Beautiful Dreamer

Seven days into the October #FaithIoW project, things are going pretty well.

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The biggest single challenge currently remains the photography side of things, especially as there’s a phenomenal amount of Real Life still going on post my husband’s operation. However, content is planned for the whole of this week, which is a distinct improvement on where things were when this journey began. Therefore, I’ll take this as a success, even if the speed of other organisation isn’t going as I’d wish.

This week will see a couple of abortive projects resurrected, and some important groundwork for the beginning of November.

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The NaNoWriMo site has finally undergone an upgrade: although not technically perfect, I can now organise my work for next month already. We’ll talk more about Ternary in the coming weeks, but I have high hopes for this project. It also provides a much-needed alternative to poetry, which is going to get a lot of love to meet some important late October deadlines.

There’s also going to be a return to the normal business of daily poetry, short stories and YouTube playlists: I have a story to finish from August too, and am working out the best way to do this along with the abortive playlists that were never finished when I got sick. The most sensible idea, it occurs to me, is to just carry on where I left off… I wonder, is that feasible…?

Only one way to find out, I suppose…

Surprise, Surprise

Yesterday, at about 10.45pm, I recorded my first poem. Well, that’s not strictly true: a lovely BBC Sound engineer in Manchester did it for me. 

At NO POINT in my planning was there provision to get anything other than a mention in passing for this project. It wasn’t about recognition, after all, just to give back to my home town, which I’ve now done with some style. To talk to one of the Project founders, and a poet in residence, was a brilliantly unexpected bonus. It took that Guardian mention and knocked it out of sight. I’m gonna be thanking these people in dispatches for quite some time to come.

EVERYTHING that’s changed my course this year has come from a willingness to be vulnerable, to place mind and body in situations that were previously frightening. The knock on effects from this are only beginning to register, but in last night’s recording I can hear my own fear, nervousness in voice that comes from being exposed to an audience. In time, I’ll get my head around it. It will get better with practice.

All these things will improve with practice.

Here’s the poem I read on the show.


Two Tree Island ::
Bleak, Hoarse

Golden hour,
I came here to begin
next chapter’s transformation

remade through other’s imagery,
inspired
earth to sky,
brown
to gold
adheres, presenting unexpectedly

grubby printed brilliance, webbed feet
pointing path, open silt bar
my usual; steaming,
anticipated
epiphany of
self abstained, regained.

I asked for a sign;
you gave
graffiti covered
rubberised playgrounds
broken boats
peeling
saint’s
names

Pier’s glorious insertion, failures forgotten
thousand harsh rejections sail away
masts of possibility remain,
renewed
mirrored sunrise
into grateful eyes.

Bleak, hoarse failure recedes
to seeds,
green runway, as above, first plane

softens

mumbling to trains.


I really hope this isn’t the last time I read a poem on national radio. This is a pretty high benchmark to exceed.

I do so love a challenge.

Find Time

It is high time for an update on the Project Du Jour, I feel.

The first poetry has already been pinned on the Places of Poetry site.

Watching poems appear on their site has been possibly the most satisfied I have ever felt about anything ever made. Public access projects are a rarity in the modern world: you’re not making any money, after all, so what’s the point in taking part? For me, it is exactly that which made this project so appealing. Nobody else gets to judge my work, it is simply accepted on merit regardless, will exist virtually as testament to my town.

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That allows a freedom of expression that is often lacking in other places: no need to write ‘a certain way’ or to conform to a particular (or popular) poetic style. My voice is allowed unhindered freedom of expression, and that in it self is a joyous, liberating experience. It means being able to express feelings that previously had no way of effectively releasing themselves from my brain.

If I’m totally honest with myself, that’s the best part of all about this entire project.

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I am still on target for a Wednesday finish: all poems will be ‘pinned’ by Monday night, and then it’s just up to me to do the back-end work as a follow up. After that, you can absolutely bet there will be a celebratory glass of summat raised at a project that’s fundamentally altered my relationship with poetry for good.

Somebody To Love

Starting on the 13th, the Mental Health Foundation is launching a week’s worth of posts around the topic of Body Image, and why it remains a serious mental health issue. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, social media pressures and online abuse are rarely out of the news of late, and with increasing numbers of people refusing to be shamed or ashamed by the way they look, it seems the right time to be talking about these issues on a wider stage.

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I’ll be contributing two special blogs next week: one on my own issues with body image and the fight to stop being obsessed with my weight, and some reflections on how age has altered how I feel not only about my looks, but how I present myself to the world. There will also be a special set of poems this week at 9am and 5pm, both under the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek umbrella.

Outside

You can also join me in wearing a Green Ribbon during the next week as a means of showing your support for the initiative and those who require the vital help and support the Mental Health Foundation provide.

Purchase your Green Ribbon here.

There’s No Other Way

Following the weekend’s revelation that my mental issues are scuppering progress on editing old work, we’ve made solid progress on a new approach to writing long-form fiction. In fact, as it transpires, this approach is a bit of a revelation:

I speak a bit about the process on the Other Blog: it was meant as a means to release mental pressure, and give me something to aim towards going forward. Buoyed by this, tomorrow is the day when I work on the short story I’ve written and not yet completed that I’d like to enter for the formal contest that began all this trauma in the first place.

If this works to my satisfaction, there’s a second short story to follow.

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However, right now I’m trying my best not to be obsessed with doing just one thing if something else pops up, comes along and demands attention. In practical terms that’s trying a new submission avenue this week, that doesn’t have a deadline and demands what I consider to be my best work. I have no idea if it will work or not but what is apparent is how much the process is being enjoyed. That’s what’s been missing for the last few months.

If I can find the things that truly spark joy when creating, there’s a far better chance of something finally being considered as good enough.

March Short Story: Hysteria

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts (I know the graphic is incorrect) during March 2019 via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Hysteria

‘You’ve not heard, have you?’

Harry is the Senior Sub and my liaison since January. I was here to catch up with Connie in Lifestyle, returning her West Wing DVD’s, and he’s collared me by the vending machine.

‘I don’t look at social media every 10 seconds, what have I missed?’

‘Your favourite bonkers actress gave possibly the most honest post-Golden Globes interview anybody ever wished for.’

Looking at my watch it’s 3am in LA. Alice Hooper was a shoe-in as Best Supporting Actress for a remarkably subtle turn in ‘Surviving’, a World War 2 blockbuster. The win I knew about, because I’m in the same WhatsApp group as her publicist. We’ve kept in touch since graduating from Guildhall together: Pip and I shared a curry the last time she was in London. This turn of events is a surprise, and isn’t being spoken about privately as yet.

I know what Harry’s going to ask this freelancer next: the paper’s editor can spot a story half a mile away with headlights on long before anyone else. What needs to happen now is me at a workstation, firing up YouTube, in the hope this interview’s bonkers content has gone viral. Polly Acres has the footage on screen already, trawling it for comment, and is happy to re-run the three minutes and twenty three seconds in its entirety. The first thing that strikes is Alice isn’t herself: both hands grasp the award, working hard to keep a shake under control.

In two hundred and twenty three seconds she calls her co-star a misogynist devil, attacks the director for sacrificing historical accuracy over trite one liners and confirms the production company insisted that their CEO’s daughter be given a totally pointless walk-on cameo role. None of this is lies, if rumours online were to be believed, but they’d all been strenuously denied or redacted. For Alice to pretty much rubbish everybody she’d worked with in such a short space of time is an impressive show of defiance even for her, but that’s not the killer.

The final question comes from this paper’s Entertainment editor: what do you have to say to your fellow nominees? Alice stares straight at the camera, eyes full of tears:

‘You’re wasting your lives. Nobody cares about you, or what you’ve done. It’s time to change profession.’

The press room falls suddenly silent as Hooper extends her arm, before theatrically allowing the Golden Globe to fall to the ground, where it quite impressively disintegrates into several pieces. As she walks away, there is undoubtedly signs of a limp that wasn’t there yesterday.

I’ve interviewed Alice eleven times in twenty years. She’s never done drugs, remains proudly bisexual: last time there was a lover in her life was over a decade ago. Their death from a pulmonary aneurysm had profoundly altered both outlook and approach to the entertainment world. As the expert on Hooper in the room, Polly is told the facts: this woman will have drunk water all night, it isn’t prescription pills or drugs talking. No slur, eye contact with cameras the entire time. This is just her and utter truth.

The question we should be asking is why.

My phone ringing at this point would normally be a massive inconvenience, until I notice the caller ID: Harry’s eyes widen as I show him, before connecting to Pip. She should be asleep, but if the call’s being made now, I’ll be on a flight to LA before the end of business today.

I know what’s going to happen before it does.


Eleven hours on a plane and a small fee for internet is all I need to get back up to speed on Alice’s life to date. There’s an immediate red flag: an appearance on a US genealogy programme was suddenly cut a couple of months ago. Buried away in a Variety byline are the details, language which is quite obviously chosen by someone with a legal eye on proceedings. I had no idea such programmes even existed, and with time to kill there’s an opportunity via the flight’s entertainment system to watch an example.

Fourteen minutes into this particular episode, elderly male celebrity makes jokes as he’s asked to swab inside his cheek for a DNA test, and I’m curious. My mother used to tell me I was wasted as a journalist and would have made a fantastic policewoman instead. She was right. This would have been something Alice would have loved: history, romance and intrigue around her family who emigrated from Italy to New York in the 1880’s. What if that DNA test had flagged something serious, the knowledge of which had forced her to withdraw from this documentary?

I’ve not replied to Pip’s last WhatsApp message yet, details of when to meet Hooper when I get to LA. Normally we’d meet at the Chateau Marmont, but instead it appears I’ll finally get to see Alice’s home for the first time, which fills my tired mind with a measure of excitement. El Cabrillo was built by Cecil B. DeMille in 1928: a two-story, ten-unit Spanish-style courtyard apartment complex, which has a history as rich and torrid as the man who was responsible for it’s construction. It has featured in countless TV shows and movies across the decades.

It’s one of three homes in LA, originally owned by her last long-term partner Lucy Welles. It was generally accepted she never stayed there any more as a result, but she will be there at 9am tomorrow morning, waiting for me. Nobody else will be offered either invite or interview. I ask Pip via WhatsApp if she’s okay, expecting a generic response. It takes fifteen minutes, then a video arrives: she’s still in the outfit worn for the Golden Globes. She thanks me for my discretion and honesty, before bursting into tears.

Something is terribly wrong here.


There’s a man waiting outside the Complex as I get out of the cab the next morning. LA is surprisingly sullen and grey, sweater weather for most. I’m still too hot and suddenly nervous, uncomfortable at this man’s presence. I’d come fearing the worst: this serves as confirmation. He’s a care nurse, unphased I’m a reporter, explaining that Ms Hooper has left strict instructions for my handling. There is breakfast inside: I must wait until Alice wakes naturally. It is important not to disturb her. As he opens her apartment door, I’m left completely stunned.

The place is a shell: no furniture except my chair, full breakfast tray and Alice’s hospital bed, for that’s what it is. Surrounded by quietly bleeping and clicking machines is the woman who yesterday was very much upright and defiant. As the front door closes, eyes flicker open.

‘Good morning, Ruth. I hope you brought enough hard disk space for a sizeable expose…’


I wish now I’d taken a proper camera, looking at photos downloaded from my ancient and much in need of an upgrade mobile phone. Back now at the Hotel, they’ll tell this story regardless. Alice Hooper was diagnosed with Lichen planus eleven months ago: after the disease failed to respond to traditional medication she was sent for specialist testing. Then came the discovery that her immune system had begun attacking other organs, including liver, heart and lungs.

She provides me with details of a charity set up to fund research and promote knowledge of this new condition, using her personal fortune after she finally passes. It could be weeks, or hours from now. Nobody really knew. Death stood, waiting for a prompt she was ready to leave. Asking about the outburst at the Golden Globes, why she spoke brutal truth elicited the only real smile in her entire interview.

‘I was a lousy actress, never made a difference. However as a test subject I might end up saving lives. I really wish I’d changed careers far sooner.’

It’s impossible to transcribe any more of the interview, I’m crying too much. This woman is a personal heroine, and I will be the last person to have interviewed her. This legacy, gratefully received, will ensure devotion to her life and career ends on the most positive of notes. On the way back to LAX that evening four calls in thirty minutes go to my answerphone. Rumours are flying after Alice’s performance that this is way more serious than a spat with the production company. People want to know why I’m in LA: they’ll be told, when I am good and ready.

Once upon a time I’d have been hustling for a deal, playing one media outlet against the other. Not any more: what she told me, with brutal honestly over four hours has already had a profound affect on existence.

To be so fearless, that close to death… her greatest performance.


Alice Hooper dies when I’m somewhere over Newfoundland.

Pip’s message is two minutes of tears, trying to get words out: she doesn’t need to. A stewardess asks if I’m okay, only passenger in First Class Alice bought for my return trip. I tell the truth: a dear friend passed away.

Poetry Archive :: Nobody but You [Redux]

Love is still horrible, unsurprisingly.

The original version of this poem can be found here.


Nobody But You

Now, departed: mind
desolate: understanding,
our love is over.

All passion desires
out of reach: estranged moments,
cold, empty feelings.

Every day, torture
realisation; final
line drawn, completed.

Point of no return,
old path blocked: accept failure
future, crumbling.

Nobody but you
at this instant: matters more,
loss too much to bear.