Tag Archives: Suffolk

The Breakfast Writers Club

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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.

Return Journeys

It’s been twenty-one weeks since I moved four-hundred-and-one-miles from a housing scheme in Glasgow to the rural confines of sleepy Suffolk, yet despite the knuckle-biting relocation not much has really changed:

For instance, I am still the same prison-drama-obsessed, rom-com-watching supergay weirdo (even though I have exhausted all the cutesy lesbian feel-good movies and the new episodes of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and ‘Wentworth’); and the only reason I recently took a break from episode two-hundred-and-seventy-seven of ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’ was because I’d become hooked on ‘Misfits’, a sci-fi comedy about a group of young offenders who acquire superpowers.

Weeks after I arrived in Sudbury I joined a gym and I took up running again (nine point five miles is the furthest I’ve gone this year) but only on the treadmill; I also enrolled in wado-ryu karate and six weeks later notched up a first class pass that enabled me to acquire my *cough* white belt.

My writing continued as always: I finally finished a manuscript that I started nearly a decade ago, and I twice received a hundred percent scores for assignments three and four of the long distance crime fiction writing course I started in September; I also read an Agatha Christie novel for the first time, and set my new vegan-lesbian-detective-parody novella in Sudbury – ideas are also brewing for a London-based follow-up story.

I had high hopes that I would join a local writing group and go into London more often. However, there was no local writing group (although I believe there will be one starting in January for the over-fifty-fives), and commuting on the train was trickier and more costly than I’d anticipated (particularly since Antonia has had to travel with me so that I don’t get lost).

My parents came to visit in October and then Sophie followed for eight days in November. And although we’ve had a few good trips around East Anglia and a lot of nice meals in various eateries (some exclusively vegetarian, some not) it’s not the same as seeing them on your own familiar soil.

So I’m going back to Scotland on Monday. And it’s slightly daunting. I’ve had to seriously cut back on christmas presents and clothes to wear because I can’t fit everything in my suitcase – and no way am I leaving my hair straighteners behind! There’s also the lone train ride from London Euston to Glasgow where I just know I’m going to lose my seat when I go to the toilet because I can’t remember the way back to it – and also, what happens to my suitcase if I go for a pee?! (Antonia and I decided I should go home alone this christmas but she’s travelling with me half way)

I’m looking forward to it, of course: the jaunt back to Renfrew for Tofurkey Roast with my family; seeing my friends, Sophie, Nicola and Fiona aka The Original Mixed Bean (whose house I am staying at for most of the trip); and I can’t wait to darken the doors of my old haunt ‘The Thirteenth Note’ because I’m desperate for a bowl of chips with rosemary salt and a soya rum’n’raisin hot chocolate.

Call To Adventure

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Today is my thirty-sixth birthday and I am moving four-hundred-and-one miles to a new house in a new country, to Sudbury (in Suffolk), the hometown of my English artist girlfriend.

Antonia and I have decided not to live together and she thinks this makes us like Frida Kahlo and Diego:

I said: ‘You can be the one with the monobrow then.’

To this she replied: ‘You’ve obviously never seen a picture of Diego Rivera – he looks like a cross between a pit bull and a pig.’

Later, she chased me around the bedroom whilst brandishing a pair of slanted tweezers, and when she caught me and pinned me down I got my revenge by accidentally farting in her lap. This, of course, is just a typical day in the life of our three-and-a-half-year-old relationship. The teasing, the laughter, the intimacy that comes from allowing another person to know you bottom burps and all – that’s what we call ‘Bean Love’. Of course, usually it’s me accosting her with the tweezers.

By the time this blog goes out to the world I shall hopefully – weather, traffic and pee-and-tea stops dependant – be crossing the threshold of my new abode. However, there is always the chance that Antonia’s father (who is normally a very reasonable and laid back individual) will maim or murder one or both of us en route, or perhaps just abandon us outside a random motorway service station with our cardboard Costa Coffee sippy cups, our pre-packed vegan sandwiches, and (if we’re lucky) a big yellow polysterene thumb to attract a lift from a friendly driver-by…

It took me nearly two months to plan and pack for this journey. This was partly due to my constant petit mal seizures and my memory problems which caused me to misplace objects every few minutes or forget that I’d already boxed them; and partly because I made the decision to sell, gift and recycle about seventy-five percent of my possessions. (Antonia – who is as far as I’m concerned is a DIY genius – very cleverly upcycled the writing desk she bought me three years ago as a birthday gift into an over-the-bed sliding table so that it would fit into my gorgeous but miniscule new apartment.)

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It wasn’t easy letting go of my old life though, and over the last few weeks I’ve felt like a human conduit exorcising a myriad of demons and angels alike: I’m leaving behind family, and friends I’ve known for over a decade; over a hundred fairly decent paperback novels (and a few dreadful ones), plus a really rewarding job as a writer-in-residence at the local young offender’s instituation.

But the time is right for me to move on.

I have lived in six houses to date – and aside from a ten month hiatus sometime around the millenium when my family moved five and a half miles along the road to Erskine, all of those houses have been in sleepy Renfrew. I’m hoping now that my itchy feet and my desire to experience new parts of the globe will lead me to lucky number seven.

I suppose the Achilles’ heel in this whole plan is that I am good at abandoning things at the eleventh hour, especially creative projects, and promises I’ve made to myself; I came close to leaving once before when I almost went to Aberystwyth to do a creative writing phd; and only last week I began having second thoughts about this whole going-to-England adventure after discovering that my new street hadn’t been hooked up yet with fibre optic broadband. Pretty ridiculous, I know.

Antonia says it’s all self-sabotage. She says it’s like that time a few weeks ago when I went indoor climbing with her and our friend Amanda: I got seventy-five percent of the way up the wall and then suddenly aborted because I couldn’t figure out how to reach the next hand hold.

And she’s absolutely right.

My new house is conveniently placed on a main street near a sports centre, a library, and a coffee shop that sells tasty egg-and-dairy-free cherry scones. What more could a budding novelist want? It is also diagonally above Caffe Nero’s where I can totally imagine myself getting my morning mango and orange cooler fix whilst people-watching behind a pair of oversized dark glasses and my laptop…

All that besides, the deposit on the new pad is paid, as is the insurance premium; and I’ve signed up with EE for a year of unlimited internet access and given official notice on my old flat… Whatever happens now whether it’s embracing homelessness or life in Suffolk, or crawling back to my old box room at my parents’ house, my life is about to radically change…

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