Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

You Should Have Worn Blue.

Friday, June 9th, 2017

As my facebook status so coherently says (typed in an entirely rational state of mind this morning, obviously) – what fresh hell is this??? We’ve been plunged into a Trump-stained, red-coloured nightmare of epic proportions. It’s like a comedy of errors being played out in a political life support unit. The press are going to have a field day with this; the whole WORLD is going to have a field day. We’ve watched from across the pond as Trump blunders through life, political opponents and foreign relations with some of the most unstable countries in the world, feeling reasonably smug about our own politics. It may not have been the most sophisticated helm in the world – but at least we had one. Well, not any more. The snap election has certainly snapped those critical bolts holding our metaphorical keel on.

Theresa May took a gamble, and not an entirely unreasonable one as we sailed towards the tumultuous Brexit, but the gamble has not paid off and our entire political structure will suffer as a consequence. Jeremy Corbyn may look like a gleeful cat poised over a bowl of cream right now, but folks – this is the man who couldn’t get his own core cabinet together the DAY BEFORE an historic general election. He allowed that poor woman to stumble and trip over herself during critical interview after critical interview. We all laughed at the time, but the fact is that a leader in control of his party should never have allowed that to happen. I’ve had the dubious pleasure of reading the Labour manifesto and it reads like a list to Father Christmas.

-          Free schools for everyone and lots of them!

-          Free school meals for every single state pupil in primary school!

-          Secure homes for everyone!

-          Safer communities!

-          Oh, and a magically resuscitated NHS with reinforced capacity for the sick and the aged, please.

So, one might ask, how is this miraculous revolution of daily life in Britain going to be funded? By taxing the wealthy. And what are they to be taxed on? Gardens. Yes, gardens. You read correctly. Jeremy Corbyn obviously had a ‘eureka!’ moment as he climbed out of the bath one morning and surveyed his not insubstantial lawn. People like gardens, people spend a lot of time in their gardens, he must have thought, rubbing his chin, and some people spend a lot of money and effort on making their garden exactly the way they like it. So good old Jeremy Hood thought “Brilliant! Let’s start charging people for the privilege of sitting in their own patch of land! Let’s call it a Land Value Tax.” Fool proof plan. And I’ve over-simplified it, but that is the bottom line and it shows a worrying mindset. In fact, it reminds me of the window tax of 1696 and therefore the lack of political evolution from the Labour Party.

And if we burrow down further into some of their policies, we start to see what they’re actually promising. The social security for everyone translates as ‘dignity for pensioners and ‘dignity for those who cannot work’. So we can’t support you in your hour of need like we suggested, BUT we’re going to do our damndest to make you feel good about it. Vague mentions of foreign ‘systems’ implies a borrowed construction of tried and tested policies – failsafe in other words. But Jeremy, you cannot just transport another nation’s modus operandi over here on a whim and expect it to slip easily into British culture. We have mention of the Australian system, Germany and the Nordic countries make an appearance and so, bizarrely, does the lone wolf BHS scandal. A cheap shot attempting to typify the instability of all long-term business growth plans. But not to worry, because we’re going to have a brand new National Investment Bank. Yes indeed! And this shiny new ‘public institution’ toy will bring in private capital finance to create £250 billion of lending power. Yeah, ok then, call me cynical but each new pledge from the Labour party comes across as little more than an untethered idea.

And Mrs May – you don’t escape either. You have demonstrably failed to lead your party to victory, and from someone who was confident enough in their own success and stability to voluntarily call a General Election, this is worrying. You refused to play by the rules, you wouldn’t enter debates with your political opponents, you rejected recorded interviews in favour of gadding about the country, meeting constituents. You forgot that you are not a film star, but a politician, and you had a duty to those people. A duty which has not been carried out. You should have reinforced your clear, calm strategies, you should have allayed fears and explained policies. You should have made it crystal clear that a Conservative government is the only one which can deliver on its promises by demonstrating recent successes. You probably shouldn’t have threatened to rip up the HRA, and frankly, you should have worn blue.

We are now in a chaotic, political hinterland of uncertainty as we move ever closer to Brexit. We have a shocked and shaken Theresa May who is facing calls to resign and a gleeful Corbyn who can’t believe his luck. What will happen next is anyone’s guess.

But as with most clouds, there is a silver lining to this if we look closely enough. Statistics have shown that voter turnout for 18-24 year olds was around 72% in this 2017 General Election. What this shambolic state of affairs has managed to secure is a renewed interest and enthusiasm from the young voters. These people are engaging with politics, they are showing that they care deeply and are listening to our political parties, they are forming their own views. And this shows us that even though we haven’t had the result that we hoped for, our prized, democratic process is alive and well, functioning against all the odds – and that is something to be truly proud of.

 

A light has gone out. Goodbye, Carole Blake.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

For those not in the know, Carole was one of London’s fiercest literary agents. She wasn’t my agent (I never dared submit to her) but I met her quite a few times at RNA parties and the London Book Fair, where you would have a conversation with Carole that would take half an hour with most people but under five minutes with her, such was her speed of living. Sadly, this speed of living ultimately translated and she passed away very suddenly, and shockingly, on 26th October.

Finding a literary agent to represent your work is like looking for an elusive eyebrow hair in a haystack. You know what they look like, they’re terribly familiar, and yet you can never quite find one. Any author will be able to describe the work, the dedication, the intense commitment and frustration that go along with trying to get published. Many will eventually follow the diversion signs and trundle off into self-publishing, but for those that choose to battle on in traditional publishing – the fight is real. It’s hours and hours of your life. It’s hundreds upon hundreds of words. It’s your creativity, poured out and shaped on a page. And yet when you submit this precious work to a literary agent for their appraisal, and hopefully representation, it’s all too common to never hear back. We can’t blame the agents, we really can’t. They are all perpetually snowed under. The writing world has burst at its seams and literary agents are the first bastion of support. Nonetheless, it’s very demoralising to never hear a peep about your word-baby.

Carole Blake, co-founder of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, was in quite a different class to other agents. She was always interested and devastatingly honest about whatever it was you were discussing. I remember a conversation about ensuring that submissions are properly proof read before they’re sent off, “I love reading the manuscripts,” she told me, “but one wrong spelling and that’s it.” One wrong spelling?! That’s standards for you.

Though I didn’t know Carole, like many others I followed sections of her life through her effervescent use of social media and especially Twitter. In one day you could get photographs of her latest book purchases, what she was eating for lunch and details about her shoe and perfume collections. There wasn’t much that this lady didn’t bring to the table.

And that is why she will be so sorely missed by family, friends, clients and her Twitter followers. Carole had such a genuine enthusiasm for, and engagement with, life that it’s very hard to believe she won’t be ferociously representing her chosen authors any more, or posting thirty tweets a day.

I can’t claim more than a passing acquaintance with this great lady, but those over at Vulpes Libris can:

https://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/carole-blake/

 

Good night Carole, and God bless.

“We are sailing…..” (not very well)

Monday, August 15th, 2016

“BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS, IF NOT DUFFERS, WON’T DROWN.”

It was about 9am when I started to feel drunk. Which, considering the timescale of the day, was no great surprise.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Are you settled? Then I shall begin.

Our adventure began, as all great adventures do, unexpectedly. Saturday night drinks in Hamble turned into Saturday night drinks on the yacht in Hamble (I keep calling it a boat but I get corrected every time). Due to the open air nature of this yacht, an early morning awakening was inevitable. But on this occasion I didn’t mind; I was on the river Hamble, in last night’s bikini and it was hot, even at 7am.

“We’re going sailing,” announced my friend grandly as he stood up and stretched. “Sailing where?” I enquired. He shrugged, “Anywhere.” And so it was that we sailed off to Anywhere (otherwise known as Cowes).

We literally sailed off the pontoon rather than using the motor, which I rapidly learned is a bit like taking cheat notes into a maths exam if you’re sailing for the day. It meant that we didn’t get anywhere quickly, but it also meant that we could be smug and yell “Motor W***ers!” at passing boats. As if…..

I pointed to a digital display in the cockpit, “What’s this?”

“The depth meter. It’s 7.5m now and anything below 0.2 is risky territory.”

“Oh.”

Seeing as it was 7:15am, Luke bent down, opened his rucksack and removed a bottle of rum. Not wanting to seem like a total novice, I pretended that I was a true sailor and accepted the bottle for my turn to swig nonchalantly. Time and time again. I could describe the journey over but suffice to say that we arrived in Cowes at about 11am, very giggly, none too steady on our feet and the bottle was empty. Our (sober) boat neighbours watched us negotiate our way out of the yacht disapprovingly.

“Do you have life jackets?” one enquired.

“No!” replied Luke, cheerfully. At this stage he didn’t even have a t-shirt on.

“A life raft?”

“No.”

“That’s very unsafe,” he frowned. “We always – ”

“How long have you been sailing here Luke?” I interrupted.

“About twenty years. Come on.”

We exited the pontoon unsteadily and for some reason we decided that the best place we could go to was the pub. Whereupon we met our very best friends in the whole world. We expressed pure shock and sorrow that we had never met them before and pledged undying love from this minute – nay, this SECOND – onwards.

We spent two hours with our new family members before Luke took a deep breath, lay down on the bench and said “Ask me anything you want to now because I’m going to sleep.”

“What?! No!” I cried and shook him, “Stay awake!” He sat up. “Go and get some Prosecco,” he said decisively. “We’ll take it back to the boat.” Obediently, I went to fetch Prosecco but when I returned, he had disappeared.

“Where’s he gone?” I enquired, and was met with blank stares, “Who?” Brilliant.

I made my way back to the marina and swiftly discovered that I had absolutely no idea where the yacht was. They all look the same to me. Up and down I went, back and forth, gradually feeling the knowledge that I was stranded dawning upon me. I needed to get back across the Solent! I came to rest at the end of a pontoon.

“Are you ok?” enquired a foreign man next to me.

“No,” I grumbled. “I’m stuck here.” And I repeated my sorry tale.

“Well I can get you back,” he said, “that’s no problem.” But at this point the Chinese people on his boat, who had chartered it I guessed, starting muttering unhappily and casting their rods further out into the marina.

“Tell you what,” he said kindly. “I’ll help you find your boat.” Excellent. So off we went and to my great surprise it was about 200 yards away. And joy of joys, there was Luke in the saloon. Asleep.

The nice foreign man nudged him awake and reminded him of his principle (only) role as the sole person who was capable of sailing back across the sea, but by this point I was firmly ensconced in Swallows-and-Amazons-land. Sail a boat singlehandedly? Of course! Winch the mainsail? Of course! Normally, you see, the only thing spinnaker means to me is the tower. Unfortunately I’d been given the job of making the boat go straight and during these musings I’d been pushing the boat (yacht!) round and round in circles. Eventually Luke noticed and steered us out into the Solent, whereupon his first question was “Where’s the Prosecco?”

Almost immediately, things got hairy. We turned into hypocrites and started the motor to help us get home. It coughed, spluttered, coughed a bit again and then died.

“Oh,” said Luke. “I thought I’d mended it.”

After that, the sun disappeared, it got very squally and the ensuing minutes were probably quite dangerous. Happily, we’d had so much rum that it didn’t really register. We nearly crashed. We sailed the wrong way for quite some substantial period of time until I happened to notice the Needles looming large in front of us (for those not acquainted with the Solent, the Needles is probably the very last place you’d want to be). Luke spent a long time sitting on the foredeck, peering at the sails as they flapped about the place whilst I attempted to stop the boat from capsizing. The sea was very rough and salty seawater sprayed over me, the boat, our clothes, the wine……It was about this point when I looked at the depth meter.

“Luke? It says we’re down to 1.2m.”

“What?!” he turned and scrambled down to me none too graciously and actually fell on top of me momentarily. Which was painful.

“Bugger, I’ve miscalculated where we are. Prepare to run aground!” he shouted above the wind and the sea. It was all quite dramatic as the little yacht was tossed around on the waves and I felt very gung-ho and brave about it all. Out in the Solent, battling with the elements, quite, quite alone, miles from safety. And then I looked the other way and saw that Portsmouth was basically within touching distance.

The depth meter dropped again to 1m which nearly had Luke in spasms. But I could see the land, I reasoned, and therefore I could swim to it.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I said casually, fortified by several pints of rum, “we’ll be fine!”

Eventually, a partly broken yacht, a shaken Luke and a very relaxed me sailed safely back into the river Hamble. Well I say safely, but I’d broken my foot and we’d lost the Prosecco. We hadn’t drowned, I reasoned, so at least we weren’t duffers.

As we calmed down I began to realise just how battered I felt. I am not used to winching (or whatever it’s called) large sails in by myself and my entire, sea-salted, body ached viciously. My only thoughts were of home, bed and tea.

“Let’s go to Hamble,” Luke announced, steering the yacht towards a boat parking space. “Few drinks in Hamble?”

“But……”, I said weakly. And then capitulated. “But of course.” I galvanised myself and we got off the yacht and walked on unsteady sea legs to the King and Queen pub (which, by the way, is just about my favourite pub in the world) and it was there that my friend came down to meet us.

“Have you had a nice time?” she enquired. I thought about it. “I’m not sure,” I said. “Define nice time.”

 

Answers on a postcard please :)

S x