Monday, 21 November 2011

Precious time

Well, I have been gone a while.
Time is precious and always stretched a little more than we like it to be, especially if you are also a full time carer. What time I call my own is often needed for a bit of peace and head clearing. A good walk usually does the trick. Sometimes when ‘caree’ is out of the house, I need to sleep a while as it is the only sleep I get when I am not subconsciously listening out for him. (Did I mention he is deaf as well as having Aspergers?) For those of you who’ve had the experience – remember listening for your young baby in the night? Still doing it 23 years later).

In the time since I last wrote, my son applied for and got a place at University, from a local campus, so he stays at home. I am hugely proud of him. And we are on another crazy journey. He is perfectly capable of understanding the level of work (phew!) but try explaining ‘academic writing’ to that mind. We were discussing research and referencing: ‘Why should I write an essay about what everyone else has already said? Read their book.’ As ever, logical and right!! I finally got around it by getting him to tell me what he knew about the topic, then asking, ‘where’s your evidence?’ The essay, all 2000 words, was finished yesterday.

Being his PA is not all I’ve been managing to do though. I am some 12000 words into my latest novel and finding the journey very different from my previous work. It is set in two geographical locations, so I am having to do a lot of research. There are historical and political factors that I have to get right, while keeping the timeline of my story working. And I’ve been devouring other writers who have touched on those countries and stories to enrich my understanding and check the story hasn’t already been written by someone else! It is a mammoth task, and I hope I’m up to it. Still, there’s a long winter ahead…always a good time to knock a story out.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

From Page to Stage

Thanks to the previous success writing and performing my one-woman show (From Within)I was asked to run a couple of workshops at the oldest (as in first) UK Arts Centre in Bridgwater, Somerset on Scriptwriting called from Page to Stage. It is linked with an autumn event in conjunction with another centre at Taunton: a scratch night. A scratch night is where actors take scenes of brand new writing to the stage so the writer and audience can see how well it works in action. It’s very exciting for new writers to see their words come to life. I have been through the process as both actor and writer so I am very pleased to be involved in a different role this time; inspiring new playwrights to develop their work.
The first workshop was so much fun the participants requested an extra date. So this Saturday at 10.30am we will be doing a session on Character. Our final session as regards the scratch night will be July 9th when we’ll be working on Plot.
It gives me a real buzz to be able to share creative journeys with other writers. It is always a two-way street (as those of us on the BWAPpublishing Programme have learned from one another). We all educate one another in our different approaches, methods, and motivation.
I’m really looking forward to the next two sessions, and I suspect the actor in me may just have to get involved in the scratch night too!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The crumpet

Darling Aspie son had been doing brilliantly: learning to make his own breakfast, and eat it. So, I have an early appointment and the night before, he and I discuss breakfast so he is prepared. I set out cereal and waffles assuring him that the latter take 30 seconds in the toaster. "And how am I supposed to time that?" he says.
"Okay. Do it in the microwave instead." He looks dubious. Shakes his head. "No. I will phone you and you can tell me when it is 30 seconds. Or I might burn the house down."
"Not with an empty microwave."
"It might."
Hmmm. That's not going to work then.
I have a brain wave. I'll leave him a crumpet." Pop it in the toaster, you don't have to time it. When it pops up, It's ready".
Next morning, I head off happily, knowing he will have breakfast in my absence.You can imagine my thrill when I come home at lunch time to empty breakfast plates.

"Hey, well done! You had your crumpet. What did you do with it?" I beamed.
He gives me the look. " I just ate it. I wasn't going through all that again."

Oh well...

Monday, 21 March 2011


‘I am in cyberspace, therefore I am not’.
‘Not what?’
‘Not real. Not me. Not myself. Someone else, if I choose.’
‘Why would you choose to be other than yourself?’
‘Because this self, in this life is…small. Insignificant. When it speaks no-one listens.’
‘No-one. Its voice is dull. Its opinions gleaned from up there. Out there. Inflicted by those who know.
‘Know what?’
‘Everything that one is meant to believe.’
‘And do you?’
‘Believe what is told?’
‘Then you have your own opinions. Do you not?’
‘Yes, I suppose. Sometimes. When I am not me.’
‘When you are the other you – the one in cyberspace.’
‘That’s right.’

I find forums distressing at times. For some people they become a space where their ego can dominate. They say what they want…that’s okay. They express their opinions, however narrow or negative…that’s okay too. Perhaps they say things they wouldn’t have the courage to say in a face-to-face situation.

Perhaps that is because they forget that the other cyber-voices are real people. They are forgetting to notice the tone and subtlety of the message.

In this techy time of Facebook and Twitter and Blogging, I am endeavouring to remember that these are real people I am communicating with. I am doing my best to remain true to myself. I shall certainly do my best to remember my manners!

Keep your cyber-ego real.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Making a speech (to the NHS)

Yesterday I had the honour, with knocking knees, to speak at a conference about how the Acute Hospitals look after people with Learning Disabilities. This is a result of taking part in a review process in the South West, following the harrowing findings of the Mencap report: Death by Indifference (among others).
I knew exactly what I wanted to say. That wasn't the problem. The tricky bit was getting the pitch right. I was speaking as a mother about my child, and on behalf of all the parents with special children that I know and do not know. The other speakers were largely in the medical profession or linked to it, and of a mindset and level of understanding. It fell to me to bring it home - a huge responsibility.

I delivered my piece with a large photo of my son behind me, his head in bandages after his last surgery. When I heard the audience chuckle, I knew I had them onside. When I met them teary-eyed afterwards, I knew I had done my job.

It is very difficult to stand up as yourself and deliver a personal message - trust me, it is much easier to act! But to see and hear the impact of your honesty is priceless. I'm glad I put myself through it.

By popular demand (seriously!) a video of the speech will be recorded to the Review website very soon. I will post the link when it's ready.

Simple fact-everything we live through is a life lesson. Sharing it helps.

Monday, 14 March 2011

21st century writers

Any serious writer needs to be reading Robert McCrum On Books.  Via the Observer website. Things are changing fast and gone are the days of the faceless author, tucked away in their garret, scribbling their stories for the world while walking anonymously amongst its populace.
It’s a tough call. Some of us really didn’t want fame or recognition. Not in the actual face to face sense. Yes, recognise my name on a book – buy it because you know I’m good, but pass me by in the street and I can enjoy my secret satisfaction.
No more.
Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to the modes of communication of, in the first instance for many, your children.
I hadn’t even got over the immediacy of the mobile phone…”No, you don’t need to answer your mate during Sunday lunch.”
“Yes, I do, he knows I know he’s called. It’s rude not to.”
Spare me from understanding that logic.
But here’s the thing.
This is the new logic. We are all available, in all ways, to all people.
If we are not – they’ll just move on to someone who is. It’s time to take a deep breath, enlist the help of the ‘kids’ and get on Facebook, Twitter, create a website and become visible! These are the days of talking to your audience – and not just through your stories.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Horses and Poo

The darling Aspie loves Science and animals. He wants a job. Science technician in a vet's lab would be ideal. BUT he doesn't do poo. Perhaps this is why his preferred, as in totally adored, choice of animal is the cat. (Takes its poo away somewhere else).
So, with a few negotiations he is now doing a bit of volunteering at a nearby equine centre and apparently poo is a lot less awful if it's on the end of a long shovel. And if the happy horse is nudging you with love.
Small steps. Smiling son.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Take yourself seriously as an author: Join the Brit Writers

‘So why did you move to Somerset?’ a friendly woman asked over a glass of red wine at the charity ‘do’ to which I’d been invited. ‘Quality of life.’ She answered her own question. It’s not what I was about to say at all, being on the verge of a tedious explanation of the needs of stepchildren and adult responsibilities. I was quite satisfied with my quality of life in Brighton, thank you very much. There may have been financial struggles (that’s no news these days) and a balcony instead of a garden, but there were friends, and groups and organisations that constituted the fabric of my life. I was surrounded by writers and actors and artists of all sorts who fed my creative soul. I could go to any number of theatres, shows and workshops drawing on all the right influences to pursue my dream of becoming a writer.

I prayed that I would be able to continue that dream in the Somerset countryside. Now married, with my very own study and nothing to distract me from my writing, I could get on with it, finish the novel, do big things. I started projects willingly enough, but without the bouncing conversations I usually had with my friends and ‘colleagues’, it was hard to stay motivated.

The answer was to do a tour of all the theatres and performance spaces in a twenty mile radius, everything from full scale playhouses to village halls. One of these stops was the Bridgwater Arts Centre- the oldest in the country. At a strange little concert, I got talking to another woman and a mention of writing was made. ‘Then you must come to our writing group.’ A start. The group meet every couple of months and write to a theme, sharing their work. It’s very sociable and a lot of fun, but I needed more. One of the group who has more serious designs for her writing invited me to join another group where we all contribute funds to engage a tutor. Everyone in the room is working on a project that matters to them. Now there were people to share ideas with and to whom pieces can be read and feedback received. Progress.

I still wanted more. I wanted to access the creative community and didn’t really know how. So on my next jaunt to Brighton I arranged to meet Chris Taylor to pick her brains. Over tea and strawberries in the park we talked about the different ways people get started and organisations grow. The idea was not to wait for an opportunity to arise within a ‘structure’, but to create a space of one’s own by sneaking in the back way, so to speak. With plenty of time to ruminate on my drive home again, I came up with a plan: I would approach the director of the Arts Centre and offer to be their ‘Writer in Residence’ on a set day every week. It took me another five months to muster the courage to do it.

On the morning of the appointment I felt inadequate and almost cancelled. I’m not published, except for a factual article in an online magazine. I had no proof of skill or talent beyond the Arts Council funded one woman show I wrote and performed. I was a sham and about to embarrass myself terribly! (I certainly have no problems with my imagination!)

Well, guess where I am as I write this? Indeed. Charlie Dearden, the director of the Arts Centre was delighted with my proposal. She also wanted to know what other projects I might have in mind. Since last January I have been in attendance at the Centre every Thursday as Writer in Residence. I work on whichever piece is foremost in my mind and read and discuss what I’m doing with whoever is around during the day. It is great motivation for me. in April I presented a performed reading of one of my short stories at a Fringe event. My one-woman show went on in September.
In December I took a leap of faith when the BritWriters Publishing Programme came up. I was fed up with the silence of the slush pile and felt it was time to take matters into new hands. Now I feel like I'm on a behind-the scenes tour of the publishing world and the information is enlightening. I am very excited about where this all will lead and I have the motivation and self-belief to be on my next novel.
In the Bridgwater Arts Centre there is now a little Sinéad-shaped space. In the world of cyber-media, there is a growing Sinead shaped space and I'm hoping by the end of the year, there'll be a novel shaped space on the bookshelves of the shops.
So don't waste your energy on resentment and frustration and get out and make your space. And if you want my advice, get someone amazing behind you, like the BritWriters. 

Have a good look at where you live…a creative space may offer so much more than a desk and a warm room! You might just be able to create your future.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Are gay issues passe?

A criticism levied at my novel (But I love you) is that the gay issues raised gently therein are no longer relevant. "Everyone's cool with the gay thing now, aren't they?" The answer is probably yes in the metrosexual big cities, London, Manchester, Brighton. But cast your net a little wider, or a little tighter and you will find that homophobia is in the closet. Today's Observer magazine carries an article about Alan Downs book 'Velvet Rage' and addresses why so many gay taboos still need to be broken.  The stories from the men on 'coming out' are touching and painful as well as inspiring. Religious parents do still get upset. It is still a difficult personal journey to undertake.
And what about the couple who went to holiday in Cornwall, thoughtfully checking that their dog would be welcome, only to discover that as gay men they were not.
Only a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy Vine invited listeners to his Radio 2 show to share their coming out stories. Again, the reactions were varied, positive and negative.
It is still necessary in 2011 to stand up for our gay friends and share the stories so we may all keep learning.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

BritWriters CEO speaks about the Publishing Programme

 Hello to anyone interested in the BritWriters Publishing Programme.  I am one of the fifteen lucky auhtors on the first programme and very happy to be leading the way to change!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Context, or lack of it.

Oliver rushes in to his step-dad's office. "Do you have a meter?" Ian looks around his room, "Um, that table's a meter. A meter of string? Possibly. What for? I think I have a meter rule." Now on his feet trying to answer Oli's request.
"No. An electricity meter. The man's at the door."

Yes, the electricity man had come to read the meter and Oli didn't know where it was.
Life is all so very clear when we remember to put things in context. Or when you remember that someone else's neural pathways don't fire the same way as yours.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The tale of the Guinea Pigs

We hadn't long moved to Somerset and didn't know many of our neighbours when the unsettling appearance of a dead Guinea Pig occurred on the drive. It seemed our tomcat had taken advantage of someone's pet. We were mortified - not the way to make an impression on your neighbours! Having no idea who had children who might own said Guinea Pig, we kept quiet.
We might have got away with it if Tigger hadn't turned up with another GP a few days later...then another a few days after that.
The taxi driver was bringing Oliver back from college. He parked over by the gate, and came to the door - most unusual. His expression was tragic as he aplogised to me and explained that he had just run over my Guinea Pig. I answered, 'Not another one!' which confused him somewhat. As I rolled my eyes I saw another by the grass, and another by the car. This situation was out of hand. So we embarked on some discreet enquiries and ascertained that the Pigs belonged to our neighbour across the road, the one with the Ferrari flag at the gate, and that as he was most fond of his animals it might be wise to say nothing.
Ok, then.
But the GP body count continued to rise, and when we invited all the neighbours for getting-to-know-you drinks, we were in a dilemma. Was it time to fess up? Cautioned once more about the gentleman's love of his animals we were silent.
Until Oliver came into the room. Now, Oli isn't great at remembering faces - an Asperger's aversion to looking at them doesn't help. So when he meets new people I try to give him a verbal hook. Oli is standing in the middle of the room and I am introducing J 'who owns the garage', and N 'Ferrari flag man'. "Oh, Guinea Pig man?" Oliver announces clearly over the top of my head. N looks up with interest.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you are deluded enough to think you can still rescue a situation? Hmm. I stood in front of my son (to block his view - why?) and said, "No, Ferrari flag man."
Oliver ennunciated loudly, "You mean Guinea Pig man."
"No. Ferrari flag." I was pleading.
He gave me that Aspie look of absolute certainty and said, "Well I think we owe him the truth, don't you?"
Because Aspies can't lie.
So their mothers aren't allowed to either.
And that's our real any wonder I write stories?