ON JIMMY SAVILE, AMANDA KNOX, THE MEDIA & SEXISM, PLUS SHARED SHAME: STANDING UP TO BE COUNTED

I watched Louis Theroux’s new doc ‘Savile’ on Sunday night; when I went to bed later, I had nightmares. I felt haunted by everything I thought I’d ever known about the man; frankly, I wished I hadn’t watched it. It was depressing and voyeuristic. I felt Theroux’s discomfort at having made the original ‘jolly’ doc ‘When Louis met Jimmy’ back in 2000, and his attempt now to acquit himself for not spotting the truth. Hearing the victims’ stories was deeply disturbing, not least the lady abused by Savile as a 10-year-old at church, after also suffering a history of abuse from her grandfather. She said she expected nothing less from men; she also said she had good memories of her granddad which confused her, and very poignantly, she asked Theroux if he thought that was OK. He said yes and I thought – what really qualifies you to say that? Partly that was informed by my on-going training to be a counsellor – and partly I thought that with my journalistic hat on, feeling he’d overstepped boundaries – although I imagine he was only trying to console her, mired in a sense of his own shame.

It’s difficult to watch Savile footage now with our new knowledge without thinking ‘My God, what a freak, how obvious’. The Savile abuse also makes me think of my own TV career. For around sixteen years, I worked on factual programmes for everyone from MTV, to the BBC, C4 and Sky. My path never crossed Savile’s – although Jim’ll Fix It was one of my favourite programmes as a kid. And like so much gossip about famous people those of us working in the media heard, the rumours about Savile felt something like an urban myth. When the gossip turned out to be true, it was extremely chilling and makes me wonder – was I complicit somehow, even though I never even met the man? (Very good review of the doc and the themes, here, by Rachel Cooke)

I also watched the new Netflix Amanda Knox documentary last weekend, with an interest born of having lived in Perugia myself for a few months in 1989, studying at the same University – alongside a load of Seattle students. My parents originally met in Perugia in the ‘60s and I’d visited the city as a child. Perugia is both beautiful and rather medieval – and it strikes me that the latter didn’t help Knox, if she is innocent, as the courts have now found her to be. In the late ‘80s certainly, the Italian boys thought the foreign girls were a good bet: certainly, when I lived in Perugia, it was normal to be verbally harassed in the street; sometimes they’d come up and touch my (blonde) hair though I don’t remember anything more threatening (though we did get waylaid down an alley once late at night and yelled at about Hillsborough). I put up with the touching: I was 18; I didn’t like it, but what could I do? (It also makes me think of being about 12 and a boy coming and touching my budding bosom in the swimming pool, dared by his friends. That was just part of being a girl, we thought, annoying, but – hey).

In both these docs, being female was part of what made life more difficult. The innocent children and teenagers coming into contact with Savile and being abused. Poor Meredith Kercher, murdered by Rudy Guede in some kind of sexual attack – but also, Amanda Knox, very possibly innocent, but then set up to seem promiscuous and therefore apparently dubious by the world’s media and the Italian justice system, after the murder. Whether or not you believe Knox to be guilty, both the media and the Italian police & courts definitely pitted themselves against female sexuality – hence the ‘Foxy Knoxy’ sluttish speculation that didn’t help her case at all.

Also in both docs, British journalists were interviewed; coincidentally, both had worked for the Mail, one of Britain’s richest (and, I would say, most ruthless) newspapers. In the Theroux doc, journalist Angela Levin said she’d been informed by a (doubtless female) nurse that Savile assaulted young disabled patients – but the paper couldn’t print, according to Levin, because of libel laws. But, of course, they could have done some proper journalism – which would have been to research the facts and actually uncover something near the truth.

In the Knox doc, it was journalist Nick Pisa who was happy to print endless salacious stories along with excerpts of her private diary: leaked to the press by prison staff presumably, after she’d been LIED TO BY THE SYSTEM and informed, wrongly, she had HIV, apparently in an act designed to both scare her and get her to admit something. As it turned out, Pisa seemed more interested in his front-page leads than the truth. That was the buzz: seeing his by-line, and ‘If I didn’t print it, someone else would,’ he admitted, somewhat sheepishly perhaps. But isn’t the point, Mr Pisa, that a decent journalist is not only meant to get the scoop – but also to actually present hard facts?

In the end, Savile’s cover came down to money and fame – partly because raising loads for Stoke Mandeville rendered him apparently untouchable – despite him constantly touching young girls and women around him.

Savile’s faithful secretary Janet Cope couldn’t bear the idea he’d been an abuser; and her attitude also revealed the innate sexism of the world as she commented ‘In the 60s, I’d be glad of a pat on the bum’.

Certainly, us young women working in TV in the ‘90s just accepted many things. There was a saying ‘the code of the road’ or ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’. A male (married) director once tried it on with me repeatedly, and when I refused his advances, he bad-mouthed me to the bosses. What redress did I have? Anything I said looked like sour grapes. Morals were all over the shop: I even wrote a book about it myself, come to think of it, my 2nd thriller BAD FRIENDS is about a TV producer who is stalked – possibly by someone she’s upset on a show. It was inspired, in part, by my worries about the morality of TV and vulnerable ‘punters’; it features a pilot show called ‘You’re Dumped’ in which – yep, you guessed it.

When Rolf Harris was arrested in real life, a researcher working for me at the time was unsurprised: ‘Yeah, he was very gropey’. Another male presenter I worked with was known to like young blonde researchers, despite being ‘happily’ married. He didn’t try it on with me; when I found out afterwards about his predilection, I was almost offended that he hadn’t – that’s how fucked we/ the system is. We were always meant to be grateful for our jobs; ‘There’s 100 people queuing at the door for your role,’ I was told at MTV when I asked for a payrise. Years later, working for a major TV production company who broke our contracts over Christmas even though we worked endless hours and weekends etc, I complained. And that was it – I never worked for them again. (And the male directors always got paid more, that went without saying.)

Incidentally, in the late ‘90s, as a researcher on a chat show, I took a call from a woman about her husband, a (late) Tory peer I believe who, amongst other things, had apparently enjoyed sex with pigs, on his country estate. She claimed he was part of a paedophile ring full of judges, politicians and other powerful men – and no-one did anything when she reported it. She’d even self-published her own book about it because none of the publishers had wanted to touch the story: I think she was largely marked down as mad – and complicit. She came on the show, but sure enough, she was warned by the legal team against saying anything very much. I’d tried to get some information out there – but it was difficult.

And tragically and unsurprisingly, vulnerable children of both sexes were sitting ducks for abuse that’s turned out to be rife (from the Catholic priests through the Yew Tree investigations and of course the endless care homes) Of course, this was doubtless all helped by the fact that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, kids were still, largely, seen and not heard, and adults were always right.

So why didn’t the adults speak out in the Savile case? (apart from the brave nurses, that is) – but who else reported it? Why didn’t someone – or a few someones – put their head above the parapet?

I know books have since been written about it, but personally I wonder if it’s because we secretly fear and even despise those who dare to question the status quo. We don’t want to rock the boat; seas must remain calm for us to carry on, keeping our heads down. Whistle-blowers are dangerous. The ‘Establishment’ protects us – doesn’t it? (it doesn’t really; it protects itself – just see Cameron, Blair & numerous utterly corrupt governments et al). But where would we be without the Establishment? We need to toe lines… don’t we?
Well, no. But if we don’t stand up together, we can’t seem to stand up at all, often because we’re too isolated.

In a similar but slightly tangential vein: A while back, my partner took his old firm to tribunal after working for them for fifteen years, every hour God sent, promoted to management; getting production up and exceeding targets. After ten of those years, the family owners brought in a new, unscrupulous and basically deceitful MD who’d keep you on – as long as you lied/ cheated/ bribed your way to bring work in for the company, and did things like shared prostitutes on foreign trips to show you were ‘one of the lads’. If you complained about the culture, your reputation was soon ruined – or outright lies were told about porn or sexual harassment.

My partner is a very good man. He is incredibly honest and couldn’t bear this culture; after refusing to ‘play the game’, within five years he was made redundant. Despite being a single dad who’d already been through the mill with a horrible divorce and delivered all his targets, he was walked out of the office on Dec 22nd – yes, 3 whole days before Christmas, with no warning – and in fact, a recorded promise that his job was safe. He’d been very popular at work but he was further devastated to find that NONE of his work-force contacted him afterwards – all too scared of riling the MD; too scared to look a good man in the eye and say ‘I’m more worried about paying the mortgage than I am about whether you’ve been treated right’. It was soul-destroying and in the end, he took the firm to tribunal because he wanted to fight for what he believed was right. (Did any of the family whom he’d worked for for years ever contact him to see he was OK? Of course not. He’d been entirely dispensable, it turned out – and he really struggled to find another job of the same quality, his confidence utterly shaken.)
As for me – I left TV and am retraining to be a counsellor. I love many people I met working in the industry, but I also came across some of the worst egos, horribly competitive environments and a level of stress that the job didn’t warrant. And I am aware that – as my dear OH said the other day ‘What depresses me about life is how the big fish get away with doing what they want & the little guys are so often kept down.’

People are scared, I suppose. We watch the huge corporations do what they want to do; evade taxes and the like, and the rich get richer and the powerful abuse their power, and celebrities get away with behaving in ways real people wouldn’t get away with in the same way (mostly), and dictators in other countries becoming unstoppable. But then – look at the brave citizens of Aleppo, for instance, who have stayed, fighting to keep their city going despite the horror.
I say: if we don’t stand up for what we believe in, no-one else will (apart from completely amazing people like Jo Cox, that is, amongst a few others. RIP, dear Jo). If we don’t stand up and be counted, the corruption becomes endemic..
And together we could try to be a little braver; just a little bit? Couldn’t we give it a try, at least?

THE STEPMOTHER IS UNLEASHED ON THE WORLD…BUT IS SHE REALLY WICKED?!

ONCE upon a time, there were some little girls, and they liked stories about dragons, and princesses and wolves who dressed up as grandmothers and tried to eat little girls like them.  It made life more exciting, to wonder whether they’d get locked in a tower one day with ridiculously long hair, or sleep for 100 years before a jolly nice prince came to save them – or they might one day meet a flying godmother who’d magic nice dresses from TopShop like Cinders had for the ball.  But they never really noticed that in many of these stories were women who were STEPMOTHERS, and they were always EVIL.  They didn’t notice because that was perceived as normal.

Once upon a time, I lived in a family that was all together.  Then the next day it split.  I was only 5.  I loved my fairytale book, my dad gave it to my sister and I.  I loved reading; I loved the pictures of Puss’s Boots, and the languid Little Mermaid.  I wasn’t that bothered about the stepmothers.  Then I grew up, and had a few of my own as I did so – stepparents I mean! After I had my own kids and split from their dad (and fyi, they didn’t like fairy tales that much – perhaps because they were boys), when I met the love of my life and moved in with him, I became, in theory anyway, stepmother to his two teens.  And OH BOY did I realise how easy it was to be cast (by some) as the ‘wicked stepmother’.

Suffice to say, the ins and outs of this relationship aren’t relevant here, but I had enough material within the 6 months we lived together to think that a twist on Snow White’s tale might be…interesting!

And so the idea for THE STEPMOTHER was born (if you fancy it, it’s available here).  And today, as publication day looms, I wonder why it is we’re still so obsessed with fairy tales and old mythology.  However modern our world becomes, these tales are threaded through everything, countless re-telling,new Disney versions for the kids; Hollywood for the teens and adults eg annoying Downton actress as the world’s most grating Cinderella, Angelina in a brilliant version of Sleeping Beauty throwing some light on why the wicked fairy was so fed up with Sleeping Beauty; Charlize Theron as the Wicked stepmother to Kristen Stewart’s sulky Snow White (I’d be jarred too, being her stepmother).

images In many of these tales the jealousy the ‘baddie’ feels is the same one our own media busily exploits: the secret of eternal youth; the middle-aged woman growing bitter & mad with envy over the younger women.  This is the crux; and lies right at the heart of my new book…only maybe not in ways you’d imagine!  I’m fascinated with family dynamics; as a student now of psychology, I want to understand why people act as they do – so often not rationally, despite seeming like ‘normal’ people.  How what we grow up in shapes us.  These are the questions I’m exploring…and – hopefully – being entertaining at the same time! ☺️

Last week I made a rare foray into the TV world where I used to spend all my working life, writing up a treatment for a female presenter interested in topics concerning most women of my generation.  And one question that came up there was ‘CAN YOU EVER LOVE ANOTHER’S CHILD LIKE YOUR OWN?’  Well, can you?!

I’d be interested in what YOU think?!  And in what you think of THE STEPMOTHER – please if you like it, I’d LOVE to hear from you, or for you to pop a quick review on Amazon.  It really makes a difference.

Happy reading 🙏

 

SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF IN THE WORLD OF A HIGH CONCEPT THRILLER…DISCUSS!

SO …steering away from recent over-politcial blog posts (well, if you call January recent that is) …I’ve just delivered second draft of thriller 6 to my lovely editor (lovely at the moment, ‘til she tears it apart J ). Now as I try to unclaw my hands from my laptop – & return to the land of the living, I have a few questions about the world of my ‘craft’…

At the recent London Book Fair 2016, some 6/7 figure deals were announced (££££): for ‘HIGH CONCEPT’ thrillers, prompting a fascinating Twitter chat with author Sophie Hannah about what ‘high concept’ actually means in crime writing. Sophie reckons it just means a ‘brilliant idea’, citing the doyenne of crime, Agatha Christie, and various of her novels eg Murder on the Orient Express. Very high concept; and in the end, we agreed the term probably just means a great ‘hook’ – as in hooking the reader in!

So is HIGH CONCEPT just sales-speak? The publishing industry is ALL about sales today. If you can claim you’re providing something new, you may stand a better chance of a big deal…but – there’s a BIG difference between being a decent writer and a big seller/ salesperson. In my book (yeah, sorry!), the beauty of a good thriller lies in a gripping story, written well – brilliantly, if you’re lucky.   A twist can be good, but a great book can’t be all about the twist. High concept often seems to mean a great idea which then fails to deliver eg isn’t executed well enough to stop up plot-holes. Many ‘high concepts’ out there don’t stand up to scrutiny in my humble opinion: I won’t name them here, because that’s not nice, but sometimes I wish we could just call a spade a spade and not try and dress it up as a ‘gleaming garden implement of new fangled metal’.  It’s prob just a blinking spade, albeit a well-constructed one.

Between book deals a few years ago, an Orion editor asked if my next book: ‘Could be high concept – like Lullaby was?’  Well, Lullaby, my first novel, published in 2007, is about a young mum on a day-trip to the Tate when her husband and baby go missing…her husband turns up unconscious and beaten, the baby still missing…Doesn’t seem very ‘high concept’ to me now: more a straightforward if scary idea: a young woman driven to distraction searching for her beloved child for the next few weeks…

Back at the drawing-board, I came up with my latest thriller, 24 HOURS: the story of a woman mistaken for dead in a fire that’s killed her best friend.  Laurie thinks the fire was set to kill her – and hiding under the mistaken identity buys her 24 hours of anonymity to get back to her young daughter – before the killer does. High concept? Set in ‘real time’, it is quite frenetic, but you can decide about the concept bit…In my world, trying to find a ‘high concept’ just meant extra pressure on top of writing what’s hopefully a decent story.

So, the downside of high concept is high PRESSURE – to deliver. And 6 figure deals are high pressure too. Amazing, no doubt – we all want to pay the mortgage off – but I know writers who’ve got them and then not sold well – and it hasn’t helped careers.

I am not a good salesperson; I get pretty tongue-tied. (I wasn’t very good at folding t-shirts at Benetton either, in my first sales job aged 15!). I’m not confident about selling myself, that’s why I’m a writer, sitting at home alone.   I’m not brilliant at the ‘nut-shell summary’ or the ‘elevator pitch’.  My first agent said often ‘you’re very ‘marketable’, Claire’. I didn’t know what she meant. (My editor says it’s code for ‘alright looking’). Whatever, it was a good thing, apparently. Why? Who knows… In case I ever got invited on Richard & Judy or Loose Women? I didn’t, so it was irrelevant. ( i live in hope though ladies 🙂 )

In Sat’s Guardian Review, there was a great article about plot by John Mullan – here – pointing out that Dickens, Wilkie Collins et al were masters of it, and they’re considered literary today – but us crime writers with our plot-driven books are a bit infra dig (I might have to google that expression; can’t quite remember if it’s right!).  Still, Mullan argued, plot is good – if it works.  Phew.  So all us crimies (I just made that up. That’s awful isn’t it? I won’t use it again but I’m tired today, and it’s been a long year of writing already!)…anyway all us thriller writers can feel validated!  HURRAH!! PLOT IS GOOD!!!!

And on that note, I’ll sign off with a comment about ITV drama ‘MARCELLA’ that finished last night. Well.  Created by The Bridge writer, Scandi Hans Rosenfeldt, let me just say this. Maybe The Bridge worked because us Brits can’t actually understand what’s going on – or maybe because Saga was a great character (though not sure how many series I could watch her for).  Whereas, as a British drama, Marcella just became untied up loose ends, worse than my teenage attempt at knitting.  Quite gripping at times perhaps – but IT DOESN’T COUNT IF IT DOESN’T ADD UP.  Why exactly was the serial killer killing???? No explanation. Only a familial motive for one of the murders – & a bit of psychopathy thrown in, with a policewoman who would have been taken off the case at least 10 times during the action – just isn’t good enough. (Did make me scream though, right at the end.  A proper scream!).  I’m all for suspending disbelief – but in a credible way, yeah?  You get me?!  With a character I actually maybe slightly care about.  Just saying.  THank you and hopefully see you at Crimefest  / Greenwich Book Festival (see links on UPCOMING 🙂

Over & Out 🙂

 

 

half the world’s eating blueberries, the other is imploding…

Well..what a January, eh?

‘My summit is just out of reach’.  I cried the other night listening to ex-soldier and explorer Henry Worsley’s last words on his audio blog – the optimism of ‘I’m going to have a cup of tea and piece of cake’ – after 70 days alone struggling to cross the Antarctic.  Instead, poor man, he was airlifted to Chile where he later died – before his wife could even reach his bedside.

Was he a poor man though?  He died doing what he loved, I guess, AND trying to raise money to help ex-veterans.  Brave man…although driven by things that killed him in the end: and only 30 miles from his goal.

It makes me think: what drives us in our jobs and careers, if we’re lucky enough to have any choice?  In my case, in this current job – why do writers write?   Does anyone care anymore when half the world’s a writer these days, with social media booming and everyone a blogger?  I’ve also been studying psychology to be a counsellor & to try and understand what makes people tick…

I write to make sense of an increasingly confusing world where people want ‘selfies’ on beaches with dead whales.  I mean, really??  Why do you want a shot of you & poor dead whale?  “See my nice day out at the (January) beach with a rotting corpse behind me?”  Last year we shared a TRILLION images online.  I mean, can anyone’s poor little brain take that in?  I doubt it.

That’s not to say of course I think I can sort any of this –  despite paltry attempts to be a good citizen of the world..so I’m taking to words in what seems like an increasingly crazy world so far this year…this decade…this century…this millenia?!  WHAT’S GOING ON?

THIS, APPARENTLY:

CAPITALISM THAT’S RUINING US ALL:

GOOGLE don’t have to pay 40% or even 25% of their earnings: they only have to pay 3% – despite having a turnover of billions each year.  No bugger questioned the ‘no UK base’ bit of their claim, despite flashy offices in Covent Garden, so they don’t have to pay more British tax?!  Meanwhile, in the real world, tiny self-employed minnows like me hire an accountant in good faith, who unfortunately turns out to be a criminal (Christopher Lunn) celebrity accountant Lunn jailed.  HRMC come after his 5000+ clients with alacrity – I had to pay stuff back I didn’t know I owed + interest on what I (innocently) didn’t pay, despite being a low earner (I usually make a loss !), despite hiring Lunn because he was – at the time – reputable, & indeed turned out to represent people as esteemed as Sadie Frost & Fiona Bruce: I mean you must be an upright citizen if you’re on Antiques Road Show, no?!  I’m not good with figures; believe me, if I was, I’d have done my own tax returns, and saved the fees.  But I’m easy to catch, a sitting duck – whereas Google & the like can hire high end lawyers/ tax accountants who advise & protect them from people like HMRC – who say, anyway, they were acting within the law.  If so, the law needs to be revised, no?

So.  The rich get richer – and the poor?  Well..whose poor?  Which poor exactly?  The migrants come to Europe from the Middle East seeking peace & refuge.  But it’s just not going to be that simple, as we can see.  People are panicking; culturally oceans apart.  Of course as a wise man said on the radio yesterday “No-one wants to leave home unless they have to.”  And they have to.  But it’s a mess, isn’t it?

ISIS are now reported by Europol to be recruiting in European refugee centres.  Radical groups grow not just because of religious beliefs but because – well, because our world is skewed this way and that.  Capitalism isn’t helping apparently: it’s created divides, injustice and resentment…meanwhile, we’re increasingly shoved in together in, disagreeing with each other – and in some areas, into increasingly small spaces: we can’t seem to rub along together living cheek by jowl.  But it’s hardly surprising really when there’s no space for people to breathe.

On Monday Newsnight had this feature:  London, where I was born and bred, is now inhabited by 40% of people not born here (that’s the correct terminology, according to Newsnight).  London has changed MASSIVELY in the past decade or two – but particularly the last one.  It’s pretty hideous now: it’s really just a giant building site full of fumes and sirens.  Traffic worsens, roadworks increase, trains & buses are packed, it’s over-crowded generally and basically, not nice.  It has amazing sights to see (if they’re not being built on), great culture to partake of – BUT fancy a gentle stroll along the Southbank or through a Royal park on Sunday? There’s little gentle strolling to be done anywhere much in London these days (unless it’s round the back of a dodgy housing estate at night) – you’ll be slamming into people.  Whoever says they’re not building housing is wrong.  They are.  I can see they are.  It’s just who they’re building it FOR that’s debatable.

A FAILING SYSTEM:  There won’t be many dodgy housing estates soon at all I fear though; they’ll all be torn down for new developments NOT affordable for the ‘lower’ stratas.  The tower block in Deptford my mate grew up in is now desirable penthouses – yes really. Residents in council estates in Westminster & Greenwich are slowly being shipped out of London, into neighbouring counties (Essex, Kent etc.)  They don’t want to leave their homes either, but they are ‘poor’ or dependent, or whatever the term is, so they can be put wherever.  They’re sitting on prime land: prime land can be sold to developers.  So the residents can fuck off. That’s the message, apparently.

State Schools are bulging – literally.  Playgrounds aren’t big enough.  There’s not enough resources to go round.  The health service is groaning (another awful story today about the failure of NHS health lines used to try and stop patients in A & E).  The queues in most NHS clinics are immense (& I know this first hand).

Truthfully, I am scared.  Those in power are not really powering on as we need them to . We try to do our bit in my house; composing and recycling and doing stuff for charity & donating money and buying clothes from ethical places and not eating meat (well I don’t) and trying to be liberal and understand the world and believe there will be a world worthy of our kids growing up in; a world we are decimating because there are too many of us and half of us are just struggling to stay alive.  People keep having big families, but we’re over populated already.  I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for medical research but I yearn for quieter times gone by…nostalgic for something I barely remember…quiet shambolic back streets down by the Thames, not shiny high rises and no-one looking up anyway…

We need to stop and look UP from our screens and smart phones: take a good look around; to realise there is more to life than just US individually and that this is IT – this world: it’s ALL we have and we’re royally ******* it up.  We can’t keep having this many kids.  We can’t keep ignoring global warming for our kids, and their kids (or will there not be any?). We are a collective – but we are huge and there needs to be world answers before it all implodes.  The ideal would be help one another more.  How though?  Well, I guess doing something is better than doing nothing..

It’d be great to not be scared in my reasonably safe life – but I’m one of the lucky ones. It’s not good out there.  We can’t go to the MIddle East and wave a magic wand over nations tearing themselves apart.  We try and we fail.  Can we try to disperse wealth more fairly? Not whilst HMRC sit by and let the fat cats like Google get fatter and the Government strips benefits from the needy.  Not while the local libraries are being shut down, the parks unmanned, and all the industries I love, be it yoga or writing or whatever become increasingly commercialised and – Not when half the world’s homeless and the other half jetting into the sun in increasingly crowded skies…there’s a tipping point and I certainly feel myself nearing it…Some expert on the news also said this about Worsley.  “He might have survived in a team’ because someone else might have realised he’d pushed his limits too far.  We are pushing our limits and we need to work as a team …please 🙂

ON WAITING

So this should be a …what?  Philosophical piece…on the beauty of waiting. We live in an increasingly fast-paced, disposable world where we all want everything to be available RIGHT NOW! But we would be better off remembering waiting is just life: EXCEPT I HATE WAITING!!! WITH A PASSION!!  So.  Maybe I could qualify that a little better…I equate waiting with a loss of control and a bit of bad luck, I suppose. That’s partly because I’ve had some bad health luck in the past – a while ago now, and actually, once I’d had the worst news, the results actually started to get better – and so the waiting was usually rewarded with something positive.  But that didn’t mean the waiting wasn’t horrible.  It was pretty much always horrible and mentally exhausting and hard not to watch clocks and the like.  The term hyper-vigilant could have been coined for me.

And some other things I’ve hated waiting for include: hearing from agents.  Hearing from publishers.  Not hearing from agents.  Not hearing from publishers.  As a TV director back in the day: waiting to hear if I’d got THE job or was eating cornflakes for the next month (the curse of the freelancer…eternally waiting).  For my divorce to come through, so I could start afresh. For texts from men I liked, or emails.  Or no texts from men I liked.  Likewise emails.  For the blinking 202 bus home on a freezing night with too much shopping to carry and sore feet.

Now I’ve been waiting a lot again this year – largely for work stuff, which has finally – hurrah – turned out well – hurrah hurrah really!!  But at times, it was nail-biting and anxiety-inducing because I’d thrown heart and soul into something I’d worked on passionately, and now its fate was in other people’s hands.  I also had various minor medical things to wait for again; routine tests, that kind of thing but with my history, it seemed STRESSFUL in the extreme.  And actually, I am quite good at trying to live life normally whilst all around me things are crashing down.  For a while back there, I got used to a shadow of fear.  It was crap, but I got used to it.  I haven’t missed it, mind you, not one tiny little iota, and this year has been a reminder of how much I haven’t missed it – that horrible waiting, clutching feeling in the tummy.

So it’s important to also remind myself that, as a storyteller by profession, I have a tendency to spin a story and come up with the most dramatic ending…and that’s not very helpful.  My counsellor would slap my hand for that!

So: perhaps you’ve been waiting all this time thinking well come on then, you dozy cow – why am I bothering to wait ’til I get to  the end of this musingWhere are the positives in waiting?  There MUST be one or two, no?!  OK, so – maybe they are right here:…remembering to bring ourselves back to the present moment, without catastrophising; to say ‘the sky is blue’ (ahem.  It’s been mostly a crap grey colour this week.)  That cute/ funny dog is wagging his tail; the branches on the tree is blowing in the wind (and right off, last night).  The kids are laughing.  My kids are laughing: naughty, sure, and oh God look at the mess they just made: but they are here, warm and loud and dirty-handed, dirty-faced, and I love them and it’s OK.  I am still breathing.  We are still breathing.  My boyfriend is here and he’s still 6’3 and good at letting me lean my weary head on his chest (and very good at telling me off for being impatient in traffic jams, and learning to wait because it’s beyond my control).  So.  All’s alright with the world really.

And yes, I am living my life to the best of my ability in the present moment.  To not wait, to not insistently be waiting for life to get better, for life to be more meaningful, to enjoy the moments we are in, to enjoy our families, our lovers and our loved ones, we really do have to do it NOW because only then, are we not waiting.  We are just getting on with living – and we are lucky.

And blimey sometimes it’s just so hard, let’s admit that.  It’s hard to not fall down that rabbit-hole of fear and negativity: but we owe it to ourselves to drag ourselves out of the hole again, and set ourselves back on the riverbank, whatever the result of the waiting, and keep on putting one foot in front of the other.  And keep breathing DEEPLY.

On Radio 4’s World at One, I just heard the most moving letter to the terrorists from the husband of a young mother killed in the Paris attacks on Friday.  He was about to get his 17-month-old son up and feed him a snack and play with him, just as they had done before the mother was suddenly killed on Friday, and it would not be about waiting but about living and showing the terrorists that they could still live.  BRAVO my dear friend.  It made me cry.  He said “Right now I am devastated by grief” but for his son, for himself, he says, he will go on.  And that involves living, not waiting. Not waiting for it to pass I suppose, but learning to live with it.  Accepting.  Good luck to everyone who has to wait for anything that is so difficult.   Good luck to us all.

And a big PS. ‘Mindfulness’ was not trendy in the way it’s now when I went through my health trauma 5 years ago. I have my own views on the cult of mindfulness; they go along with ‘clean eating’ as a fad 🙂  In my case I was already interested in Buddhism and helpfully, already the proud owner of a book called “When things fall apart” by an American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. There is help and advice out there on how to live with loss of control, and to the best of our ability.  We don’t really have control anyway; we never know what might be round the next corner.  So let’s try to embrace what we do have.

LIFE, being perfect – and all that crazy stuff

So it’s a month in from the launch of my 5th novel 24 HOURS and it’s been AMAZING that it got up into the Top 30 – and nearly the Top 20.  It was kind of unexpected as it’s been a while!  I am trying so hard to enjoy it all and not worry about anything, which is hard I find and is it hard in part because of the huge pressure women my age feel ourselves under?  I was listening to Woman’s Hour last week and Sofia Helin from The Bridge was being interviewed; she apparently once said “Swedish women have it sussed, combining work and family”.  But she seemed to revoke that, saying now she feels women in their 40s are under so much pressure and so mentally exhausted that some of them can’t work at all, and Helin hazards a guess that it’s because we – women that is – are expected to be perfect, or put that expectation on ourselves.  And she talks of a shift between an old system and a new system..and us adapting to that. So I like the sound of Helin.  I loved The Bridge anyway, & this makes sense – and so, what do we do? Do we go under?  How do we cope with being ‘everything’?  we can’t really.  It’s too much sometimes and something has to give.  Just not good if it’s our sanity or our health.

As my nearest & dearest know (& rather hate sometimes), I’ve been studying psychology and counselling for the past 18 months and the reason I do is because life can throw so many curveballs (a polite way of saying loads of ****)  that we need our wits about us, and sometimes it all gets too much.  And sometimes other people behave very badly and it affects us and we don’t understand why they’ve behaved that way, or what we can do – so I want to equip myself and those I care about with ways of dealing with life.

And oh listen Woman’s Hour has picked up on this exact topic again RIGHT NOW – talk about serendipity!  Today 70,000 35-45-year-old women are reported as being stressed at work as opposed to far fewer men…why?  Is it because we are still doing the lion’s share at home as well as working full time? Perhaps …

So what’s key?  Getting help, be it at home or at work or outside the home, and realising it’s OK NOT TO BE PERFECT!!!!  We can’t have it all – the media is lying and someone needs to be around and help prop us up!!!

In slightly more cheerful news, I was interviewed by fellow writer Neil White and it’s here if you want to read it 🙂

24 HOURS ..TICK TOCK

So the big day came & went – yesterday my new novel 24 HOURS was published, we went to the pub to… er…celebrate! And so far the reviews have been great and very kind, and long may it last, she says hopefully!  It’s so odd though to write a character (s) and to then see readers’ reactions are often so different to what we might expect..I like Laurie, but people keep writing about her irrational decisions! I guess that’s a thriller though, you don’t always know what the protagonist is gonna do…anyway, if you are so kind as to read it, and enjoyed it, I would be ever so grateful if you wrote me a review …

24-Hours-FB-Graphic2

and to buy it please click here: amazon

An open letter to Jeremy Hunt re TAX CREDITS

AN OPEN LETTER TO JEREMY HUNT & GEORGE OSBORNE

Do you have any idea why the Welfare System was set up? Do you think it was to look after feckless and idle ****ers who can’t be bothered to work?

Or do you think it was a safety-net for events that life throws at us when we least expect it? For those who don’t come from wealthy families who can pick up the pieces?

If you are going to take away with one hand, is it possible you set up something else positive with the other? Not everyone is born the same, yet we are all a UK collective. Not everyone has your chances – or mine. Don’t watch Benefit Street, provided as cheap entertainment by TV companies colluding with a public need to feel superior. Understand why this happens; why benefits become attractive or normal. History repeats itself. Damage repeats itself often, I’ve learnt the hard way.

If only we taught basic empathy, human psychology and emotional balance in primary schools. Give kids who don’t have the same chances, the same chances.

I had it easy growing up in the middle classes.

But, product of a broken home myself, I made a bad destructive marriage; in 2009, I left it, before I went mad.

I had 2 small kids, aged 3 & 5. Their father gave me nothing. I worked every hour God sent, writing books and in TV production, crossing London on an hour and a half commute each way at one point. Coming home to look after our home alone, feed, clothe and get the kids out of bed the next day before starting again.

I had to pay a lot of childcare to work; as a single parent there was no safety net of home babysitters. I was exhausted.

My friend, also a single mother, not through choice but because her ex was violent, told me to apply for single working tax credits. They really really made a difference. Thank God, I thought, some reprieve.

In 2010, still working hard, I was diagnosed with cancer. I kept working when I could, but I had 6 mths of full-on chemo & radiotherapy. My ex was still not contributing. My divorce went through.  During medical treatment, I applied for ‘sick benefit’ – it came through long, long after my fortnightly chemo was over, and was negligible.  AND considered as an earning, when I came to do my tax return.

My ex, scared by a court order (that actually isn’t worth the paper it’s written on) then intermittently gave me a bit for a while – at the most, £200 per month towards the upkeep of both kids. He rarely had them to stay, sucked up NO costs, including the childcare that i had to pay to work.

When he threatened to stop paying again, I rang the CSA. I was told I’d be worse off probably if I used them to chase for what I was owed. I might end up getting NOTHING because my ex was freelance too.

I succumbed to the idea that I was alone.

I absolutely relied on my tax credits to keep a roof over our heads. (And actually, if my family hadn’t stepped in whilst I was ill, I wouldn’t possibly have kept a roof over our heads; my house would have been repossessed and I’d be. another statistic on a council waiting list. So I was lucky.)

My ex stopped paying that bit of money, and moved away

At some point during this fight, I met a (lovely) new partner. Leaving school at 17, from a working-class family, he’d worked every day of his life (ok, not every weekend but you get me), working his way up the ladder with no qualifications. Until finally he’d had a great job, in a specialist firm making clocks for everyone from the Arsenal to St Paul’s Cathedral, for ten years.

When he was production manager, on £50k a year, the nice little family firm was taken over by an ex IBM man with quotas to fill.

After five years of corrupt culture my partner got made redundant for various horrible reasons.

He was forced to sign on because he’d used his savings to keep the family home for his kids to come back to, when his first wife went AWOL.

He was ritually humiliated every other week by dour JobCentre staff trying to keep up their quotas of getting people off the dole, so the government could say unemployment was down.  So this man who’d worked his arse off, and paid his taxes for 30 years; who’d never used a university, had a grant, taken money from the state before and who got NO tax credits because his ex took them all, despite them sharing the childcare.  This man was brushed by the broad stroke that taints it all nowadays: the suspicious benefit system that’s less a safety-net for when you fall, and more a supposition that you are probably just out to scam what you can.  I could go into who else sat next to him in the JobCentre, but that is probably a different argument.

Desperate to work again, he spent his whole time applying for jobs far below his ability and wasn’t allowed the time to go and train or do free work experience in a new line of work because he had to be seen to apply for a certain amount of jobs every day. At one point he was sent on a course to learn to be kitchen staff. One question was ‘how do you spell baked bean’?  But he’d been in senior management before the rug was pulled.

He searched his soul: he decided not to go back into composite engineering where the world was being eroded by a corporate culture that cares nothing for the man or the soul but only for marks on sheets of papers. For PROFIT AND RESULTS.

He now works as an assistant in a Special Needs school. He leaves home before 8am every day, gets home at 6 and has 40 mins – perhaps – for lunch, if not doing extra activities with the students. Every day he’s punched, if not head-butted, at least 3 times by the boy he cares for with psychotic autism, whom the system can barely find a place for. For this privilege, which is exhausting but at least rewarding, he earns £18,000 a year before tax.   Could he work any harder?? I doubt it. Does he get the living wage? I doubt it if you work out the hours he actually does.

I have been training to be a counsellor to help people who’ve been through life-threatening crap like I did. I write books, I don’t earn much. Sometimes I teach. I work really hard. I still get NO money from my ex, who rarely sees his children. I’ve resigned myself to that. THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THAT – THERE IS NO FALLBACK.

But I AM NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH so my tax credits will be cut.  AND I AM ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG.  There are SO many others out there far far far far worse off than me.

GET LOST, JEREMY HUNT & GEORGE OSBORNE. YOU HAVE NO CLUE. You do not deserve to be in positions of power.  (AND OH YES LET’S BE LIKE THE CHINESE SPEWING OUT OUR EMISSIONS TIL WE RUIN THE WORLD, WHILST WE’RE ABOUT IT).

WRITING TO SAVE MYSELF :)

Last week on Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey said these immortal words: “I wonder if writers know the pleasure they bring”! I would have done an air punch if I was prone to such but instead I gave a small smile (I’m half British and inhibited, even when it’s only the dog & cat watching. And you haven’t seen my cat. He’s a pretty cool customer. The dog? Not so much.)

Anyway, it was a bit of an hallelujah moment for me: not least ‘cos I’ve got a girl crush on Jane Garvey and her soothing tones yet incisive questioning. Of course I know she wasn’t specifically talking about me – but still, it made me smile, so much I tweeted her – and SHE ACTUALLY TWEETED BACK OMG!!!! She did say she was partial to a footballer’s autobiography, and er..I can’t see me ever writing one of them, but still 🙂

So, my joy was because I have long felt that my job – when I can call it such, ie when I’m actually earning owt from writing, which is intermittent – is something I love doing so much but seems so frivolous and unimportant, how can it possibly be ‘worthwhile’. Specially opposed to something like brain surgery, or making a road or teaching a child something (though I do hope I do that too, every day, with my own kids…I teach them loads like how to duck a box round the ear, how to match scarlet with anything, how to – )

And yet I also heard the esteemed author Kate Atkinson on the radio a few weeks ago (yes how I love that little black box that sits unassuming in the corner of almost every room in my house) and she talked of writing being ‘rescue’ and again, that felt very poignant to me.

Because whether she meant rescue for the reader or the writer, for me writing is a life force, without being wanky & pretentious –it’s part of who I am, what I live and breath and I can’t stop doing it (sorry about that), even though my fortunes have been less than outrageous… 🙂

And at the most terrifying moments in my life, when I was very ill and feared I might die; when I left my marriage and feared for my children’s psychological well-being, I kept writing, writing, writing on and on, largely privately, but also for my work – and it helped me make sense of things, it helped me keep my head just about above water. As did reading other writers’ work…

At the height of my treatment for lymphoma, just before my last novel was published, the PR asked me if I wanted to write about my illness. I said no, because I was so shocked and scared, I wasn’t ready, it was private etc – but also the idea of using cancer as a sales tool seemed – unseemly. Now, though, five years on, I may be ready to write about it: just to say to anyone out there suffering, you’re not alone, I got through so you can too.