Monday, 30 March 2009

Dog Money and Cutlery

Regular readers will know that sometimes the universe sends me glorious gifts. There was the hammock, the steady flow of small monetary tributes from the Tax Office, the coins taped to a mysterious letter from a solicitor's office, and so on.

I remember once when I was in Thailand with Lauren when she was small, we made friends with one of those entertaining young men who can make coins appear from behind a person's ear. Lauren was only about three or four years old and naturally believed that she had some sort of gift for producing the notes and coins. She began to depend on them as a source of income, spending her 'ear money' on treats, and later looking for 'dog money' under the fat tummies of those scruffy puppies that hang around beach restaurants waiting for scraps, which proved to be rather expensive for our magician friend.

I had forgotten all about it until just now - all these years looking after Jessie and I could have been checking her for dog money. Mind you, the last time I had any reason to rummage around her undercarriage was yesterday morning, when I came downstairs to find that she had collapsed outside my office on top of a pair of my slippers and had done a wee on them, presumably as some sort of protest at the indignities of old age. She got up again with no ill effects, so don't worry about her. But for now I think I'll keep my hands away and leave it to Lauren to search for dog money, after all she's the one with the talent for it.

Anyway, these musings have been triggered by the surprise arrival by courier this morning of a 58 piece cutlery set. Very exciting. I know they say that you give a knife to cut friendship but I doubt that was the intention behind it. Opening the mysterious box this morning I understood how the Queen must feel when opening a box of treasures sent by elephant from foreign lands, although in this case the treasures came by white van and had been sent from the Isle of Wight. Marvellous.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Important and Unimportant Things

Hello there. I haven't posted much on here recently because I've been busy with other things. As some of you know, I volunteer as a mentor at the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture, working with some of their clients who are part of a writing group.

Every year we publish an anthology of their work and the work is also read at the Edinburgh Book Festival and other literary events around the country. We work with them individually and also run regular workshops. Some members of the group were writers in their previous lives; poets, journalists, novelists - in some cases, the reason they were imprisoned and tortured and are now living in exile is because they spoke out against their respective governments.

Others are writing for the first time, either as therapy or because they want people to know what has happened to them and others like them. All are writing in English, which is a second or even a third language for them. The goal is not necessarily publication but even so they have had some interest from publishers, with one of our writers having a story broadcast on Radio Four last year, for example, and another having a story published in a Penguin anthology the year before. One writer has recently completed a Royal Court playwrighting course.

Since the beginning of this year, the friend who runs the group has been taking a sabbatical to make a documentary for the BBC, so I stepped in for her. Now I'm stepping back. It has been interesting but quite tiring. I'll continue with the mentoring but not the paperwork/behind the scenes work and I'm looking forward to getting back to writing full time - No More Drama*, as Mary J Blige would have it. I've got a book I want to write that's ready to go - I know who's in it, how it starts and how it ends. I think I will begin writing it soon, either this week or next.

In the spirit of 'back to norman' I may as well finish with the unimportant writing meme that's going round. Potdoll tagged me. I'm supposed to list six unimportant things about me.

1) I had my nose pierced when I was 19. It seemed like a wild and exciting thing to do (this was the 20th century, remember, and I'd had a sheltered childhood) but I didn't realise I was already pregnant and that life was going to get a lot more wild and exciting very soon.

2) I once went to Albania on holiday.

3) I won a public speaking competition when I was 17 or 18.

4) I won a prize for my first radio play.

5) I hate zoos. If it was in my power to do so, I'd release all the poor, suffering animals now.

6) At various points in my life, I have tried to learn French, Spanish, Italian, German, Cantonese, Japanese, Welsh and Hindi/Urdu, and I never got to grips with any of them. (I only had one lesson in the latter, everyone except me in the beginner's class was second or even first generation Indian and spent most of the two hours arguing with the teacher over the meaning and pronunciation of words - and we were only on hello, good morning/good afternoon, how are you? The experience cured me forever of my life-long yearning to communicate with strangers in their own language. )

I'm not passing this on. So far as I can see, everyone I know has already done it. But if you're reading this and you want to do it - consider yourself tagged.

*No More Drama: I took to playing this track to a rather emotional boyfriend a couple of years ago, hoping he would dry his tears and dance along with me in the kitchen. He didn't see the funny side and things didn't work out between us.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Beginner's Luck

Last weekend I went to a development workshop for mediums and psychics because I thought it would be useful for a play I wanted to write. I went with some trepidation because I thought they might rumble me - there's one among us who... etc. But in fact you could put your hand up if you were new to it, which I did, and thereafter threw myself into the proceedings with such gusto that I was 100% accurate when giving a reading for a fellow attendee, as well as making contact with her late father, my late mother-in-law and my late Auntie Sylvia (who 'came through' with some sound advice about the play, which I have followed, and about my spiritual development, which I have so far ignored.)

I wasn't sure whether to write this up or not as my mother reads my blog and she wouldn't approve. Still, whether or not you believe in that kind of thing (and I don't really, despite my astonishing success in the field) I have decided not to take it any further. There are lots of reasons. One is that I tend to have beginner's luck with things that I come to late in life, especially if I treat them frivolously. But the success peters out. For example I tried ten pin bowling for the first time when I was about 35 and knocked all the skittles down with the first ball (a strike, I believe it's called) even though I was quite drunk and hadn't even been trying, but I never did so well again, drunk or sober, even though I insisted on going bowling several times after that, both in London and Hong Kong, thinking I had finally found a sport I excelled at.

Another reason is that if I wanted to do it properly (and after all, why do anything badly on purpose unless it's DIY?), I'd have to try and keep my imagination at bay, think carefully about what the other person was trying to tell me (rather than what I'd like to tell them), and not shy away from cliché - all things that conflict with what I try to do as a writer.

I have spent my whole life trying to formulate an original point of view and look at things as differently as possible from the next person, writing page after page to persuade the reader to see the world as I see it. And if I was writing a scene in which a psychic was giving a reading, well, I wouldn't have her saying 'I feel you have a strong connection to your grandmother,' as I felt compelled to say last weekend. (In case you think that's my only evidence of psychic excellence, I came up with some other insights that were more obscure and more specific than that, I promise you, although apparently the grandmother comment also hit the mark).

As a young woman, I learnt that you have to sacrifice something if you want something - you give birth, to use an obvious example, and your body is never going to be the same again. But you don't care because, in return, you get the child. At my age, I thought I hadn't much left to offer up in return for some higher prize. But here it is - I have had to give up a promising career as a psychic in order to protect my writing. It's a marvellous exchange and one that I'll be sure to harp on about for years to come.