I didn’t do NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – “officially” this year. (Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those annoying blogs from a writer going on why she didn’t bother taking part and how NaNo is not for me, oh my goodness, the horror! – the world doesn’t really need one of those, does it?)
During November, instead of sprinting a first draft to a new book, I NaNo-edited (it should be a thing, we need a special month for this) and polished the book I’ve been working on, a crime novel, ready to send it out into the world in 2016. And sure enough, I got more of that done than I would have done otherwise.
But in amongst the editing, in true #nano spirit, I made a start to a new book. I even went to NaNoWritMo meet ups in a café in Liverpool city centre, which were very nice, and friendly. I didn’t write that much word count-wise, especially compared to fellow NaNoWriMo-ers, who sprinted on ahead, but I was happy enough with what I’d written to send the opening into a #NaNoWriMo-themed competition. And then I promptly forgot about the submission, and plunged back into editing, planning to crack on with the new book in January.
So yesterday when I got an email to say it won third prize, and a manuscript appraisal, I was made up; and surprised. Nice bits of news like this helps working on a fledgling project like nothing else.
There’s a well known boxer at the moment who I won’t “name and shame” (read here why) but who is spouting out negativity everywhere he goes or so it seems, eagerly falling into line with the stereotype that boxing is negative, misogynistic, and just plain bad. People are lapping it up, outraged and appalled in equal measure, opening the door for all the clichéd nonsense about boxing. It’s aggressive, violent, should be banned, blah blah blah.
I train at a boxing gym now. I’ve lost quite a lot of weight this year, mainly through healthy eating and ditching processed foods. I’m not a pious clean eater, anything but; each weekend I bake a cake which gets eaten over the following days, plus I’ll never stop enjoying wine. But I do make my own bread, pasta sauces, things like that, and cutting back the amount of cheese you eat as a non-meat eater can be a pain, but I give it a go anyway. It’s amazing how much removing additives and preservatives can alter your body and make it healthier. I’ve dropped a couple of dress sizes in the past nine months or so.
Once the main bulk of weight I wanted rid of melted away, the next step for me was getting fit; I wanted a cheap way of doing this, and getting rid of the dreaded writer’s belly and bottom. But I don’t have the self-discipline to do that on my own. I can sit and happily write for hours, I’m ok doing that, but there’s no way I’d exercise on my bill, and regularly. I won’t push myself physically, off my own back. I just know it.
Running was suggested, and dismissed; I don’t go for public displays of sweating. So, that left exercise classes. Zumba is fun or so I’ve heard, but there are no sessions near me. The only thing I found for women – I didn’t fancy doing mixed gender classes, they hold the same horror for me as unisex toilets – was ladies’ boxing. And as it’s only £3.50 per session at the gym near me, off I went.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never even been to an exercise class before, apart from yoga. With yoga and meditation, even if you’re in a room with other people it’s still a solitary pursuit, or so I find. I wanted something more group oriented.
I was worried before attending my first boxing class. I know everyone says that they were always the last picked for teams when they were at school, but with me it honestly was the case. There was never a time when I wasn’t standing on my own, the unlucky team pulling their faces at each other in response to being landed with me.
Also, I’m not keen on sport. I don’t even watch it, apart from the odd game of Rugby League (I’m from Lancashire, it’s a religion there). As soon as I left school, that was it, no more sport for me. I said goodbye to it gladly. PE was the horrible low point of my school week. I hated it, and it hated me.
So, trying to keep an open mind, I went to the boxing gym. I turned up five minutes early. It was raining. I was on my own, just me and my pink rucksack. I nearly turned and ran. Then a woman turned up.
‘You been here before?’
‘You’ll LOVE it,’ she beamed.
Lots of other women joined us. One showed me where everything was. Another found a pair of boxing gloves for me. (A note at this point – pre-used boxing gloves stink. Of what, I’m not quite sure. I don’t want to think about that, too much.) The women were so unbelievably kind. One of them offered to partner up with me. I nearly cried. That alone was a kindness too far.
The class was tough, I won’t lie. I was gasping so much the trainer asked me if I wanted to have a sit down. If you’re as pale as me and on the road to getting fit you don’t look good, mid-workout. There’s a blink of a window early on, in the first minute or so, when my cheeks turn pleasantly rosy; after that, they’re a violent red.
The class was an hour long. It seemed to last forever.
I hobbled home. The next day, lactic acid flooded my muscles and I couldn’t move. But I went again, the next week. And I didn’t struggle to get a partner. That’s the thing I was dreading the most I think, no one wanting to train with me. I believed week one’s welcome to be a fluke. But no, everyone was again so nice to me.
I kept on at it and I was surprised to find that by the third week I wasn’t the worst in the class. In fact I wasn’t even the second worst. Result!
Week four and I braced myself the next day for the usual stiffness I enjoyed moaning to all my new friends about, but it never came. My right shoulder had a brief whinge, the wimp, but apart from that I was fine.
It suddenly hit me. I was getting fit. I’m getting fit. Me, of all people! ME. And no one is more surprised. The fitness thing is the main thing I was going for, so it’s a case of job done, as long as I keep at it. But I’m still genuinely stunned how great everyone is to me. Supportive women are the best ones in the world. I wouldn’t have gone back that second week if not for them. Indeed I’d have come scuttling home before the class in the first place if that initial woman had not extended a welcoming hand.
School sports were such a nightmare; my experiences were terrible. PE lessons in 1970s and 1980s Britain have so much to answer for. I think a lot of people from my generation have hang ups about sport. Most nerdy types feel the same, years on after leaving school. No matter what you do with your life, successes ticked off, things like that always lurk in the back (or forefront, if you’re me) of the mind. With these women’s help and a sport I’m starting to really like, I’m waving them goodbye.
I was in Asda shortly after New Year, earwigging while I was picking up some bits. I’m a writer, it’s what we do. Say something interesting in front of me and it’s going in my notebook, with no exceptions. Anyway, two women were next to me in the queue talking about one of their daughters, whose birthday happened to fall that week. “She understands why she can’t have a birthday party like her brother and sister do,’ said one to the other, sounding sad (but not quite sorry enough for my liking). “Their birthdays are earlier in the year, but hers is just too soon after Christmas.’ Her friend nodded and agreed the January daughter was indeed good girl for being so gracious.
Me, I felt like turning around and bellowing NO, YOUR JANUARY DAUGHTER DOES NOT UNDERSTAND. She puts up with it because she’s a nice kid. Save money up and put it to one side for her party or just don’t give your other children parties. What you are doing is bloody unfair.
I didn’t say any of this. I should have, though. Really wish I had.
This example on its own puts paid to the myth that Christmas only lasts for a single day. That’s the lie that gets told to anyone who finds Christmas uncomfortable or sad or upsetting or irritating, isn’t it? Get through the one day and that’s it, you’re sorted. Breathe, over and done with for another year. Go for a stroll in the afternoon to break it into manageable bitesize chunks and life winds comfortably back to normal after twenty four hours.
Erm, wrong. Christmas stretches out like a yawn. Its effects begin in September and reach well into February, money wise anyway. Financial pressures and general wariness of Christmas is one thing. The birthday issue is another. The fact is, if you have the misfortune to be born In December or January, your special day is disliked by all. People don’t know how to cope with anomalies like birthdays a month before or after 25th December, or so it seems. So I‘ve put together a little guide on how to cope with a friend or relative’s birthday if it occurs around then. I do hope it helps.
Don’t try and shoehorn someone’s birthday into the Christmas night out. No matter how much you convince yourself otherwise, birthdays are on the day cited on a birth certificate and that’s that.
Make the person whose birthday it is the focus of proceedings. It’s the nice – and only – thing to do. Tales of your own Xmas shopping traumas and other personal shit are very poor birthday talk etiquette (but still prove surprisingly common anyway).
Expensive presents are nice, but not important. Even meals out aren’t that much of a biggie (but children’s parties are, bloody hell – I’ll never get over that woman in Asda, ever). The gift of your company is precious. So don’t aim to get home in time to catch Eastenders, or clock-watch because it’s a late shopping night and you have to “get on”.
If you’re going out for a meal or to the movies to celebrate friend’s birthday, let them choose the restaurant or the film. Please.
The Xmas-and-birthday-present-in-one thing. That’s a no. Anyone even thinking about trying this on deserves jail time, and lots of it.
I’m collecting donations of new children’s and YA books for families struggling this Christmas. More information here.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a big record store, not one I often go to these days. I buy my new releases off the internet now, second hand record shops for everything else. To me the big record shop chain stores are all for Fifty Quid Man, that figure from the 2000s, marketing mythology, the office worker or professional male who’s doing ok, he’s not rich and what with the kids still living at home and all that, he’s not going out as much as he’d like. Fifty quid on albums, it’s a little gift he gives himself each month, maybe two. When he was younger Fifty Quid Man was into BritPop or punk. Grunge passed him by except for Nirvana, because everyone digs them, the MTV generation, yeah? He’s got fifty quid at a time to spend or so the marketers say, so they’re after him, big time. Fifty Quid Man loves reissues and Coldplay when they have something new out. If Fifty Quid Man isn’t a dad he wants to be, some day.
The store has rows of computer games, a shy selection of CDs, a big load of Beatles merchandise, from shot glasses to pencil tins, and a wall of vinyl, reissue-heavy but a better selection of new stuff than I’d expect. Actually, there’s some good albums in here I wouldn’t mind, I’ll have to slip back some time. But I can’t think about that now, I’m there to watch an in store performance. Merseyside group Hooton Tennis Club are new kids on the slacker enthusiast block, debut album out four days before on Heavenly and I’ve been rocking out to it all weekend.
So I’m there on the ground floor of the shop, watching the band set up and sound check. The only other people in the room apart from black suited and booted security guards are a gaggle of teenage girls. Hooton Tennis Club’s album ‘Highest Point In Cliff Townʼ has been picking up some cracking reviews and it’s selling well but we’re not talking the need for crash barriers just yet and the teenage girl audience, it’s to be expected. The album’s full of clever words, observations and tunes, the group are nice boys, clean. I wish they’d been around when I was fifteen. These girls, they’ve got taste.
The shop starts filling up. I missed the group at LIMF the weekend before so I’ve made today’s trip especially. But I’m freaking out a bit. There are teenage girls all around and children, they make me itch. They’re so giddy, fiddling with phones, and I’m dying for someone to come in I can stand near at least, so I don’t look like some sort of weirdo who surrounds herself with girls a third her age. Some lads wander in, mid-twenties maybe. One of Hooton Tennis Club lets on to them as they’re sound checking. Damn, they’re friends of the band so standing with them might look a bit odd. A bloke in his earlier thirties is there, I think maybe I’ll loiter around him. I notice he’s carrying a camera. He’s a photographer, not here for the tunes. I’m dying here. There is no one from my own peer group present at all.
Then I see him. A bloke of about forty, thin up top and wearing a suit looking interestedly about, standing on his tiptoes and trying to get a view of the performance space. Thank God. He’s the Fifty Quid Man for me. I go and stand near him to stop feeling ridiculous, but then I notice he’s got two teenage girls with him, I’m guessing his daughter and friend. Blow it, I think. I’ll feel mortified whatever I do. I’m staying put.
The group starts playing. They’re good. I’ve seen them twice before, in a club environment. It feels slightly strange standing in a high street shop at five o’clock in the afternoon, blue skies and soft sunshine on the shiny shop floor instead of a dark club with a beer in my hand but it’s free and they’re playing, so I’m happy. The teenage girls are too, and the lads, sixteen, seventeen year old boys. I edge to the side.
Hooton Tennis Club are doing a signing at the end of their set and I’m considering it. I’m thinking, should I ask them to sign my copy of their album “for my daughter Cath”? Lovely girl she is, lads. Loves your album big time, don’t mind it myself, now I come to think on. You’ve got some good tunes there. Keep it up.
Should I, though? Really?
I decide against it, in the end. I walk away and leave the teenage girls and boys to it, me with my dignity intact. Or so I like to think.
Hooton Tennis Club play Liverpool’s Kazimier on 8th December. My socially awkward self will be there. (NB. I have no daughter). Highest Point In Cliff Town is in the shops now (Heavenly).
I’m after books, children’s books to be precise. So many families in Liverpool have nothing and Christmas is especially hard to struggle through when the air all around you is thick with the sound of Christmas carols, and the shops are crammed with lovely things you can’t afford to buy. Such families need support to stay together/keep their children out of care.
So we’re putting out an appeal for books; a gift for children who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to open on Christmas morning.
If you are a children’s author or publisher, please consider donating a book. Or if you’re a book lover and would like to buy a gift and send it, that is wonderful too. We are looking for new books for children 0-16 years old. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help, or leave a comment below.
Also – donations for selection boxes are welcome too. More details here
Slim Volume 3 : This Body I Live In (Pankhearst) is out today, it carries a flash fiction short story from me within its pages. I love the Slim Volume books, crammed full of beautiful poetry and flash, snappy pieces inspired by editor Kate Garrett’s imaginative themes. The book launch is at The Red Deer in Sheffield next Monday, I will be reading my story on the night along with other Slim Volume contributors.
Geeked Magazine is now sitting pretty (because it wants to, not because it seeks approval of the male gaze, obviously) on the shelf in the Women’s Studies and magazine section of Foyles bookshop in London. Issues of Geeked for sale there include The Sexy Issue, formerly only available on PDF format. I have a flash fiction in #7 The Sexy Issue and an interview with crime author Mel Sherratt about how the self-publishing revolution had given her and other women writers a kick start in their careers in #8 Breaking Boundaries.
In January (2016!), the very first issue of the new feminist zine Rants edited by author Abigail Tarttelin is out, I’d so pleased to have an article in it. My piece is about housework, and our attitudes to cleaning. Not very glamorous, I grant you; which is kind of why I wanted to write it. So many women I know don’t seem to want to admit to being house proud these days, as if running around the place with the Hoover is proof of being a bad feminist, somehow. Anyway, I look into all this much more in my article; Rants#1 also includes articles on domestic violence, slut-shaming, breastfeeding, books…I can’t wait to get my copy. A very nice way to start the new year, having work in a brand new and very fabulous publication.