Sunday, 28 April 2013

Why I'm supporting 'No More Page 3'

I can't believe you haven't come across this, but just in case you haven't, it's a pressure group asking (and asking very nicely - there's no ranting, or unpleasantness) the Sun newspaper to stop showing pictures of women wearing nothing but a thong on page 3 of their newspaper. You can find the petition here. And there are websites and merchandise if you're really keen.

(For those of you outside the UK, you may wonder what all this is about. For decades it has been acceptable to print these pictures, in a national newspaper, where everyone can see them. It is part of the Sun brand, if you like. I know, ridiculous, isn't it?)

It seems so blatantly obvious that this is crazy, but, just in case there's anyone who hasn't signed the petition, or it has somehow passed them by, here are my thoughts:

What message are we giving our daughters if their fathers ogle these pictures over the breakfast table? What does this say about their wives and mothers?

At a time when we are encouraging women to be scientists, and engineers, or artists, or writers - here is the Sun reminding us that, before we are any of those things, we have breasts. If we've a chest like that, then we don't need brains. (Or even ideas, or feelings, or anything that makes us individual.)

It's tough for men, negotiating a world in which women are discovering new ways of being. Yet here is the Sun, hanging onto the idea that women are nothing but a body. Is it surprising that some still continue to treat us as commodities when that idea is perpetuated in a national newspaper?

There must be a million other reasons, I'm sure you can think of some.

And, for anyone who needs reminding that women are more than a set of knockers, here is Nina Simone to remind us how wonderful, and complete, we really are:

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The wonderful process of co-working

Isn't it wonderful, where ideas come from? I think they float around in the air and find the nearest head to land in.

So I've no clue who had the notion that Emma Pass and I should write a blogpost together, each post it on our blogs at the same time, and see what happened. We had a quick exchange of tweets - and suddenly there it was - an IDEA - and we both ran off with it, together.

There were emails - what do you think about ... and it was (I can only speak for myself here) FUN! We were collaborating, working together, making our point jointly, and enjoying it. More evidence, if that were needed, that we need not be competitive in our writing.

It reminded me of a recent cricket match I watched - bear with me, it's relevant. The team filled with international players was soundly beaten by one comprised of people I've never heard of. And the commentator noticed that the winning team played as a team, while the others behaved like stars. What a wonderful lesson. We can be stronger when we work together, and risk being prima donnas if we always work alone.

So - thank you, Emma. It was a privilege to work with you. Especially as you must be overwhelmed with everything at the moment - for your book comes out today!!! I hope you have the best day ever!

Not met Emma before - she had a great website here.

And, for those readers who haven't come across her book yet (where have you been?) you can find it here.

(And we can say what we like about her today, as she'll be too busy launching her book to look at this.)

Has anyone else tried co-writing? How did it go?

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Writing groups - in their diversity and wonderfulness!

This post has grown out of a twitter-chat: Emma Pass and I were wittering about our writing groups and it was clear that we both value them, but they are organised differently. So we decided to write this together, post it on both our blogs at the same time, and see what happened!

Which got me wondering whether it's the structure of a group that matters, or the fact that it is an opportunity to work collectively with people we trust.

I go to a group that used to call itself a Life Writing Group. It is organised by a woman who also teaches with the OU; she brings an exercise or two, gives us homework, and generally keeps us in order. A year or so ago we spent a lot of time talking about memory and how to reframe that into something literate. We laughed (and wept a little) and wrote some wonderful pieces.

We've grown, over the year. While the structure of the group is the same, and some of us are still working almost entirely on memoir, others have branched out into fiction - both short stories and novels - and others into poetry. We've been submitting work all over the place, and even the sniff of success is celebrated with cake.

It is the writing highlight of my week (yes, every week, during term time.)

Emma, meanwhile, has a very different experience - and here is her bit:

As well as being an author, I have a day job in a library, where I’ve been supporting and coordinating an adult writing group for around 3 years now. The group started out as a wellbeing group, run by another writer, and I took it over when her sessions finished.

We meet monthly, and there is a wide range of ages and interests. So often, people don’t have a space in their lives where they can be creative, so this group aims to give them that. Our main focus is on having fun and trying out new things. The sessions usually consist of short exercises which members can interpret however they want, but there is no pressure to take part if a particular exercise doesn’t inspire, and you don’t have to share your work if you don’t want to.

Alongside the adult group, I run a group for 9-14 year-olds which has been going for around a year now. It follows basically the same format as the adult group, and it’s amazing how well many of the exercises we do suit both groups! And of course, we always have chocolate – it’s essential writing fuel!

Two very different experiences. So, what is yours?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Do you write to entertain? Or is there more to it than that?

I'm following on from my waffling about humour, and writing to make each other laugh - there were some really thoughtful comments, which had me taking a step beyond funny and wondering if we can pinpoint what we are hoping to do when we write - on blogs, or short stories, or poems (whatever!)

The more I thought about it, the more complex the whole thing seems. I suspect there are as many reasons for writing as there are writers, so I'm only speaking for myself here.

I'll begin by thinking why I read. Because I love it - yes, but that's not enough. I want to be entertained, but I want more than that. I want to find new ideas, to engage with new thinking, to be asked to look at the familiar from an unfamiliar angle. I want to understand how other people feel, to read about others tackling the daily challenge of getting up and edging a way through the day - it cements us sharing a common humanity, if you like, knowing that other people need a cup of tea in the morning, or enjoy of twinge of trolley rage in the aisles of Tesco's.

I write because I breathe - I can't imagine not writing. But that doesn't explain why I write on blogs, or publish the travel writing, or play about with poetry and short stories. I hope to entertain; it has to begin there. I'm not sure I claim to play with new ideas - though there may be readers who barely know where Laos is, so anything I say about it has to be new and potentially informative. I rarely share very personal, private feelings - though don't shy away from making fun of myself and my girliness when faced with rats (or tigers). I have the occasional rant, but would rather celebrate the fun we can have than waste energy whinging about things I can't change. If any of this is funny - well, that's a bonus. And then my thinking seems to degenerate into it being satisfying, this reaching out to total strangers (and many not so strange now, after blogging for a year or more), but I don't think I can be more specific than that.

Does it matter? Maybe it doesn't. But sometimes it's worth thinking about, given that I blog away regularly and hope others will read and enjoy it. Are there any other bloggers out there who have a clearer idea as to why they write?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

So - how do you write funny?

Following on from my last post, when I wondered what made you laugh (knowing that my silly clip makes most of you smile, at least, proves nothing - except maybe to show that we share a sense of humour), I thought I might ponder on how to write funny. (I know, sometimes my grammar is dreadful.)

I can only speak for myself - so I'd be interested to know how anyone else tackles this.

I find it extraordinarily hard to make myself laugh. I see why so many comic writers work in pairs - they set each other up. What is wonderfully ridiculous when bounced between the two of them might be flat and uninteresting when looked at alone.

For a start, I rarely set out to be funny - so if I manage to amuse myself it's a surprise. And I've found from my writing group that things that I hadn't realised were funny are worth sniggering over only if I hear someone giggling when I read something. I don't write jokes: unintentionally comic phrases slip into my work without me attending to them. Like worms, they eat their way in. For instance, I have a piece about sharing a room with a rat in Laos - an incident which stretched my sense of humour to the limit but which had someone chortling when I read it to him.

Having said that, there are a few pieces that set out to be funny - such as a poem about squat toilets, and  the blogpost about my singing washing machine. I suppose I think they have comic value in themselves, and only need me to put that into words - I am the conduit of the humour rather than the origin of it.

But there I get stuck. So, my writing friends, do you set out to be funny? And, if so, are you willing to share a tip or two? (Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all begin the day with a good guffaw!)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

What makes you laugh?

Laughing does clever things in the brain that makes us feel better - as any child can tell you. Watch a toddler - he or she will launch into giggles at every opportunity. And their laughter is infectious - we have to join in.

Which set me thinking - is it the contagion of laughing, the fact that we are doing it together, that makes the difference? I live alone, and rarely laugh out loud when I'm on my own. Something has to be hilarious to set me off on a guffaw by my solitary fireside. Would I be more inclined to giggle if there were someone else watching, or listening, or reading with me?

So I've a little experiment. Here is a clip which always, even when I'm alone, makes me crease up. I think it's the sound of other people helpless with laughter that gets me going - rather than anything to do with the comment that set them off.

It's an audio-clip (and about cricket, but please don't let that put you off. Indeed, it is almost the point - if you know nothing about cricket but this still makes you laugh, then that confirms my suspicions!)

So - does this make you laugh? (If the link won't connect, it will work if you cut and paste it into an address bar.)

And, if this doesn't make you laugh, what does?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Reality Blog Award

How fab is this!!

The wonderful Rosalind Adam has passed on the Reality blog award, which is hugely kind of her. (What! You don't know Ros? She's doing the AtoZ Challenge at the moment, so needs support. Go and cheer her on. Find her here.)

And here is the lovely image that comes with it:

I don't recognise myself in that description (and nor would you if you saw me in the mornings) so am deeply flattered. All I have to do is answer a question or few, so here goes:

1.  If you could change one thing what would it be?  

I would bring in genuine gender equality - giving women real opportunities to influence decisions about when to go to war, bankers' bonuses etc. We might spend a lot of time drinking tea and eating cake, but how much more civilised that would be than dropping bombs or paying ourselves silly money.

2.   If you could repeat an age what would it be?

I'd go back to the sixties. Ah, the sixties .... And would I want to relive it in the light of my aging experience? Not at all - I'd go back to the messy, noisy, optimistic wonderfulness of it with all the naivety of a 16-year old. (I had good knees then.)

3.  What one thing really scares you?

Cyclones. I think you know why! And, from now on, I'll keep my distance from tigers as well.

4.   If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?

That's a hard one. Thing is, I'm very happy being me - even on days when I grumble about the weather, or the bankers, or my knees. Though if someone gave me the opportunity to stop the war in Syria, well, I'd take that.

And now, to pass this on to three more wonderful bloggers:

Jenny Woolf, at An English Travel Writer

Val Poore, at Watery Ways

Jacqueline Pye, at Jacqueline Pye's blog

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Slow news - or no news?

I was pottering around town on Good Friday, as you do, when a reporter with 'BBC' sewn on her jacket and a discrete microphone asked if I had a few minutes. There was no camera, and I had a couple of minutes - so, what the hell!

Interviewer: Can you name the social classes?
Me: A, B, C1, C2, D - is there an E?
Interviewer: Oh, most people just say working class, middle class ...
Me: Maybe they don't have a degree in Social Administration. [Oh heck, that sounds patronising.] It was a long time ago.
Interviewer: So what social class would you say you are?
Me: Why does it matter?
Interviewer: Well, if someone wanted to, say, sell you something; then they might want to know.
Me: What has class got to do with whether I need something or not?
Interviewer: (Sighs. I am clearly not giving the right answers) Did you know that they are increasing the number to 7?
Me: No.
Interviewer: They are including things other than income, and house-ownership. For instance, what do you do in your spare time?
Me: Read.
Interviewer: That's not on the list.
Me [Knowing she needs me to be more helpful]: I like going to the theatre.
Interviewer (Smiles, at last): So that put's you higher up the scale.
Me: What do you mean, higher? Are you saying that, just because I enjoy the theatre that that is somehow more valuable, more significant, than someone who plays bridge, or goes to bingo? Surely we're all just people choosing how we spend our leisure time?

At this point the Interviewer turned the microphone off, and thanked me. I asked her what it was all about, and she told me it was a slow news day and the BBC decided to go out and ask random people these fatuous questions. (Well, she didn't use the word fatuous - but I did.)

I've no idea if this was ever broadcast (I doubt it). There was a big spread on the BBC website yesterday about the 'New British Class Survey', but I wasn't sufficiently interested to plough through it. But it did make me think. I understand there are slow news days, and the BBC has to fill the time with something other than silence - but surely old recordings of The Navy Lark or Beyond Our Ken are more interesting than that?

And - I know there are social differences that we lump together under the category of 'class' but how helpful is it to foster these by asking ridiculous questions? Would there not be more merit in inviting passers-by to reflect on what we have in common (a need to love, to be loved and cherished) than things that underline our divisions?