Category Archives: Humans

@Birthing4Blokes

Mark Harris contacted me a long time ago, saying lovely things about the first chapter or so of my book. Ever since then I’ve kept a close eye on what he’s been up to. This man speaks of holy unions. A beautiful truth. I’ll let him speak for himself.

I’ve been a midwife since 1994 and a nurse before. I’ve trained in hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming to the point of being a trainer. I’ve done youth work and taught in further education. Now I work as a midwife but mainly in birth education. I’ve just authored a book called Men Love and Birth the book your pregnant lover wants you to read and I’m writing a book on fatherhood at the moment. My focus at this moment is doing workshops all over the country and more recently in Europe. The workshop focuses on teaching men about birth. Mainly birth professionals tend to come, anti-natal teachers, hypnotherapists, doulas and midwives and it explores all the things we’ve discussed in this interview. I also run a professional programme for birth professionals called A Conversation. They call me and we have a conversation about what’s happening in their practice and their life. I guess you’d call it coaching or mentoring but I prefer to call it a conversation because inside these conversations it kind of loosens up both of our presuppositions about what’s real in the world and new possibilities become available. I also run Birthing for Blokes workshops for men supporting their partners through the birthing process. I am also a co-presenter on a podcast called Sprogcast and that’s a monthly look at what is current in the birth and early childhood world with an interview with someone high profile in the birthing world. Me and my co presenter Karen Hall speak about current research and that’s Sprogcast.

MarkHarris

Why did you become a midwife?

Well I come from a rough working class background and for the first seventeen years of my life I was absorbed in surviving. Whatever that means to a young man growing up seeking to be accepted. Seeking to be liked by others. I got involved with sports in a big way but was rubbish at school and got kicked out late on with no qualifications whatsoever. Having got myself wound up in a group of second generation mods that were quite aggressive, tribal but there was a real sense of belonging there. My daughter reminded me that I used to tell a story of us having nuclear fallout parkas and stealing Sainsburys trolley handles and stitching them in the linings of our parkas so that we always had a means of protection. They were wild years in a big family. Five sisters, three brothers with very little money and about the age of sixteen I started to get worried about dying. Not because of the violence (I came close but I never did) really more to do with wanting to make a difference in life, wanting to have an impact on the world in some way. Sounds cheesy when I say it now but it was a bit of an existential crisis. I didn’t know why I was here and I decided through loads of reading and thinking that being a nurse would suit me. I wanted to care. I wanted to be involved with supporting people. A long story short I sat the general nurse council test which you could do in England but you can’t now and I passed and I got accepted on the RGN SRM programme and qualified as a nurse. Very soon after qualifying as a nurse I realised that the physical aspects of the role were less and less and less and the management paper part of the work was more and more and more and I was being pulled away from the very things I loved the most. Being with people. My mate was the very first ever midwife who was a man in Warwickshire at the time there were 62 men out of 32000 and he rang me up saying “Mark! Mark! ‘Midwife’ it’s a verb! It’s a verb!”

“Calm down Dave what do you mean it’s a verb?” I said.

He said “It comes from the middle English (mid meaning with and wife meaning woman) and he interpreted it to mean as it’s something you do. It’s who you’re being. It’s not a noun but it’s an expression of who you’re being and you can’t be a midwife without being with woman. It’s kind of core, it’s part of the genetic makeup of what it means to be a midwife. So he said give it a go so I did and when I qualified in 1994 there were 62 men out of 32000 and as we currently speak in 2015 there are 122 men out of 48000. That’s why I became a midwife and I was hooked with being with women.

What angers you the most?

People that have polarised positions not being kind and gentle with each other as human beings. People getting lost in their strongly held beliefs and truths. And being so lost and so in their reality tunnel, because we all are. We’re all engaging with reality indirectly. But they’re kind of lost in their view of the world to such an extent that they can’t hear what other people are saying and I think it leads to us losing a bit of our humanity and it angers me when I lose touch with my own compassion and kindness. That angers me the most.

There’s lots on information about parenthood now. I feel the spirituality of birth, and how this is taught and discussed, is missing from the agenda. For various reasons and for both sexes to a degree. Do you agree?

At the root of what I write about and what I teach is, if you like, a spiritual understanding about life that doesn’t really include a necessarily personified deity. I think all the religious books advisedly call them myths, but not myths in terms of their content not being true, but myths in terms of them being stories that teach us truth that we can experience. At the root of my teaching is an understanding that men and women both have masculine and feminine energy. Every person on the planet was a female before 12 weeks and then the differentiation occurs biologically and every man and woman has the same makeup of hormones in their bodies. But what happens is those hormones dance in different ways so you have a masculine endocrine dance or a feminine endocrine dance. There’s a sliding scale to it, it’s not just black and white. And we’ve all met men who have a feminine essence and women with a masculine essence. In truth the masculine and the feminine expresses itself and that’s life occurring. For me relationship is a spiritual experience. Life itself is a spiritual experience. I intuit that I have a predominately masculine essence. I seek and crave freedom. Nothingness. Oblivion. Being just the spacious awareness of life occurring. That’s home for me and my masculine essence. But the feminine is dancing energy, creative energy. It’s happening. It’s occurring. And the masculine and the feminine meet and that’s life occurring! It’s a uniquely spiritual happening in my opinion. The only thing I can be sure about in life is that I am. And that’s the quintessential expression of masculine energy that meets life occurring on a day to day basis.

I start my teaching with our experiences of differences when we relate to men and women and then I move on to the neuro-physical, biological differences that occur in the human species. Then I track that to ancient traditions, Indian and Chinese traditions of Ying and Yang and then I trace it back further to the story of evolutionary biological adaptations. All of that gives a framework for my teaching but at its core it’s a spiritual message. But quite well hidden.

What scares you the most?

Being as candid as I can I have beliefs and fears around not having the money to pay the bills. And at the moment although I’m working with that fear that’s what scares me the most on a personal level. On a global level who knows? I cease being afraid about it in many ways because fear doesn’t serve the purpose of taking action and that’s what I notice when I have these personal fears about paying the bills is when I write about those and isolate what the core beliefs are that I’m actually believing that are creating that fear then the beliefs get to be shaken a bit, loosened a bit so that I can see a different way. I guess what scares me most is being locked into a way of seeing that doesn’t allow me to spy and detect the other possibilities.

What are your hopes for the future?

I have a declaration if you like that generates possibility for me and that I am the reinvention of birth education for men and same sex couples worldwide. I’d like my book to be read by 500,000 men throughout the world in different languages. My main hope for the future is that I want each of my six children and six grandchildren to experience life from the foundation of happiness not to achieve happiness.

What advice would you give the earlier version of you?

Chill out. Don’t worry too much about the hallucinations you have for the future. Remember that life doesn’t occur in a future place because the future doesn’t exist apart from the hallucination I have about what it might turn out like. And the past is of course just a collection of stories I’ve invented. Live more for the things that you’re actually doing rather than what you’re expecting to do.

I very much agree with the worshipping mentalist when you are talking about birth. Do men struggle with the idea of this?

A woman birthing has been a mystery to men for generations. And it still is a mystery that the masculine generated birth structures are trying to solve. When men hear about some of the differences that occur in how a woman’s neuro-physiology is experiencing the world compared to theirs they resign themselves that they’ll never know completely in their experience what it means to be a woman. So the mystery element stays in place. But that worship for reverence to this mystery generates certainly in me, and in some of the men I talk to, a sense of respect of awe and amazement in the presence of birth which is certainly productive to the kind of connection of that a woman craves when she’s giving birth.

Finally what are your top three albums?

I listen to Muse. I enjoy Ed Sheeran, anything he does. I like singer songwriters. Hmm. I want to say something cool. I was listening to some retro Johnny Cash signing Danny Boy and Bridge over troubled Waters. They’re the ones I’m listening to at the moment.

While deeply honoured to have Mark donate some precious time I found myself quite humbled by his words. His talents shine and, while I transcribed his words for this interview, his advice thumps a faster beat when he speaks. Have a listen to this interview here and indeed Sprogcast for some parenting backup. Any expectant fathers would be wise to pick up a copy of his brilliant book here. Today especially these precious words of truth and kindness hold a hot light. Do follow Mark at @Birthing4Blokes.

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@badlydoodled

I only met Pete in person recently. I’d heard lots about him, wondered if perhaps we’d be a match as friends. My partner is keen to get me “out there” to meet more people. I’m not sure where this place is but, from what I hear about Pete, he sounds like he’s filling a similar space to me. Then I started reading his online comics. I saw something sparkling. That feeling when you witness a special thing, and you can’t quite explain it. Like a comfortable button being pressed at the bottom of your heart. Here is something special. Here is some destiny with noticeable traction.

I predict great things for Pete. I see many already. Do take some time to read the words I sent to @badlydoodled and the words he, indeed, sent back to me.

Pete
38
Danish
Dad
Husband
Lived here for 15 years
Works in an office all day
Pretty nice guy when you get to know me
Good at baking bread
Lover of crisps and chips
Hardly ever drank tea or ate curries until I moved to the UK
Likes Danish football and music
Likes long walks on the beach
And pancakes

What’s the cruellest thing you’ve ever witnessed?

On the insanely busy roads of Delhi I once spotted a man without legs begging. He used his arms to move the piece of wood he sat on, to navigate between all the rickshaws and cars. As he rolled past our rickshaw the person in the car next to us spat at the poor guy. I don’t understand people who do such things. There really is no excuse.

My mum once bought me a bin bag of “Roy of the Rovers” comics in a car boot sale. I was four at the time. The smell of old, festering paper is one of my first olfactory memories. That and rain etched car journeys. What are yours?

Many Danish suburban home smells mixed in to one. In the 80s, the Danish version of Grandstand, would show English football on Saturday afternoons. I’d often do that next to our wood fire, at the same time as my Dad would fill the air with his pipe smoking…so lots of smoke smells. That and the smell of newly mown grass.

What three titles would you recommend for a newcomer to comics?

Ooh that’s a tough one. I grew up raiding the library every week for all the great European comics; Lucky Luke, Asterix, everything by Franquin, the Spirou et Fantasio albums by Tome and Janry, Tintin etc, but I wouldn’t be able to single out specific titles. I then had a long break from comics for no particular reason. About 10 years ago I rediscovered the medium through the many great graphic novels out there, and I’ve really enjoyed exploring all the great titles that are now available. I could recommend Maus and From Hell or the many amazing titles by Ed Brubaker or Adrian Tomine, as they are all incredible books, but my favourites are by other creators.

I love everything by Joe Sacco so one of his books. Probably “Footnotes from Gaza” which is amazing, and illustrates well how different peoples’ memory of one event can differ so dramatically.

Guy Delisle is another great storyteller but very different from Sacco. His “Jerusalem” is brilliant.

And every single book by Chris Ware. He is so imaginative and has such a recognisable style. His books look amazing, and even if his stories were rubbish, you could spend years staring at the artwork in total awe of this man. “Jimmy Corrigan” is brilliant, but his newest “Building Stories” is so innovative and just incredible, that any newcomer must read it, just to get a flavour of what this medium can do that no other is able to do.

So, that was loads more than 3 books, but our newcomer will thank me for this. You’re welcome.

What is obvious in your work is how much you clearly love your son and, at the same time, find him hilarious. Would you say your creativity has been kindled by his very existence? Or, to put it another way, has parenthood ignited something inside you that perhaps might not have been realised without him?

No Oskar. No comic. I never knew that I wanted to do this and it was a total coincidence that it happened. I had made lots of notes of the funny things he would come out with since he was about three years old. My wife designed a book for me and all my “bloody notes” as she put it, so I used it for all this. I would update this every now and then but never really knew what to do with it. I was afraid that one day it would be forgotten and then what was the point. Around the same time I got really fed up with not really having any kind of hobby. I have always been fairly creative and it annoyed me to bits that all I did now was go to work and come home and do nothing in the evening. I thought that I should take up photography again, but I had no good camera and no time to take photos, other than photos of Oskar. And then I thought, why not do something with those bits of dialogue and comments I had noted down. “Fatherhood. Badly Doodled.” was born.

It’s been great ever since. I was not good at drawing at the beginning so it has been a journey for me too, where I have improved my drawing skills, refined my style and had a sense of achievement by seeing how far I’ve come since those first drawing in Paint. It has also made me more aware of what my son says and I am sure I am more tuned in to his monologues etc now, than I was back in the day. It sounds like I didn’t use to listen to him, but I think most parents know that sometimes you just have to put the mute button on when they don’t stop talking.

So, yes. No Oskar. No doodles, and luckily he finds them quite funny too.

You’re a keen tack on Twitter. Without even trying. What is your take on social media?

To start with I had no idea what it was all about and I had no idea how to engage with people, or how to get people to look at my work. I still don’t really understand this but I know a lot more now than I did 18 months ago. I started out by finding a list of comic artists on Twitter. The list was humongous and I never made it past the letter A before I got insanely bored by asking them to be friends with me. However, over time, and I have no idea how this happened, I started “meeting” likeminded webcomic creators on Twitter. People who creates the most amazing comics, some of them daily strips, and with so many different themes. It was a real eye opener. I had no idea that there were so many of them out there and quickly found out two things; my comic was by no means the only one about being a father/parent, and the comics community on Twitter is incredible and so supportive. Again I had no idea how massive this community is.

So back to your question. I use Twitter a lot. It’s the place where I get most followers and most feedback from, so it has been a great place to spread the word about my work. I try to engage with other artists, but I wish I had more time to do so, and it is one of things I’d like to get better at. So, I do try to use social media. Facebook is a funny one and I am not sure how much I get out of that one. My page grows by 1 follower a month so this is not the place where I get to promote my website. On the other hand, it’s the main promotional platform for all my friends and family so definitely has a place. I also publish on other platforms like Tumblr (which is the platform I used at the beginning) but that grows even slower than my Facebook page, and finally I have started using Instagram but this is mainly a platform where I can share my drawing progress and the occasional cartoon. This is the platform I understand the least.

So I am trying to learn all the time and at some point I am sure I will crack social media. I have no idea what a good amount of followers is or what is a good number of website visitors, so I still have much to learn. There are still a few other places to try out like Reddit and Pinterest…

Do you draw digitally or with pen and paper? I’ve always thought new technology/software must be a drag for comic artists. Discuss.

I draw with various pens and pencils on card/thick paper. Around the beginning of the year I started using a non-photo blue pencil (that scanners don’t pick up on) for my outlines and that has really improved my drawings. Around the same time I got a selection of pens in different sizes which made it even easier to play around with my drawings than before, so these two tools instantly improved my life and my drawings. I use technology a bit. I use Photoshop Elements to correct mistakes, sometimes I add the text on there as well (I’ve created my own font) and also to colour in large areas.

I have thought about drawing digitally and I get the impression that a large amount of artists do that these days. Their work is amazing and I get the idea that it’s a real skill to draw that way. However, I am happy with the way I do it. I like to play around with my pens, I can sit on the sofa and watch Netflix with my wife while I draw. I sit in front of a computer all day at work so I don’t want my hobby/evening job to be in front of the screen too.

Top five films.
As a former film student this is impossible. Even if I wasn’t a former film student this would be impossible as it really depends on my mood.

  1. The film that moves me the most is a Canadian film called Last Night from 1998. It’s about the end of the world, but without all the drama and explosions of other Armageddon movies. It is very funny and very moving.
  2. Since most of the films I watch these days are cartoons I feel like I have to put one on this list. I love Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 1 and 2. Amazing gags and amazing characters.
  3. I love First Blood and there is nothing you can do or say to make me change that. It’s a great film.
  4. Old detective novels, especially Raymond Chandler, have a big place in my heart, as does Film Noir. I am not sure I can pick a specific favourite as there are so many great films from that period; The Third Man, Double Indemnity and Big Sleep. Pick one.
  5. Finally it’s a toss-up between Alien and all zombie movies ever made. I can’t decide.

Top five comics

I’ve already mentioned some of these previously.

  • Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. One of the best books I have ever read. It’s incredibly moving, the artwork is incredible and atmospheric and everyone should read this. Everyone.
  • Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco. Sacco is one of my absolute favourite writers/artists, and this is my favourite, although all his books are brilliant.
  • Jimmy Corrigan: the smartest kid on earth by Chris Ware. Another of my absolute favourites. His style, innovative ideas and imagination blows my mind.
  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I always assumed that everyone knew this, but every time I have mentioned it to colleagues they just stare at me. Clearly not everyone knows how amazing this comic strip is. I introduced it to my son last year and he loves it and reads it every morning before school. So much that he wants to dress up as Calvin/Spaceman Spiff/Stupendous Man at the next World Book Day
  • There are so many more I want to mention but can’t. Anything by Guy Delisle, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine and Charles Burns. The Criminal and Femme Fatale series by Ed Brubaker, or Maus and From Hell which are both momumental. There are so many amazing graphic novels/comics out there, not to mention all the talented webcomic artists out there

What makes you feel comfortable?

When I can relax. Drawing is a very relaxing thing to do so I am always very comfortable in those situations. Being by the sea is very comforting too. Finally those moments where your child curls up next to you on the sofa for you to sit and read together or watch another of the loud cartoons he likes, that is probably the most comfortable moment I can think off. When I know he is content and happy.

What lessons do you really want to pass on to your son?
Ok this is a bit cheesy but; be kind to others, be empathetic, positive, inquisitive, explore, learn, fail, follow your heart, be true to yourself, learn languages, travel, read, don’t work in Events like me, don’t get a job in an office, and don’t ever change.

What are you afraid of?

That anything bad happens to him. Things that are out of our control like serious illnesses or accidents. Also, him becoming a money grabbing, selfish, banker, who exploits us common folk. That does potentially go against my advice for your previous question as I said he should follow his heart. Well, if this is what he wants to do he should NOT follow his heart.

Lastly, if you could have any team of writers, artists etc compose the comic masterpiece of your very own life, who would you choose?

I see a multi-platform event here. Comics will be written, films about the process will be produced and performance artists will brighten up the streets of London in the months leading up to the event. Every single one of them dressed up as Toulouse Letrec and miming sequences of my life to confused, and intrigued, tourists who would rather be left alone.

Since my life isn’t really that eventful it would need to be someone who can find the small stories in ordinary lives. Someone like Adrian Tomine would be great at that. Although, I had some odd experiences travelling in my early 20s and for that Joe Sacco would be a good artist to get on board. It would also need to be funny, as I am a hilarious person, so someone funny like the Swedish Martin Kellerman who wrote a great comic strip called Rocky. I imagine this collaboration would be designed by Chris Ware.

Yes, that would be rather, as my son would say (due to excessive US cartoon consumption), awesome.

Some lovely words and crafted insights from Pete here. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for donating his precious time to me. You can follow Pete at @badlydoodled and read his brilliant, heart smashing comic Fatherhood. Badly Doodled here. I especially enjoy watching a creative talent flourish and sharpen. Through his strip archives Pete’s love for the art and his family grow symbiotically, which is all an audience can ask for. Check it.

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@KrakenKreations

I interviewed Cath Janes some time ago now. I’d started reading her excellent blog and for many reasons could not pull myself away. This was a digital space with a heart to it. A large, thumping, flesh wrapped cluster bomb of a heart. I have to say I think I even fell in love with Cath. A bit. Her rage was a lull in the ocean for me. Her fury was my lullaby. A flat tide rolling over boiling water.

Then it all went a bit quiet. The edges blurred. Some break in stride I noticed. Then, one fiery morning, her public became witness to the birth of Kraken Creations, in her words “Handmade rays of sunshine for you and your home, online shop and one-woman war against ditzy florals.” I scratched my head. Had the claws retracted? Had the scaly form sunk deeper still in that volcanic tomb? I wanted to know more. Pray Miss Janes, tell me more.

Give me a vision of a typical day for you in five words.

Coffee, inspiration, determination, fun, coffee.

So what happened? First rage now sewing?

When I started writing on www.thekrakenwakes.org it was because I was recovering from a very serious mental breakdown, one which ended my career as a freelance broadsheet journalist. I’ve always felt passionately about social issues (and social idiocies) and the blog gave me a chance to get interested in writing again but without the pressure of deadlines or having to pay the mortgage. I found putting my rage into words deeply therapeutic and enormous fun. During this time I rediscovered my love of sewing, something I had abandoned and forgotten about during my career. I took it up again to give my days purpose and creativity and to give me something to look forward to. By the time I felt well enough to start earning money and coping with the outside world it was a no-brainer to turn my sewing hobby into a business which is now www.krakenkreations.co.uk. I enjoyed working alone and under my own steam so went for it. It shocks a lot of people when they hear the ever-enraged kraken now sews for a living but when they see some of the very sweary things I embroider it all makes sense.

You’ve raised a point recently about how female crafters squander their skills by endlessly making ‘home sweet home’ plaques and pink bunting. What do you feel is at the heart of the problem AND why aren’t there more male crafters?

The problem is multi-layered. In terms of what women make, I truly think that women have been told for so long that pink is a female colour that they naturally use it in products that are aimed at women. It’s a rut that millions of women fall into and in, my experience, it’s not until alternatives are pointed out to them that they see there is another way. The high street and its obsession with pink for women also gives the impression that pink is what women want to buy so when women set up their craft businesses they emulate this. As someone who sews, even mainstream fabrics are essentially floral which even gives us sewists less choice when we make our own items. Talk to any woman who eschews the pink and floral and they’ll tell you how hard it can be to find alternative prints. In all, it’s easier to go with the pink, floral flow than to forge your own way and this is what a lot of women do.

As for male crafters, there are a lot out there but they tend towards things like woordworking or metal crafts (in my experience). Women completely dominate the craft market at the mo and I suspect that is because they can do it from home and around the kids and they are falling back on skills they were taught in school. Also, the whole marketing of sewing at the mo is at women which doesn’t encourage men to do it too. You can pick up all sorts of sewing mags but many of them won’t have a single pic of a man in them. Saying that, The Great British Sewing Bee has a male judge (Patrick Grant) and this year a man won it so hopefully things are changing.

How do you organise your time? Seriously.

I am very structured. I go to my sewing shed every morning at about 9.30am and work for as long as I can until I pick up my daughter from school or after-school club. What I do during the day depends on whether I have commissions or want to start a new range of products. This means I either sew all day long or spend some of the day developing new patterns, assessing what I think will sell well if I make it, looking in books for inspiration, taking pics to share on the internet etc. This is all interspersed with social networking, without which I’d not sell anything. Mondays are utterly dedicated to scheduling my networking tweets for the week (it’s tedious but worth it) and planning how I want my week on the internet to look. Social media for crafters is an ever-hungry beast and I have to stay inventive to stay seen. Many people think that crafting means waiting for the muse to appear before floating around in a creative daze but the reality is way more business-like than that if you want to make money from what you do.

What first drew me to you was your clear strength and belief in yourself. Do you feel that self belief is key to sourcing your own creativity?

I have to admit to not always having self-belief and having days where I whimper and panic over whether I am doing the right things! I think self-belief is vital in being creative because if you assume you won’t be good at something you won’t even try it, which is the death knell for creativity. Crafting often consists of lots of fuck-ups but you learn and move on. Being fearful of those fuck-ups means you never try and therefore never succeed. On the walls of my sewing shed I have lot of images that I love and a few messages that make me keep going. One of them is by the author Neil Gaiman, explaining that he hopes the year to come is full of mistakes because it’s mistakes that lead us down exciting paths. I look at that every day. When setting up Kraken Kreations I went though a period of thinking, “What if it’s shit? What if I can’t do it?” but my husband reminded me that there was nothing to lose and he was right. If you have nothing to lose, fucking-up really isn’t fucking-up at all.

At what point did you think “I can actually do this”?

Really? Honestly? About three weeks ago. Kraken Kreations has been open for nine months and even though I know I’m on the right track it’s only in the last three weeks that I feel I’ve got a real grip on the balance of running a business again. After having a mental breakdown it can take a long time to stop doubting your abilities and I feel as if those doubts, those negative voices that crop up (I call it Shit FM because it used to play all of the time in my head when I was ill) are finally gone. This is the closest I have felt to a fully functioning human since 2010, the worst point of my breakdown!

How do you talk to your kids about self belief?

Oh, Kraken Junior gets endless pep talks from me. She says she wants to be an astronaut? I say, “If that’s what you want to do, do it!”. If she wants to roll about in a puddle of mud I say the same thing (unless I am dying with tiredness and need to collapse). Nothing but nothing makes me rage more than when parents tell their kids they’ll never be this or that because that’s not what ‘normal’ people do. When I see the amount of potential a child has it’s a crime to not encourage it. I try to be practical about these things too. If Kraken Junior wants to open a toy hospital (thanks Doc McStuffins!) we talk about what it would take to achieve that and how she can put that into action. It’s about encouraging her to see a problem or a goal, deconstruct it and find solutions. I think a huge part of self-belief can be about breaking issues down into manageable pieces and then making them work. You gain confidence and belief along the way.

Have you had any “personal” message requests you just couldn’t sew? If so please tell me what they are.

None yet. I’ll sew most things but nothing that involves Catholics, Tories, UKIP or the EDL. That covers most of the vile in the world.

Have your experiences made you think/act differently as a parent?

I’d certainly say that my happiness has a massive impact on the happiness of the family. When I had PND and PTSD, after giving birth to Kraken Junior, I was very ill for a long time and it completely impacted on my relationship with my girl. I didn’t even think she was my child for the first couple of years. Because of this I don’t know if I would have acted differently as a mum without having gone through my mental illness first. I only know life with it. However, my self realisation very clearly projects a strong image of me to my child. She sees me doing what I love and being self motivated enough to start my own business which I think teaches her so many things. She’s seven and already talks about having her own businesses, just like me, when she is older (a toy clinic mixed with a post office is the latest). My self realisation also makes me very conscious of allowing Kraken Junior to do what she loves because I now know that this is the key to most things in life. Parents set such a huge example to their kids and I want the lessons I have learned from my experience to be passed onto her.

If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?

Bloody hell! What a question! Don’t ask me how I’d pay for all of this or achieve it but how about:

Equality across gender, sexual, economic, health, social and political divides;
Eradication of the pink/ blue ‘rule’ for girls and boys;
Earlier retirement age for people who want to spend their remaining working days being creative;
The glorious smell of babies’ heads to be pumped into every household;
The use of blood, not blue water, in tampon ads.

A massive thank you to Cath for taking the time to give such an in-depth view of her life, some brilliant pearls of wisdom and a fat chunk of honesty. Do take a wander over to Kraken Kreations. The customer service is second to none. And lovingly sweary.

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Creativity, Sobriety and Chester P

Creativity is an overused word. We are all creative. The process is the important factor. Sourcing that piece of you that puts fire in your belly. It doesn’t have to be painting. Or writing. Or music. Creativity has no mould for stereotypes.

I’ve written about drugs before. How to explain what drugs are to a child. Why people use drugs (you can read it in my book). Because people use them for a reason. And there’s no question they’ve played their part in my life. Some opening paths, answering questions I already knew the answers to. Connecting with nature. Dancing in the sharp shadows of enlightenment. Positive and negative. Dark and light. Seeing life from all angles. Embracing decay.

Artists lining my shelves have nearly all at one stage taken, enjoyed, written about and been consumed by drugs. Suffering it all. Coming back for more. Bill Hicks, Nick Cave, Hunter S. Thompson, Hemingway, Reznor, Hendrix, Manson, Iggy Pop. Safe to say there’s a fascination there for me. The connection to the elusive self that these drugs provide. Or the escape from that self. And what then? Do the semantics of that art produced then lose colour and heat in sobriety? Does the artist lose faith in their work while they lose faith in themselves? What happens to the fire when all the fun stops?

Chester P is one of the founding members of the legendary UK hip hop crew Taskforce. Known for his freestyling I was initially drawn to his lyrics. Nightmares. Beauty. Jaw dropping at times.

Having met Chester some time ago we had touched on his then more recent sobriety. It was clear to me at the time it was having a positive affect on his life. More recently I wanted to ask the man some questions. And this is what he said.

Is it fair to say that without certain drugs you would not be as successful as you are?

No I think it’s fair to say without certain drugs I would be more successful than I am, smoking weed habitually everyday for the best part of 30 years definitely left me somewhat reclusive, cocaine almost killed me and certainly knocked the wind out my creative sail, that said I became as successful as I intended I am not one for fame, I enjoy a humble life out of a constant limelight.

Is it fair to say that without certain drugs you would not be as self aware as you are?

Yes I think it’s fair to say things like L.S.D played a huge part in my awareness in general, along with many other hallucogens, but L.S.D I have been an avid user of, I have had many enlightening moments using it, on the flip side it’s not something to abuse and I am a very excessive person with an addictive personality so I have had my fair share of trouble with acid and all drugs too, it’s about knowing the difference between recreational drug use and taking drugs for spiritual purposes, and L.S.D particularly will kick your arse if it’s used abusively.

Describe your first trip for me

In all honesty it was a very long time ago, I was taking L.S.D every day of my life between the age of 14 to 16 and I honestly can’t remember my first all I do know is it was a thing that instantly became a part of my world, there are great experiences within the realms of acid.

Which drugs would you advocate and which would you question?

I question anything being used as a crutch to help you through reality, now I am older I can see that spiritual enlightenment is not found in the highs and lows of “drugs” it is something within us that must be unlocked, I will admit that you can attain shortcuts to wisdom via certain substances but these shortcuts can in fact be dangerous to your spiritual well being as they take you somewhere you may not of been naturally prepared for and can leave you severely depressed after it’s worn off, I think L.S.D is a beautiful thing used in the right environment for the right reason with the right people, but all our experiences are different and it really won’t agree with some people, meditation and working the middle path inwardly would be far more rewarding as tools to spiritual enlightenment though.

Do you feel your approach to work has changed since you’ve become sober?

Being sober for me was a matter of life and death, as I said I’m excessive and had an alcohol problem which would always lead me to cocaine and anyone honest with themselves who has or does take cocaine should admit that it’s the closest thing to the devil around, I had to stop doing it I was on a £150 a day habit in my 30’s, it destroyed my world, it ruined my soul, so funnily enough one night on L.S.D I had an epiphany, a realisation or a moment of clarity, and I saw who I was through honest eyes and then saw who I was supposed to be, and felt a strength grow inside me, like in a rocky film (anyone of them as they all have this scene) when he’s losing the fight and against the ropes being pulped, and he suddenly snaps out of it and fights back and goes on to defeat his opponent, that was me, I became tee total because if I continued smoking I would drink and if I drank I would sniff and that is my downfall, I am aware not everyone has the same excessiveness and if you take drugs and enjoy it in moderation and it brings you happiness I’m not trying to say don’t, I’m saying as long as you use drugs and they don’t use you then it’s ok, but we must analyse the fact that escapism is not really going to help in the long run, we must all of us face our reality one day, and the sooner the better.

Has accessing your creative powers become easier? Was it a challenge at first?

I always convinced myself weed was a major factor in my creativity, scared I wouldn’t be creative without it, I threw these cautions to the wind, in my mind I would rather of lost my creative flare and get sober than stay high and write poems, thankfully it wasn’t the case, I realise it is me who is creative weed was just something I did daily and I never knew how I wound live without it, or who I was without even, I’m much happier and much more creative than I had been, as a young man in my late teens up to my late 20’s I was highly prolific, this is not due to drugs it’s due to age, becoming in tune with my opinions and learning to express them creatively, I write less now than those days but I wasn’t really writing at all throughout the past 5 years, cocaine was all I was thinking about, sadly.

A lot has been written about the mental health benefits of certain hallucinogens. What’s your take?

Mental health will be affected in both positive and negative ways, what goes up must come down, for some people it could be really dangerous as they may not be ready to cope with what they find in their subconscious minds, for some it may awaken sleeping wisdoms and offer beautiful alternatives to the world they know, for all of us we must acknowledge there is good and bad in everything, don’t expect one without the other.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of going clean?

No advice really, if you want it you will do it, when you realise all the fun has gone, and it only brings a monotonous pain then you will quit, some things are obviously harder to quit than others alcohol and heroin have severe physical withdrawal symptoms, (I never took heroin as I saw it’s damage first hand) not so easy to stop, but it’s all a matter of will, I have a huge strength of will I saw it like I was being bullied and all tough talk aside I will not let no one or thing bully me!

If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?

I would never rule the world, I long for a day we as humans find confidence and self awareness enough to rule ourselves, individually, I seek not the power to rule and refuse to be ruled, I am governed by the natural laws of magnetism, I study hermetic laws, inner alchemy, I wish only for freedom for all, be here now, anywhere else is futile, love yourself and all life that surrounds you, learn that we are all one, I mean the planets, stars, suns and moons, the animals and people, the trees and plants we all share one cosmic soul! Respect that soul and a lot of understanding will open for you!

Peace and love.

Huge respect to Chester for taking the time to not only share his wisdom but to do so with such honesty. You can follow him at @ChesterP_TF for more of the same.

And for the uninitiated here is a great start.

@motherwriting

I’ve been reading old blog content. Some of it is really bad. Some of it is great. I really, mostly enjoyed reading my interviews backlog. I thought it would be interesting to revisit these people again. Just to see if any wisdom could be passed on. I had to of course talk to Fran. I owe Fran a great deal. She’s done me numerous favours, never said no, always been on time and always been a friend. I’ve followed her recent and ongoing antics from a distance but it really has now become time to break some legs with @motherwriting herself again. And as I’m writing this she’ll be wrapping up her first performance with Monkey Trousers. Exciting.

So how are you?

Very well thank you.

FB photo

Tell me everything I need to know about Monkey Trousers.

Monkey Trousers Theatre is a Bristol-based theatre company that performs original plays for children. My friend Charlotte and I set it up following a conversation we had a few months ago about how there was a gap in the market for affordable, good quality, purely fun theatrical shows for the kids in our local community. We’re both experienced in non-professional theatre, plus I’m a writer and Charlotte is a puppeteer, so we have the skills in place. It just made sense to pick a performance date, book the venue, and get going. Everything developed at a crazy pace from there. We’ve just done a preview show, and our first public performances coming this Easter weekend have already sold out.

MT13

What challenges did you face setting up Monkey Trousers?

All the creative stuff is the easy bit for me – writing, making costumes, rehearsing, performing, set dressing, sourcing props, redrafting scripts, learning songs etc. The challenges come from the business side of things: how to sell our product, how to deal with the money, setting up a website, creating a brand, all the administrative tasks that are a pain in the arse to do. Both Charlotte and I agreed that we’d need help with all that. We’re fortunate to know some super-lovely people who are very generous with their time and talents. At some point we’ll be able to pay them! Generally, the amount of support we’ve had has been overwhelming. Charlotte and I might be the public face of Monkey Trousers Theatre, but we have a dedicated team of Monkeys behind us. Couldn’t have done it without them.

When we first met you were on benefits as a single mother. Looking back from where you are now what steps did you take to realise your creative ambition?

Well I’m still a single mother on benefits. I think setting up this business is a way for me to do a job I love rather than simply seeing it as a money-making exercise. It would be fantastic to think we’d make a fortune from doing this but we have to be realistic! In the long-term there are ways to expand the business and we do have plans. For now, we’d just like to get everything going. I don’t know that this has particularly been my creative ambition, but now I’m doing it, I’m enjoying every second.

At what point did you think “I can actually do this”?

Everything has happened relatively quickly – I’d say within the space of roughly four months I’ve gone from full-time SAHM to actor/writer and co-director of my own theatre company. I haven’t had time to think ‘I can actually do this’! It just got done! With reflection, maybe when I’d finished the first draft of the script it kind of hit me that we had a product – something to sell – and that it was a good, solid idea with a lot of potential – maybe that’s when it first felt real.

What’s it like performing in front of children? Describe your first performance for me.

I get nervous performing in front of adults so it felt natural to be nervous in front of children as well. I was going to say it’s easier because they’re not as discerning but actually that’s bollocks. Kids are harder to entertain. I have a newfound respect for Justin Fletcher. For our first performance, I was more worried about what my daughter would think. She’d never seen me perform before. I’d been prepping her for a few weeks beforehand – ‘You can wave at mummy but mummy can’t wave back’ sort of thing – and I had a genuine fear that she would either storm the stage or get so hysterically upset that we’d have to stop. Yet it turned out that she loved it. I kept glimpsing her face and she was totally engaged. Her concern was that I would still be her mummy after I’d finished being someone else, so I’ve been reassuring her a lot on that point. Some of my friends’ children also seemed faintly disturbed by my transformation. Hope I didn’t give them nightmares…

MT4

Has your experience of self realisation made you think/act differently as a mother?

No not really. Not that I’ve noticed anyway. I still face the challenges of parenting – I still get frustrated, annoyed, sad, furious, to some extent – every single day. Me getting fulfilment from a career that ticks all my boxes is brilliant, but I don’t think it’s impacted on how I want to bring up my daughter. I don’t feel that I’ve changed in that respect. Some days I feel like I’m a shit parent, some days not. Hopefully the days when I don’t feel like a failure outweigh the days that I do! I think that’s the same for everyone, isn’t it?

What’s your favourite smell?

I have a few. They all evoke strong memories for me: tomato plants, creosote, Oil of Ulay, frying onions. Bit weird, I know. Should I say something more normal? Freshly baked bread.

If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?

This could get messy. I strongly suspect I’d be a terrible ruler – vaguely despotic, utterly power-mad – so I’m going to take the easy way out and say I’d want peace, love, harmony, justice and biscuits for all

A huge thank you to Fran for taking the time to talk to me again. Let’s see what’s happening in another couple of years. I for one cannot wait.

For more Monkey Trousers go here: http://monkeytrouserstheatre.com/ and the FB page https://www.facebook.com/monkeytrouserstheatre, the Twitter account https://twitter.com/monkey_trousers, and Fran’s blog (not that she updates it that often but oh well) https://motherwriting.wordpress.com/

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@eddsnotdead

I can remember how I first ran into Ed. We talked seriously about WWF wrestling on Twitter. I checked his timeline, as you normally do. It was clear, and has been proven so, that Ed has a lot of time for a lot of people. A kind decent man. Unshakable in some filthy conviction. He was perfect online company for an impending, frightening job interview in his home town. He might know he made my day a whole lot easier. And he writes beautifully. A pen and hammer combination. Sturdy and delicate. Like so.

“Hi, my name is Ed. I was born in London but I really became who I am now in a town on the south coast of England. I didn’t apply myself at school at all and so I never did the great university adventure. Instead I married, we had a whole bunch of kids and I let life teach me what I needed to know.

I first started writing with conviction in 2002. I discovered quickly that I wasn’t very good at it, so I practiced. I’ve gotten much better since then. I’ve written eight books (I’ve self-published two of them), and three screenplays. My greatest achievement to date is clearly my marriage and relationship with my kids and family. It always will be.”

edhead

Who is Gita Askari to you?

When I came to write Blank Canvas I laid down a series of rules that I would stick to. Rules that would shape the story, yes, but also ones that would shape this character. I wasn’t allowed to shout ‘Zombies Attack’ when a problem appeared in the book, or I found it difficult to get to the next piece. I wasn’t allowed any random violence or any untimely explosions to create chase scenes. I wasn’t allowed to take the easy door. At first this seemed like I setting myself up to fail by removing some basic plot shake-ups, but then I realised that the book was purely about this character. It was her, alone, and that I had to focus all of my attention on her, or I’d lose. So I did just that. I focused and found that she represented the single hardest challenge I’d faced in writing to that date. I knew she’d make it through, and I knew she’d triumph in her own way, but I also knew her story wasn’t done.

Gita Askari represents much of what I think makes up modern Britain. She’s complicated – a product of a difficult relationship that continues to prove turbulent. She is royalty, and yet she has no power, no sway. She reminds me of the past and yet she wears the face of modern Britain – an empowered and artistic Anglo Asian woman that is aware of her roots, but is very much a part of the thriving western society. Yet within that society she sees the lies and the ugliness of privilege, and though she feels great waves of emotion her default setting is one very much set to stiff upper lip.

The decision she makes at the beginning of the second book sets her on a path that many must walk. How do we cope when everything is taken away from us? How much can we really take before we brake and realistically, above all those things, are we really strong enough to make the hard decisions to affect change in our lives.

Gita Askari has a wounded soul, but it doesn’t stop her being an explorer, a philosopher, an artist and a human being. In fact, it’s that damage that drives her forward.

How deep do you go in terms of character manifestation?

For me, I don’t do method stuff (is method writing a thing?). I have a great key that unlocks the story, the characters, the events If a and the reactions of those people I include in the story – they are unlocked by the wonder of music. I find albums that have the right ‘feel’. Those albums are listened to as often as possible before I start and then I use them in the writing time. It becomes an easy way to switch off, meditate and just write, plus, I can make decisions about the book while washing up, because the music is there for me to feed on.

Mood, that’s the key. If I get the mood right then I can smash out large word counts and be safe in the knowledge that they are going to at least be partially useable. That they will fit into the rest of the work, if they are indeed good enough. The characters come from the mood I strike when I think about them. They do what they want to on the page. Obviously there will always be pieces of me in there, and pieces of the other important people in my life too. That’s unavoidable. And they have to drive the story forward. They have to follow some rules. But the majority of the time they write it for me and I just stick my fingers on the keys.

As an experienced self-publisher what lessons have you learned?

Write as much as you can. If you have finished a book, great! Get on a blog and write about it! Don’t gather dust waiting for the ‘breakthrough’. You have to make your own luck, you have to push your own story and you have to keep your eye in. Write.

Don’t rush. Approach agents when your work has been edited. Get someone else to do that. You won’t find the mistakes, they will. Once a piece of work is done I’ll run through it, then I’ll send it out to readers. I know there are a tonne of mistakes, as do they, but I also know a copy editor will sort them out. The readers are there to make sure it actually works. If a certain event is flagged up by one test reader as having a problem then that’s probably taste. If three people highlight it then it bears looking at seriously. If five people point to the same bit of the book and flag up problems then I have to swallow my pride and change it, no matter how much I like it as it is.

Sink all the love you can into the book. Write with passion and pleasure. Make yourself cry and laugh. Invest your soul. Then, when you have finished writing it take a day or two, before returning to the beginning and editing, picking at the fabric of the rug, neatening the edges, being anal. Each stage of the writing process requires commitment to the work. You have to put your head down and go at it. It’s hard work. Take the leap and get an editor. She/he may be a copy editor or be up there for a full editorial role, that’s up to you and your wallet to decide, but engage one so you can selfpublish with confidence, or approach agents and know they are getting a book in the best shape it can be.

Oh, and don’t give up. If you write one hundred words a day for three months then you end up with somewhere around nine thousand words. Do that for a year and you have thirty six thousand words. Do that for two years? Seventy two thousand words. Boom. Even better, take a target date and give yourself a realistic goal, but one that requires you to really put the hours in. Let the people around you know this is happening, so they understand you will be going into writing tunnel vision mode, and then write with conviction. Make the story come alive. You have to put the hours in to improve, to reach your goals, to find the things that work for you, and also the things that don’t.

A diamond is a pretty piece of coal. It was forged with the application of time and pressure – make your own diamonds.

How do you find the time to write?

I work in the construction industry as a labourer. There are times when work just simply isn’t about. When that happens then I write all the hours I can and make the most of the time. When I’m working then that becomes more difficult. In the end though, it’s important to me, so I make the time. Currently I’m engaged in a fairly long contract and I’ve been booked for work straight after this one finishes. That means I have to MAKE time, this is one of those times that the music comes in handy. I have the mp3 player rolling all day. I get home and cook for a family of nine, then pitch in and either do the washing up or bath the kids. Realistically, eight o clock is the earliest start I can make on a week day. That’s not so bad though, I’ve spent all day preparing through the music. I stick the c.d in, switch the computer on, spend twenty minutes checking email, talking to my Twitter pals and looking into the movie news, then I write.

Generally I’ll set myself a goal based on how hard a day I’ve had, what time I start and what kind of period the book is in. If it’s flowing then I’ll give myself another five hundred words to hit on top, generally I don’t walk away from the computer until I’ve hit at least one thousand five hundred words. I generally hit one thousand eight hundred an hour if I’m flowing and typing well, so that isn’t so hard to hit for me. I like the feeling of knowing I’ve done a full days work and then still cranked out three thousand words. That makes me feel like a writer.

What is your favourite smell?

An odd question for me as I have a really bad sense of smell. I think it’s probably due to all the dust from building sites, but I can’t say I have strong reactions to smells. I can tell you I love the smell of slightly sugared tea just as it slips under my nose. Tar and also the distant whiff of tobacco are up there too (I used to smoke, and in truth, I loved it).

If you had superpowers (you can choose two) what would they be and how would they combine to benefit the other?

Well, on face value I’d be interested in some standard hero packages. You know? The Wolverine – Healing factor and Adamantium skeleton. Or the Nightcrawler – Teleportation and stealth. Looking closer though I know I’m not a fan of pain and so would hate being cut up constantly, and if I could sneak about I just wouldn’t trust myself. Before long I’d be watching people getting naked, or nicking their bank codes and accounts. It wouldn’t be good.

From a standard role I’d have to pick Captain Britain’s power set. Flight and super strength. Big amounts of power that are aided by his magical force field. He’s powerful, but not like Superman. The burden would be less, I feel.

In reality though I’d much rather have the ability to connect with technological equipment and interface with ease. I could write while I worked on site, getting ideas down and always storing those stray story ideas that I get but lose because I don’t write them down quick enough. Back that up with an ability to conjure tea out of thin air and I’d be laughing.

Why the beard?

As it stands, I have a very young face. I was always getting carded in pubs and clubs in my drinking days (now long gone, I’ve been t-total for about ten years now). I always used to grow what I could thinking that it would make me look older. It didn’t, it just made me look scruffy. Why do I have the full on mountain man beard now? Well, shaving is boring. My wife likes it. It keeps my face warm in winter. I like to know what I had for dinner yesterday?

You can follow Ed at @eddsnotdead and purchase the stories (and lovely cover art) of Gita Askari here (Still Life) and the following Blank Canvas here. I’d suggest doing all three.

Still Life Final

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@MandaJJennings

I was lucky enough to work with Amanda on a short story competition I ran last year. As a judge for all the entries she was a joy to work with. Along with @motherventing we ensured that the decision was fair, honest and not taken lightly. Her emails often had me howling with laughter. Not only this she is a curious, tender and devastating writer with a host of questions to ask. Nearly all of them we often ask ourselves. Here Amanda talks to me about her children, finding creativity and death.  

Amanda Jennings

Amanda Jennings

Is it fair to say that you would be a very different writer (if a writer at all) if you hadn’t become a mother?

I think that’s a very good question. I’d like to say I wouldn’t be any different, but I don’t think I can in all honesty. I rail against women being defined by our children and husbands all the time – it’s one of my pet hates in British media! – but at the same time these children, my three fantastic daughters are in integral part of my life. I had my first daughter at 24, before I started writing. In fact, I began writing because I wanted to be at home with her, so gave up my job at the BBC and to keep myself sane (whether or not I’ve managed this is arguable) I began to write. My first book was all about a family coming to terms with the death of one of their daughters a year earlier. She was sixteen and they discover all sorts of secrets about her that tamper with their recovery process, not to mention raise questions over the circumstances of her death. I couldn’t have – and wouldn’t have thought to have – written this book if I hadn’t been a mother. The emotions, the fears, the love, the shifting from self-centredness to the feeling that you would do anything for this human being who you care about above all others, these are the things that strike you after you’ve had children. This is a very long-winded way of saying: yes, I think I’d have written differently if I wasn’t a mother.

Death appears to have a consistent voice in your writing. Why?

I have been obsessed with the concept of death, and the grief that goes with it, for as long as I can remember. It’s genetic. My father is, my middle daughter is and just recently my youngest daughter, who is eight, asked ‘Mummy, I’m worried about what it will FEEL like when I’m not here any more, when I’m dead.’ My mother, sister, husband and eldest daughter aren’t so afflicted and I’m often jealous of them. My husband merely says: ‘when you’re dead you’re dead, you won’t know any different. Don’t think about it.’ Hmmm…more easily said than done. I am not religious, but I consider myself spiritual and I am prone to over-thinking, I do believe that if I had religion in my life, that if I believed in the afterlife, or some greater purpose, that death wouldn’t fascinate me so much.

What is your favourite part of the day?

Well, I tend not to generalise like that. I’m a big avoider of generalisation. Some mornings are fabulous, some are rubbish. Some evenings can’t come quick enough, some days I never want to end. Sometimes lying my head on the pillow – especially if there are clean sheets on the bed – is the best time of day. Wine o’clock is up there though.

When do you find yourself most creative?

I used to wake up in the middle of the night when I was in my late teens and paint a picture or write a poem. Ha – the thought of that now, in my sleep-deprived, post-40 state? Ridiculous! I tend to think that if I waited for my creative muse to appear I would never get anything done. I’m sure my creative muse is a lazy so-and-so who would probably be asleep under a tree somewhere. I don’t rely on her. I write when I sit down at the computer and make myself do it. Writing is a job and I have to see it like that or else I’d procrastinate continuously. Having said all that, I do a lot of my thinking on my dog walks every morning. The routine and exercise and fresh air are good for thoughts and it works well because I know exactly what I’m going to write that day by the time I get home.

Describe yourself in five words

Five words? Erm, haven’t you gleaned from previous answers that brevity isn’t my strong point. But if you insist: energetic, maternal, fun-loving (is that two words or one? Let’s go for one), hug-loving, smile-giving. (Hyphen-user…)

What was the first thing you did after finishing writing The Judas Scar?

Made a cup of tea.

Amanda’s impressive resume includes publishing two books, the first Sworn Secret (Constable and Robinson, Canvas) featured in Vogue Online as one of their Best Summer Reads of 2012. It reached number 4 in the Kindle Bestseller chart and has been sold to the US, Taiwan and Italy. The Judas Scar (Cutting Edge Press) is her second book published in May 2014. She has three daughters, far too may pets and a husband, living in a cottage in the woods between Henley and Reading. Before she wrote she was a researcher at the BBC. She been known to drink wine and eat chocolate and occasionally go on Twitter… @mandajjennings. Find out more about Amanda at www.amandajennings.co.uk.

 

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@AliceGrist

Parenting is quite the journey. Seemingly endless the experience itself differs depending on each separate set of existing circumstances, all of which are random and imposed. All of us as parents however share one common experience. The inner journey. Each of us stare bewilderingly at our own precious collection of memories, beliefs and ethics as we cradle our children. We all seek guidance on our own internal journey whether from our families, our faith or indeed ourselves. Sometimes the only clear decision maker can be you.

In this interview with Alice Grist, author of three books with Soul Rocks Books (John Hunt Publishing), I take some time to talk to her about her new book Dear Poppyseed. Intelligent, fierce and beautifully written Alice explores her journey throughout her pregnancy right through to the birth of her little girl. I reviewed the title here but I thought it would be illuminating to hear from Alice exactly what empowered her to write about her pregnancy and what she learned from her experiences.

What happens when you take a spiritually enlightened girl, add a rock ‘n’ roll boy and a pinch of magic in the form of Poppyseed? The answer is a soulfully honest, humorous and insightful glimpse at the authors’ journey to becoming a mummy.

Alice Grist wrote her first two soul inspiring books and found herself asking, ‘so I’m spiritual… what next?’ That question is now answered. It seems, that what is next, is she is pregnant. Indeed she and her husband have nine months to embrace a transformation more powerful than any spiritual awakening she ever dreamed of! Whilst simultaneously straddling real life, coping with attacks of hormones and finding a path forward as parents after a decade of doing what they please!

Alice reveals the tricks and trials of a soulful pregnancy, whilst also admitting to and fully illustrating the all too human moments that can befall any momma to be. Whilst bridging the very human and the super soulful Alice takes on her pregnancy with gusto, blazing an inspirational, hilarious and emotional trail.

Alice Grist

Since becoming a mother have you encountered any changes to your spiritual outlook on life?

Just a bit. I no longer have time for it! So it’s rather handy that in my last book The High Heeled guide to Spiritual Living I concluded that all life is spiritual, even the parts where you forget to be spiritual. Spirituality is not just for the seeker, it is, to me, a basic part of our human make up. There is a reason we are in a human skin with all it’s complications. We are simply not here to float off into the ether quite yet. I don’t want to spend my life trying to reach a state I believe I will access quite easily when I die! That is for later, it is inevitable. I want to be here now.

Life is always a trip towards something more spiritual, consciously or otherwise. Being a mother, and the all consuming nature of that, is entirely spiritual in it’s own way. It is the greatest experience of my life. It comes prepackaged in unconditional love, and that sits at the heart of my soul. My life is a poem dedicated to my new little family. It all sounds very romantic, but changing nappies at 3 am and working to entertain a toddler in a heat-wave, when I’m exhausted, is not romantic. It’s all very swings and roundabouts. But it’s inherently my favorite thing ever, and because of that spirituality now exudes from living in the moment. I sweat it, rather than intellectualise it.

Looking back on your pregnancy and the birth of your daughter would you change anything in hindsight?

Lately I have been thinking about that alot. My birth did not go to plan. And I accept that. I personally blame Kate Middleton, and my brother for this rash of retrospect. They are both having babies (Kate in labour as I type), it’s making me think what could I have done differently? But anyone who reads Dear Poppyseed will see how hard I fought for a natural birth. I wanted it so, so much. But my attempts to control that failed. I know that I did all I could and therefore, I couldn’t change anything. Clearly it happened for a reason. So even if I had a magic wand that would grant me the perfect hypnobirth in a pool of water, essential oils and chanting. Nope I wouldn’t take it. My birth, medicalised as it was, was perfect in it’s own ways, and it makes for a relatable, real story in Poppyseed. The chanting and mantras will wait for a future birth, in this life or another!

What is your ultimate spiritual goal?

Now there is a question Mr Coleman! Geez! I don’t have one. Life tends to turn and twist. A couple of years ago I may have said that I’d like to become as enlightened as possible. But that can wait till I pop off this planet. I’m here to get gritty and down with the details. Right now my goal is to create a lovely life for me and my family, and to be here, in this human body as long as I possibly can. Enjoying every second of it, moment by moment.

As a new mother what lessons, spiritual or otherwise, do you hope to pass on to your daughter?

I am sure she has her own lessons to experience, far apart from what I may schedule for her! In essence I would like to be a living example for her. To show her how to be calm, loving, strong. I’d like her to have a good clear mind and not get lost in overthinking, or in an idealised view of herself and femininity as set out by our mainstream culture. I’d like to show her alternative ways to be and to think. The power of thought is so important. They don’t teach it in school (I plan to homeschool her). So many people get lost in their worldviews, confused by the examples around them. If I give her anything I’d like it to be a crystal clear sight, unburdened by drama, angst, violence, abuse, general life confusion. I see people so often stuck in their little ruts, stuck in a perception of how the world is, unable to move past it. In general I want my baby to see clearly, believe in miracles and understand her connection to all things.

What did you set out to achieve with the publication of “Dear Poppyseed”?

Nothing. It’s the true life diary of my pregnancy and birth. As such I have no plans for it, no expectations. I hope people enjoy it. I hope they relate to it. I hope it brings something a little special into their lives. That’s all. 

When do you find time to write?

These days… I don’t really. That’s cool though. I’m 34 and I wrote three books already. I’m going easy on myself for a bit. I’m way ahead of myself! 

Define yourself in five words

Loving, a-bit-daft, peaceful, momma, friend

You can find Alice on the web here. You can find her on Twitter at @AliceGrist. Please see this little trailer to get a taste for the book, and if you require any more information about Alice, her publisher Soul Rocks Books (John Hunt Publishing) or the book go here…

Dear Poppyseed

Dear Poppyseed

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@cathjanes

Some of you may know that, at the moment, I am furious. Boiling with rage. So angry in fact I could quite happily crush the world to dust in my fist and cry with laughter at the same time.

This is not about me. When I feel that the human race is simply a collection of useless, meat filled puss bags, I turn to The Kraken. Her roar dilutes my rage with substance and clarity. Her words seem to centre me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the Kraken.thekraken

I am The Kraken (rarrgh!) and I’m forming a black hole of fury so you don’t have to on www.thekrakenwakes.org. Blame wanky drivers, twatty children, fat-handed shoppers, sexist spaff-baskets, cockwombling celebs and anyone else that forces me to wave my fist in the street. No longer capable of seething silently, I’m loudly venting my rage and angst but with more laughs than green ink and more nous than an entire Tory conference. In fact, I am the new voice of reason. Come, put your head on my shoulder and tell me what makes you mad…

Why are you so angry?

Angry? Moi? Well, if you insist… It’s because I’m continuously staggered at how ignorant, insensitive, thoughtless, unaware and just plain pig-thick so many people can be. Contrary to my image as an enraged blogger, I’m very loyal and put an enormous amount of thought into other people’s feelings so when I don’t get the same consideration in return I ever so slightly lose my marbles. I’m also a supreme optimist and believe that there is good in everyone (I know, I know, you’d never guess) so when I see the bad side of others I feel let down to the point that I actually have to blog about it. This probably makes me highly needy, pernickety and demanding of towering standards but I like myself that way. In fact my rage makes me happy and my blogging is like online therapy. Once I’ve raged I feel so much better that it has actually become addictive.

How do you process negative feedback on your writing?

Now that depends on the feedback. I adore debate so if someone wants to challenge me I’m like a pig in shit. I started my career with the intention of becoming a barrister, before moving in to journalism, so debate is one of the best parts of blogging. In fact it motivates me to keep writing because I only ever write what I believe in and I adore having a voice. However, if I get negative feedback because someone hasn’t read my blog properly or misunderstood me I actually become distressed with frustration and won’t stop raving until I’ve had the last word. For example, recently someone accused me of only trying to be controversial rather than honest which sent me through the roof. I’m not trying to be controversial. I’m simply trying to express myself. If you think that’s controversial, that’s your opinion not mine.

Is there anything in life that softens you?

Kraken Junior. Seriously, if you saw me blowing raspberries on her belly at bedtime and smothering her in kisses you’d think I’d had the Kraken side of me lobotomised. She can melt me like no-one else as can Conjugal Kraken, bless his tormented heart. I’ve also been known to cry at adverts and school plays and the film Meet Me in St Louis makes me sob so loudly that I become incoherent. Me bawling into a cushion and gasping for air has actually become a Christmas ritual.

And, oddly, Kraken Junior and Conjugal Kraken are also why I am so angry. I adore them both so utterly that if anyone crosses them I become enraged to the point of insanity. I’m not so much a mother as a starving tiger determined to rip the flesh off anyone who does her cub wrong.

Do you worry about the future that your children will be living in?

Fuck yes. I worry continually that Kraken Junior will be let down by the world around her. That sounds very bleak but she is such a hopeful and happy child that when someone disappoints her she feels it keenly and I want to do whatever I can to stop that from happening. My biggest fear, as the mother of a little girl, is the amount of sexism that she is forced to endure. I thought it had died out until she was born and I realised that it’s actually become worse. The pink, princesses, sexualisation…and I despise that while I fought against this all of my life she will have to fight it all over again. I become almost deranged at the fact that her gender could one day be used against her. Woe betide anyone who does that to her. They will have The Kraken to deal with.

Describe yourself in five words

Pissed, astounded, hopeful, broken, hungry.

The Kraken lurks in your very subconscious. It hides beneath your skin. You will find it’s scripture here. You can, on a stormy, chaos strewn evening watch it’s scaly head break the surface of the ocean here.

Do say hello. She is just lovely.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn
“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming” ― H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
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@babberblog

When I joined Twitter I very quickly came across Lewis (@babberblog) and instantly learned that he and I are quite alike. He is hilarious, passionate and an excellent, honorable father.

I learned a lot from him about being a dad in the first hectic, miserable, eye-gouging, terrible months of fatherhood. Sleep deprivation does strange things to you. Lewis is the type of person who likes to help other people out. His pacifistic nature shines through when you converse with him on Twitter. He’s talked me off the edge a couple of times. He might not even know that. That’s Lewis for you. He is quite human.

I’m Lewis, I’m a distinctly average person making my way through life. I’m ticking boxes on my way through, as we all do. Last year I finally ticked one of the big ones: having a baby (not the physical act, of course, that would have been distinctly un-average).

Aside from having a small human to look after, I also have a wife, a house, a car, lots of bicycles, a healthy appetite and a scraggly beard.

I blog about stuff, mainly the baby, but also other things that interest me. I’d love you to come and say hello. Validate me.

What inspired you to start blogging?

Blogging is one of those things I had felt like I ought to do for years. I’m a gifted procrastinator, so I’d never got around to actually doing anything about it. It was a quiet murmur in the back of my head, which occasionally got a bit louder.

When my wife was seven months pregnant with Cam I had a week off work on my own, which I used to indulge myself in all the hobbies I thought I would probably have to put aside for a while once the baby arrived. I also listened to the murmur which was suggesting that blogging would be a hobby I could keep doing.

I’d also spent some time reading sites like Bounty and Netmums, and not engaging with them at all. I had no idea there were so many great blogs out there, which is good, because if I’d found them I’d have been too intimidated to start my own.

What is the one thing you hope to achieve with your writing?

To provoke a reaction in whoever reads it. It’s what I want when I read other people’s words too. I don’t mind too much what the reaction is. Laughing’s a good one. Crying would work for me too. Thinking about something that wouldn’t normally register.

Obviously, if someone wanted to pay me to write, that’d be just fine…

What characteristics for you, based on what you’ve learned, make a good Father?

There are so many, and I’ve barely got started yet.

Early on, I was glad I’m a patient man. Babies don’t set out to wind you up, I don’t think, but they’re very good at doing it. Battling through the mental effects of having less sleep than you’ve had since you were a baby yourself, patience and tolerance are essential. No matter how many people tell you how difficult a newborn can be, no-one gets it until it happens.

One I feel is really important, but that I could do with working on, is feeling comfortable making a fool of yourself regardless of the situation. I’m a shy sort, and easily embarrassed. I don’t always find it easy to be effusive and “fun” in public with Cam. I hate feeling like I’m being looked at, and people tend to look at you when you’re busting out your best baby entertainment moves.

As time goes on, I’ll be looking to emulate the characteristics I saw and continue to see in my own father. He’s a quiet, gentle, fair, honest man. If I can be as much of a father to Cam as he has been to me, I’ll be doing a damn good job.

How close is your online personality to your real life persona?

The protection we’re afforded by our keyboards, monitors and the physical separation of the internet all mean it’s very easy to fabricate a completely different life for yourself online. That’s fine, if you let people know that’s what you’re doing. If you’re a blogger and you’re not telling the truth, I don’t want to read that.

I don’t make any attempt to be anything online which I’m not in real life. I want to be honest, I want to be thoughtful, compassionate and kind. I want the people I interact with online to feel that there’s value in those interactions. I think the connections and friendships we make which start online are just as important and “real” as those which start offline.

All that said, I’m quieter in real life and I’m not confident talking to people I don’t know. I had to make a conscious effort to overcome that when I joined Twitter. I’m happier putting words in writing than verbalising, so it wasn’t as difficult as I’d feared.

So, I guess, “pretty close” sums it up.

What do you hope Cam learns from reading your blog (when he’s able to read)?

He’s going to read it? Shit. Erm.

I didn’t write it for him to read, really. If he does decide to, I hope he’ll learn that I’ve loved him from the very first moment. Actually, I hope he’ll know that already.

Describe one moment of your parenting in which you’ve felt “a bit of a twat”?

Just one?

I feel like a twat when my tolerance reservoir runs low. When Cam has managed to rile me and I’ve got to the point where I feel like I love him, but I don’t like him.

He then makes me feel even worse by doing something really sweet to make friends with me again, usually a particularly coy game of “peepo”.

That makes me feel an utter twat, because all the blame lays with me, and there he is being the bigger man.

What is your favourite piece of writing that you’ve written?

A while back I wrote a short piece of fiction and posted it on the blog. It was the first time I’d written anything like that in about ten years.

All my blog posts are hastily scrawled in a lunch break, so it was nice to spend a bit more time on something. To think about it. To finish a draft and think “no, not right” and go back and change it rather than just posting it anyway.

It’s nothing special, but quite a few people commented on it in a positive way and some of those were people whose own writing I really admire. That made me feel good.

If I had more time, I’d love to write more fiction. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to.

What inspires you to write? What inspires you in general?

I love words. I’m a bit of a word geek. I’ve always loved writing and I find it a more comfortable way to communicate than speaking. So the thing that inspires me to write is a love for writing. Usefully, this also means I can find myself writing about any old thing and still enjoying it.

In general, I’m inspired by people. People who achieve things which I think are good things, invent things I think are worthwhile, overcome things I imagine I’d find insurmountable.

I once took a psychometric test which told me that altruism was one of my strongest drivers. So I’m inspired by a desire to help other people. I quite like that, although it does come with its own set of awkward questions.

Lastly if you could offer any new parent one piece of advice what would it be?

I think the most important thing is to trust in yourself. Nobody goes into parenting with all the answers, no matter how hard some people try to make you think they have some magical manual at their disposal. Trust that everything you do out of love for your child is very likely to be the right thing. Of course there’ll be mistakes, but we all make them.

Being a parent is hard enough, without trying to be a perfect one.

Before I go, I want to say a huge thank you to Sam for inviting me to answer his questions (and for putting up with how long it took me to do so, it’s an honour to have some of my words on one of my favourite blogs.)

Lewis makes being a dad look easy. If I was a brand new father I’d follow him on twitter for sure @babberblog. Read his blog. There are some excellent pieces of writing in there. This is my favourite at the moment. There are beards within it.

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