Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Last night BN gave birth to BGN's new brother. Baby Buzz, as he has been in utero (and which is such a cool name, I think I shall call him that for perpetuity, ESPECIALLY when he hits 21) has given his mother no end of grief prior to arrival in this world, so we are all hoping he will behave himself now he is here. Unfortunately his sister has chosen this moment to contract chicken pox, so I hope she's not too spotty to go near him...
I still don't feel like a great auntie, but having a new nephew is a wonderful thing, particularly as he shares the name we would have given no 1 had she been a boy (the which I was so convinced of I didn't believe she was a girl at first. In my defence, I had had a lot of pethadine...)
So welcome, Baby Buzz, into the world, and congrats to your very longsuffering and tired mummy. She deserves a rest now, I think...
For R, J, I and D with love...
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Now it may be that I have got this all wrong and the right people to care for an elderly woman are the people who run the care home where she claimed to be unhappy, rather then the daughter who appears to have her mother's best interests at heart. I am willing to accept in a world where we get things so skewed that we hear story after story of small children killed or maimed by the people who should care for them most, that such abuse goes on at the other end of the spectrum too. It may well be that Rosalind Figg is a lying scheming woman who manipulates the system to her own advantage, but she came across in that interview as a woman who cares deeply about her mother and who has been treated appallingly.
If the social services have got it wrong, it is outrageous that an 86 year old woman should be taken from the care of a daughter who loves her back to a home which the aforementioned daughter didn't think was offering a good enough standard of care. And even more outrageous that they required police officers and several social workers to do it.
There may well be more then this story than meets the eye of course, but quite frankly having had some small experience of the care my father in law received in a local home which was praised to the heavens by all the "experts" I spoke to, if Rosalind Figg's felt she could make a better fist of looking after her mother then I don't blame her for taking her out of that home. And by what right does the state decide to intervene in a family member making a decision about the best way to care for an elderly relative anyway? Since when is it the state's business? There are plenty of elderly people who have no one to care for them, they should be grateful that Rosalind Figg's was prepared to care for her mother.
I feel extremely strongly about this issue. For the past twelve years Spouse and I have been dealing with issues attendant from having elderly parents. When fil was alive, mil looked after him (this despite her shake and her own infirmities). I defy any state system to invent a care package however good that could provide the loving support she gave him for six years.
Over the past six months, I have been looking after mil in a very loose sense: I provide most of her meals, I pop in her or speak to her daily, I do her shopping, I take her to her appointments, and I do odd bits of tidying up for her to make life easier. And do you know what? Although it is undoubtedly and extra layer of responsibility that I could sometimes do without, I don't mind doing it all because - tada! - I love her, and want to look after her. I also believe that Spouse, bil, sil and I are the people best placed to consider her needs and ensure she is cared for properly. This is WHAT FAMILIES SHOULD DO.
The amount of looking after I do is nowhere near a full time carer's role (though I was somewhat startled to be offered carer support when I organised social services to come and help look after her), and I am sensible of the massive responsibility and onus that would be should it come to that, but it has given me an insight into how demanding such a role would be. And I know anyway, because twenty five years ago I did a stint as a voluntary care worker for an 87 year old lady. It is immensely hard, and wearing and sometimes unrewarding. The carers of this country take a huge strain and get very little thanks for it from the government. And it now appears (and ok this is a one off and possibly extreme case) that on it seems, a whim, the state can decide that nanny really knows best when it comes to looking after our elderly, and that family members are no longer deemed to be fit to do so.
It may well be that we get faced with the choice of putting mil into a home at some point, (I do think, having witnessed people do it, looking after alzheimer's patients is particularly difficult and taxing and would possibly be too difficult to manage with a family as well), but I hope that we don't ever have to go there. I know that not all care homes are terrible places, I know that many people who work in them are dedicated and genuinely care for their patients, but there are still too many places where the care isn't what it should be. And I also know if we did have to put mil in a home and found she was unhappy, Spouse, bil, sil and I simply would not let that happen and would rather have her at home then being uncared for. No one should be obliged to stand by and watch their loved ones being treated badly by a system which is supposed to care for them.
I sincerely hope that Rosalind Figgs is able to prove that she acted in her mother's best interests, and that she can look after her at home, where she will be loved and cared for by the person who surely surely must love her the most. (Unless she turns out to be some kind of mad old person hater, of course...)
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I loved it, and can't wait to see what happens next. I'm just hoping the Gene Genie isn't the fourth fictional hero to cop it this year. That would be simply too much to bear...
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
naturally the good Doctor won. As I mentioned on my previous post about Primeval/Robin Hood, thanks to Doctor Who Saturday nights in our house have become all about a family viewing experience, but I hadn't realised how much I'd been missing the instigator of it all, till I had the choice of watching David or Dougie. As we were at my mum's we were a little stymied on the sitting in front of the TV with a takeaway, which is normally part of the Saturday night Family Experience, so we videoed Primeval, and tried not to gobble the wonderful meal with which my mother presented us with too indecent haste. She kindly soon departed to church, it being Easter Saturday, so we could indulge our strange Sci Fi habits without her (inexplicably, my mother doesn't get: Doctor Who, Primeval, Terry Pratchett and any number of other fantasy/sf experiences which I love. I sometimes wonder if she's really my mother...)
As a child Tom Baker was always my doctor (Spouse's funnily enough is Jon Pertwee), once he left, I never really liked Doctor Who as much, and I never thought anyone could make the Doctor so real for me again. And here I am in my mid forties, and David Tennant has utterly erased any childhood memory I have of Tom Baker and made himself my doctor instead. I'm not sure how on earth Matt Smith will be able to match up to that. I do hope he can, because watching Planet of the Dead made me realise how brilliant the rejuvenated Doctor Who has been all over again, and I'd love to see it keep on and on and on....
Monday, April 06, 2009
At first glance, the notion of going to see a play about paedophilia (0r even reading a review about one) doesn't sound all that appealing. But Future Me is not only a brave and bold bit of theatre, looking with clear sighted vision at the people who perpetrate this appalling crime, but it is also at times very funny, although, inevitably the humour has the darkest of edges.
The play focusses around Peter, a young lawyer, who at the beginning is about to settle down with his pretty girlfriend, Jenny. Their lives, and that of Peter's brother, Mike (and a father we never see) are turned upside down when "an offensive picture" is accidentally emailed to everyone on Peter's email list. He claims at first, that it's a virus, turning to Mike, a computer expert to help wipe the hard drive. But Mike knows of no virus that would do such a thing, and Peter is sent to jail.
The setting of Future Me is intimate (we sat right at the front, practically in the set), and the scene in which Peter was incarcerated, felt deeply symbolic, as he strips out of his civvies and into a drab prison tracksuit, while the other actors, fixed windows in the metal frames of the set with an ominous clang.
To begin with it seems impossible, for someone like Peter to have committed this crime. Here is a young man, a lawyer, with everything to live for. Not our usual picture of a paedophile. Surely it must be a mistake? But it is no mistake, and as the play unfolds, we are asked uncomfortable questions about the nature of forbidden desire, and about how we deal with the people who succumb to it. We are forced to look at paedophiles, not as monsters - as the media so frequently portray them - but as human beings, who have a sad bad addiction.
Human beings like Harry. A pathetic individual who befriends Peter - someone Peter wouldn't have given the time of day to in his normal life. Someone who is learning to play the guitar badly, who is desperate not end his days in prison, who wants to get out and "fight the good fight" as he calls it, someone who seems so utterly harmless, until you realise he has abused his stepdaughter. It becomes almost impossible at times to reconcile the shambolic often humorous figure of Harry with what he has done. The two don't seem to square up somehow, which is perhaps the point. It is neat and tidy and keeps dark thoughts at bay to imagine paedophiles as some kind of deviant monsters - but what if, they're just like you and me? What does that make us?
Which is the kind of argument that Tim, another inmate would use. Tim is possibly one of the most chilling and menacing characters I've ever seen on stage. He uses words to justify his actions, claiming a conspiracy against people like him, pointing out that"Half the bloody population have sex before their sixteen", in arguments so persuasive, you almost fall for them. In fact, thinking about this play over the weekend as I have been (it is the kind of play that stays for a long time in your head), it occurs to me that Tim's railing against the "programme" that the inmates are required to undergo if they stand a chance of parole, would look like an abuse of their human rights if, say a similar programme was used to deradicalise Muslim clerics. It is an uncomfortable truth that where in one situation we might cry foul, in another we would be more likely to turn a blind eye.
Future Me is a bold and brave and often shocking piece of theatre. Rupert Hill's Peter is persuasive and likeable. The moment when he says in prison "For the first time it felt it was real", you realise that here is someone, still in huge denial about what they've done. Even after all the therapy, done under the unblinking eyes of the therapist, Ellen (played by Katherine Dow Blyton) you get the sense Peter hasn't really faced up to it.
It is only when confronted by his ex girlfriend Jenny, when he's out of jail, and he finally describes to her what he's done in detail, how he started to go online and: "It was like you'd been released in the middle of the night into this enormous empty library and you can run up and down the corridors, and you know somewhere in that library, somewhere are books that offer exactly what you want.", how slowly over time, the search becomes wider, incorporating things he knows aren't strictly legal, until the day dawns that he realises he's crossed a line, but it was one he crossed long ago. Up until this point, even though I knew that Peter had raped a 12 year old girl, the power of this play had somehow kept me in sympathy with him, but when describes it to Jenny, how he ceases to see her at all, you suddenly feel the full horror of what he's done.
There is a similar moment with Harry, who after reencountering his stepdaughter, and finally understanding the damage he's done to her, tries to castrate himself. Like I say, this play leaves you under no illusions about what these men do, how appallingly evil their acts are.
Stephen Brown's writing is so good, by the end of it I had swung round again in sympathy for Peter and Harry again - and even to an extent Tim whose violent father had given him no love, so he mistakes the sexual favours of a family friend as tenderness, and this has informed his own skewed nature of what love is.
Peter loses everything: his job, his girlfriend, his family - he meets up briefly with Mike at his father's funeral, and comments on the pictures of his baby girl, but you know that Mike won't allow Peter to meet his family. He is alone with a new career as a copyeditor - a career which requires him to have internet access (symbolically, in the scene where Peter sets up in his new home, it is Tim who hands him the ISDN line) - how on earth, in the absence of any close support is he ever going to resist the temptation?
In the end the person I was least in sympathy with turned out to be Ellen. Her optimistic hope that Harry the "long shot" might just make it while Peter the "good bet" should be fine, seems almost reckless. In a shocking scene with Jenny, she tells her that all she can do is try to make prisoners safer where they are, and she carries on "because it seems like a worthwhile thing to do." But Jenny's response that three years doesn't seem long enough for what has happened to the 12 year old girl, or the revelation that when she's with her new boyfriends she sees herself as a child, leaves us in no doubt of the long term impact on all victims of abuse. In a sense, Jenny is Peter's victim too, because she can never forget what he did.
Future Me offers no solutions to the problem - should we try to rescue paedophiles, and cure them of their addictions? It is as Ellen says, a worthwhile thing to do, and yet, I can't help feeling like Jenny, that maybe the price of the long shot and the safe bet, is just too high, however much sympathy we feel for the perpetrators.
Although I may made this play sound incredibly grim, it isn't - there are some darkly funny moments - Tim makes a joke at the end about doing a talk on Taboos at the ICA, which made me howl with laughter, Harry is often quite humorous, and there were several moments when I laughed out loud. It has a humanity about it which you don't expect to find in material like this. I'm not quite sure I'd go as far as to say I enjoyed it - enjoyment doesn't seem the right word somehow. But this is a compelling, tense play, which will have you on the edge of the seat. I'd thoroughly recommend it.To read Rupert Hill's thoughts on going from playing Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street to the part of Peter, you can go here
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Although I never thought consciously about being a writer till I was really quite old, I have always made up stories in my head. Of all my children, in this no 3 resembles me the most. I often find her squirrelled away in corners talking not to herself, but to all the imaginary people in the fantasy world she is inhabiting. I still do that now. I have just said goodbye to Gabe, Marianne, Cat and Noel who are the four protagonists of Last Christmas, and am currently getting to know: Doris (or possibly Dorrie as my ed thinks Doris is too old fashioned, but I have a personal reason for calling her that), Caz, Beth and Sarah. Caz and Dorrie are currently the strongest characters chundering away in there, but Beth who is the quiet one is coming out of her shell, and Sarah I know has a lot she wants to tell me. In anyone other then a writer, admitting that should probably get you sectioned, but although I have a healthy fantasy life, I fortunately have four offspring, a very down to earth husband and aged mil to keep my feet firmly on the ground.
The first time I can remember consciously thinking I wanted to put some of the stories that unfolded into my head down on paper was when I was at university. And perhaps not unsurprisingly, given my previous post on the subject, it was music that inspired me. I was in a bar in Liverpool with Spouse, one warm spring evening. I was wearing a turquoise dress I loved at the time, with black pointy boots, and he was wearing his long dark trademark 80s student coat, probably a black shirt (can't quite remember), black jeans and black pointy boots. I can remember the stools we sat on, the bar we leant against, the low lighting, the 80s glitz, and the reason I remember it so clearly is because the song that was playing: Addicted to Love by ZZTop has cemented it in my head forever. (Except, I have misremembered - ZZ Top appear NOT to have done a version of this, I must have been thinking of Robert Palmer's version. Thanks to Persephone and Political Umpire for correcting my mistake!) I came home and wrote a corny story about a girl who couldn't commit and as a result lost the love of her life. It wasn't very good. And lacking the necessary confidence to pursue writing, desperately needing to earn some money post uni, and more importantly not having any of the requisite life experience to write the kinds of stories I write now, I kept my fantasy and real worlds separate. Then I fell in to publishing and spent ten years using all my creative juices on other people's ideas, which was fun, but didn't leave me any room for creating stuff of my own. I cannot tell you the sense of liberation I got when I sat down to write my first novel and realised that from now on I could keep all my good ideas to myself.
When I started thinking about the way music inspires me, I genuinely thought that I had only started using it with Pastures New, but thinking back to my early attempts at writing, the music thing has always been there, but I just didn't realise.
The first novel I completed, White Wedding is even named after a song - again I can see a moment in time in my own life, where I sat on the floor in Spouse's room at uni listening to Billy Idol telling me it was going to be a nice day for a white wedding, while I felt utterly desolate that I was going to spend the summer away from him. I just have to hear that song now and those feelings of desolation come flooding back (not unnaturally, I have it pegged down for the soundtrack of the book I am embarking on, which is about weddings.)
The next book I started working on which I never finished, was going to be called Losing my Religion - thank you Michael Stipes. And while the second book I finished, Coming Full Circle which never got published, didn't have a musical title, there were definitely songs hovering about in my subconscious as I wrote it.
It wasn't till I got to Pastures New though, that I realised that music was part of the process for me. (Spoiler alert here if you haven't read it.)
Pastures New was originally going to be in six parts, and (thanks to discussions with some of my RNA writing chums, in particular the fabulous Elizabeth Chadwick who brilliantly soundtracks her mediaeval stories to rock) I chose a song for each part of the book. The story really began with Justin Hayward's Forever Autumn, another song from the soundtrack of my young life. At one point early in our courtship, Spouse and I split up. I was convinced it was all over and I remember listening to that song on a train feeling that my heart had broken and would never recover (which of course was arrant nonsense, but melodrama works when you're 20). It seemed the perfect song for my heroine Amy, recovering from the death of her partner. I also used: California Dreamin' by the Mamas &Papas(another soundtrack song - Spouse played it to me on our first date), Soak up the Sun by Sheryl Crowe, Here Comes the Summer Son by Texas (last two came from listening to them on long car journeys - a common source of finding inspirational songs I find), Sing by Travis and Fix You by Coldplay. I did blog about why ages ago, but I can't inconveniently find the post in my archives at the moment.
All of the songs were chosen for the mood they inspired, their part in advancing the story and for some significant line that led into the character's behaviour. Forever Autumn includes the lines my life will be forever autumn/cos you're not there, which is how Amy feels about losing Jamie (and pretty much how I'd feel if anything ever happened to Spouse, god forbid): California Dreamin' includes: All the leaves are brown /And the sky is grey /I went for a walk /On a winter's day/ If I didn't tell her /I could leave today , which fit both the wintry mood of the beginning of the book and the hero Ben's dilemma about his love life; Soak up the Sun was chosen for the lines:Its not having what you want/Its wanting what youve got which fit Amy's burgeoning reconnection with the world and acceptance of the good things in life, while Here Comes the Summer Son contains the lines: Before you take my heart, reconsider/Before you take my heart, reconsider/I've opened the door/I've opened the door, which fitted Amy's nervousnes about indulging in a new relationship. The last two songs, Sing and Fix You were chosen for the pain and anguish they engender - Fix You, particularly stayed in my head as Ben's song, as it summed up what he feels about Amy and why she keeps him out of her life. High up above or down below/When you're too in love to let it go/But if you never try you'll never know/Just what you're worth/Lights will guide you home/And ignite your bones/And I will try to fix you (ok the ignite your bones line is not Chris Martin's finest hour, but it is a song that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up).
When I was writing Pastures New, I tried to weave some of the song lyrics themselves into the story (quoting verbatim from songs is a very expensive thing to do, so I generally try to avoid it). So Amy remembers walking in golden fields with Jamie, Ben at one point does stop into a church, Amy hears Sheryl Crowe singing about having what you want, and wonders later on if she should go through the door of a new relationship. I didn't use Sing so much, but at the end, I did literally have Ben lighting her way home. However, I realised after I'd done it, I was trying too hard to bend the story to fit the song, plus when I came to write Strictly Love (more spoiler alerts) I wanted my characters to have a theme tune each and that rather then having one theme song for each part of the book, I also wanted to highlight certain key moments, like soundtracking a film.
So in Strictly Love I worked it slightly differently. Each part had it's own theme song: Part One had The First Cut is the Deepest, for Mark who was mourning the loss of his marriage; Part Two was The Weakness in Me for Emily who kept going back to an unsuitable boyfriend and for Katie who was being tempted by Rob: Part Three had Can't Get You Out of My Head for all my protagonist's as they attempted to control their feelings and Part Four's theme was Song for Lovers, which makes me go slightly weak at the knees.
Additionally, I used :
Abba's heartbreaking Slipping through my Fingers for Mark's relationship with his daughter Gemma (I have sobbed EVERY time I see Meryl Streep singing that in Mamma Mia!- it's also turned up as a theme for Cat in Last Christmas)
Feel for Rob, which helped me hugely give depth to his character. He started off as a happy go lucky character, who lacked commitment, but I always knew he was hiding a dark secret. Then I heard Feel on the radio one day and suddenly I knew Rob so much better. I listened to this song obsessively every time I had to write a Rob scene, and in the end he became my favourite character because of it.
I just want to feel real love
Feel the home that I live in'
Cause I got too much life
Running through my veins
Going to waste
I don't want to die
But I ain't keen on living either
Before I fall in love
I'm preparing to leave her
I scare myself to death
That's why I keep on running
Before I've arrived
I can see myself coming
The Miracle of Love - by the Eurythmics. I love the Eurythmics and this song about the wonder of finding love again was a perfect soundtrack moment for the first time Emily and Mark get together. I had this scene in my head for months before I wrote it- it unfolded as if I were watching a film. And had I been watching a film, then this song would be what you'd hear...
Fields of Gold- Sting. Again, I had a scene in my head with Emily and Mark lying in fields of gold watching the sun rise, and this poignant song just fitted the mood perfectly. I also played Sting's Shape of my Heart alot for this particular moment, more because of the way it catches at my heart then the lyrics.
The boys also got two theme songs: The Boys are Back in Town for their attempts to get laid and Fifteen Years, which is a great song about booze and regret and lost opportunities, and perfect for anyone who has ever sat in their local, looked around and thought, shit, is this what my life's come to?
A last minute addition (thanks to watching an episode of Ashes to Ashes) was Body Talk, which worked really well both as the song that Rob and Katie danced to when they realise their true feelings for each other, but the perfect accompaniment to a rumba. I even choreographed the steps (Marie, you may remember, I was emailing you as I did it), with the use of a little handbook of dancing, myself on my own inf ront of a computer trying out both the male and female steps, while I listened to the song. Sometimes I probably should be sectioned...
For Last Christmas, I've gone less for major theme songs and more for key moments of the story, where again, if it were a film you'd have an apposite piece of music playing (I had a completely eureka moment when I went on the Being Human website - currently my favourite place in cyberspace and read about how they chose the music for each episode, a subject I think for another post - and realised this is what I aspire too).
So this time around (I am trying not to give anything away here, because of course, in October I want you all to go out and buy the book!), I had alot of songs about tension in relationships, as one hero and heroine: Cat and Noel are in a long term marriage which is fraying a bit around the edges.
Their songs include:
This is Where I Came In by the BeeGees. I belatedly realised when they brought out their last album before Maurice died, that I totally heart the Beegees. And this song is just amazing. The lines: I lie and you lie /And who would get the sharpest knife, I'm sure will resonate with anyone who's been in a longterm relationship. There are certainly days when every couple is scrabbling for the sharpest knife, but usually the wounding is with words. But I also love it for the reality of these lines: Hope rides on/But I’ll go anywhere/Yes, I’ll go anywhere with you/Time has gone/But I’ll go anywhere/Yes, I’ll go anywhere with you. The point is, however rough the ride gets, however much you sometimes are hard pushed to like each other, if you LOVE each other you will go anywhere, through thick and thin. That's why those pesky marriage vows are in there. We never imagine the worse when we get married, but boy oh boy, the better is worth the occasional pain. Well, I think so anyway, but then I do write romantic fiction.
Cat and Noel also have: Bryan Ferry's Let's Stick Together for similar reasons, but for moments when the going is tough, another song for them is the Manic Street Preacher's Your Love Alone for the lines: Your love alone - is not enough not enough not enough/When times get tough they get tough they get tough they get tough. Because despite what I said above about love making you go anywhere with your partner, it isn't enough, on its own to see you through the tough times. You also have to hang on and remember the good times. Which is why I've also given Cat and Noel Coral's Put the Sun Back. This is absolutely somewhere I've been emotionally, and I think it's brilliant:
I caught you crying
Trying to hide your tears away
And all the whileI never knew you felt this way
I've loved you from the start
How could we let this come apart ?
We've got to put
The sun back in our hearts
For my other couple Marianne and Gabriel, I have the wonderfully perky and upbeat She's Got You High by Mumm-Ra (with huge thanks to Persephone for pointing me in the right direction with that one) , which is one of the most perfect falling love songs I have ever heard, even if I mistakenly heard the lines this world has turned to seethrough as this world has turned to seafood, till I googled the lyrics.
Gabriel is in a difficult relationship with his mentally unstable wife at the start of the book, and I have two songs for key moments they have together. The first if Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, which is such a painful, sad destructive kind of song:
When the routine bites hard
and ambitions are low
And the resentment rides high
but emotions won't grow
And we're changing our ways,
taking different roads
Then love, love will tear us apart again
And I also had the wonderful KT Tunstall's Other Side of the World, which is another song which makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and also is brilliant for catching the insolubility of their problems.
Cat has a lot of me in her. She is the mother of four and has I hope a moving storyline featuring her own mother, which turned out to be a damned sight more personal then I intended when I thought of it. So she has Angels as a theme tune. Which makes me howl. Which I also hope is the reaction of my readers to this part of the storyline...
At the last minute I've brought in I Can See Clearly Now and Love Resurrection for Marianne, for two key moments for her.
And I also had a sudden wow moment and used The Streets of London for a hugely important scene for Noel.
But the heart of this book, belongs to Noel and so my favourite emotional stirring song of the last year (till I heard Johnny Cash's Hurt) is Neil Diamond's Pretty Amazing Grace, which is relevant not just for Noel, but in their own ways all the other characters too.
Pretty amazing grace is how you saved me
And with amazing grace, reclaimed my heart
Love in the midst of chaos
Calm in the heat of war
Showed with amazing grace
What love was for.
No book about Christmas would be complete without some cheese. So I've also got Wham's Last Christmas as the title song and Marianne and Gabriel's theme tune(I was always partial to those Wham boys). I've even pinched the lyrics for my part titles which are: I Gave you my heart/You gave it Away/To Save me from Tears/Someone Special.
I'm just working on the soundtrack for my next book, about weddings, and will report back in my next musings on this subject, as well, I hope posting some coherent thoughts about the Being Human soundtrack and how it's inspired me, and when I get round to listening to the four CDs Lisa has been kind enough to send me, I shall be posting on that too.... But for now I really really must get to Sainsbury's. Sometimes my real life is dead inconvenient...