After a six month blog break – well it’s certainly been a busy period – I’m blogging well back!
And this time the focus will be a wee bit different.
As me and hubby have just acquired a Motor Home, (or MoHo as we like to call it), we’ll be hitting the road and I’ll be using some of the time ‘out and about’ to fine tune a forthcoming compilation of short stories. There will be eight stories in all, so a little way to go, but hoping that regular escapes from the distractions of a home based office will get those creative juices flowing.
So watch this space with a combo of MoHo travel and writing updates, including reviews of any great books I happen to be reading on the way.
On that score, have just finished reading ‘Common People’ – An Anthology of Working-Class Writers – edited by the inspirational and award winning author, Kit de Waal. As a proud supporter of this publication I love the idea of putting emerging writers alongside established ones – sharing the same book space as well as broadly working-class backgrounds. It’s empowering, uplifting and there is some great writing.
You could argue that in all walks of life ‘cream rises’, that real talent punches through and why bother with the whole ‘class’ thing anyway? Well here’s why – the print medium and publishing, like broadcasting and a raft of other so-called ‘competitive’ professions, are still dominated by well-connected and self-perpetuating groups. They are confident in their place, understand the rules and of course rule the roost. By and large, nice enough people but it can all feel – well – a bit ‘samey’, clubby even.
As someone from a second generation Irish working class background, (who managed to push through the ‘Class Ceiling’ of national print journalism and TV broadcasting), I do believe that with enough resilience, hard work and ability it can be done.
‘But’…and it’s a big one.
The barriers remain much higher for those where nepotism, help from the bank of mum or dad, (let alone the added advantage of having the same accent and language of commissioning or recruitment people), aren’t there.
That’s what I love about the ‘Common People’ publication and the publishers ‘Unbound’. It is about opening doors, giving a chance to writers who might otherwise never get to see their work in a bookshop or library.
As it says on the book cover, ‘Working Class stories are not always tales of the underprivileged and dispossessed’. Amen to that. There are strong communities in Tower Blocks. (Loretta Ramkissoon’s ‘Which Floor?’ has one of the best opening lines ever); Cathy Rentzenbrinks celebration of the game of Darts; Eva Verde’s memories of hours lost in Forest Gate Branch Library reminding me of happy times spent in Birmingham’s Moseley Road and Yardley Wood libraries; Paul McVeigh’s ‘Night of the Hunchback’ which is both funny and haunting; ’The Things We Ate’ by Kit de Waal is a beautifully written evocation of childhood food – and so much more. I could go on as this book has some cracking contributions, a genuine celebration of talent.
Recently I’ve been back up to Birmingham – I now live in deepest West Cornwall – to see some friends from Central TV and in particular, one of my closest pals, photographer Pogus Caesar. Actually, he’s Dr Pogus Caesar now, having been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Birmingham City University.
Like me, Pogus was a Birmingham B12 postcode kid, and his family came over on the Windrush in the 1950s from St Kitts. We both met at Central TV where we were working as programme producers and our paths there were quite different – I came in through the journalism route whereas Pogus arrived via photography after an earlier stint as a chef. (His food is still dead good by the way!).
A few weeks ago we were reflecting on our professional journeys and how we got there. Resilience? Yes. Luck? A bit but we made sure that we grabbed the opportunities on offer. Hard work? Bloody hell yes, yes and yes again. Focus? Yes a lot of that too and we’ve always tried to make the most of any gifts we’ve been given. We also had mentors and supporters, people who were successful and prepared to share that with others along the way.
To quote Dr Pogus Caesar : ‘I hope that my backstory can inspire others. I’ll keep on this journey as who knows where the road might lead.’
I’ll raise a glass to that and to all those people out there who think that getting their words published and on bookshelves is beyond their reach.
Stick at it folks and check out ‘Common People’ for inspiration. Now back to the MoHo for more exploration and reading.
Over and out…
Sometimes in life things happen out of the blue – when you’re not looking, yet somehow the timing feels right.
With lots of talk about getting more women represented on company Boards of Directors – the latest figure is still a pretty poor 25.5% of FTSE 350 companies – the chance to join the Board of a west Cornwall radio station, (Coast FM), seemed to land at a pivotal time.
It all began after I did a number of interviews for the station and in the course of one conversation, the idea of getting more involved came up. With a well established national TV production/journalism background, my broadcasting experience and industry contacts can be put to good use locally – while (yeah!!) adding to the growing number of women represented on company boards.
It’s early days. and I still haven’t met everyone connected with the station, but plan to do so over the coming months – and at a Coast FM festive party at the end of December. (Squeezed in nicely between Christmas and New Year). There are lots of ideas about how the station can go forward and grow, and it’s great to be a part of that.
So watch this space!
This latest move has been a good thing in an otherwise difficult 2018 for our family, something which I have touched upon in the previous blog. Occasionally there is a year where you just want to it to be over, and in many ways it will be a relief to draw a line under this one.
Despite this, 2018 has also seen happier times, including reconnecting with some old friends and work colleagues . Recently, I met up with a former Central TV colleague, Tony Biggs, when he was visiting Looe wth some friends. Even though we hadn’t seen each other since the 1990s – yes, the last century! – we picked up as if twenty plus years hadn’t whizzed by. This is one of the great things about living in Cornwall, and having a steady stream of visitors. The perfect excuse to hook up with friends from all over the country and to show off those beautiful locations.
So with only a short time to go before we leave 2018, with all the political turmoil both here and abroad, let’s hope 2019 is a better year all round.
And that’s the thing about New Year celebrations, isn’t it? Optimism for the future with the prospect of positive change.
Happy Christmas everyone and here’s to the things that really matter – friends, family, community – oh, and not being afraid to grab new opportunities when they present themselves. Also to all those people who are facing their first Christmas after losing a close family member, when happy memories will be tinged with sadness that they are no longer here. Although it will still be a poignant time, try to make those good memories the dominant ones, to talk about them and celebrate their part in your life.
As the Irish greeting goes, Slainte!
Now over to Bonnie the very Cornish cockapoo for her 2018 message…
A short and sweet message from little ol’ me this time. Just enjoy yourselves because to quote someone called Noddy Holder (who’s he?) it’s C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S!’
And to all my fellow mutts out there, steer well clear of those chocs, nuts and raisins lurking around, as they aren’t good for us pooches – nobody wants to be stuck at the vets over the Christmas period, least of all the two legged lot. (Lol).
That’s it – off now for a romp on the beach because I ‘m a Cornish gal and I can.
Woof and out…’
It’s been a while since I last posted a blog and that is because the past six weeks have been a sad and traumatic time for our family.
After a long hard battle with Vascular Dementia, and more recently, the devastating effects of a stroke, my mum Rita passed away on October 7th. Her quality of life hadn’t been good for some time and although we are all devasted by her passing, there is an element of relief that her suffering is over.
Inevitably the death of a parent causes you to re-evaluate your own life, to look back to your childhood and beyond, to examine your relationship with your parents, and to face the stark reality that you are now the older generation within your immediate family.
So here’s my personal tribute to mum, the feisty Irish woman who kept that fighting spirit right up until the end.
Like a lot of her generation, mum devoted most of her life to bringing up her four children, while my dad worked as a carpenter. They were private, modest people who came to Birmingham in the mid 1950s to find work. Mum was born in Belfast and dad in Dublin and for them family was everything.
After dad died at a relatively young age, mum’s life revolved around her five grand children and every so often she would make the journey ‘back home’ as she still called Belfast, to see her northern Irish family.
Like many daughters, I had a complicated relationship with mum and when my all consuming career in journalism and TV production took off, I have to admit that family priorities were given a back seat. While working long hours, travelling across the country and on a number of occasions to the USA, visits to see mum had to be squeezed in around these commitments. For a number of years work became the main priority and although loving what I did, at times it felt like living to work rather than the other way around.
I also (wrongly) assumed that mum took no great interest in the stuff of careers, not really understanding why anyone would put so much time and effort into the world of work. Then, just before I headed off to Bermuda in 2011 to join my husband who had been offered a forensic post on the island, mum handed me a large package. Inside she had collected a mass of magazine and newspaper cuttings, going right back to the start of my career. I was taken aback and extremely touched by this – although she never really said much, she had read all of the features and had hung on to them. I must admit to shedding a few tears that day, realising not for the first time how I’d misinterpreted her views.
Looking back, there were signs that mum was becoming ill a few years before her diagnosis. Little things that in hindsight all add up. She would often ask the same question over and over, would forget what food she’d bought, stocking up on stuff she already had in, calling at odd times of the day and then forgetting why she had rung in the first place. Without knowing the cause, this behaviour seemed bizarre and sometimes annoying. Once it became clear that her illness was causing this, the shutters came off and perversely my own relationship with mum improved. What I’d seen as a failure to listen, someone who was calling at the times I’d asked her to avoid, suddenly had an explanation. Mum wasn’t being difficult or awkward, she was simply showing the signs of the cruellest of illnesses. Yet another misunderstanding.
Despite everything mum kept the essence of her personality up until the end. Well into her illness, she could still remember her Irish dancing steps and the lyrics of songs. She would point to the map of Northern Ireland on her nursing home room door and until recently, could still recognise us when we made our visits from Cornwall. She was surrounded by photos of her family and had a regular stream of visitors from my siblings and her grand children.
Today, we all are trying to remember the happier times before the illness took hold. Her love of sweet foods, probably caused by rationing during the war. Her constant quest for bargain deals at the Bull Ring market – often turning out to be anything but. Her turns at Irish dancing at family parties, the Catholic icons dotted around her house, (some of which frightened her grand children when they were growing up!), and the feistiness which never left her.
So RIP mum Rita. It took a few years, but I now realise just how strong you were and that you did your best for all of your family. Thanks to you, I still have those early cuttings too – a part of my own history that you saved up specially. You will live on in your children and grand children, all of us the keepers of your memories.
One little postscript. Animals, especially dogs, can be incredibly attuned to emotions and moods. In the past few weeks our dog, Bonnie, has realised that something was amiss and that we were feeling sad. She followed us around the house, constantly checking that we were OK and cosying up to us at every opportunity. She knew we needed some extra affection and like all dogs, gave it unconditionally. However sad we felt, we had to take her out for walks and exercise is a great mood enhancer. So thanks Bonnie dog, you’re a little star.
If we thought last year was busy in west Cornwall, well that was nothing compared to the sizzling summer of 2018.
Not only record temperatures but soaring visitor numbers too – our town of Marazion has seen thousands of people arrive to enjoy the beach, watersports, St Michael’s Mount, and some great eateries.
Yes the road traffic has increased and you have to factor in a lot more time to get to places. But heh – it’s fun to people watch and do some celebrity spotting. On that note, former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, (now Horner) and her family have been holidaying in the area and even popped into our local, the Godolphin Arms.
A combination of a weak pound, sunny weather, an increase in foreign visitors and more ‘staycations’, has given a big boost to the local economy and just when you think Cornwall can’t get any busier in the summer months – well think again. This trend is here to stay and with it comes those traffic niggles and queues, the good with the bad. Yes really!
Recently, I’ve taken part in a couple of live interviews for our local radio station, Coast FM. The first was about Bonnie dog’s ‘Pets As Therapy’ role and afterwards the presenter, Pat Quayle, asked if I could do another live chat with her about writing and working in television.
The thing about live interviews, is they are seat of the pants stuff. Once you’ve said something that’s it, there is no going back. As someone who is more used to asking the questions rather than answering them, it’s been a fascinating but strange experience.
Pat Quayle has an acting background and has worked for the BBC, so knows her writing and production stuff. Her late brother, Eric, had one of the country’s largest book collections and was also an author. Before we knew it, half an hour had flown by and I’ve been promised a copy to share on social media – but only when it’s been listened to and vetted by yours truly!
Meantime, I’m looking to make contact with the real Debbie McKay – the one who used to live in our house – and who happens to have a namesake character in my ‘Dilemma Novella’ series. I knew nothing about this until I gave a talk to a local group earlier this year and someone came up afterwards to ask me if the main ‘Debbie’ character in my books was named after someone who once resided at our home.
Given that the character’s name was chosen well before we moved here – and is actually a combination of the names of two friends – it’s a spooky coincidence. So watch this space and I’ll report on how it goes.
Now for Bonnie dog’s news…
Notice how I’ve been shunted to the tail end of the blog again? This had better be a short term thing, or I’ll be stamping those paws and causing mayhem. Come on, this is no place for a doggy star in the making and well I know it.
Rant over – for now.
Talking of spotlight, guess who got all the attention at the Leonard Cheshire home summer fete the other day? Yes, I know when that yellow coat thingy goes on – and the PAT collar tag – that I need to be on my best behaviour. No jumping up or grabbing treats. (Not that this gal would ever grab food unlike some greedy mutts I know).
Still, it’s summer and everyone was chilled out at the fete. A bit different then from my usual visit and we hung around for a tad longer, while little ol’ me enjoyed the extra pats and yes, the odd doggy treat.
So here’s a piccy of me below with the rent Paul wearing matching mellow yellow.
Two cool dudes eh? (Lol – as the rents would say).
Now that I’ve made my radio debut, there’s a rumour that there could be more. I don’t get to say much but who cares? Those studio bods sure know how to make a fuss and I can just lounge around, while the two legged lot do all the work.
What’s not to like?
Woof and out..’
There has been a lot going on recently, so just easing back into the writing business with Bonnie the ‘dog blogger’ taking a back seat again. Not her favourite spot!
A few weeks ago I got a request to do an interview with a journalism student as part of a final university degree assignment. It’s not easy choosing where to focus when your job spans several decades working across print, television production, and more recently, novel writing.
Then the more tricky question. What is your career highlight?
Awards are the thing that many people measure success by, and of course receiving a Royal Television Society Award from television peers was fantastic. So too was making the shortlist for the best UK Medical Journalism Awards for an ITV ‘Tonight’ programme on the difficult subject of early onset puberty in children.
But hand on heart, the real highlight has to be a campaign some years ago to get a change in the law on Unfitness to Plead, with a TV documentary involving a number of legal and mental health professionals. These included solicitor Paul Bacon who became a good friend, and eventually we set up an independent TV production business.
The documentary was based on the sad case of a young woman who ‘confessed’ to murdering her grand father. As she was mentally unfit to stand trial – she had a learning disability – she was packed off to a long stay secure unit indefinitely. Eventually, the real killer, (another family member), stood trial but her case showed up shortcomings in the law where people were found incapable of giving evidence.
When making the programme we found other examples of people with learning disabilities being sent away to long stay institutions for much more trivial offences, effectively being sentenced to indefinite incarceration without trial. Not long after the programme aired, the law was changed to give better protection to people who had been found unfit to plead.
Sitting in parliament and listening to the debates which led to a law change, shows just what a privilege it is to work in a profession which can be a force for reform. Of course there is bad journalism – there are rotten apples in every profession – but day in and out, there are campaigning journalists who take on great causes, allowing marginalised people to be heard who would otherwise be left without a voice.
So here’s to campaigning, investigative reporting and its impact for good.
Now for a strange coincidence.
When attending the Dublin Writers Conference last year, I was paired with another author whose own life experience mirrored a central part of the plot in my three part novella series. We were pretty much randomly selected, so the odds of that happening were long.
More recently, after being invited to give a talk to a local women’s group, I came across yet another jaw dropping coincidence.
The main character in my novella series is a middle aged woman called Debbie McKay. The name was concocted as a mix of a schoolfriend’s first name and another friend’s second name. (Though the spelling is slightly different).
After the talk, I was approached by a neighbour, and asked if I’d named my key character after someone with the same name ‘who used to live in your house’.
Seeing my bemused expression, she explained that the first owners of our house were the McKay family and their daughter was called – wait for it – Debbie.
Looking back through the paperwork she was right – a Mr and Mrs McKay were the first couple to own our property – but, this is the strangest bit, I’d begun to write the story well before I even knew that. Apparently, the namesake daughter is now living elsewhere and I’ll certainly try to make contact.
Isn’t that bizarre? Quite spooky but thrilling.
On the subject of books, there have been occasional comments on writer forums about the level of support (or lack of it) given to authors by friends and family. Some say they get a lot of great support, while others complain – and goodness knows why – that those close to them seem to resent or even harbour envy at what they’ve achieved.
While it’s cheering to get good reviews and feedback, the answer is simple really. Don’t expect or require validation from others, whoever they are. Anyone who has the discipline, commitment and ability to produce one or several books has already achieved what most people never will and should pat themselves on the back for that. If I could have a pound or dollar for everyone who has said ‘I’d love to write a book but…’ (insert excuse) I’d be a wealthy woman.
So to all my writer friends out there, congratulations for walking the walk, getting on with it, and achieving those writing goals.
Now over to Bonnie dog, stuck at the tail end of the blog…
Short and sweet from me this time, as (sniff) most of the blog space has been gobbled up.
Well, it looks like I’ll soon be heading into a radio studio with the rents, to talk about my ‘Pets As Therapy’ dog work. I’ve been told I’ve got to be on my best behaviour and not to put a paw wrong.
As if I would? (Tee hee).
Then I’ll be off to the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity dog show, strutting my stuff and hopefully making off with a rosette or two.
After that we’ve got visitors coming at the end of June, so no doubt the rents will be tidying up, shoving all my stuff out of the way so I can’t find a thing, and – yikes – giving me a bath. (I put up with the bath but it’s not my favourite thing). Still, it’s good to see some new faces and we’ll be taking them out and about which I love – especially if there’s a decent walk and a pub involved.
There’s more TV filming going on in Cornwall, so I expect rent Maggie will be writing about it and that I’ll get a visit to the set. Last time that happened, I was spoiled rotten with treats and pats – one of the film crew even described little ol’ me as a ‘real distraction’.
Not a bad compliment, eh?
Promise to post a few photos when it happens and meantime, here’s one to be getting on with…me trying to blend in nicely with the stair carpet’