Monday, 20 August 2012

The Real Me is Here

In the past few weeks I’ve heard a lot about identity. 

Nicola Morgan recently wrote a great blog post about the real her and how she had been distracted and how she now wanted to write. And write. And write.

So did Rebecca Bradley.

The Edinburgh Book Festival has taken place with various conferences about national identity, cultural identity, and so on. I’ve just watched online, the discussion with Irvine Welch, chaired by Ian Rankin, and a crowd of writers. I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Not the last hour. I far preferred the first half.;postID=8647306764886002546

Today I was humorously asked by a fellow writer who was the real me and would Effie/Sharon/Whoever stand up? It made me think, again, about identity. And who am I? Really?

First of all, I am not one thing, or one person, but the sum of all my parts.

I am not defined by my accent, a grim north eastern twang which is neither Cheryl Cole nor Coronation Street. 

Nor do I feel particularly English, or British. I was born where I was and grew up where I did, neither of which were something I had any thought or control over. I was not taught in school that I was any different to people in Scotland, or Ireland, or Wales. Or Australia. It was never instilled in me to think of myself as English. Or British. Or European. My father sailed the world and talked of many countries. My mother and her mother were born in the south of England, my grandfather was Irish, my other grandparents were from the North East. So what?

I am not defined by my gender. I grew up in a sexist world when things were changing. I worked in a male dominated profession. My husband looks after the kids when I regularly go away from home to work. He also does majority of the cooking. And?

I’m a wife but I’m not a domestic goddess. I hate housework. But I love my family and would do everything I can to protect them. 

Nor am I defined by my class, whatever the heck that is. I was born in my grandparents council house and my first home was a rented caravan because my father sailed the seas and my mother was effectively a young single mum, though married, and it was all they could afford.

My religious and political beliefs are largely kept to myself, not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed, but I’m not that passionate nor well informed, or inclined to engage in intellectual discussion about either. Also, I find it tends to annoy some people and I hate arguments.

I am a mother, sometimes a good one, sometimes not. For sure, my kids will have plenty to write about should they wish to, ala Philip Larkin.  

I was a police officer for twenty years but I was far from the stereotype that many imagine. I just believed in right. And good. And being decent.

I own a business but I’m not a typical or conventional boss. So say I. 

I have a genetic condition, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and so do my three children. It’s sometimes disabling and sometimes debilitating. I don’t let it define me and I try hard to work with it, not against it. Oh – and I am incredibly clumsy.

I write. I love to write. I have always loved to write and when I couldn't do it for me, I put that energy into my work related writing, of which there was much. I am not a literary writer. I will never win a literary award but I do win some competitions. I write mainstream stories which anyone can pick up and enjoy or discard. I write many genres but I usually write about the dark side. I just love to write whatever comes out. Sometimes it’s rubbish. Sometimes I surprise myself. It’s really rubbish!

If something in my life isn’t working, I try to change it, if I can. I moved from the North to London. I loved it. London. Twelve years later I moved back. Then I moved to Scotland. I’m not afraid of change. I actively make it happen. I believe in personal responsibility, even when I fail. It’s no-one else’s fault but my own.  

I am different things to different people. I am not my past. I am not my present. I know nothing of my future. 

I like coffee but not tea. I like wine but not spirits. I like the rain. I like the sea. I like the trees and rough, rugged countryside. I like reds and blacks. I like blues music and catching tunes and classical pieces I've long forgotten the names of. I like late nights and late mornings, though I don’t often have either. I like to be good but know I’m sometimes bad. I love to be tidy but my house is often cluttered. I colour co-ordinate my wardrobe – for ease, not obsession. I like to travel on trains, which is as well as I do it a lot, but I hate flying. 

I like reading and words and stories but hate maths, and sums, and things like spreadsheets that my sister is so good at.

I like to laugh. And I like to dance but I know I’m now at that embarrassing age where my dancing is better kept to my kitchen. Preferably with no-one else in it. 

I have a past, but who doesn’t? I’ve lived in different places, had different lovers, done things I’m ashamed of, and some things I’m proud of. I value my friends and I appreciate honesty, even if it sometimes hurts. I confuse myself as much as I confuse others. I am contrary when the mood takes me. And I have an over-riding need to understand. I need to understand. I have to be able to make sense of things that concern me. It unnerves me if I can’t. But I know I can’t understand everything.

I realise I am lucky to live somewhere that allows me freedom of thought and speech and the opportunity to make up my mind without repression. But of course, I’ve been coloured by experience, and perception, and influence, and many other things, as much as I’d like to deny it. 

Who am I?

I’m nobody really. I’m just me. Whatever that is.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Remembering Mothers and Others

This Mother's Day I will remember. I will remember a lot of things. 

My own mother who died just over two years ago. RIP. 

My husband’s mother who is in hospital in Spain, very poorly, with my husband by her side, her only child, and the place he should be at this moment. 

I’ll remember also that I’m a mother. But without their father, my teenage children might forget. That’s all right. They don’t yet have to remember. If they go about their day, doing their thing, it’s okay. They don’t have to remember. Not yet. There’s time. We have time. 

George, a friend of ours, he died this week. He has no time left. I don’t know how old he was but he was somewhere between my husband and I, somewhere between forty six and fifty five. He was a good age but not a good enough age to die. He was a bright man, a sparky man. He was intelligent in the same way my husband is, both of them unique in a way most people aren’t. George had seen things many men hadn’t and he was tortured in a way that left a permanent legacy. 

We didn’t see him often. Sometimes five times a week, sometimes five times a month, sometimes none at all. He was a character, generous and quirky and flawed. He was a bit mad, too. But he was somebody that I liked, somebody I wanted to spend time with, somebody who made his mark. I didn’t know him well. I didn’t have to. I knew his worth. He was A GOOD MAN.

RIP George. 

And for all of you out there with your mothers, or remembering your mothers, or wishing you didn’t have to, have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

My So-Called World of Writing

For a number of reasons, it’s been a while since I posted here. 

I thought about it at Christmas. And then again at New Year. I couldn’t find the right things to say. Everyone is full of words at these times and I had nothing to add but good wishes and good fortune, which I gave across Facebook, Twitter and in cards and spoken words to people in my real life and people online. I wondered who would be interested in what I had to say on my blog and if my platitudes would be any different to anyone else’s. I decided not to bother. The world was full of end of year reviews and my little bit of research on Facebook told me that most people didn’t like the idea of a round-up. Naff, said one. Bragging, said another. Not interested, said someone else. A couple of odd voices came through and said, actually, I quite like to catch up and find out what folk are up to. I still decided not to bother.

Most people wanted 2012 to be better than ever. I didn’t want 2012 to be better than ever because I know each year is a variation on a theme. Life doesn’t change with the chiming of Big Ben at midnight. It comes gradually, by making little changes over time. And I had quite liked 2011.
It’s difficult to make posts on Twitter and Facebook sometimes. It can sound like bragging if you gush a success, or can be depressing if you bemoan a difficulty. Not easy, this blogging lark. Especially when I can blog all day about writing, about my family, about my nursery, about EDS. And then there’s the non-specific jumble too.

Carole Blake, the esteemed literary agent, said today on Twitter, as she tweeted from the #tweetblog conference and on behalf of the speaker, that it’s important for writers to blog. I’m just going to have to think of really interesting things to say. And I have a plan … my clever brother in law is going to create a website for me and I will be able streamline and separate my blog posts into different sections.  

I can’t not mention my nursery, what I do for a real job, the thing that pays the bills and takes me away from home once a month for four or five days. We won 2 local Business Awards last year, and a prestigious Nursery World Award for team development. It takes hard work, commitment, and passion. We built the nursery up from a business that was facing closure. I had no business experience but I knew what parents want and need in terms of childcare. I also know how I like to be treated as an employee. We have over thirty staff and care for children from over ninety families in Hartlepool. No mean feat but it doesn’t come easy and it has to be balanced with the everything we have all put in. 

The EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) thing is ongoing, it never goes away, we just manage it the best we can. It could all be so much worse and I am grateful that it’s not. 

In the meantime, in the world of writing, I have a number of projects ongoing and my head is full of ideas. I’ve teamed up with Jo Derrick, of the Yellow Room,( ) and we send each other prompts daily and write for half an hour. Since we started, I’ve written nearly thirty new pieces. Out of those thirty, four or five have been reworked, edited and sent out to various markets/competitions. It’s a great way to work. I can’t commit to writing every day, what with the business and family etc but it really does help to generate fresh stories. 

I’ve also had more and more requests for advice and information from writers who want to know specific things re the world of police and crime. It usually involves a dead body or two. I’m very happy to provide information to any writer who would like to ask a question. I can’t guarantee I can answer it but if I can’t, I’m sure I know someone who can. So if you have a pressing question for your story or novel that you need to be answered but don’t know how, or where, or who, just ask Effie!

Last year I won or was placed in 27 competitions. Sounds good – but when you add up that I entered 165, it sort of puts it into perspective. That’s roughly a hit rate of 1 in 6 (if I’ve done the maths right) or one every two weeks. Ultimately, it proves to me that if you want build up a portfolio of work and a credible CV, then you have to put yourself out there. It takes time and effort and hard work. I counted up today that since 2005 when I started writing and meant it, I have had 127 hits (publications online and in print). Just keep reminding me to sort out the novel! Please. Thank you. 

Last year Katie Fforde came to dinner. I met up with Ian Rankin in Aberfeldy for the music festival here and I had the privilege of meeting his son and Jon, his son’s carer. I also met Ian in Edinburgh for coffee, with JF Derry and Louise Kelly. I attended another workshop run by Nicola Morgan – as brilliant as ever. Then I went for a drink with Vanessa from The Edinburgh Bookshop and we talked books and other such gossip. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I have finally met Jon Pinnock, one of the people who inspire me the most, when I attended the Get Writing conference in Hatfield with Verulam Writers’ Circle. Lovely he is too. I networked and got to know some well known and some not so well known writers. I met a few people from the world of Twitter.  The thing everyone I have mentioned has in common is not the writing, but the support for each other.  

As much as I sometimes fear it, become scared, lose confidence, and beat myself up about it, I love my writing world. Long may it continue.