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Month: September 2015

Rage against the grey

IMG_2598Trees are bloody lucky. Far from fading as they get old, they blaze. Streaks of yellow, patches of orange, tendrils of red. All the heat of the summer chucked back at yer with attitude.
But us, we fade til we disappear. And the hair is only the start. Mine’s going white. The hair thing matters to me because I’m a red head. People don’t even believe me when I say that now. ‘Oh, no, more strawberry blonde, I’d say’. ‘It’s not really that bright, is it?’ No, that’s because I am fucking old, alright! But it was orange and bright and loud. And I was characterised by my ginger-ness. It was what made me different, made me me. People assumed I had passion and a temper because I had fiery hair. Now, they assume that I am fading, like my hair.
But inside I have stored up fire, burning coals of thoughts and feelings, opinions and insights, and stories.
I’ll never be a bright, young debut. I’ll never be one to look out for in the future. I’ll never make one of those up and coming lists of writers under 30. I had neither the time nor the resources to write properly formed things when I was young. I was too busy being fucked up and insecure and in love with the wrong men and trying to make a living and learning to fit in. It took til now for me to be ready.
But why should that make me lesser? We oldies used to be the storytellers. And not just tellers of soft and dismal tales that drop like ash from the end of a forgotten fag. I don’t want to tell stories about middle-aged ladies pondering their pasts on the shores of an Italian lake. I don’t have racy tales from a war torn youth to tickle the fancy of babyboomers agog to discover that they didn’t invent sexual intercourse. In my head there are many different ages and many different selves.
I’m not a late bloomer. They haven’t bloomed yet. They’re lovely buds but they’re still green. I don’t want to be a ‘mature’ writer, equally indulged and ignored like some feeble-minded hobbyist. Cheese matures! Fruit ripens. I am ripe and I want to tell ripe stories. Despite my fading hair, I can still blaze.

The time machine on the corner of Suez Road

12039703_10153181053393333_8749187284471477436_nThere are time machines everywhere. There’s one on the corner of Suez Road and Radegund Road. (If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you will know that I’m not much of a sci-fi girl so you’ll be prepared for the trip into metaphorland that’s coming. Buckle up.)
My time machine for today is a horse chestnut tree, its leaves shriveling and turning autumn brown. Just a glance and – whoosh – I’m back to the September my son started school. There’s a back way into school that is only open in the morning and at the end of school. At the start of Reception, the kids did only half a day, so they’d leave at lunchtime when the back entrance was closed. This meant walking out of the front and back home via the horse chestnut – the conker tree. We’d pick up conkers, glossy and red-brown, sticky from their prickly shells. My boy seemed so small in his new school uniform and we’d talk about the grown up playground games that could be played with these big seeds.
Now I’m further back to the trees in the park where we first collected conkers. There were so many and always just one more that could be fitted into the bottom of the pushchair. We talked about the seasons and how summer turned through autumn to winter and living things died, and then how in spring they grew back. We were a long way still from the conversations about the type of dying that is more than a season.
Off again, this time to my own childhood. My father showing me how to play conkers, but just once. Would it have been different if I’d been a boy? Would we have pickled the nuts in vinegar, baked them and competed for the ‘best conker’? Who knows? Soon came all the Septembers when he wasn’t there.
Autumn is late this year. The horse chestnut is one of the first of the trees to turn, but the conkers are still hidden in their green jackets up among the browning leaves. This is my son’s last year at primary school. Next year he will be walking the opposite way, to a new school, on his own. Conkers will be for kids. The turning of the leaves will be part of some biology homework that he probably won’t even want my help with. He’ll be growing up and away from me.
So you see, here is the now and then and tomorrow, all accessible from one place. From my place on the corner of this road, I can rollercoaster back and forth in time without care for a beginning, a middle or an end. I am simultaneously here and there and linearity is irrelevant. But that’s not true of writing. It makes you choose. What comes first and next? What line do I follow? Where lies the cause and consequence? But I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Today I’ll just take a breakneck ride through the thread veins of a tree on the corner near school.

PS The conkers are appearing now.
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Holiday reading

11902521_10153119920583333_1817372311601665677_nI’m on holiday and for me this means that, in between the usual paddling, sandcastles and family arguments, I’m reading. Two books so far this week.
The first was Ian McEwan’s cool and confident The Children Act. Very hard to find fault with it, it was engaging and thought-provoking, yet I can’t help feeling that maturity has stripped him a little of his va va boom. I miss the McEwan of the short stories and novellas. (I feel the opposite about Angela Carter. I find the early stuff compelling, like watching a confusion of fireworks shooting out from different places, but as she matured into a master sorcerer, weaving the lights and colour into perfect patterns. Imagine what she would have created if she’d lived a little longer?)
Next I read a classic and much lauded crime fiction novel by a woman. I like the crime genre. It has a pleasing plot structure and it takes you to interesting places in the human mind. I’m not going to name the author or the book because I don’t want you to think that I have anything against this specific book. It was brilliantly plotted, fast-paced, it kept the tension high, interesting and real central characters, loads of good stuff. The problem I had with it didn’t really hit me til I picked up my next book, something else in the same genre by a woman, and read the first line – another woman in pain and danger and more blood.
This isn’t a feminist complaint about female victims in crime. Sometimes, now, the perpetrators are women and the victims are men. Either way, women are in pain or in danger of suffering pain. And there’s lots of blood (often with the addition of some other bodily fluid). Why? The thing I like about crime is the puzzle, the plot puzzle and the human puzzle. Where can I get this without the blood and the women in physical pain?
And it’s not just crime. Even the usually safe ground of romance now comes with the same flavours – think vampires, Fifty Shades, domestic noir… What’s happening to us that is being reflected in our fiction? Has it always been like this and I haven’t noticed? Has it always been there but presented in a more palatable manner? Is it some reaction to the growing outward power of women? And if so, why are women embracing it, rather than fighting its imposition?
Whatever is going on, for me, it’s making very tedious reading. I’m off to the pile of holiday books to find something that doesn’t start with a strong woman made vulnerable and leaking some combination of sweat, tears, mucous or blood.