Writing lists

an image of a desk with laptop, glasses, pen and To do List

I am a writer of lists

My life could be measured in my to-do lists, their contents varying depending on the stage of my life. Early lists might have included

Do Homework

Try not to argue with sister

STOP BITING NAILS

Find missing library books

Early motherhood saw lists as the only way to function as baby-brain drained every last thought as fast as my breasts drained of milk.

Get nappies

Call health visitor

Find grown-ups to talk to

Lose weight

Missing library books

Raising a family is one unending list. Morphing over time, though stalwarts still persisted, my lists were endless – a procession of jobs, needling doing but somehow never completed, added to the top (or bottom) of the next new list.

At times I felt my value as a mother seemed measured with the swish of a tick. The house hummed with the scent of failure both at the length of the list – too long – and the very few things I managed to tick off. Oh, and the hordes of smelly children, with unwashed P.E kits,  hamster cages spilling sawdust,  mouldering lunchboxes stashed under beds and the unmistakable whiff of long-dead trainers.

Years ago, when illness prevented me from doing many of the chores we all take for granted, writing lists was akin to torture. With little control over much else, certainly my body and its refusal to get well, I obsessed over lists.

List of things that needed doing urgently.

Lists for medium-term jobs.

Lists of jobs that, if we won the lottery or housecleaning aliens arrived from space keen to have a proper whip-round, might get done.

In the end, the lists swallowed me up. All my thoughts were of what I could see but couldn’t do.

Something had to change.

This was no way to live.

So, lists saved me again.

This time my list read like a 1950’s housewife’s manual

Monday – living room

Tuesday – kitchen

Wednesday – bathrooms

Thursday  – bedroom

Friday – anything missed.

This list didn’t mean do everything that needed doing, it just meant do something in that room. Writing it down like this got it out of my head. Suddenly I had room to think again.

When I noticed that it looked like a small dog might be living under the sofa, such was the collection of dog hair, I didn’t worry knowing that I could get to it next Monday.  Kitchen cupboard with a funky smell – fine I can do that on Tuesday.

Not much more got done, but it was out of my head. And once it was out I realised how much room it took. My brain was literally being swallowed by housework and chaos.

This new approach was enhanced by my much loved six-month rule.  It goes like this;

In six months’ time will you remember that you did not do ( insert job here).

To be honest this takes care of most of life’s daily graft. Some things obviously need doing now – putting off feeding the kids for 6 months will not work out in the long run. But for most things it works – in 6 months’ time you won’t remember you didn’t do the hoovering but in 6 months’ time, you might remember the afternoon spent sewing or writing or playing with the kids instead

For me, in all that space that was left, after I got it out of my head and down on a list, I found I could write. And not just lists.  Actual writing!  Well, I call it writing, I guess you can be the judge.

Today all I do is write, often in bed, sometimes on the sofa. My lists today are full of the important things.

Order biscuits

Eat chocolate

Read a book

Check what day it is

Find library books.

Some things will never change.

And in love with a good list – here is my gift to you.

Not because I am a fan of the Queen but because who doesnt love a book list?

Big Jubilee Read | RGfE (readinggroups.org)

‘The list of 70 books – 10 for each decade of Elizabeth II’s reign – is a real opportunity to discover stories from across continents and taking us through the decades, books that we might never have otherwise read, and reading authors whose work deserves a spotlight to be shone on it.”— Suzy Klein, Head of Arts and Classical Music TV at the BBC

You’re welcome xx

Becoming an astronaut.

I once said to Michael Sheen – you don’t get to say that very often, do you? I once said to Michael Sheen that saying you wanted to be a writer when I was growing up was like saying you wanted to be an astronaut.

For a girl, growing up in the relentless poverty of the ’80s, the dole not stretching to heat and food, the Provi-man’s knocking at the door for repayment of loans my parents could never afford, saying you wanted to be a writer was mad, like saying you wanted to be an astronaut.

I didn’t know any writers. Writers were posh, went to posh school that I’d go to with my mum to clean after school.  What did a writer do anyway?  Sit in their special writing room, sharpening their pencils before having cocktails on the lawn as the sun went down. (I watched a lot of old movies so my references may have been Noel Coward and Agatha Christie????)

Never mind that my school had written me off already. Never mind that I didn’t attend school for the lack of school shoes.  Never mind if I didn’t go to school, I didn’t get my free school dinner, with that shameful little token that, some days, was my only meal.

In all of this I still wrote stories, still made them up on my long walks across the fields, feet wet, trying to keep out of everyone’s way.

Trust me, where I came from people didn’t become writers and the knowledge, knowing that I could never be an astronaut, ground down deep into my bones, staining the very marrow. A childish dream from a hungry girl.

We all have to grow up and get proper jobs, feed our kids, struggle to make sure they never go hungry.

Well, last night I was launched into space.

Along with 10 other fabulously talented writers taking part in A Writing Chance with New Writing North, Michael ‘bleeding’ Sheen – I think he could change his name to that, I’ve said it like that enough. Michael ‘bleeding’ Sheen performed our work on stage in Cardiff.

When I was chatting to Michael, trying to explain what a difference being part of this programme had made to me, how it had shifted my whole feeling about myself, about who I was, about how I had become a writer, Michael Sheen asked me what it was like to become an astronaut?

Then he went on stage and performed my words

The section he performed is from the beginning of my novel in progress about a woman who has forgotten she is the goddess of the River Severn. It begins with the myth of how the rivers of Wales got their goddesses. A reinvention of a tiny three-line myth I found in my research, Michael made it sound like a story of old.

I cannot tell you how amazing it was to hear words I’d written in the dark of early morning come to light on the stage.

Well, I don’t need to tell you as you can listen to those words being performed in ‘Margins to Mainstream’ on St David’s Day, Tuesday 1st March 2022 at 6.30 pm on BBC Radio Wales. (If you are outside Wales, go to the BBC Sounds App and type in ‘Margins to Mainstream’.)

BBC Radio Wales – Margins to Mainstream: St David’s Day Special

Oooh this is me!

Remember me going on about winning A Writing Chance Award with New Writing North and the very lovely Michael Sheen ? No? Well you cant have been listening!

Back in the summer I won a place on a writing program for underrepresented writers and this weekend we are all heading off to the BBC in Cardiff where Michael Sheen is going to be performing an extract from the novel I am currently adding the finishing touches to.

Full link here

https://www.bbc.com/mediacentre/2022/bbc-cyrmu-wales-st-davids-day

Art for art’s sake?

picture of a mid 20th century typewriter

Do you write? Are you a writer?

Obviously, I do because I never stop bloody going on about it.

It’s a weird thing writing, a weird passion. And that’s what it is for most of us – a passion, an obsession. Not an anguished struggle – well it’s that’s as well. It’s certainly not something we make millions from – though we may wish.

For most of us writing is the thing we do, often in secret, because it makes us feel like ourselves. It’s a thing we do because it fires us up and makes us cry and when it is works there is nothing else like it – creating worlds that we can become lost in, falling in love with characters who seem, to us, as real as you are.

It’s a weird ‘hobby’ I guess, but no weirder than train spotting – do people still do that? Or knitting, or painting or baking or running?

But there’s a weird thing with writing.

See if you are a knitter and you are happily telling everyone you know about the fabulous scarf you’ve knitted, no one asks you when you will be setting up a professional scarf knitting service, selling your scarves internationally.

The same with running – no one says you, when you bravely say you are doing the couch to 5k ‘So, when are you becoming a professional runner then?’

I mean that would be weird, right.

But if you tell anyone you are a writer and if you write the you ARE a writer – did I mention I was writing a novel?

If you tell people, you write they immediately ask you what you’ve had published? When are you going to be published?  Did you win The Booker Prize yet?

It’s as if, with writing, our only measure of value, our only measure of success, is publication.

Our art is not enough in itself. It is only in the commodification of our art, of our writing, that it has value.

Somehow, it’s not ‘real writing’ if we do it just for us. But isn’t that missing the point of art, of creating?

If the measure of success in writing is seen in terms of selling our work, we miss out on all of the joy.

What about the grandparents, writing down their memories to pass onto their grandkids, the parents creating bedtime stories to settle little ones or keep them quiet in the back of the car, the teens writing new worlds to escape the ones they inhabit? All of these are fabulous, all of these are joyful, all of these deserve recognition as writing.

Somewhere, we’ve been told the only reason to have a passion, the only value to having an obsession is to sell you work. To sell your scarfs, to sell your painting, to sell your words.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you work, your words are valuable and fabulous because you created them and that creative spark, that flare, brings you joy. And that is enough.

Art for art’s sake – isn’t that what they say?

If you write you are a writer. Shout it loud and proud.

Now, let me tell you about this scarf I’m knitting!

Social care.

I meet her down the bottom of the alley. Litter needs picking again. She’s off to get her paper, leaning on her stick, dodging curled lottery tickets and discarded masks.

She’s a bit Daily Mail, if you know what I mean but she’s always out in her garden. Her roses are stunning, not a black spot on them. A proper gardener, she is, so I always stop and chat.

I ask her how she’d been doing.

              ‘He’s back in Shrewsbury,’ she says all weary. ‘Aspirational pneumonia. Went in two weeks ago.’ Her husband of 60 years has Parkinson’s. He had a mobility scooter for a while, ran everyone off the path with it.

‘He was a devil with it, thought it funny. Well, funny till he tipped the thing,’ she says straight-faced. ‘I never knew where he was. I reckon he fell asleep in it, that’s why it tipped. Lucky it was by the post office. The postman bought his scooter back. Said he was ever so sorry, he wasn’t allowed to bring passengers in his van, but he’d called a taxi.

He didn’t use it much after that. He was meant to be coming home.’

He’s at the Royal Shrewsbury. Our nearest hospital, 30 miles over the border.

‘They phoned on Monday to say they were sending him back to the care home. They’d moved him now.’

He’d been in a care home another 30 miles in the opposite direction, and she’d had no car.

‘He’s in the new one now, round the corner. Means I can go and see him, but they’re not allowing visitors.

Only he couldn’t come home because they didn’t have an ambulance to bring him.’

She worries at the mask in her hand, leaning on her stick, sighing.

‘Then he had to have another covid test because he’d been there another few days, then he had to wait another few days for the results. I’ve been ringing them and ringing them and it’s never the same person.

They were asking me what his hobbies were. What he did for a job? What are they doing that for? He can’t move, he can’t talk. Never mind asking daft questions just send him home.’

Her voice is weary with rage worn thin to nothing. I try to smile sympathetically. I don’t know what I can say.

‘Then they call,’ she continues ‘and they say they’ve got an ambulance at last and, they’ll send him back to the care home this morning.’

She tilts her head to one side. ‘So, I call the care home and tell them he’s coming back, and they say they don’t take admissions on a weekend.

So, he’d got to stay there. All weekend. Then it’ll be another covid test. And then waiting again for the results.’ She sighs.

‘We’re old,’ she says. ‘We’ve worked all our lives, you know. It shouldn’t be like this.’

We wait a minute. ‘Am gonna do my roses today,’ she sighs. ‘Get them all sorted, at least.’

A Writing Chance

In spring 2021, in an uncharacteristic moment of bravery, I decided to practice getting rejection letters for my writing. hands trembling I hit send and entered my first writing competition. In all honesty, I didn’t read much about the prize, there was a bursary, the chance to work with a mentor to develop your writing, publication of your work in The New Statesman, which I had at least heard of.

None of that mattered because none of that was the point. The point was to enter something so out of my league that it would soften the blow when I didn’t make the cut. Baby steps to rejection, see?

Then the unthinkable happened.  I got shortlisted.  While I babbled inanely, I was told I made it through to the next round. Top tip: Hysterical cackling is never a good look professionally. Still, it was just the shortlist.  I mean, that was cool, but with my eyes on the prize, I was all ready to accept my rejection letter gracefully.

The call came, and I was ready. With my goal accomplished, rejection received, I would move on with my life.

Only I couldn’t even do getting a rejection letter right. The very lovely Claire informed me that, loving my writing, I’d won a place on A writing Chance Award with New Writing North. More cackling ensued. Sworn to secrecy, I could tell no one that the utterly fabulous Michael Sheen was leading the program.

That summer became known as the Summer of Cackling. Neighbours messaged to check I hadn’t come down with some weird variant of covid, the screeching so bad one was worried crows had moved into the house.

My daughter sent memes of Michael Sheen daily. I developed a tick, struggling to smother a cackle every time I saw his face. (Later this proved particularly awkward when meeting him in a Zoom call, the cackle half mutated into a simper, and I looked like I was having a stroke.)

Don’t let any of this make you think I haven’t taken the Award seriously. The program has been amazing. Along with the eleven other fabulous writers I have zoomed in with journalists, playwrights and publishers who were more than generous with their time.

Working with my brilliant mentor Siobhan McNally from The Mirror, I wrote, re-wrote, edited, and wrote again until an article appeared ready for publication.

The eleven other writers are, without exception, brilliantly talented, from all over the country, with different backgrounds and experiences. And the reason this award has been so valuable, not just to us personally as writers, is because you don’t hear from people like us very often.

Think about it, how many writers do you know?

How many writers did you know when you were growing up?

When you think of writers do you think of them living in a council house? Or having a disability?  Or being hairdressers, or tutors or maybe not in work at all?

Does any of that matter?

Well, it did for me.

At school did your careers officer ever say, ‘why you don’t become a writer, or an artist, or a doctor?’ Mine told me to go work in the Co-op. There’s nothing wrong with working in the Co-op, lockdown showed us the people we depend upon, but if we don’t know writing is something we are allowed to do, that being an artist is a job you could do, then we never get to make a choice. Someone decides that choice for us, says it’s not for the likes of us and we should stick to what we know.

That pisses me off. I’m not good at being told what to do.

But more importantly, it means we only get to hear certain types of stories from certain types of writers. We don’t get to see ourselves in stories or tell our stories our own way.

And now here we all are on the New Statesman website. Telling our stories.  Stories about us; internet dating, the foods of our childhood, a misremembered song, re-owning that childhood nickname. And there I am. Picking up litter.

 A writer on a council estate near you.

Picking up litter – New Statesman

A Writing Chance – New Statesman

What’s in a name?

 I quilt. Bear with me, there is a point to this. I make beautiful quilts. They are quirky, unusual, stunning – ask me nicely and I’ll show you my Harry Potter bookcase quilts. I have no difficulty in calling myself a quilter, even when meeting fabulously famous quilters, whose skill I could only ever dream of achieving. I’m a Knitter too – see I can say that, and a dressmaker and a gardener and a brilliant, ever modest, cook.

 And yet I stumble to call myself a writer.

 I might whisper it, timidly, half-embarrassed if someone asks me what I do all day. I’m published, well one small piece. Does that count? Even winning a place on the A Writers chance Award with New Writing North and the fabulous Mr Michael Sheen, an award for working-class and underrepresented writers, I still struggle to name myself. I mean it’s all in the name, right? I might be a writer? I want to be a writer? I could be a writer? Even writing this I have deleted the phrase four times, fudged it, and looked at it sideways. Why is it so hard to say?  I AM A WRITER.

I am a writer.

I am a Writer.

I am a Writer.

I feel silly.

The words rushed together because I said them too fast and now I think I may have convinced myself I’m an Amoriter …is that a kind of fossil?

So professional development step 1. ( I do love a list )

  1. Call myself a writer – be confident…. stand up straight…Don’t slouch…. Enunciate.

I. Am. A. Writer.

Sssh! Don’t tell anyone.