there will be hummus

I might be middle-class now, but I didn’t go to university until I was twenty-four, and up until then I had never eaten an olive. I didn’t even know what hummus was. It was pretty shocking to get to university (actually the former Brighton Poly) and see sports cars in the students’ car park, parked there by witless, entitled, eighteen-year-olds. Their parents were paying their rent, too, whereas I ended up with a full time job on top of a grant and a loan and a massive overdraft that it took me ten years to pay off, just to get by. I thought university was going to be a cross between a tripped-out day at Glastonbury and French cafe society of the 1920s, and that I would therefore fit right in, what with my love of night-long intellectual discussions, my penchant for recreational drugs, and my rapidly worsening mental illness. In fact, those things – along with being fairly old and not knowing what hummus was – pretty much made university life harder than I ever expected it to be.

I didn’t do a creative writing degree. I didn’t even study English. If I had known I was going to be a writer, maybe I would have done, but at that time I believed that I couldn’t be a writer. All writers were middle-class white men who ate olives every day and bathed in hummus. Writers were not people like me – women, women who had grown up eating pot noodles, women who couldn’t speak French. It took me a long time and a big leap in confidence to recognise that those weren’t actual entry requirements (unless you were French, which I wasn’t.)  I could be a writer if I wanted to be. No one was even trying to stop me!

So I did become a writer, and for the past dozen years or so, I have been a writer. But I want to be a better writer, and a more successful writer. And I want writing to be the centre of my life, not just something I do in my spare time. So, in September, I’m going to do an MA in creative writing at Edinburgh Napier University. If you google the course, you’ll see why I want to do it. The focus is on professionalism. There’s no sitting in a circle. It’s all dirty work. And it’s in Edinburgh, which is about as far away from my family as I can get without a passport.

I don’t need a course to learn how to write better. No one does. You learn by reading and writing. But this is an opportunity to make a massive commitment to my writing career, and I’m pretty excited about it. Big change is a big, good thing. Bring it on!

the rock

When it comes to a choice between moving and staying, taking action or standing still, I have always favoured movement. Some people believe in the value of staying put, of being where you are and appreciating it. Maybe they feel that wherever they are is where they’re meant to be. Some people believe that everything is an illusion, so there is nowhere to go and nothing to do, and one must simply be. In that place where you are, maybe you can write or paint or simply watch and listen. It sounds so wonderful, so perfect. So final.

If everything is an illusion, then it doesn’t matter if you move or stay still. You could spend the next 40 years staring at a rock, or you could walk around the whole world, and there would be no real difference. There is no world, and there is no rock, so what does it matter which illusory thing you focus on? But if there is no difference, perhaps it would be more comfortable and sensible to choose the rock.

But some of us, we just can’t see things that way. We are not content with being. We want to become. Better, different, more. (And some of us get stuck, in cities and houses where we don’t belong, with people who are not our people, and we are seized with urgency: we must go now.) If something isn’t working, then let it go. Don’t stay because you’re stuck. Pull yourself up by the roots, start again.

In writing, though, I’ve been trying to cultivate a different way of being. Sticking with it. Sitting with it, even though the natural urge is to move on. I love to start new things! The feeling of starting a new story is so shiny. Short stories are great because you stay just long enough to get the gist, then you move on. And novels are so long. You have to stay in one place for a long time, and just sit there. Staring at the rock. It’s just a big grey rock. The challenge is to see that it is flecked with silver, that it has faces and shadows, that it has history. The challenge is to see that the rock contains the illusion as completely as anything else, including the whole rest of the world.  And then to just keep sitting, keep writing, and keep hoping you haven’t made a terrible mistake.


my god they’re alive i tell you

Some of my characters have started talking to me, in my head. This has never happened to me before. In fact, I used to think this was a totally made-up thing that writers claimed happened to them as a way of trying to explain how they gave their characters words and stories. All a bit silly, I thought. But it turns out, I was the silly one, because here they are. Talking. In my head.

Having voices in your head is not something to shout about, unless you’re a writer or can become a writer in the time between admitting to the voices and your concerned friends and family staging an intervention. It’s actually a fairly odd experience. I’ve heard voices before, but they’ve always been some variation of mine; even the disturbing or distressing voices have always been recognisably mine. Having someone else’s voice in your head, telling you their story – well, that’s just weird.

I know that these characters are my creations, and that what they think is what I’ve created them to think, so their voices are really my voices, after all. But they’re not! Both things are true at once. Silly to try to understand it. Better to just listen and write it all down.



The internet is depressing. I know so much stuff right now that I really wish I didn’t. Every morning I wake up to stories of economic disaster, poverty, death, systemic violence against females, war, injustice… It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world, more that I don’t want to be immersed in the worst of it from morning til night. A part of me actually feels guilty for not spending 100% of my time staring this stuff in the face, as if that would change any part of it, or help me, or anyone. It just makes me bloody miserable, that’s all.

The other depressing thing about the internet is the fact that it provides an infinitely deep pool of mindless distractions, perhaps to counterbalance the constant stream of bad news and misery. So you read the news and blogs about what terrible things are happening, and it’s so awful you have to go and stare at pictures of cute kittens for half an hour, just to give you the energy to face the rest of the day.

Before I had broadband internet access, I never once went to the library to look at pictures of cats. If you had told me then that I would one day spend literal hours of my life reading articles about films I had no intention of ever seeing, or that I’d seek out and watch a video about how pencils are made, I would have laughed in your face. Actually, that pencil video is pretty interesting. But the point remains.

A while ago, I paid money for a program (Freedom) which enables me to turn off my internet and stops me from turning it back on until I’ve finished my work. That is a great program, but seriously? What kind of weak-minded person has to be physically restrained from checking facebook? When she’s supposed to be doing her life’s work? There is clearly something wrong with me.

So I’ve decided to take drastic measures, and ditch broadband. I’m moving cities soon, and whatever kind of new place I find myself living in, it’s not going to have constant internet access. I reckon that if I have to buy a cup of coffee every time I want to check my emails, my internet use is going to become a lot more focused and efficient. Either that, or I will become a caffeine-crazed, broke, non-writing writer, who spends all her time in cafes looking at lolcats and having palpitations. I’m willing to take my chances.