A Conscious Uncomparing

My liver is pickled. If someone were to remove it from my body it would probably resemble a gherkin, like one of those dead manky one’s found festering on a cheese burger. What can I say, though? I like my vino. At least now I’m back with The Rents I’m not buying bottles of £5 wine from the garage after making late night visits there in my PJay-jays. I do have some class, you know. Sometimes.

Joking aside, it is a question people seem obsessed with asking me recently – How Do You Cope – and I can’t help but think, ‘what do you mean, how do I cope? I’m not dying or anything,’ and way worse things have happened in my life than this tiny blip of having moved back in with the rents for a while.

There’s such a stigma attached to a woman in her late twenties moving back in with her parents. Especially – god forbid – a single woman (dust off that shelf people, this spinster needs a place to rest). For a guy, its normal, its acceptable, almost expected. I had this boyfriend in his late twenties who lived with his mum when I met him, and I didn’t even think twice about it. It was just his circumstance at the time. (Plus his mum was pretty cool and made me tea and watched soaps with me so why the hell would I complain?)

But for women its different. Women are notoriously rough on other women. We give each other a really hard time. We are often guilty of being unsupportive and judgmental – and I am by no means dismissing myself from this behaviour- when really we ought to be a bit kinder to one another because life is bloody hard enough as it – what with the minefield that is trying to date and work and figure it all out and generally exist – without all these snarky girl-vibes we fire at one another. Its totally against the values I stand for. I am not a woman that dislikes other women. They are fantastic. I count myself as being extremely privileged because I know – and get to be friends with – women who I consider to be some of the most fantastic, inspiring and wonderful people you will ever meet. Women who are stomach-hurting-can’t-bloody-breathe-hilarious, fearless, opinionated, successful, kind, creative, beautiful, imaginative – I could easily go on.

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Damn right!

I’ve just read this really fab article called Confessions of a Constant Comparer by Laura Barcella who I have recently taken to following on Twitter and doing that nodding-head-oh-my-god-yeah-me-too thing when I’m reading her words (and pretending to be writing some crap or other for work). Anyway, in her recent article for XOJane, Laura talks candidly about the experience of selling herself short and how, throughout most her life, she has compared herself to the women around her – friends included – and not always been that nice about the things she has thought or said or done.

She says: “It’s rare for me to go longer than a few minutes (sadly not exaggerating) without comparing myself to someone — usually a woman — around me. It could be a close friend, it could be a stranger on the stairwell….It’s like my entire world shrinks down to a tiny pin-point of hateful, jealous comparison. It instantly kills any rational knowledge or awareness of reality: that my life is GOOD and that I am LUCKY.”

I don’t know about you but I’m going to own up to this one *hands in the air*.

I am CONSTANTLY comparing myself to other people, and other women in particular. I only have to log on to Facebook and see someone gabbing about a new promotion, or firing off adorable baby picture after baby picture, or updating my newsfeed with their latest exotic travel stories, or changing their relationship status to ‘engaged,’ and I’m hit by a wave of stomach-crippling-why-not-me self doubt. I’m even guilty of doing it to people I don’t know, people I’ve never met. That’s the trouble with the internet. We can tailor make our profiles to promote ourselves – and lives – in the best light. But its artifice. Its what we want others to see.

Its not the picture of you in your scruffs and cradling the cat, or watching back to back episodes of some box set or other and necking a bottle of merlot while sporting a facepack, even though this is probably when we are at our happiest. Social media in particular has given us the bespoke grass-is-greener package. We can literally invent a world where everything is fabulous even if we’re screaming inside. Its terrifying and unhealthy, and ultimately incredibly damaging.

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But I don’t want to be part of the instagramming-my-food-which-filter-hides-my-spots/eyebags-best crew. Its exhausting and damaging, and completely misleading. As my mum (who I’m treating as a sort of Yoda of The Shire) says, ‘No-one’s life is brilliant all the time. That would be boring,’ and its true. Besides, if you don’t take the rough with the smooth, then how do you recognise and appreciate the good stuff, the triumphs?

So in short, we’re fab so keep doing what you’re doing and being who you are. And don’t worry, some people reach their fab pinnacle before others and some people don’t feel like they are quite there yet.

All I’m saying, boys and girls, is that we’re all different and that is pretty fucking amazing.

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Blogging: Stratford Literary Festival and The Events I’m Currently Coveting A Ticket To Attend

Stratford-upon-Avon is an historically famous literary town. You tell anyone you’re from Stratford-upon-Avon – it doesn’t matter where you are in the world (the last time this happened, I was in America. Natch.) – and they’re instantly like, ‘That’s where Shakespeare’s from, right?’

Right.

The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as birthplace of old Will receiving about 4.9 million visitors a year from all over the world. The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre, one of Britain’s most important cultural venues.

So we’ve got the beautiful new RSC Theatre, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, The Jester, The Cottages both Arden and Hathaway, not to mention every other shop is named by using some pun or variation of a play, or line, or sonnet (my personal favourite is Much Ado About Toys). Shakespeare’s words float through the streets of Stratford like pollen, settling on everything it touches.

But as much as I love the work of our great playwright – after all Shakespeare’s County would be nothing without it – there’s so much more to the Stratford – and Warwickshire – literary scene than simply The Bard himself.

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Sorry, Will!

Take Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival for example. Celebrating its 7th year in 2014, the festival is an exciting mixture of debate, ideas, celebrity author events, workshops and humour. Alongside this is a programme of education events in Stratford and local schools involving favourite authors, poets and illustrators, entertaining and inspiring children from 2 to 18. Its one of the most significant literary festivals in the UK and not only brings a whole host of wonderful authors and activities, but a fresh new gust of wonderful words and laughter and ideas, to our historic riverside town.

I spent my lunch break today making a list of everything I wanted to attend after looking over the Festival Programme and I think my eyes were bigger than my calender, but here are a few gems I’m certain to be attending, and in some instances, rounding the troops to accompany me.

First up, is the Literary Pub Quiz in aid of The Shakespeare Hospice. Not only does the competitive child in me relish the chance to join a quiz and invent a ridiculous team name, but all proceeds go to the wonderful Shakespeare Hospice, the Festival’s chosen charity who provide specialist care for families affected by life limiting illness in South Warwickshire and the North Cotswolds. So if you rate your knowledge on the films of books, authors and actors, villains and heroes, then the quiz will take place at The Lazy Cow, Clopton Bridge on the 10th April. I’ll be the one in the corner randomly shouting out answers.

Next on my Festival Hitlist is the entirely FREE Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday Celebrations at Bancroft Gardens. I’m taking the niece and nephew, packing a picnic and hot footing it down to the riverside to listen to The Bookshop Band and book an appointment with The Emergency Poet. Brilliant.

Then here comes the one that I’m so excited about I may actually do a little wee. I will hopefully be taking my YA novel LOL (which followers of The Blog will know is currently being serialised here chapter by chapter because I am crazy) on a day out to the Write on Workshop: How To Write for Young People with Steve Voake, the critically acclaimed author of The Dreamwalker’s Child, The Starlight Conspiracy and Blood Hunters. A. Mazing. A whole day of writing words and learning new skills to make LOL better.

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I will then follow this by embracing my inner WW1 nerd *pushes glasses squarely onto bridge of nose* to hear a discussion about The War That Changed Women’s Lives and listen to some fabulous and inspiring female writers and speakers’ opinions on the effect war had on women and social change.

I’m hoping to round up the gaggle and take the kids along to the Children’s Book Day which is billed as a brilliant day of events and workshops for children aged 3 to 11 and, if your lot are anything like my niece and nephew, it looks like a great way to get imaginations ticking and bodies tiring out! Tickets from £20 for the whole day but, if like me, you only want to attend a few events as your children are older, you can pick and choose, pay a one off entrance fee for each event and even attend yourself. Have a gander at goings-on here.

Unfortunately, my newly employed status is hampering my ability to attend everything I want to but – if I can – I’d like to squeeze in another couple of events namely ‘The Book: What’s The Next Chapter?’ which is an event discussing rethinking traditional methods of publishing and writing, and ‘The Inside Secrets to Getting Published’ because I want them to whisper the secrets into my ear so I can help turn LOL into more than just a blog.

**New chapters to follow soon**

Happy World Book Day! A note from me about the importance of books, education and not taking either for granted.

Please check out the amazing work of Book Aid International and World Book Day. 

Here are some words I stole from the website about the cause:

“Book Aid International is a fantastic charity dedicated to changing lives through books.

Every year they send half a million books to community, public, school and academic libraries in 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, to increase access to the best quality books in some of the poorest areas of the world. Over three hundred thousand of those books were destined for use by primary and secondary school aged children.

Book Aid International knows that in Africa books change lives. But, desperate book shortages throughout sub-Saharan Africa mean that in some countries, one school book can cost the equivalent of a month’s wages – putting books far out of the reach of the vast majority of people.

The number of children attending primary school is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa, but unfortunately the provision of school equipment and books in particular, is not. Books are essential for providing good quality education and ensuring that children leave school with a good level of literacy. Book Aid International are working with partners to ensure that more primary and secondary school libraries in sub-Saharan Africa have supplies of good quality books to help their pupils gain a better education for life.”

I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks travelling in Ghana during November of last year. On a whim my friend, Alex and I, decided to stop off at the Monkey Sanctuary in Tafi Atome on our way to Wli falls.

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A local friend of ours had told us how he had taken a group of tourists to the Sanctuary and they had a wonderful time, got to feed monkeys etc. I mean, who doesn’t love monkeys?? So we packed up our rucksack and hopped a tro to the East. I was kind of tired, after having become the favorite snack of half the mosquitoes in Accra, and feeling a little grumpy so I was not looking forward to the journey one bit. But when we arrived in Tafi Atome my mood was instantly lifted. The village was so bright and welcoming. The people polite and interested in us – what we were doing in Ghana, where we were from. As we walked through the village, I felt great and peaceful, no longer tired and no longer concerned about bugs (the sturdy mosquito net in the room helped quell my bug-fueled rage. Although, having said that, this was where the instigator of The Fever lived. Nasty beetle type bug!)

This is why I had come to Ghana.

I was expecting a tour of the forest, a few monkeys and a nights sleep before continuing our journey, but what we got was so much more including dinner in the village (the most amazing sauce I have EVER tried in my life) at the cook’s house.

During the evening we had the privilege – not only of watching Ghana qualify for the World Cup with the whole delighted village (I have never seen people that ecstatic about a draw before) – but also spending time talking with the wonderful young men who act as guides.

These bright, compassionate, and enthusiastic people spoke at great length about the limited educational resources in the villages, and how – after a certain age – there is very little scope to continue with studies. But they wanted to learn. One young man said he wanted to train as a lawyer so he could come back to the area and get involved in politics. Another wanted to learn more about ways to improve the Monkey Sanctuary, encourage more tourists to visit the village and stay longer and improve living standards in the village.

They possessed such a thirst for more knowledge, more education, just more, and it made me feel ashamed that I have taken my education for granted.  From the age of five until eighteen, my education has been completely free, parts of it mandatory. I didn’t leave education until I was twenty-five (almost twenty-six) years old. I have a whole room full of books (I have recently moved in with my parents who have had to build a shelving unit across an entire wall to house said books). I am incredibly incredibly lucky.

We talked at length about everything: England, Ghana, politics, education, what we did back at home, and were informed that a new community library and ICT centre had recently been built next to the village school (we’d seen the building but not actually been inside as we’d arrived later in the afternoon) and they spoke about these new facilities with such delight and pride that I couldn’t help feel a little saddened about the current situation in Britain.

We are not only talking about, but actively closing the doors of our libraries because they are never used. In Ghana, they are crying out for these centres, these shelves full of books. Its almost criminal.

Anyway, that was just a little thought.

Please support World Book Day UK. 

Please support your local library, local authors, local literary scene, local bookshop.

Read everything you can get your hands on. And then, help organisations like Book Aid International. Volunteer! Dress up! Become a mentor in schools! Do something fun!

Because in Africa, books really do save and make lives.

Blogging/Writing: The Return of Blog Tour Monday

Today is Blog Tour Monday (‘Hurrah,’ I hear you cry) and in the spirit of finding new writers and blogs, behold the lovely Mike Delwiche – novel/screen writer extraordinaire and fellow pub quiz champion.

For those who don’t remember, BTM is part of a magical vehicle deemed The Blog Bus which allows us to stalk writers and their blogs. So far, so fantabulous.

Previous Blog Bus passengers include:

David Hartley

Dan Carpenter 

Sarah Louise Jasmon
Graeme Shimmin 

Louise Swingler
Steve Hollyman

And, of course, my own ramblings were included at one point,  along with many other writers who are linked from the above writers’ pages like a wonderful writerly labyrinth (minus the terrifying presence of Jareth: King of the Goblins).

Bah!

Anyway, less Bowie, more Mike Delwiche (who has actually revealed he DOES have a blog but updates it ‘infrequently.’ You can read the contents of his mind here).

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Thanks to Emma Yates-Badley for nominating me for this blog tour thing. She was nominated by someone else, and I’ve since discover that she is not the real Dread Pirate Roberts either. The real Roberts has been retired fifteen years and living like a king in Patagonia.

What am I working on?

After the recent success of How to Become a Criminal Mastermind, I’m collaborating with director Henry Scriven on a new film project, provisionally titled They Look Just Like Us. It’s a Horror-Comedy, and it threatens to be one of the most controversial things I’ve ever done. My characters are taking me to some dark places, and I’m horrified by some of the things they think and do. But that’s people, right?

Why do I write what I do?

Everything I write is designed to entertain. If I can weave in a few ideas and make people think along the way then all the better, but what I really want is to tell a story and take the  audience outside of their own existence for 90 minutes, so they feel they’ve lived through something original.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I don’t really work in any specific genre, other than comedy. I think that everything should be funny, even the sad moments. That’s how most people get through life so it makes sense to me to reflect that in my storytelling. Whether I’m writing a travel-romance like The Liar’s Guide to South America, a Sci-Fi thriller like Wait Until the Robots or a heist movie like Criminal Mastermind, the characters always relate to each other through humour.

How does my writing process work?

Typically during the latter stages of an old project I have a few new ideas and characters noodling around in my head. One night I’ll find the thread to hang them all from, and I won’t be able to sleep for the excitement of the plot developing in my mind. At this point I’ll usually get up at 4am and write a synopsis.

Whenever I’ve got a free evening I try to write. I generally mooch around a bit first, trying to brace myself for more time in front of a screen after a day in the office. Quite often I’ll write by hand to overcome this, but screenplays especially are much easier with the right software for formatting.

Normally I won’t actually begin working until ten or even later. Once I’ve started I’ll generally fly for an hour or two, and then have to force myself to stop so I can get a decent night’s sleep. At this point I’ll generally curse myself for starting so late.

Most projects will stall for a month or two when the file will remain unopened. I like to think of this as a cocoon period, although in reality it’s more like a coma. Six months is about typical for a first draft under my current process, and then I’ll edit endlessly until every word is the best one I have. With scripts there’s normally consultation and further edits to be made. With this current project Henry will add additional material, and we’ll hold a read-through which will prompt further changes. Then, should we somehow find a modest budget, we’ll edit again to remove all the explosions and helicopters.

So that’s me. Now I will retire and hand the tour over to someone else. Richard Welwyn, have you ever considered Piracy?