Speak Up, Save a Life
What would you like to read about?
Past blog posts
October 2015 M T W T F S S « Sep 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
On the blog today, we have a man who helped me on the road to success more than I can ever explain. Darren Sant read this very blog when it was in its infancy and invited me to guest on Close to the Bone, a forerunner of the massively successful Near to the Knuckle. I became a regular on CttB and it gave me a huge confidence boost. Darren has also been a big supporter of my fiction and through NTTK, he and Craig Douglas are championing gritty fiction. Today, Darren’s on the blog to show some love for Aidan Thorn. Enjoy!
I first came across Aidan Thorn’s fiction in one of Byker Books fantastic Radgepacket anthologies. Aidan’s story featured a frozen finger and had that gritty sense of humour that I have come to love about some of the better British crime writers. I dropped him a comment about how much I liked the story and we’ve been friends ever since. I’ve seen his talents grow exponentially, along with his confidence, since I read that story and with reading more of his work I’ve seen a style develop that is uniquely his own.
Urban Decay is a collection of thirteen stories. In the first story in this collection, Loathe Thy Neighbour, Aidan’s keen observations about life on a council estate are bang on the money. The relationship between the main character and his mother is very convincing and touching. The sense of pride felt by hard working everyday folk comes across well. The hard man in the story is pushed too far and as you’d expect there are consequences. Thorn’s observations cut through the bullshit of everyday existence with the thoughtful precision of a surgical scalpel.
Throughout the grimy reality of the criminal underground is brought vividly to life through blood washed streets and dark, dangerous back alleys. No metaphorical stone is left unturned in this graphic exploration of the seedier side of things. Aidan Thorn tells it like it is, pulling no punches and putting it boldly. If you can handle it why not download it?
If you’d like a taster, ‘Loathe Thy Neighbour’ is read aloud by Daz here on SoundCloud.
Kate Kerrigan’s novel The Dress has a dual timeline that brings the past into today. The modern-day protagonist Lily loses her grandfather whom she is close to in the early part of the book which triggers her journey into her own past. In this blog post Kate talks about the special relationship she had with her late grandmother, Anne Nolan.
In recent years I have found myself storing half-onions under saucers and saving bits of leftover bacon to throw into a quiche. I have also begun to suspect that supermarket sell-by dates are a con designed to make me buy more yoghurt. I know that my new-found thriftiness isn’t just a reaction to the economy then the other day, reaching for the bone handled knife I always use to peel apples, a picture flashed into my mind. My grandmother was seated at the table in her simple kitchen tearing the leaves off rhubarb stalks and in her hands was that very same bone handled knife.
My Mayo grandmother lived with us in London and she died when I was in my early twenties. I have always missed her humour and her presence but recently I have come to feel her legacy in the domestic details of my life and I miss having her to there to share them with.
I want to show her my own wonderful rhubarb patch, ask her advice on keeping the crows away from my gooseberries, have her show me how to darn the elbow on my expensive Lainey Keogh cardigan. Mostly I want to stand at her side in my mother’s kitchen and have her teach me to make her wonderful soda bread again. This time I would take real note as she throws the flour and bread soda into the bowl, measuring by eye alone, gradually adding in the soured milk then gently kneading the dough into a delicate round, gathering in every last crumb and leaving the red Formica tabletop spotless. I’m ready to learn from her now. I am ready to listen. I want my time back with her not as a girl in my twenties, my head full of new clothes and boyfriends but as a mature woman whose domestic situation reflects so much of her own.
When my mother refurbished the kitchen in her family home, she passed me on a number of Granny’s things. Her cookery books, the mixing bowl she had made her bread in for forty years, and crucially – the bone handled knife that she carried about in the pocket of her apron, always. The small, flat instrument with the rounded blade had started its life as a dinner knife, but, for some eccentric reason, Granny had sharpened the centre of it until the blade was concave. To this day it is extraordinarily effective in cutting everything from vegetables to bread. “Granny’s Knife” sits in my cutlery drawer and I use it everyday. My husband is mystified and slightly nervous of the thing and never touches it. With it’s ancient yellowed handle, and strange shaped blade it looks like a hybrid butter knife – but it still works, and using it is a way of keeping her with me.
Often, when I am chopping an onion, or peeling an apple she comes into my mind – stout and stern working at our kitchen table, then hearing something funny the radio, throwing her head back into a loud burst of laughter so suddenly you’d nearly jump out of your skin! Material possessions are not as important as people, but they often outlive them and for what they represent, for they way they remind you of a person, they are important. My grandmother’s knife had no significance for me until she died, but now I can remember her using it from when I was a child. My own children are unaware of these things now, but as they reach adulthood, the legacy of my grandmother’s generation will live on through them in the comfort of the home I have created. I let them know “this is my grandmother’s recipe” when I serve them up a traditional dinner.
They aren’t listening, they don’t care that I ate the same foods as a child but just as I by some mysterious process absorbed my grandmother’s ways I hope that my children will come to appreciate the history of their home lives. Despite their eye rolling, the meals I cooked and the knife that I used, which once belonged to their great-grandmother, will all log in their memories. Perhaps one day they will come to cherish the way history can enrich our everyday lives as I have.
In the past, I’ve blogged about the sense of achievement I felt when qualifying as a teacher in July last year. I was to finally be a qualified teacher but I was not happy when I saw my graduation photos. The woman in the photos looked about six months pregnant, sweaty and uncomfortable. The dress she was wearing was tight in all the wrong places. That woman was me, aged 30.
I was utterly disgusted. I had managed to avoid cameras for so long that I’d been able to live in blissful ignorance, unaware to some extent of how bad my weight problem really was. OK, so at medical appointments, doctors expressed their concern at my BMI but seeing the photo below really brought home to me how far I was from the idea I had of myself. Basically, I think I had body dysmorphia in reverse.
Another thing I’d avoided was clothes shops. I had taken to ordering things online if I was really desperate but, with a new job on the horizon, I had to go shopping for new work clothes. In August last year, I was in a size 20 in Primark clothes – and they were snug.
I think my mum had also got an unpleasant surprise when looking at the graduation photos and so, because we had a family holiday planned for November, we agreed to give Slimming World a go. We initially went with the intention of joining and going for a few weeks to learn the plan then going it alone.
On attending my first session, I sat at the back of the meeting and cried. I cried because I was intimidated by my consultant – not because of anything he did but because I was so introverted that I couldn’t believe anyone would be so confident and outgoing. I cried because of how fat I’d let myself get. I cried because I thought Slimming World was going to be another fad that wouldn’t work. And I cried because I felt sorry for myself, after all, I’d been really poorly and pumped full of various drugs which hadn’t helped my weight.
When I joined Slimming World on Tuesday, 9th September, 2014, I weighed 16 stone 2lbs. My BMI was 32 and I was clinically obese.
Yesterday, I stood at the front of my Slimming World group as a nominee for their Woman of the Year. I also obtained my 2 and a half stone award yesterday, bringing my BMI to 27 and me only 9lbs away from my target weight. I wore size 14 pants from Primark to yesterday’s meeting.
When giving a short speech to the group last night, I admitted that I never realised how out of control my eating was. I could blame my medical condition and the drugs used to combat it but I know that my weight gain was mainly down to my lack of self-control. And that’s why I will continue to go to Slimming World even when I do hit my target. I am able to admit now that I could not maintain a healthy weight without the support of the group members and my wonderful consultant, Adam.
When Adam called me a fortnight ago to tell me I’d been nominated as Woman of the Year, I laughed down the phone. Who thought I was anywhere near worthy of Woman of the Year? I suspected it was my mother and maybe one of the friend’s I’ve made over the course of the last 49 weeks.
When I first started SW, I sat on the back row with my mum and avoided eye contact with everyone. I was anti-social and negative. I refused to tell anyone other than The Boy Wonder that I was a member. I was ashamed. Now, I will happily tell anyone that I’m a member of Slimming World and how it has changed my life. In my weekly group meetings, I’m one of the most vocal people there – can you believe that?! I can’t. Nor can I believe that I cooked Slimming World yorkshire puddings to take to share at the group – I do more cooking than I ever considered I was capable of.
I’m not going to lie and say that I have found Slimming World easy all of the time. I would struggle to keep up with the plan without the help of my mum – she cooks several meals a week for me and that is a huge help. I have had several unexplained large gains – on two separate weeks I gained 8lbs in one week and still have no idea why – but I have never truly believed that I would quit. What would I achieve from quitting? I’d end up back where I started – or worse. The feeling of gaining a lot of weight without a reason is truly devastating if you’ve been trying hard to stick to the diet but if I did quit, I’d certainly be no better off.
Adam treated his nominees like stars last night and I felt so special. Although I didn’t win, last night was one of the proudest nights of my life. I may have let myself get to a very bad point but I am well on the way to putting it right with the help of some amazingly supportive people.
If you need a way to lose weight, I cannot recommend Slimming World enough.
Angela Readman’s stories have won The Costa Short Story Award, Inkspill, and The National Flash Fiction Day Competition, and have been in winners anthologies for the Asham and The Bristol Short Story Prize.
Her poetry has won the Mslexia Poetry Competition, the Charles Causey Poetry Prize and the Essex Poetry Prize. Her first short story collection Don’t Try This at Home was published in May 2015 by And Other Stories. It is longlisted for the Frank O’ Connor Award, and won The Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection 2015 as well as receiving a Rubery Book Award for short fiction.
Before all of this, she considered quitting approximately 700 times so I think she is well-placed to offer all of us writers on how to keep going.
How to Keep Being a Writer
I often see lists about writing and ways to improve work, but one of the hardest things about writing can be to continue doing it. How do we keep at it? Maintaining hope can be one of the most difficult things we do. Here are my tips on how to keep going.
1. Recognize the Buzz
Writers live with the myth of tortured artists, but we rarely talks about the buzz. That writing high feeling we get when we’re into it. We feel amazing having written, the way someone who runs has an endorphin rush. Remember the feeling, acknowledge it, go to your desk and write for the rush.
2. Finish Stuff
The sad thing is writing high wears off when we return to edit. There isn’t really an editing high. Its work we have to force ourselves to do (sometimes when it would be fun to just write something different.) That drawer full of unfinished work won’t make us feel like a writer. Finishing stuff helps.
3. Look for Things to Make You Keep Going
Writing can be a slow journey. It can take years to find an agent and get a book. This is when some of us lose faith. (Its fifteen years since I did my MA, five since I started submitting stories, and my book’s just been published.) Create small goals on the way to give you faith- submit to journals and competitions. These small bits of recognition keep us going.
4. Take Rejections as Lessons
Regarding rejections, it happens. Learn from it. It doesn’t always mean we suck, a rejection is many things. Often it is simply that our work doesn’t fit the agenda of the magazine. Read, look for where it suits. Look at the work again. Give it an edit. Read it again every time you submit.
5. Establish a Rejection Policy
There are some rejections that make us sad. That scene in Throw Momma from the Train where Billy Crystal sticks tape on his nose? We all do that, in some form. We have all said, ‘I quit! There are halibut who write better than me.’ Create a rejection policy- a simple rule about rejection. In my case, I allow myself to sulk no more than a day or so, then I MUST submit something. (If we’re busy editing there’s no time to cry.)
6. Give Yourself Rewards, Especially if No One Else Does
There are hours we work without pay, months, years. There’s self doubt. Too often we beat ourselves up for what we don’t achieve, but forget to reward ourselves for what we do. No wonder writers get fed up! Find a reward. Buy something small, improve your writing space. The first time I won a story competition I bought a picture for above my desk so I can look up at something I achieved. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, it is taking a moment to acknowledge you did OK that counts.
7. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT Compare Yourself to Other People
Comparing ourselves to other writers is depressing. Try not to. Every writer meets someone who mentions JK Rowling when we admit we write- ignore these people. Think of writing like music, some artists are on The X-Factor, some play in indie bands. Our influences aren’t all the same, different people dance to us. Remind yourself this every time someone mentions JK Rowling.
8. Learn to say no. NO. NO. NO.
Be a bitch, you’ll have to learn to appear a bit selfish sometimes. Live with it. That book won’t be finished without us protecting our writing time. Fiercely. People may attempt to lure us away, ‘It’s just an hour…a weekend….a few weeks…will you do me a favour?..’ They wouldn’t do this with any other job (‘Oh, you’re at work? Can I pop in for a cup of tea? ‘ Create a schedule, stick to it when possible. Recognise your writing saboteurs, and keep them at bay.
9. Try Something Different
Now and then, we are a unsure what to do next, where to submit, what to finish, whether to bother. When we get like this it can be a good idea to do something different. If you’re a story writer, write poems, if you’re a novelist try flash fiction. Let yourself do something you haven’t done. Writers are focused, with deadlines and goals, we have to be this way, but doing something for fun can take the pressure off. Write something you’re not sure you can. When I’m fed up with poetry, I write a story, or flash fiction. If I’m not sure where to submit prose, I write poems. It helps. It also provides work to submit to boost your confidence and get you through writing longer stuff.
10. When all else Fails, Fake It
If you still lack hope, fake it. Create lists of small things you’d like to do, work to finish, places to submit, and continue to slowly work through it. Even if you think this is pointless, try it anyway. Eventually you’ll get acceptances, and, hopefully, build just enough belief to keep writing until the day a book with your name on the cover arrives.