I like to write in the morning. I definitely find that I am most productive when there is quiet in the rows of terraced houses; but for the sound of stirring cats watching the birds singing their songs, just aware of the mewing kitties and the sound of breathing from the sleeping inhabitants of my small flat. Baby chops wakes up at 6am, so alas, I can’t bring myself to wake up at 5am for that hour of work. Instead I prefer to work in the evenings and I do get a lot completed, but I get carried away and want to stay awake all night. Which is not conducive to 6am starts. Anyway, here are some tips from writers on writing. I agree about writing anywhere, I often jot down ideas on all sorts of scraps of paper, ticket stubs and envelopes. I love train rides on my own.
Pretty much on the dot, every night at 3am Francois howls to the skies.
This little ginger cat ensures that his elongated meows are felt and his sentiments understood by the whole household. For this, we thank him. 3am is a wonderful time to be awoken from slumber. Just ask… everyone. However, we don’t understand what the whiskered one could be moaning about. Can he see the infamous black cat that patrols the garden? Can he sense something in the ‘air’? Or has he just taken a dislike to the fact we moved the pot plant the other day? Who knows. He is a cat.
Luckily Francois has one very nice owner (not me), who will get up and cuddle him for a couple of minutes at 3am, til he is happy again. He normally instantly purrs and snuggles. Then shuts up til 7am. This is testament to the bond between F and Charlie. I thought I had an amazing bond with Ava, but yesterday she trailed after Charlie with giant eyes throughout the day. Jumping on his lap and lying on her back, and pawing at him. Ridiculous. Cute, but ridiculous. I think Charlie may be an animal whisperer.
Regardless, I believe sleep is essential and I am obsessed with trying to get my eight hours. I am not a happy CAT with less than my eight. This, Charlie tells me is silly and I should embrace late nights/talks/dances (and seemingly, cat cuddles). I used to 100% agree. Not that long ago I would have been up with the cat, looking up at the moon. What happened? What do a few more minutes matter? Interrupted sleep? Peh. Being annoyed at my lack of eight hours is a waste of energy. This is a fact. Admittedly, I still like eight hours – glorious, but if I don’t, I don’t. I would rather see and experience. I know this.
Last night, I heard Charlie get up to cuddle the F, and rather than wanting to chuck them both some mackerel and out the door for being noisy, I thought of nice things. That was it. F is silly, C is sweet/twisted round F’s paw. End. So what if I had to use that eight hour cream this morning. So what?!
(Student parties and overly loud washing machines are obviously different and not included in this relaxed outlook)
I could hear the little flick, flick of the flame trying to catch. The sizzling tobacco sound, like a tiny bonfire catching light. And then the deep inhaling inwards. The inhaling of smoke straight in to the body. In my mind, the body is filling with smoke. The heart has small shields, but the smoke suffocates. Of course, smoking has taken place for years and years, but the fact that anyone close to me could/is still smoking, when it’s CLEARLY PROVEN to be so BAD – creates a frown on my face. It’s NOT ‘just smoking‘, smoking kills. Why shorten your life by inhaling smoke right in to it?
When I was at university, my English course had barely any non-smokers. The rhythmic rolling of the cigarette was like a ritual, a pre discussion agent. The refectory was choc full with smoke back then. As were the cafes, clubs and pubs were always misty with the fog of smoking. The idea of a smoking ban seemed preposterous. But then it happened. And we got used to it. My jacket no longer filled the house with smoke after going out of an evening, the refectory cleared of smoke and the pubs lost their ash trays – which having worked at many bars and clubs, cleaning the ash trays is the MOST disgusting job. Anyway, since the ban time has ticked by and gradually more rules have came in, still people pop outside for a smoke. The pictures of smoking effects on packaging did nothing to deter.
Don Draper, step in please::
The truth is – smokers should never start, of course. It’s when they’re young, it’s the habit, it’s the stress, it’s a million and one reasons, but it’s one decision and it’s so devastating. Smoking is the greatest cause of premature death in the UK. I’m supporting plain packets. It’s great there are screens in front of tobacco, but what about out of the shops? It may not stop adults – and I don’t think it would – but plain packaging may stop a child or teenager smoking and whatever can possibly be done, even if it stops just one person taking up smoking, it’s worth it.
Yesterday, I spent the day at the Independent‘s Bath Lit Fest – and a wonderful day it was too. I cycled there wearing a simple white knit, jacket and cat eye sunglasses, sans coat. The weather – as I am sure you’re aware – was filled with warmth as well as sunshine, the repercussions of which manifested themselves in jolly moods and skipping steps. The city is a beautiful place when it blooms, the gardens are filled and the water sparkles in the afternoon lazy light.
1. Diane Atkinson – Suffragettes
So, it was with positivity that I went to the Suffragettes talk, with my friend – who incidentally had studied the courageous plight of women at the beginning of the last century, for her dissertation, years ago. I have often considered my lack of knowledge on this subject something to rectify, and told myself that I must educate on the history of females, the/ OUR right to vote and the social and political background surrounding the Suffragettes.
My history lessons were very focused on the Industrial Revolution; furlongs, trains, canals and people leaving the sticks, in favour of the great, big city. I wish I had known more about the sexual discrimination, real fight and dedication women were involved in, from a younger age. I know I take for granted, the equality I absolutely deem correct, and always have. I know that sexism is still rife and hate being belittled for being a ‘girl’ myself – which is surprisingly often. I despise it- and I find it astonishing that people can be so narrow minded as to judge a person on their gender and physical appearance. But of course, it’s been going on forever and just because Caitlin Moran et al have made feminism something modern and ‘real’ for the younger generation – it’s still a great big nag on our pay, rights and treatment – and my friend and I were still two of the youngest people there.
We should be celebrating these women! I am so proud to be a woman and I consider myself to be intelligent, thoughtful, caring and someone who loves and appreciates others. I, by no means think that I am above or below another person, but I am living my life as I am happy and I respect myself and others. This is essential, and this is why we all deserve to be treated the same – respect is huge. I left the talk with an increased respect for the Suffragettes and a renewed vigour, focused around what we can achieve, each of us
2. A.L. Kennedy – Author
Talk two was by author, A.L. Kennedy, whose book, Original Bliss, I studied when I was at university – again, years ago. Kennedy is a very interesting writer and speaker. She is humourous and self deprecating. Completely likeable and unfathomably similar to my old tutor. Old tutor did say she knew her, as I pitched my dissertation to her all those years ago. Something which became instantly feasible when I saw and heard Kennedy. Anyway, her new book ‘Blue Book’ is about the murky world of fortune telling/tellers. It’s also about a million other things; relationships of course, boats and fate. Read more about the book, here. The hardback is attractively purple, and looks like a magic book itself, something Kennedy desired.
I found I wanted to hold onto everything Kennedy was saying on stage. After starting the talk with anecdotes about her own experiences with mediums – going in as a ‘real’ punter, Derren Brown, and a medium that uses disco lights when contacting dead relatives – she read out an extract, then answered questions. As a word lover myself, I found her words captivating. I quote (not to the exact word – I never completed shorthand): To enjoy what you’re doing: to find and capture with words, everything that you love, desire and can see – and to make money out of it, well that can’t be bad can it?
There were also some other bits about being truthful when you write, something I feel very strongly about. Being genuine is the most important thing you can do when creating. As someone pointed out, with her characters, whole webs of life and plot lines, she is a true magician, herself. The whole thing was fascinating and I urge people to watch an author speak about their craft.
3. Lynne Truss – Writer
Finally, a show I was very excited about. And it was a show really, as it felt very polished, slick – and let’s fact it, authors are celebrities in many ways. Something that was confirmed to me when I met Lynne Truss at the end of her show and was nearly completely muted by her author credentials. ‘Please sign it to Helen, thankssomuch’. Obviously, there was a huge amount I wanted to say, ‘I’m an Editor and I have my own magazine, I love punctuation, but I’m still a bit unsure at times – do you ever experience times when you completely forget how to use the apostrophe? How do you feel about emoticons? I am slowly learning to bash down awe struck behaviour. I’m getting there.
I digress. Back to the show. Truss is a natural speaker: funny, approachable and very interesting. Punctuation was chuckled at, pedantic actions roared at, and the future of punctuation’s correct use, mulled over. Once again, I was bemused as to why I was one of the youngest people there. I know a huge number of those who are sticklers for punctuation and lovers of the ‘nice’ behaviour. It sometimes comes across that many consider young/old people very different to themselves – a division. Young people aren’t unrefined/ uncultured/ uneducated and don’t – as unfathomably presumed – exclusively speak in text speak. Whilst older people don’t communicate only in the Queen’s. I don’t think Truss thinks like this though, she seemed to connect to everyone in the audience, all that love a good bit of grammar. And we all united, in a collective ‘ahhh’, because it’s one of those little (important) things that mean a lot to us and it’s one of those idiosyncracies that make us.
So, I left Bath Lit Fest full of thoughts, opinions, debates and words. Encouraged to once again look at new things and old things, differently. Literature is a true gift to humanity. A brilliant festival.
The 60s. The vision painted of this decade is that of wonderful abundant love, whisky at lunch, mini skirts at dawn, swinging beats, swaying hips, strutting bodies and smoke filled headiness. However, reading Julian Barnes‘, The Sense of An Ending, he writes (after sleeping with his ex-girlfriend for the first time):
‘I expect such recreational behaviour will strike later generations as quite unremarkable, both for nowadays, and for back then: after all, wasn’t ‘back then’ the Sixties? Yes it was, but as I said, it depended on where where – and who – you were. If you’ll excuse a brief history lesson: most people didn’t experience ‘the Sixties’ until the Seventies. Which meant, logically, that most people in the Sixties were still experiencing the Fifties – or, on my case, bits of both decades side by side. Which made things rather confusing.’
We/I tend to have a certain nostalgic, rose tinted vision, for a period perhaps never even experienced. Even if we had experienced it, the reality may be obscured by the memory’s tendency to assume youth’s golden delight, upon years gone by. Everyone’s experience of THE past, is their own, but this is what makes personal stories so very interesting. Not all of us have – and continue to – be immersed in a wild world that may warrant a sensational autobiography, a bestseller with a sticker that says so. What defines wild anyway? Flashing bulbs, late night parties and deep discussions on the remote shores of Costa Rica? Dancing on the stage, sipping cocktails with esteemed intellectuals, riding elephants in India, sailing to the Caribbean? The stories of the everyday, of the every person, also offer an enhanced vision of the world as it may have been, through the eyes of another.
Of course, we are now thoroughly interested in the reality of you and I, with documentaries coming out of our tweets and the realityTV shows, everywhere. ‘Everyone has a story’. I have been told since the beginning of my road trip through the cities and deserts, of words. The sensationalism of some of these shows, the bias and drama, has on many occasion made me switch off. Read a book. Have a chat. I’d rather speak to those with the stories – that’s everyone – in real, real life. As I used to say when I couldn’t believe something as a child.
I was recently left on a bench in Jersey, whilst Charlie collected coffees. On the next bench there sat a group of four people. One of them was saying that he wished he had asked his elderly relatives about themselves earlier in his and their, lives. He said he finally really found out about the fascinating – certainly in his view – life of his grandfather, at the very end of his life. Unable to not observe (this people watching is a continuous issue/joy for me), he said: “He mentioned a neckerchief that he had worn for [insert something profound for the man], and I found a picture of me holding this neckerchief and I remember seeing it in my room as a child. I wish I’d known the significance of it back then. I wish I had it now.”
The man had taken the memories of his grandfather and felt richer in someway because of them. The physical reminder, the weighted importance of the neckerchief, in my opinion really doesn’t mean a thing. As it didn’t when he was a child. But the memories, the stories, are the treasures. Stories from – nearly – everyone interest me. Not when the same ones are reeled out, or when a person may believe they’re on some kind of pulpit, preaching away, but just the little chats. Stories lie everywhere. They add elements to the new and old stories and make for a highly coloured vision of the past and future.
So back to the 60s – oops -I am intrigued by the life of Jean Shrimpton. ‘The First Supermodel’ – ‘A DEFINING FACE’ -‘Effortlessly Chic’.
She is a lady of contrasts. With these accolades, you may think that she was one of ‘The Wild Ones’. It was the 60s. After all. However, apparently Shrimpton was not one for the parties, the social jams, the SHOW of it all, describing herself as ‘disenchanted’ by its world. After a relationship with photographer, David Bailey, she spent three years with Terence Stamp. She says of this relationship, in an interview with The Guardian: “We were two pretty people wandering around thinking we were important. Night after night we’d go out for dinner, to the best restaurants, but just so that we could be seen. It was boring. I felt like a bit part in a movie about Terence Stamp.” After growing up in the country, she returned to it when she gave up modelling. “I don’t live my life through the prism of the past.” She says, regarding the forthcoming BBC4 drama about her love affair with photographer David Bailey.
In the same Guardian interview, Alex Wade asks Shrimpton if she regrets turning her back on the life she once led, and moving to the wilds of Cornwall, where she now runs a hotel: “No I am a melancholy soul. I’m not sure contentment is obtainable and I find the banality of modern life terrifying. I sometimes feel I’m damaged goods. But Michael, Thaddeus and the Abbey transformed my life.”
Interesting, you see. The story she has ultimately chosen to lead, is far away from the flash. But did she need to have a break from the beautiful and occasional drudgery of her country life, to love it afresh? Do you always return to the surroundings you know in those rosy havens of memory? How did she transform away from the lights powered by the beautiful?
Do we all end up in the country? !
People are complex.
The BBC said about the new BBC4 show.
“We’ll Take Manhattan reveals how a young, visionary photographer refused to conform and insisted on using the unconventional model Jean Shrimpton on an important photo shoot for British Vogue, inadvertently defining the style of the 1960s along the way.”
When I was a child, I had a secrets book with a shiny gold padlock and snazzy early 90s design. Most of it I filled with cut out pictures, poems, thoughts on school, sweets, that boy that kept stealing my pencil case. As an exception to the pages however, there are a couple that stand out. I remember writing them very neatly, at night. They start with: “I’m going to die. I have cancer and that’s it.” I then essentially talk with no logic about how I have lumps all over my body, which can only be cancer, and that I’m not going to tell anyone, as they may get upset about my impending end. Obviously I was fine and a couple of pages later, I’m discussing polly pockets. But I had just met cancer- my Grandad had leukemia – through various ways in my life and it had sent deep shivers through me.
About a month or so ago, my mum rang in the evening and told me that my auntie has breast cancer. I knew something was up, because she wouldn’t talk to me the Friday before. I had no one around me, Charlie was away and it was late. What do you do with this information? I wanted to ring people and even almost wanted to write on twitter, ‘I’m upset because my auntie has breast cancer.’ I couldn’t do any of these things though, because it was just too real and scary, and I wasn’t ready to discuss it, like it was normal and part of my life. But. I was upset because my auntie has breast cancer.
I’ve learnt a lot about breast cancer over the past few years. At university there was a beautiful girl who glowed everywhere she went. She had an identical twin. Together they were like beacons of healthy, youthful splendour. No, actually, stunning, lovely and clever – the ultimate combination. The twin is called Kristin Hallenga, she was diagnosed with breast cancer not long after university ended and the new phase of our lives began. Kristin is absolutely incredible. As opposed to shouting out about her doctor – it took eight months from first visit to diagnosis – she started Coppafeel, a charity to bring awareness of breast cancer to young people, as well as older.
Kristin and Fearne Cotton.
Thinking about her, my auntie and the reality that breast cancer is the number one cause of death amongst women aged 34 – 54 – one in eight women will suffer from it, I think really we should be discussing it more and being more aware of breasts! My auntie caught her cancer at stage two, Kristin was at stage four when it was confirmed. Both have said they should have known a bit more about how to check and be aware of breast cancer.
Go to the doctor if you’re worried. Also, DO talk to people if you know someone who has breast cancer. It’s important.
Whilst prancing around in Bath, as one does in that city, as well the wonder that is; Toast, I came across Banana Republic. Like Toast, I’d thought it was a bit too sophisticated/together for me. However, I will soon be 27 and I am starting my own magazine, so I should probably not shy away too much from the power dress. What’s more, I have a girlie (or, womanly…) in and out shape, so waists drawn in and fitted items are good.
Apart from this: They have a Mad Men collection.
If you’re ever going to work the powerful pencil, shrunken jacket and detailed neckline – I suggest you try this collection, designed by Mad Men costume designer, Janie Bryant. 65 pieces – including some for men, Charlie will like this, though pretend not to – of chin lifting, eyebrow raising, goodness. Not much in the way of Betty, but a whole lot of later Peggy and of course, Joan. No sign of Peter’s dark blue suit, but Don Draper is of course there, though not in his casual, ‘white t.short and chinos’, attire. This is not for gardening or putting up sheds, NO casual Fridays/NO smart cas.
After Mad Men ‘ing myself and Charles in several different situations, I was delighted to try out some of the actual Mad Men collection, with some classic fitting room poses:
All of these outfits are over £100. They felt fab as I marched around the changing room; very thick material, smart and in beautiful colours.
I may as well share one of my Mad Men scenes – Ahem, below you will find a lovely ‘Friday evening dinner’ set up:
As an important and relevant, aside:
I’m really excited for Pan Am which will help until MM starts again in 2012.