Ballroom Blitz

This weekend, for the first time for a while, I willingly wrote some poems.

All around me, almost constantly, is the reminder of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ that makes the difference. I could try and pretend it isn’t that way but like it or not, this is part of your rite of passage, in whatever new fandom you find yourself working within. Call it a community, commune, movement or any number of other adjectives to describe a bunch if people with a similar interest. Needless to say, you’re in fandom.

Entering the Poetry Fandom in my early 50’s is quite intimidating, but this is not unusual. There are lots of women doing this, I even read an article about some of them. The key to escaping mediocrity’s gravity is to get published or lucky on Social media. Both need a phenomenal amount of work. I’ve only really been at this for a shade under two years. That’s no time at all, and there’s this continuous reminder, day in and day out, that I’m not doing enough.

Fuck me, woman, you only just got started.

I’m ready to work again: there’s a personal project being tinkered with starting this week (once I have a residency proposal sent off to the local art collective) plus the normal run of creative outputs, but let’s be honest, none of this is keeping me in chocolate and new trousers, so it is time to see if the Dial a Rhyme service might have some merit. Honestly, what’s the worse that could happen?

On top of this, there’s a bunch of other things happening, at least one of which is deeply personal. I gotta hope that doesn’t derail everything else, but it’s always a chance. That’s the thing with life, you never know what’s going to happen next. So, do you sit and wait for opportunities to come drop into your lap, or do you get yourself out there, waving your wares to the World, in the vain hope that something might stick?

This new career isn’t going to fashion itself. Down to the business of shameless self-promotion.

Let the Right One In

Today, we present a lesson in need versus want.

You guys will know about the struggles with short stories last week. This morning, I’d sat down to work on the one idea I though had enough legs to transform into something saleable. It’s odd how so much of my mindset has, of late, simply focused on what other people are looking for, what style matters to make myself noticed. Forget that it’s become difficult to write because there’s a part of me being held back for a minute.

Yeah, I only just worked that out. But I digress.

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This little nugget dropped into my inbox yesterday, and set me thinking. There’s a prize, sure, but it’s not a publishing contract, or anything that would further my own desires. So, why on earth would it be of interest? Well, for one thing that’s the most detailed brief anybody’s given me about anything for about six months. Second of all, I have a story to tell. As it happens, it’s quite an important one as well.

This morning I tracked an article from the BBC Website about nature writing to its source, and then wrote 150 words for that and sent them off. No days of editing, no navel contemplation. Take a pictures, write the words, BOOM. I spend too much time worrying about stuff sometimes: I am the robot monkey girl who polishes everything so hard it shines, and yet nobody gives a damn about the result. Then, it hit me. I’m now a member of Mind. I wrote a story in two hours.

This one will need at least a couple of passes, and an edit from my husband, but in essence it is exactly what I wanted to write. It was the release of mental pressure I had no idea was really needed until it happened. Most crucially, it’s not fiction. It is autobiography. Perhaps, finally, the time has come to be totally honest not only with myself but the world in general about how this all affects my existence.

If all else fails, it’s been a very useful release of mental pressure on a part of my brain that’s been attempting to perform for an audience and failing.

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This’ll get sent off in due course; for now, it is time to see if the original job in hand can be completed today or not…

February Short Story: Change

This story was first serialised in 28 daily parts during February 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.


Change

I can’t do this any more.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to you, with consideration. You know better than I do how the last year’s worn us both down to stubs, lead and wood slivers scattered across a professional landscape tainted with chaos.

At some point something had to give.

It might seem heartless to announce my departure in letter form especially as you’re half a world away, but that’s part of my point. The virtual paper trail is set. My phone’s off. You’ll see the blog post, and if there’s actual care and concern to read it, then the game’s afoot. Will you drop everything in Chicago when my answerphone is all you can contact? How long will it take to notice you’re blocked on all social media? Will you rush to the airport, desperate to make it back to leafy Oxfordshire, begging me to reconsider?

Fat fucking chance of that.

I became a useful scalp in your upward progression through publishing, and for a time… yes, you did love me, of that I’m certain. There was care, consideration and passion that would ignite wherever we’d inhabit, but… and there’s always one, I wasn’t enough for you to be sated. That voracious appetite. Drugs that made me uncomfortable. Random strangers via Skype. A slow drip of extra-curricular activity that prevented a long term commitment and then, when everybody else deserted your sinking ship, I was the lifeboat that never punctured.

Not any more. For the record, I was heartbroken the first time lies replaced what had been the most precious and refreshing honesty I’d ever seen. It’s still painful, uncomfortable feeling whenever your name comes up in meetings or on publications. I loved you once, now it’s officially over. I’ve paid this company a not inconsiderable amount to deliver this letter in person. You’ll assume it’s another contract or offer, that one of your many lovers is playing a game with you, and it is, after a fashion.

You see, after patching up my cracked psyche, I hired a lawyer. The one thing you’ve always been great at is deception, which fits nicely into that professional persona so carefully cultivated. It also means that there’s a couple of quite important people in your circle that would find any hint of public involvement with you quite damaging. Don’t worry, this isn’t blackmail. I was clearing out the flat, ready to move out and away from your horrible, damaging influence and found the bag you’d either hidden there because you thought I’d never find it, or were stupid enough to forget ever existed.

Either way, you lose. You already know what was in it, and now it’s been passed onto the police, because honestly? I was a complete idiot. You played me: I was stupid enough to think that actually, I mattered when that was quite obviously never the case. You’d call me your dependable port in a storm. Not any more, it’s game over. I’ll see you in court. Oh, and as I’m reliably informed by my legal team this letter is admissible as evidence, I look forward to you trying to prove this was some kind of entrapment or deception on my part.

Time to reap what only you have sown.

Mags.


The removal men drive away, battered blue van disappearing into wonderfully bright, blue Oxford morning. I never liked this town: too posh, full of self-righteous pomposity. Christopher fitted right in here, utterly in his tweed and brogue element. It was the right time to leave. His letter should have been delivered exactly as my life departed this town for good: I’ll have got him up at 4am, just as the sun is rising over his immaculate brownstone apartment in New York. He’ll think it’s a lover, probably Anton or Elizabeth, starting his day with a smile.

I imagine him standing there, immaculate white dressing gown suddenly far too hot to wear, staring at my words: more powerful than an any threat made, means by which this entire ridiculous charade will be shattered and broken for good. High time he ended up as the injured party. It is fair to assume his legal team will not simply be sharp but also extremely clever: good luck however if you even try to prove I faked those photographs or any of the video files stored on Chris’ memory stick. You won’t find a single fingerprint of mine on any of those items.

There’s pages of notes, history written up and ready to go. What I heard: lies and duplicity, playing other people off against each other whilst keeping multiple individuals in the dark. Under normal circumstances, none of this would have been of interest to the police, except… Sickness rises in an empty stomach: it’s time to walk the short distance to the station, waiting for the train back to London and my new life. No more breakfast in bed, staring across Oxford’s classical architecture, end to the late nights staggering drunk through narrow streets.

I’ve not touched a drink since the day Chris’ bag was discovered. No cigarettes either: time to go cold turkey from everything. There’d been suspicions over drug use, and now there’s documentary evidence that’s the least of his sins to consider… no, I’m not going to let him win. Hindsight is a wonderful thing: I got played, just like everybody else, except this time there’s no running away from the truth. I’ve offered myself as evidence, willing and ready to stand up in court, because there are points in life where keeping quiet is just flat out wrong.

Part of me is already considering how long it’ll be before the truth comes out.


In the end, it takes a week.

The Metropolitan Police arrest Chris quite literally running off a private plane at London City. He makes the Guardian’s front page, as publishing goes into meltdown. The sympathy garnered from my family is remarkable, who had initially been beyond disparaging at my relationship with this man, who was twelve years my senior. The biggest surprise however is how my employers firstly handle the revelations, before swiftly acting on consequences.

I am offered free counselling, plus a leave of absence. It seems only right to be up front with them over the deal with the prosecution lawyers and when I am, their understanding and support is an unexpectedly comforting surprise. It takes six months to work out their motivation. Chris is the father of my editor in chief’s six year old daughter, which only becomes apparent after a tabloid newspaper breaks the story. It’s news to everybody, including the errant father, and I’m very glad to be working in Manchester that week and not stuck at Head Office.

Trial is set to begin the week after I move into my own place overlooking Olympic Park in Stratford. The legal team are quietly confident of their case: I’m surprisingly nerve free the night before proceedings are due to kick off, using unpacking as a useful displacement activity. At 10.15pm Kim calls me, in a state of considerable shock. The lawyer’s been informed by Police that Chris has suddenly been taken ill, is possibly unconscious and that the trial may need to be halted as a result. TV news already reports that he’s been taken to a London hospital.

By the time I’ve been woken by my phone alarm at 7am, he’s been dead for three hours. Kim has no more details at this point than that, and is amazingly far more upset than I expected. Without an accused, there’s no trial, and the story of the man with many appetites will be lost. Christopher Eastwood died of a massive heart attack before his story of abuse, exploitation and considerable excess was ever publicly known. After the trial was cancelled an awful lot of people were left without closure, including me. My response on reflection is utterly perfect.

It took just over a week to write the story of my time with him; three months to interview everybody else involved, including my then ex-editor in chief. That final manuscript was rejected by my employers quite rightly on grounds of conflict of interest, but it wasn’t a problem. Nepotism might be unpalatable to many, but it was how Chris kept himself hidden for so long. My brother saw the manuscript and within a week, his TV company had mobilised one of the most famous scriptwriters in the country.

This story will soon become compulsive, must watch TV…

Free as a Bird

On my day (which let’s face it is most of them) I am a world class procrastinator. The problem with this, looking at the calendar, is that we’re already three months into 2019 and this bid for World domination is not going to move itself. So, how do you push past failure and remain focused?

The top of those two monthly planners (intentionally blurred so you don’t get to see what I’m working on) has a very clear set of outlines. Next week, without fail, I was gonna push out some poetry (despite telling myself I was done for a bit, which was clearly a lie.) Except this morning, whilst desperately looking for a way to avoid having to tidy up, brain informed the Poetry Department it had a couple of rather useful lead-ins to the work that needs to be done. An hour later, I’ve written two out of four of my initial submission plan.

What occurred to me as I was hoovering up the floor avoided an hour previously was the rearrangement of mental priorities which is freeing up more creativity. What used to be the case is that there’d be no real grasp of what needed to happen when: this would lead to a ton of last minute panics, with work being rushed. If there’d been sufficient planning, more effort could have been put in at the outset. Having used wall planners now for about six months, it’s a far more effective means of getting deadlines to stick, and not panicking over outcomes.

The visual is a really big deal, which should have been more obvious than it was. There’s a third planner up on the wall, a 12 month one, on which deadlines are slowly being filled.It allows my brain the space to grasp what there is to do, what’s coming and where everything fits together. It also, crucially, allows me to plan for surprises. That’s what, if I can do something well before a deadline, it is far more sensible than leaving everything until a week before when inevitably, there’s more pressure.

It transpires that this is how I work best.

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Of course, none of this wins me anything, but that’s perfectly fine. The satisfaction I now feel in being able to manage and feel comfortable in my own skin, to recover from disappointment to get back into the process of writing is worth considerably more to mental well-being long-term. In that regard, this is far more significant a win than anything else that’s likely to happen for a while.

Finally, there’s a freedom just to be that didn’t exist before.

The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul

I should have started doing this far, far earlier in my life than now. This revelation isn’t really very useful or productive, so now it’s been said let’s stick it in the pile and move on. Friday was, all told, very surreal, like it happened to somebody else, or I was slightly removed from my own body. The only thing remembered was the round of applause granted when it was apparent this poem wot I wrote was a first publication.

Everything else is a blur. I met some lovely people though, and had a long conversation with Rachel Boast, for whom the W.S. Graham project has been something of a labour of love. Lots of people were lovely about my ability and my presentation too, which all bodes well going forward. Part of me wants to do a slideshow of imagery to go with any future reading, and suspect that there may be opportunity to try this out later in the year. There are plans, oh yes.

I wish I’d taken more pictures too, but in the end the ones that exist will be enough as a start. A phenomenal amount of stuff was learnt: I need better trousers for starters, and a pair of gig boots. Then there’s material, and the route to further publication… I’m looking forward to being told I’ve not won a bunch of stuff next month so I can sort out a ton of other projects using that detritus. The biggest bonus undoubtedly from all of this is a feeling of validation. Yes, you can do this.

Yes, this is just the beginning.

The Day Before You Came

Yesterday was, without doubt, one of the most difficult days I’ve ever had as an adult. ‘Yeah yeah, it’s all hyperbole,’ I hear you mutter BUT THAT IS WHERE YOU ARE WRONG. It was apparent, going into this year, there would be points where everything could topple, but what wasn’t expected was the opposite to take place. The permanent, ongoing assumption is that things get better with time. Except, sometimes there’s a release of pressure, and amazingly everything just improves.

How that happens is often a cause of considerable surprise.

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Yesterday was the day I submitted probably the most important piece of work I’ve ever completed. Sitting mentally exhausted in front of my PC and Mac, I became really very angry. That same day’s events hadn’t helped, as came an understanding that all of this, countless revisions and  rewrites and polish plus everything else are not contributing to my happiness, but serve to attain a standard other people set. There needs something that is my standards alone, or else slowly, everything will begin to suffer.

Then, I remembered the Gym. Those numbers after weigh in today, let’s be honest, are a revelation. Most people exercise to get lighter, but that’s not me. I’m here, gaining muscle mass, and becoming something a world away from the woman who thought ‘thin’ would solve all her problems, which of course is so patently untrue as to be funny. For the record, there’s less fat than ever before in my makeup, but this journey is no longer about dieting.

My road to success just took a massive detour.

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All of this is a complex cocktail of emotions to add to the general state of mental health, which pretty much relies on there being more to life than writing and submissions. Once upon a time, of course, writing was the therapy in itself, but that has now become the job. Therefore, I need a new means to cope, and exercise has become that means not only by which events are in my control, but that destiny is allowed to throw up some interesting possibilities.

I’ve learnt an awful lot about myself in the last month or so, and that’s set to continue. The lesson to learn, if it were needed, is that the best way to improve is often the least obvious route offered. I’m sure someone’s said that better, but that’s not the point. Talking about mental health isn’t just dealing with the issues, it’s finding the means by which you better communicate all the other stuff about your existence that matters just as much, sometimes more.

I’m really looking forward to travelling this way going forward.

Was It Worth It?

Once upon a time, I got quite obsessed over the number of people who followed me on social media. This coincided with Twitter’s public and high profile attempts to remove the legions of robots and fake accounts from their platform. The reality of this change is pretty stark: I’ve seen zero follower growth since April 2018 on the ‘other’ account. Ironically, this was the exact period that this project began to gain momentum: interest here is far and beyond what was ever thought possible in such a short period.

In my lessons and observations of Social media over the last few years, there’s been a veritable legion of people in the background, advising me how to ‘influence’ in all its forms. What is abundantly apparent is that the best success stories, people who genuinely deserve all the plaudits and numbers on their teams are those individuals who do, in fact, put in the hard graft. It doesn’t have to be sitting on Social media, either. The right combination of immediacy and backroom work pays massive dividends.

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I do love me some good organisation, but in the end none of it is worth the Post It notes you wrote it on unless summat budges. I’m pretty sure now the path that was originally trodden with what’s now very much a personal Twitter is the absolute opposite direction things need to head: if anything, I’d be going backwards. So, it is time to stop selling myself, and to start ‘selling’ myself. Those two quote marks are actually quite vital too. Before it was all far to serious. Now, if summat good happens, it’s a bonus, but honestly I’m not fussed.

Last time out, there was an agenda and I HATE THOSE. I’m not an influencer, just a woman with stuff to say and her own shit to sell. Not anybody else’s mouthpiece or spokesperson, just my words and stories that need to be told and might well find a larger audience if I push them. So, here we go. Gonna give it a year and see where we go. If all else fails, I might luck out and get summat published in the meantime, who knows?

It gives me something to do apart from the housework and exercise, if all else fails…