I’ve been asked by the marvellous Anne L Harvey to carry on the torch of ‘My Lovely Blog.’ This is simply a relay-blog between fellow writers who share similar interests and take in life. I’m going to have a stab at answering these questions and then will pass you onto two further buddies…
My First Memory
Plenty of little ‘flashes’ – lying on a pink and black checked blanket outside my parent’s house in East Manchester. Feeling as though I was going to melt like one of those sticky lemonade lollies that we always clamoured for from the ‘Faircloughs’ ice-cream van that used to do the rounds. Yes, this was *that* summer of 1976 and my parents clearly hadn’t heard of sunscreen, sun hats and the fact that pale, white-blonde baby girls shouldn’t be dumped outside a house in order to sizzle.
Another memory from outside of our house – me doing a Houdini – escaping from the reins that bound me into the big red pram. Me bouncing up and down on the edge of it. Yet still more parental neglect? I bet Mum was havin’ a crafty fag out the back door. Or had gone to the Costa del Sol with the milkman or something.
But my strongest memory is of 1977. I had just learned to dress myself and proudly trundled downstairs. Our kid was sitting at the kitchen dinette table that our Dad had lovingly built. The bro’ was eating in his usual disgusting fashion (‘I’ll mash up my Weetabix, add loads of sugar and then scoop it up with my fingers.’ And he was nearly 3 years older than me, for goodness sake!) Sadly however, my mother paid me no notice whatsoever. She was hanging around ‘the wireless’ and crying. The newsreader had just announced the death of Elvis Presley.
(Did I tell you that Elvis Presley was my dad? No? Well. He should have been. I bet he wouldn’t have tried to fry me, or allow me to abseil off the end of my pram or ignore my early efforts at wardrobe-assemblage.)
Of course – I jest about my horribly neglected childhood. One of the things that I am most grateful to my mum for, is the fact that whenever she had a spare minute she would try and shove her nose into the nearest book. I can’t think of a better role model for a child. Interestingly however, I was never that impressed with the books that she urged me to read; Milly Molly Mandy, the Famous Five, Black Beauty, Janet and John. No I reckoned that these sorts of choices were too ‘posh, too ‘up-itself.’ The stuff that my mother had been urged to ‘develop’ her reading muscle with as a kid, just left me cold. I guess this was the beginning of a lifetime enslavement to my own form of inverted snobbery. Poor Mum. She did her best to introduce me to a lot of the decent, more literary stuff for kids. But I just wasn’t buying it.
It wasn’t until a thirty years ago that I came up with the idea of ‘Chrissy’s Book-It List.’ All of the classics – the most critically acclaimed high-fallutin’ stuff – that you’re supposed to read according to University Literature departments across the world. The Top 100 or whatever – that the critics who reckon themselves to be ‘in the know’ – say that you just gotta rifle your way through. I produced my own list and yup! Am steadily working my way through them all. Plus scribblings produced by writer friends and books by friends of friends (such as those published by the northern company Bluemoose – their productions are always worth hurling a Tolstoy across the room for, when you’re in need of a modern, well-written read that isn’t accompanied by the usual silly, London-centric literary PR-fanfares.)
Thinking about my grown-up Book-It list a bit more though, it does very much reflect the themes that titillated me the most as a child. So I’m doing plenty of political and historical sagas, satirical stuff, tragedies and wisdom with a twist of spirituality. Chick lit, bodice-rippers and aristocratic oppression of the masses ain’t on the cards, pal.
Bookshops? BOOKSHOPS? In your dreams. In my childhood’s neck of the woods, there was never any point in entering a bookshop unless you had recently had a birthday and a very thoughtful Auntie (who happened to you know you very well) had treated you to a book token. Even at University there was very little point in locating a bookshop. I couldn’t afford them. Neither could kids from similar backgrounds to me who managed to get to university on that hallowed grant system (there was one lad at Uni however, who was also working class and who always had the recommended texts on our course – but he used to nick them from Dillons, so he doesn’t count.)
So it was libraries for me. The library was just a few hundred yards from our house and I visited it several times a week. Walked on my own. Crossed a main road. From the age of 7. Swigged a can of Special Brew on the way (okay, okay – I made up the last bit but you know what? Those were FUN days to be a child…)
It felt like that I lived in the library during the summer holidays. My earliest ‘library memory’ involved me and my best friend getting told off by one of those really scary librarians whose face looked like a cat’s bum. Our crime? We had both taken out 4 books just after 9am and returned them during the afternoon. Wanting 4 more out each. We got a bollocking; “You’re not supposed to visit twice in one day! Our system doesn’t allow for things to be checked out more than once!”
Fortunately even at the age of 9, I realised that even our marvellous municipal libraries end up having to employ the odd miserable old trout or so and who hates kids.
And even though that particular ratty old bag has been pensioned off into the great beyond – it does seem these days, rather too many of her relatives have been employed by local authorities. You know the sorts. The guys n’ gals taking the decisions to shut down over half of our public libraries.The sorts who don’t have an imaginative bone in their body and for whom it wouldn’t even occur that a library isn’t just a place to borrow books, but that it’s the very heart and soul of a locality. That it’s a blueprint to mental survival. A lifeline for many a curious and contemplative child and for many a lonely adult. Or simply a sanctuary for those who live, learn and lust for a bit of bookish adventure
Damn. See what you started?
What’s Your Passion
Apart from libraries, you mean? Okay… People who ‘lack the contacts’ in order to get a fair deal in life. Whether they be unemployed ex-offenders in Manchester, working class Pakistani-British in west yorkshire or impoverished and starving rural communities in Africa. Looking back, I guess that this has always been the thread that has wound its way through my work and my life. Not consciously….
But somehow I always end up getting involved with the outcasts, the unlucky in life and the folk whom people in the positions of power all too often perceive to be ‘unfortunate scum’ (NB at this point I am tempted to add ‘And yes dear reader, I married him!’ Heh heh.)
My brother and I were the first in our family to go to University. It was all a bit of a culture shock for me. I spent 3 years crying into a public pay phone and naffing off the other kids in the queue. My conversations seemed to consist of ‘I hate it here! Please can I come home? Everyone is so much… posher than I am. They’ve all read these books that I haven’t. And I’ve eaten Mum’s frozen Quiche every day for four weeks now, so can she make me some more to freeze? Oh. And someone fed all of my Cup a Soups to the fish in the pond.’
Other kids on those pay phones seemed to have chats with their parents along the lines of; “And Oh My God – Jemima was like – so drunk, Mum – that she like, totally like, projectile vomited all over the President of our Hall – but he was like – totally cool with it and even, like – shagged her afterwards.” Or “I don’t care, Mummy. You just have to send me the extra £100 because I wore that ball gown last term and there is like, no way-over-my-dead-body that I’m wearing the same gown twice.”
Sadly I am not exaggerating about the conversations between these girls and their mothers. I remembered rushing back to my room at University in order to jot down these exact conversational shap-shots.
So yes, I was the last of a dying breed. Kid who got to go to university on a government grant. Kid who felt like a fish out of water and worked her backside off in order to do her parents proud.
Theoretically, I think that I would have done well at university, whatever (that hard-work ethic) but the real learning that I accumulated there came from the adults – a couple of pretty special tutors and the Brummies that I worked alongside in the local shop – rather than the actual courses that I took. Which is why – when it comes to the big question of ‘University or Not’ for my kids – I feel pretty ambivalent. I reckon that true learning in life is not at all about academic – or career – achievements.
But I’ll save that for another blog and another day.
I struggle with writing about writing. Because for me, it’s just the same as breathing. If I can’t do it, I’ll explode. But then … to admit the NEED to write for me, took a long, long time.
There still exists a massive class barrier for those from the poorest sectors of society who want to write. The Writing World is still 99% controlled by well-off, well-educated, white folk who lack the societal, economic and often physical barriers faced by the masses who might be pen-savvy. Did I also mention that they’re almost exclusively London-based too? I did? 😉
Thankfully the internet and the indie route to publication and artistic expression is rocking the traditional world of publishing to its very core. It certainly was more than time wasn’t it?
And maybe I’m just bobbins at promoting myself, my own writing (or maybe I’ m just lazy and simply just enjoy rather more rather more alternative avoidance tactics than watching The X Factor on telly) but I’d rather spend lots of my own time championing the writing of others. And especially on upping the writing chances of the underdog. Which reminds me. I must tell you more about why I’m involved with the fabulous writing charity ‘First Story.’ One for another blog methinks….)
Anyroadup. That’s this ‘My Lovely Blog’ shenanigans over for me. I’ll now pass you onto two writer-chums of mine. Tim E Taylor and KB Walker. Both have been fantastic help to me in terms of advice on my own writing and both are hugely talented in other areas of life (I shall drop in some key words here – such as ‘musician’, ‘educator’, ‘farming’ and ‘community’) and also need to add that the two of them also happen to be incredibly nice, witty and charming people. (People like that. Make you feel sick, don’t they? Not that I’d ever say that about them in public, of course.)
Over to Tim and Kim!