cherries to a bag of sweets or a lentil bake instead of a fry up, I stopped caring about what I put into my body because I thought ‘what’s the point?’.

But my injuries eventually healed. And when they did it was my confidence that stopped me from getting back up on my feet, so to speak. I tentatively tried running again for fifteen or twenty minutes and I realised I’d put on weight – not huge amounts, but I wobbled in places I previously didn’t and I felt sluggish and, well, sweaty – and this made it hard for me to get motivated.

And this went on for several months. Until I moved house. That’s when I made a decision to start again from scratch, to forget about races and medals and fitness targets and simply get up out of bed and do SOMETHING. Within two weeks of living in Sudbury, I joined the local gym and I started going to karate and yoga and jogging for a few kilometres on the treadmill twice a week. (I also went along to a running club but that didn’t work out because on week one I stopped to tie my shoelace and the others left me eating their dust; the second week they abandoned a sixteen-year-old newbie at night in a secluded woodland area who had no clue where she was going – I was one of two people who ran back for her and after that, I decided it was the wrong club for me.)

Last week I did fourteen miles on the treadmill whilst watching the entirety of eighties’ movie ‘Inner Space’. It’s the longest time I’ve ever spent on a treadmill and the furthest I’ve run in about three years. And although I was pleased I’d managed it, there was also a feeling of anti-climax, because at the end of the day I was still in the same place. And I knew that if my writing was ever going to go anywhere again, because it has been stuttering along recently, then I had to put myself back out into the world.

I chose Long Melford as my fledgling destination because I’d been there a few times, and because it’s pretty difficult (even for me) to get lost, seeing as I only have to walk to the end of my street and cross the road and keep running in a straight line. And I simply woke up on Wednesday morning, got my trainers on and just went for it; no procrastination, no stopping, no looking back.

Antonia says she might come running with me some time. She’s been getting back into her tennis and wants to sign up to the gym too. It feels nice getting fit together, and I’ve been manically reading lots of superfood and wholefood recipes so that we can cook tasty healthy things – I’m not going overboard with it though, and no way am I going without my cherry pie from Co-op!

 

*Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining or tearing the ligament that supports the arch

The Breakfast Writers Club

breakfast writer club

Yesterday, I kickstarted the new year by distributing my first bundle of fliers for the new creative writing group that I’m setting up in Sudbury.

I’ve called it ‘The Breakfast Writers Club’, partly because I want this to be an early morning group, but also because I’m a huge John Hughes’ fan, and I love his 1985 brat pack film ‘The Breakfast Club’, where a jock (Emilio Estevez), a geek (Anthony Michael Hall), a rich girl (Molly Ringwald), a rebel (Judd Nelson) and a compulsive liar (Ally Sheedy) are forced to spend Saturday detention together, despite being from different social cliques.

Now I’m not suggesting that all writers are misfits (although a lot of them are) or that a motley crew will turn up en masse to greet me (I can but hope), but I have been to many, many writing related events and I’ve certainly met a few, shall we say, classics:

For example, the first time I actually went out and discussed my stereotypically teenage angst-ridden scribbles with other people was when I enrolled in a creative writing module at college when I was nineteen. There was an ex-librarian in my class whose brilliant, and often eerie, on-the-bone poems appeared in epileptic bursts, hampered by the same depressive illness that had rendered her unfit for work; then there was the pyromaniac goth boy who’d been expelled for setting fire to his school, and his friend who claimed he wanted to be a vampire and was saving up to have his teeth filed into fangs – both of them wrote horror stories and were obsessed with internet roleplaying games; lastly, there was the vegetarian jewish girl who wanted to write sting-in-the-tale stories for womens’ magazines – she had a very ascerbic wit, and I honestly think she may have been the most successful student if only she hadn’t let her family grind her down with their ideas of what a ‘real job’ was.

Another instance was when I turned up early and enthusiastic at a local writer’s group in my area (this was about six or seven years ago) only to be told by an elderly gentleman with a permanent scowl, who appeared to be running things, that I was half an hour late – it transpired that they had changed the time slot some weeks before but hadn’t actually rectified the advert. That same scowling gentleman (who I later dubbed ‘The Critic’) then went on to tell me that I was ‘as useful as a chocolate fireguard’ because I hadn’t brought any samples of my work – because I believe it’s bad manners to turn up at an established writing group and thrust half your novel in someone’s face at the first meeting. He also told a terribly nice old lady in her eighties that her short story was ‘absolute crap’, and when I tried to intervene with something a wee bit more constructive he told me there was ‘no point sugar-coating it’ and ‘when something’s crap just say it’s crap’. Needless to say I wasn’t a member for very long.

There have been other groups of course: some incredibly sucessful, some not so much. When I did my masters degree at Glasgow Uni we were assigned to editorial groups at random and most of them disbanded within a few short months. The group I was assigned to in my second year was at one point the only one left standing and we actually had to start turning away other students who wanted to join! Since then I’ve tried day long workshops and weekend retreats; and coffee shop meetups with friends who wanted to have-a-go; there have also been online writing circles where you’ve had to email your work to complete strangers; and more recently I was part of an intimate all-female collective called ‘Wild Women’.

I decided to start the Breakfast Writers Club because there is currently no creative writing group in Sudbury – I understand the library on Market Hill is in the process of setting one up for the over-fifties, and I think that’s great, but I am looking for a more diverse age range (one that I’m officially old enough to attend). I’ve realised over the years that it’s crucial, for me personally, to have other writers to talk and socialise with. I have tried going it alone, but I’m really not the most adept judge of my own work; and sitting glowering at a blank laptop screen for weeks on end when I’m in a creative rut just doesn’t work for me.

I wholeheartedly believe that criticism (when it’s constructive), an audience, and a relaxed space that isn’t just your kitchen table, are key ingredients in balancing the personal and the artistic in a writer’s life; and I really hope that by starting this group I’ll attract a few likeminded individuals.