I will be giving a talk on fiction writing at the next Folken gathering in Liverpool on 9th December. Pronounced Fol-ken (not Folk-en, that sounds a bit rude), which means “people”, the event aims to inspire and create networks and links for those who want to do something a little bit different in 2017.
For the past two years, the camera on the phone I had was rubbish. When it came time to upgrade in July, the man in the shop said, ‘Are you upgrading because the screen on your phone is cracked?’
I said, ‘No, it’s because it’s crap. It’s a terrible phone.’
So he did his best and found me a really good replacement phone with a boss camera, to make up for it. And since then I’ve been photographing more or less everything.
I took a snap of a pop group at the Liverpool International Music Festival three weeks ago. Stealing Sheep looked far too ace in white tights and glittery goodness to ignore. I was pleased because I got all three women in the shot, and please note the “HEEP” part of “sheep” is expertly included.
I put the photo on Twitter because I was made up with myself.
When I got home that night, I searched for Stealing Sheep on Twitter. To see how good my photo was compared to everyone else’s. I’m stupidly competitive that way.
It was then I saw it.
My photo of Stealing Sheep, used by another Twitter account.
It wasn’t a private individual, or even a local webzine getting carried away with my Mario Testino/Annie Liebovitz-esque photography, combined with festival fever. It was part of a large organisation here in Liverpool, and they’d nicked my photo.
My photo without my consent, crediting or even tagging me. This is not on.
To add insult to injury, they edited my beautiful work to make the colours “pop” more.
I’m not naming or shaming because of what happened to me last year which you can read about here, but without respecting copyright then as creatives we’re all banjaxed. To each and every one of us who make things for a living, copyright is how we earn our money. If we don’t own what we create – whether it be writing, or even photographs taken on a mobile phone on a dreamy Saturday afternoon, then why are we doing all this?
Why do people think we do all this?
I’m not known for exceptional photography, and I’m willing to accept this fortunate snap was a happy accident rather than skills-related, but even if it’s idiots like me taking photos, the shots shouldn’t be just nicked. It’s very bad form indeed.
And the thieves ignored my comminications over it too.
That’s just rude.
On a lighter note, the fabulous first issue of FWYL, edited by the fabulous Claire Biddles, is back from the printers, meaning it’s available to buy online now. It contains feminist essays on the glory of Matt Healy’s hair, straight girls crushing on gay popstars, erotic fanfiction (yep, that last one’s written by me, how did you guess) and loads more.
You can order it here, if you wish. This is the beautiful cover (photo by Claire Biddles):
Additionally, if you’re in Liverpool, I have some flash fiction as part of the ‘Women: Where Do You Find Yourself in the Arts?’ exhibition at the café in Constellations until the end of next weekend. And it’s free!
I have work coming out in some really nice places over the coming weeks. This blog post reads a bit like a list, so I apologise in advance for that!
An essay on sisterhood will be in the A Room of Our Own anthology, the book is raising money to keep the organisation’s website going so they can continue their valuable work.
Another essay, about my non-motherhood and choice to not become a parent, is in issue 2 of I Hope You Like Feminist Rants later in the summer. My writing on housework is in issue 1 of Rants, which you can purchase here.
My flash fiction Good Times, originally published in Slim Volume 1 : No Love Lost (2015), is published in CRUSHED, a book of writing and art on the subject of heartbreak is out this month (May 2016). Editor Charlotte Apsin is producing a zine to go with it.
It is early morning and Liverpool is opening its eyes, ready to wake up, stretch, yawn, and welcome the day.
There’s a tune, a breathy bass riff. A voice, smooth and clear, high but not too much.
I found a place full of charms.
I hear the voice singing, and I know who it is. Billy Fury. I know the song, Wondrous Place.
I know the singer and I know the song but what I don’t know is where it is coming from at ten to eight on a Tuesday morning in Liverpool city centre. I follow the song. It takes me to a pub, the old boozer type, doors flung wide open. I near and hear singing, a voice on top of Billy’s. It is thin, slightly shrill, out of tune and time. I peer inside.
The pub’s cleaner in her apron is dancing with her mop, humming. Billy Fury sings to her from the jukebox. She’s seventy-odd with crab-apple skin, turned girlish. She’s smiling, eyes closed, slow dancing. It’s beautiful.
I wanna stay and never go away –
She dances with Billy Fury every morning, I think. I hope.
It’s only Tuesday and already this week is turning into a busy one for me.
In November last year I wrote a personal essay on the politics of cleaning, and housework. It’s not part of the “why don’t men and women do their equal share of household chores” debate because I think that’s discussed enough already, and very well. I wanted to explore our attitude to cleaners as paid employees, and how we view what is essentially physical labour, but from a feminist perspective. It was inspired by a Facebook conversation about memes like this:
The essay is published this week in new feminist publication Rants, edited by the fabulous Abigail Tarttelin, author of the award winning YA novel Golden Boy. I’m so pleased to have my work alongside top class writers such as Shelley Harris and Kit de Waal in this zine, and I feel privileged to have my opinion in a publication that offers writers the opportunity to express a wide range of views. I find the current trend of no platforming dissenting voices very disturbing, and akin to censorship. Bravo Abigail for allowing us the opportunity to speak so freely and honestly.
(I spent my lunch hour today working out which of these bottoms most resembles my own)
Yesterday I was invited onto the sofa of 52%, a TV show here in Liverpool, hosted by the brilliant Claire Simmo.
It’s a programme presented by women and it’s ace. We talked about women and food, entrepreneurism and home baking plus what’s trending, news wise. We spoke about the north west band Viola Beach (I wrote about them for The Guide) ; their deaths over the weekend marked a very sad day for the local music scene.
52% will be broadcast on Saturday in the Merseyside area on Bay TV, Freeview channel 8 at 7pm.
Today, a teeny snippet of the crime novel I’ve working on, is published over at Paragraph Planet:
In addition to that, my interview with The Trouble with Goats and Sheep author Joanna Cannon is now online over at Urbanista, a preview to her appearance here in Liverpool next week.
The bar I’m going to has no sign outside. Still, I find it. My friends arrive with kisses and hugs. We go inside. I acclimatise and nod yes, I’ve been here before. It is familiar with its cheesy fries served in tin mugs. That’s not the sort of thing you forget, a place that puts cheese on your food without asking first, in an Old Prospector mug.
The bar is full of the beautiful people who shop at John Lewis or Waitrose and the only second hand furniture they have at home is antique, passed down as a family heirloom. The men have designer beards ironed flat and trimmed or blow dried, one has a seaman’s woolly hat warming his skull. He works in computer coding.
Still, the bar is small and all goes well with our drinks and chats and catch ups. After a glass or two of wine and because I’d blanked out my first visit to this place I ask, “does anyone know where the toilet is?”
Fingers point to an oblong block of white in the corner. The toilets are through the doorway and down a Kafkaesque corridor of too much light, harsh and glaring like it hates me, the sort of blazing light that call centres turn up to eleven to keep the worker drones awake. Conditions you hear about in testimonies from people released from Guantanamo Bay, tales of sensory overload or deprivation, or both. I walk towards the light and follow the long straight corridor and am confronted by a pig trough. It is metal and deep, taps hanging over the side. I’ve had wine, so my mind rambles. They must turn the taps and swill spurts out runny and brown and nutritious for the pigs, splashing against the backwash and mirror. It’s wipe-clean. This is a progressive pig house, consideration given to the swine who want to look nice after they’ve eaten. How nice, and right-on for the pigs.
But I see no pigs. There is no pig swill. I realise, slowly, that this is not a pig trough. It is a washbasin, a long one with men and women’s toilets on either side. I am in fact in a unisex toilet.
In the 1990s men and women were for a brief and ugly time seen as the same. Someone decided young women were like lads, though what that made lads no one was quite sure. Zoe Ball and Cerys Matthews are and were tremendous women but never lads, no matter how much the ladette inventor (a man) wanted them to be. I’m linking the ladette thing and unisex toilets together because for the life of me I can’t think of any reason why either concept existed, and why at the same time. The ladette label has long jogged on but unisex toilets? No one wants them and yet they still exist, and new ones built.
I’m torn as to why they are still here, these years on. Are designers, bar owners or whoever comes up with these ideas believing unisex loos right-on, or are they eager to save space and make more money? I’m thinking it’s cash related, for the life of me I can’t think of another reason. Back in 1990s most realised the concept of unisex toilets as a grim one, men and women doing toilet things so close is very wrong. We are not the same. Men and women are equal but not the same. There is a tremendous difference between us and that’s okay. I’m grateful for the differences and feel like holding a bloody party to celebrate them if the differences mean that we get separate toilets.
We do our toilet business differently, but some right on-ers, they will not let it go. Stubborn digging in of heels is never good. The definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Madness barks and gallops in these bars and clubs, the ones with unisex toilets.
I go to the women’s cubicles, a row of white doors. I am in The Trial, unsure what I’ve done wrong but at least I know how to get out of the place at the end and that is a lifeline. The cubicles, they are as I imagine men’s conveniences, blocked toilets with crumpled wads of toilet roll sodden solid and grey like old chewing gum. Not Waitrose toilet roll, I note. Funny, that.
I soldier on because I must then go to wash my hands in the trough. It is not a sink, no matter how much my mind tries to convince me. The trough is functional dull steel, it will never earn a shine and wouldn’t look out of place in a 1950s sci-fi move.The Revenge of The Uni-Sex Toilets filmmakers, I fancy they imagined we’d be living on a pill a day by now and not have to work because robots do everything for us. Hollow laughter, I know you well.
I give washing my hands a try, the things hanging over the side of the trough shaped like a tap are ones where you put your hand or whatever else it is you might need to wash underneath and water comes out of its own accord. Only tonight it doesn’t and I’m standing there with damp hands under a shy dribble as a painfully young man as mortified as me washes his hands in his part of the trough. There is no man and woman part of the trough but I pretend there is, we both do. We finish the washing and drying at the same time and leave simultaneously.
‘You first,’ he says. He is a gentleman.
Somehow, this makes everything worse. We both stare at the ground, not wanting to look at each other because we both know we’ve been to the toilet and it’s just too awful to think about, the individual toilet business. I’m northern and working class and he has an imagination too. So I’m walking along this horrifically well-lit corridor with a twenty year old boy behind me to get away from the toilet as quickly as I can and thinking “why do people in bars hate their customers so much?” Because I think they do. They must, or why else would they carry on with the unisex toilets thing? No good can come of it, ever.