Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Marking a passage.

Isn't it funny how when you're reading certain passages jump out at you and you think: 'Yes! that's how I feel', or, 'I did that once', or, 'I understand that'? I guess that's what every writer is striving for.

I've been reading a lot lately with a highlighter in my hand, highlighting passages that jump out at me and then marking that page with a Post-it and going back later to write it in a notebook, all in an effort to remember what I've been reading because at my great age I easily forget things. 

I recommended the same technique to Youngest who has his GCSE's coming up but then remembered he doesn't actually read anything; he's the only member of the family who doesn't.

"I'll read your English texts to you," I offered. So, that's Romeo and Juliet, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Poems of Conflict and Animal FarmOf course he was horrified. "It's either that or you'll have to re-read them yourself," I said. "Or, I suppose I could get you the audio books." He plumped for the first option: me reading them to him, probably because it requires the least effort on his part.

So, now in addition to my own reading, I'm reading the GCSE set texts out loud every evening. I suppose it's good practice because I have to read my own work at an event soon and now I can hear what my voice sounds like outside my head. 

When I'm reading Animal Farm, I stop now and again to check he's still listening. "What was the name of the farmer?" I say, or "What is a faction?" or "What did they call The Battle of the Cowshed?" Actually, that last one was a trick question just to see if he was still awake. It's been really lovely, reading to him in his room, lying next to him on his bed. It reminds me of when he was little. I feel it's an honour he will allow me to do this at his great age, and mine.

The other honour he bestows me is that he doesn't mind dancing with me. We have a little routine: we dance round the kitchen together every night after dinner. It's the highlight of my day, his too, I think. When my friend Jay came round with her son a few Saturdays ago to watch a Jekyll and Hyde film with us as part of their joint revision it was so terrible and so dull -


that the four of us gave up on it and danced round the kitchen instead, which was fantastic.

Here are some passages from books I've marked recently. Just to make it more interesting I haven't included which books they are from. Perhaps you will know, or can guess...

"I feared that if I stopped too long anywhere I might lose faith in what I was doing, give up once more, and be left with nothing."

"What's to be done with the lost, the dead, but write them into being?"

"But there was no possibility of doing anything, so she forced herself to read, while her little hands twisted the smooth paper knife."

"The author names the manifestation of her illness - the hallucinatory images of fear and loathing - the Thing."

"The writer is most present in the text at the moments we most completely forget about him."

Love E x


P.S. In case you were wondering, the farmer in Animal Farm is Farmer Jones.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Loving a cold climate.

I don't mind admitting, coming right of my cosy closet in my thermals and insulated slipper socks and confessing: I love snow. For me this recent spate of cold weather is like birthday and Christmas come at once, but mostly like Christmas. As media hysteria reaches boiling point, I turn off the radio and stop looking at the news on the telly - because snow is the news on the telly and I can't stand all those naysayers - and listen to what snow has to say for itself instead. 


It might be loud at first, on the wind, swirling round chimney stacks, darting in and out of smoke plumes, but at some point it's always going to be muffled, a hush that stifles traffic along with all the gloomy thoughts in your head. Flinging open curtains to a street shrouded in snow, I break into a grin. I can't help it: snow's a powdery pick me up.

Snow is such a big cheese, in fact, (definitely a Camembert) that schools get the day off because of it. Pipes freeze and shatter. Boilers give up the ghost. Trains stop. Cars stall. Theatres empty. If you had to describe it to an alien just landed you might say 'snow is a white that covers the world,' but the word white doesn't quite cover it. It's a luminous absence. A colourless sky. A emptying softness. A dust to cover all things, including the bins. Hooray! And then when it melts all the shit is still there underneath. Boo! You don't need a metaphor for snow, snow's a metaphor already.

Come to think of it, it's not just snow that turns me on, it's all proper weather. Give me a winter that roars, following an Autumn that's mush, crowned with a riot of spring; a spring that shoots through soil like a David Attenborough timelapse on speed. Daffodils to make a poet swoon. The blossomest blossom Dennis Potter ever did see...



Orgies of buds, catkins, pussy willow, bird's nests with blue-speckled eggs in them to satisfy even the fussiest teacher; enough to break a primary school nature table. Followed by a heat in summer so searing it wilts children in playgrounds like corn. Endless evenings of flawless skies, nothing in them but a high circle of swallows. Temperatures to melt candles. Nights so hot you lie awake in nothing but perspiration, thinking about calling out the fire brigade to hose you down.

I don't want cloud, mizzle, damp or drizzle, which is why autumn doesn't really do it for me. I don't want middling days. I want full on, full throttle, turn it up to the max weather. So cold, there isn't a log or a bag of kindling for the fire to be had in the whole of south London because someone got there first and bought it all, or, so hot that every ice-cream and lollypop has been purchased from the corner shop and licked down to its lolly stick by mid-morning. All of which is jolly handy because with climate change here to stay this sort of weather is a lot more likely.


Love E x


P.S. Snow joke.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Up The Workers.

Mining a strike.

As an MA student at Goldsmiths College, University of London, I find myself on the coalface of the current lecturers strike, which is strange because last time I was at university the miners were striking, and that's where the similarity ends. The country's not exactly about to be plunged into freezing darkness three days a week because a few lecturers are having a lie in, although we are having an unrelated cold snap.


Instead, a few creative writing students are going to have to meet in a local cafe rather than on university premises this week and in lieu of hanging off our lecturer’s every word we'll just have to make it all up for ourselves, which I guess you could say is the whole point of the MA in any case. Hey ho. I find myself conflicted. On the one hand I support the cause, of course, my own father's an academic and the pay and status of academics in this country has been gradually eroded over the years like... well, like coal chipped from a coalface. Now, about to lose up to £10,000 from their pension pots as a result of a proposal to switch from "defined benefit" pensions (guaranteed income) to "defined contribution" pensions (subject to stock market fluctuations) they're understandably pissed off. Trouble is, despite more than a million students standing to be affected (or more likely lying... in bed), no one else really gives a toss.

I give a lot of a toss, as it happens, not just because the MA is expensive and nowadays education equals money but also because I don’t want to miss a thing. It dawned on me last week that unless I'm prepared to cross a picket line, which of course I'm not, I'm from Yorkshire for God's sake, I can't even set foot on the Goldsmiths College premises to swan about feeling studenty and queue up in the cafeteria for some quinoa. This is the real loss: being deprived of the student experience I was loving so much. As resentment mounts little traitorous thoughts start to creep in... 

Thoughts like, yeah well, I don't have a pension at all, mate. As a freelancer who took time out to have children I've been left to scratch a few pence together to see me through my dotage. And, yeah, my parents who both spent their entire working lives teaching now live a very comfortable life in retirement, thank you very much, on generous index-linked public sector pensions, but it's not sustainable for the future. The beleaguered generation following on behind can barely afford to pay for its own university education in taxes and heavy maintenance loans (charged at 6% interest, btw, which is criminal, and did lecturers come out on strike about that?), they certainly won't be able to go on funding their parents' and grandparents' hefty pension bills indefinitely as well. 

Off with their heads.

Speaking of living a comfortable life, I was in the Royal Academy on Friday at the Charles I: King and Collector exhibition -


where incidentally it was packed to the gills with well-dressed seventy-somethings whose combined pension power could probably pay off the national debt of a small African country, but enough griping from me because I was among them and people enjoying themselves on Friday afternoons in glass-panelled exhibition spaces probably shouldn’t throw stones. So anyway, visiting the ladies loos with my friend Jay after looking at the pretty paintings and having a quick glass of prosecco (I know, I know), we stood in front of the mirror washing our hands and talking about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde revision sheets, as you do, when suddenly a bolt shot back from one of the loo doors. 

"Jekyll and Hyde?" said a well-groomed woman, emerging speedily from one of the cubicles, "GCSE?" 

"Er, yes," we said. 

"Oooo!" she said, "which website?" 

So Jay told her, and as we walked away, I said, "You know what? That's got to be the ultimate MCP (middle class problem). Where to find the best Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde revision sheets, as discussed in the RA basement loos."

Love E x


P.S. Apart from being barred from your MA creative writing course because of a lecturers strike and having to sit in a local cafe instead, of course.