Sunday, 24 May 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 5

Apologies for dressing gown and face. Part 5 of my blogs about going round Europe. Reading from my diary again.

Previous installments here:


Sunday, 17 May 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 4

Another video blog about my solo trip to Europe when I was 20 years old, reading from my diary at the time.  Previous instalment here.

It's Day 2, I'm in Amsterdam, will I give in and have a KFC? I  think we know the answer.


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 3

So I'm renaming these blogs about my trip to Europe 'Lost at Sea', even though no actual crossing of water took place. Well, it did, but I flew over it. The plane flew over it. I travelled overland by train the rest of the 4 weeks. 'Lost at Sea' is the writing prompt that got me remembering and writing about this trip a few weeks ago, 14 years on from taking it, and there's a reason for that, a reason those 3 words triggered something, but I'll save that for another post.  

To read the previous installment, click here. I have just arrived in Amsterdam, my first destination. 
I kept a diary while I was away - here I am reading the first entry.


Friday, 24 April 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 2

This is the story - or the bits of the story, the put together recollections - of a trip across Europe I took in July 2001. I was 20, naive, resourceful, terrified, full of hope and travelling alone. You can read part one here.

I'd never been on a plane before. Growing up, our holidays were always to near-ish seaside towns never more than 90 minutes drive away - Skegness, Mablethorpe, Bridlington – and we didn’t have a car so we’d be dropped off by a relative who’d come back for us the following Saturday. There’d be me, my mum, my Nana, my cousin, a couple of aunties, and we’d stay in a flat for a week and have late 80s / early 90s fun (on the beach with our buckets and spades, bingo, slot machines, talent competitions…) Different trips and journeys to this one. 

Two things stand out about this going-on-a-plane thing. One, I was at an actual airport – a big and exciting place I’d only imagined until now - and I was at the bit where I had to be x-rayed (customs? I still don’t feel at one with the terminology). Anyways, the Security person, officer – she was female, and she asked if anyone could have put something in my bag without my knowledge. I still had it on my back – my huge big rucksack bought a month or so before by my best friends in support of my journey. They sewed my name on it too, ‘Tree’ (short for Teresa) next to a lovely big tree, rooted the ground (ironically) ‘So you don’t forget who you are’. They may not have said that. It just feels like they did.

So could anyone have put something in this massive bag without me realising?

I glanced back at it and said, ‘Um, well, I’ve been wearing it, so I can't really tell, so yeah, someone could have put something in there.’ It just seemed best to be honest about it.

Security officer customs lady sighed. ‘OK, I’m going to ask you again. Is there any chance someone could have put something in your bag without you knowing about it?’

I scrunched my face up. ‘Um…'

She gave me a look. Eyebrows as high as they could go.

I was getting it now. I had to say NO. So I said, ‘No?’

She nodded and let me through.

The second standout memory of my first-time-going-on-a-plane experience came as we took off. This was the moment where I suddenly realised what I was doing. As we speeded up along the runway, going faster than I had ever gone before, at that miraculous moment of taking off, of soaring, I filled with tears, and for the first time I asked myself why I wasn’t doing this with a friend. But it was too late. I was on my way to Amsterdam, on my own as I had insisted I wanted to be, with no booked accommodation, just a rough route I wanted to take, and a plan that I’d be in the south of France about a week and a half later.

… more soon …

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 1

When I was 20, I spent a month travelling across Europe on my own. Last week I started writing about it, responding to a writing prompt "Lost at Sea".  The whole trip was a bit of a mixed experience, and my expectations were so out of sync with the reality. So looking back on it is interesting, and maybe useful. I'll share some of the reflections here over the next few weeks. 

At 20 I was naive enough to tell people I was going ‘to find myself’. Luckily I had enough self awareness to deliver that phrase with sarcasm and knowing, but I did believe it on some level. I believed I would have a deep and wonderful experience. That I would meet interesting people, eat good food, drink wine in street cafes, speak French, take deep breaths on mountains, not care if I missed a train, not plan too much, be free and easy and only decide where I’d go next on a whim. I did all of those things. But what I didn’t have was peace as I did them, and so I didn’t have a deep and wonderful experience – I was sometimes lonely, even when I was with people; and I was sometimes afraid, even when I was safe.

I wasn’t scared of anything external, not really. I didn’t think anything bad would happen to me, like being mugged or kidnapped (and it didn’t) and before I went if anyone questioned my judgement (on her own, a young girl, no mobile phone, hasn’t booked her accommodation, in unknown places, etc.) I’d say ‘bad things can happen anywhere,’ and feel extra mature about my outlook. I remember a few people (Mum, Nana, Grandma etc.) asking with worried brows, ‘But can’t you get anyone to go with you?’ I was aghast – of course I could – if that was what I wanted, but I didn’t. I’d had this idea, I’d bought a couple of guidebooks, a return flight to Amsterdam, a train pass, an incredibly heavy timetable showing details of ALL trains in Europe that summer, and I went.

(... more soon...)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

good rejection

Had a lovely rejection from Granta Magazine. I've even been bragging about it, using it as an anecdote: "Yeah, got rejected by Granta..." etc. Badge of honour. I knew it was a long shot sending something to them, so when they replied with - 

"Thank you for submitting [story title] to our magazine. We read it with interest and enjoyed it, but ultimately decided that it was not right for our pages. Please keep us in mind for your future projects."

- I was pretty happy. I felt like one of those gameshow contestants who hasn't won but they've had a lovely day out. 

It was nice for them to say I should keep them in mind for future projects. It means sub again, right?

Because about a year ago, I sent something else to different magazine, who also rejected the story but also in a lovely way:  

"While this particular submission isn't quite what we're looking for, we were very impressed by your writing. We hope you will feel encouraged by this short note and send something else in the near future. We look forward to reading more."

I was really heartened by that. I thought - ooh, they're eager. I'll strike while the iron's hot! 10 days later I sent them something else. Alas, twas too soon. They didn't want it, and they asked me to leave it at least a month next time. I felt less like a gameshow contestant and more like someone who's been dumped and has been asked to give the other person space. 

So I'll wait a respectable amount of time before trying Granta again. Don't want to come on too strong.

Monday, 16 February 2015

a month without Facebook

This isn't one of those gloating posts about how improved life is without Facebook. I hope. If it is, tell me - I'll delete it.

But because this is my blog and I write about myself here (big head) I can tell you that having a break from Facebook has been a key ingredient in - but not the whole picture of - a really productive month or so.

I like FB but, as I said before, "I am also a bugger for getting lost in it and that can make me feel a bit lost from myself."

Have any of you ever 'deactivated' your Facebook? I have, several times (sometimes for years at a time) so I was ready for what FB would do. Once you click that button to leave, it does its best to make you stay by showing photographs of you having a great time with various people on your friends list. It tells you these people will miss you. It names them. Siobhan will miss you. Ian will miss you. etc. Only a lot of the photos it showed me this time were with people I haven't interacted with in ages, so it wasn't that effective. FB needs to update this algorithm (that's the first time I've ever used the word 'algorithm' - no idea if it's right). I still would have deactivated, but I would have liked in that moment of going to have paused and reflected, with sadness, 'Yes, Ashley WILL miss me.'

For me, life without FB is easy. For something that can take up hours of my week (or hours of a day, even), it actually leaves no hole. Sure, my friends will be having funny conversations without me, and after a night out I don't get the 'Oh god let's see the photos/videos' moment (or maybe that's a positive), but really - I find it's what-you-don't-know-you-don't-miss. I might reactivate at some point. I probably will.

But this Facebook-less month has succeeded in making me feel more connected. I've written more, read more, and made more story submissions than I ever have in a month. Looking back at my submitted stories records for the past year, I averaged 1-2 submissions a month. But this January I made 5 submissions, and have made another 2 so far in February. A few of those were new stories, a few were rejects which have been edited and polished, and one was a pitch for a commission for a blog residency at a magazine I love. I sent work to an oh-so optimistic place, and some to a new magazine I discovered and really really like

And I wrote something for radio, for the BBC Opening Lines. I also researched the kind of stories they go for, and found this gem from Claire Fuller. Because my time online hasn't been dominated by looking at social-media, I've had the impetus to follow links to short stories to read with my morning coffee, instead of FB news feeds. I'm just making my way through the 6 stories which are available to read online from The Sunday Times Short Story Award. So far, The Referees by Joseph O'Neill is my favourite, but I also really liked The Ways by Colin Barrett. 

I've been reminded how useful, and sobering, and inspiring, it is to read the stories that are winning the big prizes. This year's Costa Short Story Award winner, Fishskin, Hareskin, by Zoe Gilbert, is just amazing. 

But my increased productivity hasn't just been down to no Facebookin. I'm pretty sure that the news I had at the start of year about my shortlisting in the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize (the results were announced at the weekend- I was awarded a 'Highly Commended' prize), and the longlisting at Bare Fiction, have been useful pushes / prompts / confidence nudgers.

And then there was just the sense I had that I wanted to get some stuff done. So stuff is getting done. Hope your stuff is too.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Faces / close but / diaries

The lovely people at Magic Oxygen have made a gallery of all their shortlisted writers' faces. See that photo of me there on the right, with the rather red lips? Well they've gone kind of BLACK in the version in the gallery. I used to wear black lipstick - or was it dark blue - when I was fifteen and a 'Sweaty' - that meant I listened to Nirvana instead of dance music. The gallery also has info about the other 19 writers I'm shortlisted with, and it's nice to be amongst such a fine bunch. Have a look here.

I entered Bare Fiction's Flash Prize a few months ago, didn't get on the shortlist and had already enjoyed marking an X next to it in my submission diary (photo of that in last post). But I had an email yesterday to say I did make it onto the longlist of 30 out of 461. One of those 'close but no cigar' moments, which bring a mix of feelings. Ultimately good ones, though.

On my days off I've been enjoying a bit of time with my teenage diaries - here we are together.

For ages I've been meaning to get them into some kind of chronological order, so now each one (there are over 70) has a small white sticker on the front saying when the diary started and ended. I rediscovered some stories I wrote back then too -  horrible stories - mostly about love. Two characters, Megan and Jake, plague nearly everything with their smug creative relationship. Jake is always playing the piano and Megan is always off somewhere writing poetry.

Although I'm a writer and my other half is a musician I absolutely do not accept that I have somehow forced a life path identical to the way I thought it would be when I was 14. No. No. No.

Oh crap.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Shortlisted, deactivated

New Year's Eve, daytime. I say to Mario:
"This is the first year since I started sending writing out that I haven't had anything published or shortlisted. But that's ok. I mean, it's how it works. Ups and downs. Ebbs and flows."

CUT TO: New Year's Day, morning. I open my emails, this from Magic Oxygen Literary Prize:
"Dear Teresa, Your story 'Waking', has made it through to our shortlist of ten..."

GET THIS: The email was sent at 11.59am, in the very last minute of 2014. Funny, huh?

Goes without saying I'm mega happy about this. A great end to one year and a boost of a start to the new one. It's a story that started out as a flash a few years ago, then took on a new life and more words and various edits, has been sent to quite a few publications / prizes and got nowhere...

Here is a photo of my Rejection Section 2014

It's a bit blurred but I can tell you the word 'Waking' appears 4 times, so that's how many times it went out last year.

Note all those crosses. When I hear (or don't hear) a piece of work hasn't made it, I have to say I enjoy making those little crosses, they're cathartic. It's like the end of hope and the start of hope all at once.

So, fourth time lucky (probably double that if I checked how many times I subbed it in previous years). That thing has happened where a particular reader / judge has read it, and it's risen to the top of a big pile (800 entries). It might even now win a prize. I won't know if it has until mid-February, but it will be published in an anthology, and just being in the last ten is a wonderful feeling. I will, of course, keep you posted.

I have also deactivated Facebook ('What, all of it?!' a friend quipped when I announced this to him a few days ago.) No, just my account, as I have done before, when the fug of Facebook gets too much and I need a good soul clean. I am a fan of Facebook, I love and appreciate many of the people I talk to on there but I am also a bugger for getting lost in it and that can make me feel a bit lost from myself.

So I've done a bit more Tweeting in the past few days, but I've also written a lot more, and read a lot more, and felt more peaceful. GOOD.

No big end of year post, but I will say 2014 was the happiest year I've had in a while, maybe because I got a fringe cut in my hair ('bangs' in some parts of the world). Myself and my fringe wish you nowt but good stuff for the year ahead.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Long Lost Object

When I was ten years old, I met my Dad for what felt like the first time. It felt like the first time because I hadn't seen him since I was 3, and I could hardly remember him. But only 7 years had passed, and actually that's not that long when you have an adult brain and you're good at storing and knowing things. So he was full of memories I didn't have. I was full of anger and fear and curiosity and I didn't know what to do with it. This story is based on some things that happened those first few times we met, and though I've condensed it into one visit, everything here happened, or was said, or felt. Oh and I changed my name.

As soon as I step through his garden gate the front door opens and he is there. He must have been waiting, watching through a window.
I know what to expect, vaguely, part from memory and part from photographs, but it’s still strange. Maybe because of the way he makes it look normal, with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his face, and the way he calls out to me, ‘Hey’. Then, when I'm in front of him, ‘Hello, Eve.’
            I’ve practised this next part in the mirror, watching my jaw snap down and up. ‘Dad. Dad. Dad? I have a Dad. My Dad said… No, I can't, I'm going to my Dad's. Hi Dad.’
But here, I keep the word inside.
‘Hello.’ I pull the sleeves of my cardigan down and fold my arms, afraid he’ll try to hug me, afraid he is expecting something more beautiful.
He’s still smiling. ‘Come in.’
He doesn’t wait, doesn’t see me inside with something like, ‘Welcome’. I think about turning around. About going home to my mum and saying, ‘Yeah, I met him. And that’s enough.’ And my mum asking, ‘Is it?’
I step into the house and close the door.
‘What do you want to drink, love?’ He’s waiting again, in another doorway. I know the house, in a far away way. If things had been different I might still have had a room of my own. A second home. I’ve played with that idea too, before coming here today. Leaving school on a Friday and saying, ‘I’m staying over at my dad’s this weekend.’ It seems lavish, exotic, exciting. But here it doesn’t. Here, between known and unknown, is cold and unsettling.  
‘Love? To drink?’
Love, I hear. He’s confident, not just with his words but his movements too. At ease with me here. He walks into the kitchen, expecting me to follow. I imagine coming in from school, talking about my day. What would you like to drink, love. Or I’d help myself. Open the fridge, know the cupboards.
‘Orange juice?’
I nod, ‘Okay.’

In the living room we sit in armchairs, a gas fire between us. He talks. He asks about school and exams and hobbies, trying to find the parts of me that are his.
My answers are short, minimum: top set, exams ok, drawing.
He tells me about the people who are looking forward to seeing me. Relatives I don’t know. He tells me about places he used to take me to, things we did together. The Rugby Club on Sundays. Climbing onto the piano stool. Twice the size of you. So determined. Everyone in stitches.
I didn’t expect this, this advantage he’d have on me. This is why it’s easy for him, he thinks he knows me already. I look around the room, but not at the things I’m interested in. Not at his pictures or CDs or ornaments, the things that might tell me who he is. I fix my eyes on the walls, ceiling, floor. Anywhere but him.
There’s something on the carpet between us – a small, black, crumpled thing. A dead spider. I gasp and he hears it and says, ‘Ah. If that’s how you feel you probably shouldn’t look under the back window.’
So I get up and walk across the room, past him, to see four or five black and brown spiders, all dead and folded at the edge of the carpet. It’s one of those shocks where you feel your face pull across your forehead.  
He turns in his chair to face me. ‘I’ve just had a lot of spiders lately. Are you scared?’
‘No.’ And to make him believe it I look him in the eye properly for the first time.
‘Your eyes didn’t stay green. You used to have green eyes.’
‘I know.’
‘They were like mine.’
‘They’re blue now.’ Though sometimes they still look a little green, if I’m tired, or if I cry. I don’t tell him that.
‘I've been waiting for this day for seven years.’
I want to say I haven’t, or I want to ask why he waited, why he just accepted my absence. I don’t ask of these things, but he answers them.  
‘It was hard. I didn’t know if your mum would tell you if I got in touch. I thought if I waited until you were older, you’d at least be opening your own post and making your own mind up.’
I decide to yawn.
He smiles. ‘You've still got it, that stubborn streak.’ And he starts laughing. The
laughter takes hold of him, his body shakes with it. ‘So stubborn. There was this time, you were a baby really, two or three, and we were walking through Bluebell Wood, and…’
I let myself look at him, all of him. His stomach spilling over his waistband. His thinning hair, swept over his head like a lie. Something in the corner of his mouth. I want to be at home, on my bed, lying on my back so my own stomach disappears.
He's stopped telling the story. ‘Sorry, Eve. But you know you've always been stubborn, don't you?’
Yes. Mum tells me most times we argue, and ‘you get it from your father’.
He thinks he can see me and he doesn’t even know me. I want to hurt him. I stare at his head. ‘Does your hair grow like that naturally?’
His laughing slows, his smile drops. He looks at me a while, his eyes lit in the light from the window. Then he turns around, away. After a minute he says, ‘You don’t have to be here, you know.’
He’s caught me. ‘I know.’
I look to the door and think about my next move. Something black in the corner of my eye. Something on my leg. How many spiders there must be in this room.