Tag Archives: writing

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…

Penning Anger

Recently, whilst updating my CV, I was reminded of the first poem I ever had published (in ‘Big!’ magazine): it was written during the time I spent as a fifteen-year-old inpatient in an adolescent psychiatry unit, and I use the word ‘poem’ very loosely here, because really it was just a rant with a rhyming scheme.

Back then, I was very angry a lot of the time: angry at my parents because they’d sent me to that place, and angry at the medical staff because their job was to ‘spy’ on me; mostly though, I was angry at myself and my lack of control over the situation; and the only thing that made me feel better was channeling my thoughts onto paper. Of course, I had a lot of alone time in the unit, so I had ample opportunity to write a lot of hateful letters over the three and a half month period I spent locked up; some of them were to my friends complaining about my ‘arsehole’ parents who’d left me in that place to rot, and about my ill-treatment at the hands of the ‘evil’ psychiatric nurses who followed me everywhere and were clearly out to ruin my life; but most were to Victor Bog-off, the foul-mouthed editor of the Big! letters page, who replied to all correspondence from his fans by showering them with abuse. I can’t remember what I said in those letters, but I know I wrote to him on average about three times a week with all my various woes, and it didn’t deter me when everyone else around me said his mailbag would be so full of other people’s letters he’d never get to read mine. 

Ironically, when the poem (which contained the last line ‘so bog off you great piece of snot’) was selected for publication, I was completely unaware of it – and I only found out that it had made it into print when I received a variety of stares, sniggers and whispers as I trotted into the dinner hall on my very first day back at school after my release; and one teenage girl I vaguely knew held up her copy of Big! magazine and cried, ‘oh my god, you’re famous!’

It’s interesting for me to look back on these small triumphs because not only does it help to see how far I’ve come, but it also reminds me of how much my outlook on life has changed: nowadays I’d rather turn tragedy into comedy; and I’m driven, not by rage, but by the ability to look at life from many odd angles and to laugh at myself.

Loyalty

When Antonia first suggested ‘loyalty’ as the theme for this week’s blog, my mind turned immediately to thoughts of longstanding friendships, and to partnerships and marriages and family ties, before pendulum-ing in the direction of disloyalty, misplaced loyalty, infidelity and betrayal.  Next, I thought of patriotism, of leaving Scotland, and of nationalism and the thinly-veiled anti-Scottish statements I’ve heard since arriving in Sudbury; and from there my ideas spiralled till they covered everything from naziism and neo-naziism to  secondary virtues such as duty, benevolence, sacrifice and servitude.  Finally, I considered my own loyalty, not specifically to my country or even towards other people, but to the extended beliefs and principles and humanitarian causes that have mattered to me over the years, as well as the commitments I’ve made towards maintaining my personal fitness and crafting out a career as a writer.

I have been vegan for nearly half my life now, and I’ve regarded myself a writer for an even longer period: I decided when I was seventeen that I would write a book about myself, my experiences and my views on the world, and I did (although at the time, there were many skeptics); and two years later, I pledged to follow a plant-based diet and to avoid wearing and using the by-products of animals, and I have stuck to that resolve despite the harsh criticisms from others. 

There have been other instances in my life, however, where I have not been quite so purposeful: I’ve started many short pieces of prose that have languished uncompleted in notebooks that are now gathering dust, and I once abandoned an arts council funded novel eight chapters in because on completion of my research (which involved travelling round several Scottish islands and trying to embrace their customs) I became disheartened with the subject matter; in January 2014, I made two New Year’s resolutions a) I would include more raw food in my diet in a bid to be healthier, and b) I would beat an old sports record of mine by running five kilometres in under twenty-five minutes.  I ate a lot of ‘Nakd’ bars that year, and possibly bought kale twice; I also grew bored of sprinting and took up both swimming and long distance running (which I always favoured over short distances) once again.   

 It used to be that when I set a challenge for myself, I’d be hell-bent on following it through to the finish, no matter how ill or unhappy it made me, or what the consequences were; and this was doubly to my detriment as I included kamikaze relationships and friendships into this equation, and the result was often a negative one albeit a frequent learning curve. I used to think that calling time on a goal or a friendship that was making me miserable was equivalent to throwing in the towel, to having no staying power, to being a failure; and during those times, I often found it hard to stay true to my own core values. 

Over time, it has become easier to align my beliefs and my interpersonal connections with others: I have made friends with other people who are vegan (or who want to be), and being in a relationship with someone who is as dedicated to her artwork as I am to my writing helps me to feel grounded; I also consider myself very lucky to have a partner who cares as much about ecology and ethical veganism as I do.

The Sex Issue

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It’s three PM and I’m sitting in Cafe Jacqui’s with my Diet Pepsi and the sex issue of Diva trying to decide on what to write for this week’s blog. I feel a tiny bit awkward because I hadn’t actually realized that the May issue was the sex issue: I simply grabbed the magazine on a whim as I was rushing out of the house, thinking that reading one of the monthly columns might unlock some inspiration; but now I keep looking surreptitiously over my shoulder to see if the two octogenarian ladies at the table behind me have noticed on one of their many trips to the toilet that I am perusing a publication that is full of naked ladies.

Not that I’m particularly shy about my sexual orientation – my days of playing the pronoun game whilst trying to maintain a hetero charade are long and truly over, and there would quite possibly be a murder if Antonia ever heard me referring to her as ‘Toni’ – but similar to comedienne Susan Calman, I grew up in a household where sex was an untouchable subject (throats were cleared and channels were switched over whenever there was an ounce of nudity, or snogging scenes got a bit racy on the telly); and like she says in her latest article (‘It’s Getting Hot In here’), I also would ‘really rather we didn’t talk about it at all, thank you very much’.

And I know, that this might come as a surprise to some people – especially those writer friends of mine who’ve read the graphic lesbian sex scene in my girl-meets-girl novel ‘Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz’, not to mention the post-bath-time chapter early on where my young butch narrator gets on down with a hand-mirror to examine her vagina for the first time – but I really am quite shy when it comes to watching, reading about or discussing carnal topics; it’s all very well making my characters hot and horny and sexually liberated between the sheets of my manuscripts, but those people aren’t me – and if they were, I certainly wouldn’t be giving anyone a running commentary of what I get up to in the privacy of my bedroom!

To be on the safe side, I decide to quickly flick past the top five sex toy guide and the photographs of scantily-dressed couple Emily and Ali, and fix my gaze on Joanna Benecke’s queer grooming column. This month’s focus is on ethical make up and it includes the low down on Super Drug’s B range, a new-to-the-UK vegan brand called Pacifica Beauty, and a company called VF who specialise in cruelty-free face paint (veganfaces.co.uk); there is also an information box which goes into detail about
shark liver oil, boiled animal fat and other unappealing ingredients like cochineal beetles that are used in the production of non-vegan makeup, and I begin reading it with the best intentions, right before my gaze accidentally wanders to the opposite page where there’s a P!nk For Peta advert featuring the caption ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ alongside an au naturale picture of pop star Alecia Moore…

I don’t stay to read the next page which is about masturbation (another theme which has popped up multiple times in my writing) because I realise it’s nearly closing time, and besides I’m starting to sweat inside my hoody and I’m not certain it’s the heat that’s causing that. Also, I’m not sure whether the owner (who just walked past) was coughing loudly because she wanted me to leave because she was anxious to clear up and go home, or whether she just wanted me and my cheeky magazine to leave, period. Alternatively, I suppose she may just have had a summer cold.

As soon as I go home I plan to have a cuppa and a Nakd bar whilst checking out the film and TV reviews on pages thirty-one to thirty-three, before Antonia comes hammering on my door for her dinner; because, really, that’s about as risqué as I get.

Self-Love-Hate

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Yesterday I created a collage out of a pile of old ‘Diva’* magazines. I’ve called it ‘Self-Love-Hate’ because it mirrors the way I often feel about myself and my writing. It also represents the shifting internal homophobia that many lesbian women experience throughout different points in their lives.

I got the idea from Julia Cameron’s ‘Vein Of Gold: A Journey To Your Creative Heart’, which is a companion volume to her acclaimed self-help manual,‘The Artist’s Way’. First published in 1996, Cameron describes VOG as ‘a pilgrimage’, ‘a journey of healing’ and ‘a prescription for artful living’, and it includes advice on how to combat creative stumbling blocks as well as over a hundred inspiring and imaginative exercises which focus on ‘inner play’. (I have been working through this book for over five years now, and although it has produced several light bulb moments, I’ve sometimes found it to be a bit of a slog)

Anyway, yesterday’s cut-n-paste task appeared on page two-hundred-and-fifty-five in section six of the book which is entitled ‘The Kingdom Of The Relationship’ – the book is separated into seven sections each one dealing with a different aspect of creative restoration. Here, along with other recommendations on how to evade destructive interactions, it is suggested that you collage your most toxic creative relationship. This was initially a bit of a puzzle for me, because having read several of her other books I am more than familiar with her thoughts on how to eradicate the people she refers to as ‘crazy-makers’ and ‘creative monsters’; and I realised that after doing many of Cameron’s exercises (and attending one of her conferences in London last year) that I’ve successfully managed to ditch, diminish or diffuse all of the other negative influences in my life. So… the only person left was myself.

The thing is, I have had several small successes over the last few months: I’ve finally finished a collection of short stories and a novella, as well as receiving a hundred percent on four out of five of the assignments related to the distance learning crime fiction course I’ve been doing. But often these tiny wins are only enough to stave off doubts for a few hours or (if I’m lucky) days; and then I’m back to storming through the house like a tasmanian devil, threatening to destroy every word count and manuscript in my path. And I don’t know why I’m like this. Or when it started. (I suspect it’s been a gradual disintegration of confidence over the years that one day suddenly snowballed.) There’s no point speculating though. It only leads to procrastination and then frustration because I could have been using that wasted time to solve a plot-orientated issue.

It’s no surprise to me (or to Antonia who once received a rather risque Diva-inspired valentines collage from me) that my hotch-potch of clippings included naked ladies; there were also three pictures of Wentworth’s Nicole Da Silva (aka Frankie Doyle) alongside Orange Is The New Black’s Lea Delaria (Big Boo) and Laura Prepon (Alex). The word ‘queer’ appeared three times in different fonts as did the word ‘vegan’. The collage wasn’t intended to be a masterpiece. I simply cut things out willy nilly as I skimmed through the pages, so any subtexts that may have arisen are accidents. And in retrospect I think it’s far too cluttered, and I could have did without captions such as ‘study this’ and ‘I’m changing my name’ and ‘how to write pulp’. It was a worthwhile exercise though, and I enjoyed doing it. But I’m still waiting for the ‘clarity and relief’ that Cameron claimed came to her when she worked on this same theme.

I asked Antonia what she thought of my new magnum opus and how it fared in comparison to my previous collages. She simply shrugged and said: ‘I don’t know, hen, they all look the same to me.’

*Diva is popular UK magazine about lesbian life and style

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

Hope

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a writer. And my end goal has always been to get my work in front of the eyes of as many readers as possible. I had my first poem printed in a magazine when I was fifteen, and since then I’ve submitted many many other pieces (mostly prose) to publishers, and have had several mini successes with small press publications and local competitions as well as a book deal for my autobiography. I’ve also spent years going to writing workshops, seminars, courses, you name it, all in the name of honing my craft.

So it has been challenging, not to mention frustrating, recently, when an increasing number of people have been suggesting that I should self-publish my novel, because that’s something that was never part of my plan.

Now, I have no qualms with other people self-publishing their own work – in fact, I can understand why it might be a good idea for them: modern technology has made it possible for anyone to have-a-go at putting their writing on kindle; they can even jaunt off to a printers and arrange hard copies on a shoe string budget; there’s also the option of print-on-demand; and through all of this they have complete control of their manuscript: no editor or higher literary powers-that-be calling on them to make compromises with their baby. But there is no getting away from the fact that, rightly or wrongly, there’s a stigma attached to self-publishing; and often (but not always) authors who choose this route are not taken seriously. So whilst I completely respect other peoples’ decision to do whatever they think is best for their manuscript, I have to say (after many hours of careful consideration) it is one hundred percent not right for me. Not at the present time anyway.

And because I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing my name on the spine of a paperback, peering out at me from the shelves in brand bookstores, I know that I’d never be satisfied with my novel simply existing as an e-book. But neither do I have the money to spend on printing, marketing or book cover design costs. And I still haven’t even figured out how to get my blog on the radar of popular search engines so apart from telling my family, friends and everyone I know on facebook I’d be next-to-hopeless at the online self-promotional side of things.

I suppose I could use the money I’ve been saving up for a new laptop to pay someone else to do all these things for me. But then I’d have nothing to type on when the current (six-and-a-half-year-old) Macbook goes tits up; and absolutely no guarantee that anyone other than my three best pals would buy my novel anyway (actually they’d probably expect free copies). Besides, just because you’ve self-published something, it doesn’t mean a bookshop will want to stock it. Sadly, they very rarely do in these circumstances.

So maybe my book is ‘niche market’. Maybe it’s ‘too gay’. Maybe it will never attract ‘gaystream’ audience never mind a mainstream one. It’s possible, but I still refuse to throw the towel in. Plus, it’s one thing to be told by a publisher that your work is ‘difficult to sell’, but it’d be far more heartbreaking for me to throw my novel followed by a lot time and money into an abyss, only to realise another year or two down the line that that no-one really wants to read it.

At the end of the day, I can write other novels. But only if I live in the present, concentrating on the actual writing instead of whittling away the hours trying to shanghai people into buying the old one. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll write something else in the not-too-distant-future that a publisher will like, and they’ll ask to see my backlog and I can pull this one out of the hat! Maybe a publisher will like my other two manuscripts that are also currently doing their rounds. I can but hope.

Steffi Baby

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Ten years ago, I began seeing someone who had a small child from a previous relationship. It was unchartered ground for both of us because I had little experience with children, and she had none with lesbianism. We muddled along though, and it certainly was a learning curve – in fact, the person who taught me the most was Steffi, my ex’s little girl.

Anyway, when we broke up I was devastated. Not because she was the love of my life (looking back now, she was far from it) but because by having a child she represented a sort of normality for me, and a hope that society would see us as a sort of quirky (if not slightly dysfunctional) little step-family; and also because she was the only person I’d ever brought home that my mother had actually really liked.

I got through the break up the only way I knew how: I wrote about it. I wrote in long-hand in a stream-of-consciousness style, rarely stopping or crossing anything out; and I did this in a variety of cafes and bars around Glasgow, and occasionally in front of the TV whilst the KISS channel with it’s raunchy R’n’B sounds was pounding away in the background. My favourite songs from that period quickly became ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back’) and ‘F.U.R.B.’ (Fuck You Right Back’) and I think that speaks volumes for my maturity at that point in my life. At the end of three months, however, I had a lighter heart and a full notepad (not to mention a tentative new love interest); and when I typed up what I’d written (pretty much verbatim) I had a novella that was just shy of 40,000 words. (Now I have never been able to write so ferociously or fluidly since than, nor have I ever again been able to get a whole story out without multiple stops and starts. But neither am I suggesting that I have to be going through an emotional uproar to do so.)

‘Steffi Baby’ is a story about Debs, a young, single mother in her middle twenties who is struggling with an anxiety-related disorder which confines her indoors and often to her bed.   It is narrated by her daughter, Steffi, a highly-sensitive and strong-spirited four-year-old, who is blissfully unaware that her mother’s new best friend, Alice, is actually her lover.

This novella is a far cry from autobiography, and although there are parts which were inspired by real life events I preferred to stretch my imagination and write about what could have happened rather than the things which actually took place. It was also never meant as a way of getting back at my ex – and I suppose in a way I am really paying homage to some of the good times we did share. I chose to tell it from Steffi’s point of view because it was too painful (and, frankly, too boring) to tell it from my own; and also because Steffi’s innocence and unrelenting optimism bring humour to what could otherwise have been a rather bleak tale.

Before Xmas, I began redrafting ‘Steffi Baby’ again – I’d previously attempted this back in March but found it was too difficult to finish at that time. This wasn’t because it threw up any unpleasant memories for me – on the contrary, it reminded me of quite a few episodes that made me laugh out loud. I simply struggled with the chronology and the picking apart of an already very tight story.

I’ll admit there have been times when I considered giving up on it completely: that old chestnut ‘no-one reads / publishes novellas anymore’ rattled around in my head; and only yesterday, I was so frustrated with one particularly problematic chapter that I printed out all twenty pages of it before physically cutting and pasting the sentences together; I was also slightly worried that I would be accused of trotting out yet another niche-interest piece of fiction that only lesbians of Scottish nationality would ever read.

I am pleased to report that I am now about ninety-eight percent of the way through the redraft. There was loose talk of me writing a sequel, but I’m not so sure. Antonia thinks I should. We’ll see.

The real Steffi was fourteen this month and I can’t believe where the years have gone. I suppose she will stay forever four years old in my mind. I doubt I will ever cross paths with her again, but wherever she is in this world I wish her and her mother all the very best, and hope that they are happy and well.

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.