Saturday, 31 May 2014

Chimamanda Nqozi Adichie

Last night as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival, I went to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak about her writing and her life.

I have to admit to not having read any of her stuff before I booked the ticket but an extract of Half of a Yellow Sun was in my course book as an example of rhetorical devices and so I figured that she must be quite good.

And then, as these things do, a whole series of coincidences tumbled on top of me. Her latest book, Americanah, was shortlisted for the Bailey's Prize and I discovered that they had made a film of Half of a Yellow Sun which had recently been released. I quickly devoured both books.

My 16 year old found Americanah on the kindle list that we share and read it too (faster than me in fact.) This lead to interesting discussion about whether race or feminism was the stronger theme. All those years you spend wiping bottoms and saying no are suddenly worthwhile when you start to have this type of conversation with your off spring.

Then, I was telling my 17 year old where I was going on Friday night.

'Wait, wait!' she said, putting a hand up to silence me whilst she searched for something on her phone.
'Chimamanda! She's amazing!' she said and pressed play. A rich Nigerian voice filled the air between us.
'This is her!' she said. 'She's on Beyonce's song.'
And she was. I later learned that it was a sample of a Ted lecture that Chimamanda gave.

And so suddenly, this previously unknown to me Nigerian writer was touching everything that I held dear.

She didn't disappoint. She was intelligent and thoughtful with a dry sense of humour and a quick wit and she left me not with that deflated feeling that some writers do of never being able to achieve what they have done. Rather, as I walked through the twilight towards home, I felt inspired to keep going. I may never win a prize or speak in public about my work. I might not even get published but I am doing the thing that I love and Chimamanda reminded me of how important it is to hang on to those things with both hands and never let go.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Challenge

The nice people at Write -Track set a challenge of writing a piece using the names of the coding languages that they are using to improve the site as prompts. Never one to ignore a challenge, here is my effort. Can you spot the codes?!

Holiday Romance.

“What do you mean you’ve never seen ‘Django’? It’s a classic.’
Eloise sipped her cocktail. As cocktails went it was pretty mediocre. The rum had been watered down and the paper umbrella was squashed on one side. Still, what did one expect at a cheap all-inclusive holiday resort? She shrugged.
‘Never seen it. Never even heard of it.’
She turned her shoulders away from Pete, the software salesman. He’d seemed sexy the night before. There had been something sultry about his shiny, dark hair which fell to his shoulders in corkscrew curls. After the second cocktail, she had found it fascinating, following each curl with her eyes until her head spun. After the fourth drink, she had found herself sitting on his knee, twirling her fingers in his curls until they became impossibly knotted. He hadn’t minded. Nor had he been put out when she used his hair to pull him towards her and…
She shuddered. What had she been thinking? Now, before cocktail one had begun to work its magic, she saw Pete for what he was - a portly, middle aged man with greasy hair and a truly ridiculous drooping moustache.
‘You’ve gotta love spaghetti westerns’ he continued. ‘I think that’s my fourth favourite film genre. Shall I tell you the plot?’
‘No!’ said Eloise rather too abruptly. Pete looked shocked and then sank back in his chair as if someone had let a bit of air out of him. Even his moustache seemed to droop.
‘You’ll spoil it for when I watch it,’ she added.
This did the trick and he sat a little taller again.
‘What kind of film do you like….., er…..’
Dear God, thought Eloise. He’s forgotten my name. I made such an impression on this shabby, joke of a man that he can’t even remember what I’m called.
‘I have to go,’ she said quickly, slurping the remainder of her cocktail and banging the plastic glass on the bar. She slid off the bar stool, stumbling slightly as her feet hit the floor. Heels would never be practical on sandy surfaces. Pete looked crestfallen again.
‘I’ll maybe catch you later,’ she added, hoping with every fibre of her being that her path would never again cross with that of Pete, the software salesman.
She headed off in the direction of the beach. A gaggle of children was gathered around a beach entertainer with a battered marionette. The puppet danced on its strings and the children pointed and laughed. Clusters of parents stood around smiling indulgently, each quite sure that their children were getting more out of the show than those around them. Several of them were filming the show on their phones. For what purpose, Eloise thought. So they could relive the moment when they got back to their executive homes in Croydon or Wolverhampton? Why not live the moment now, as it happened?
Once she reached the beach, it became impossible to walk so she slipped off her heels and slung them over her shoulder provocatively. She swung her hips a little more to compensate for her shortened legs. The sand was warm between her toes. Eloise tried not to notice the couples who were scattered like corpses between her and the sea. In front of her, a girl with thick blonde hair and a deep tan was massaging suntan oil onto her partner. She worked her manicured fingers up his backbone, rubbing the oil tenderly into each vertebra, her long hair brushing his shoulders as she worked. Eloise looked away.
When she got to the end of the hotel’s beach she stopped. The rep had warned them against going beyond the borders. There were bandits apparently all ready to leap out on unsuspecting guests. And unfriendly wildlife too, if the rep was to be believed, who all clearly knew to stay outside the hotel environs. Eloise smiled at the thought of a passing python slithering accidentally onto hotel property and immediately coming to harm. However, on her own as she was, she didn’t quite feel confident enough to disobey instructions and so, hoping that no one was watching, she turned nonchalantly and headed back.
When she got back to the bar, her stool was still vacant. A quick look round showed no sign of Pete, the software salesman so she hopped up, arranging herself as artfully as she could and ordered a Sex on the Beach without so much as a hint of irony. It had been a good idea, coming on holiday on her own she thought as she scanned the bar from behind her sunglasses. Just what she needed.
A woman’s laugh came from a table overlooking the ocean. It was loud and unrestrained, like the owner hadn’t a care in the world. Eloise looked over. The woman had her back to her but at her table with his hand on her knee was Pete, the software salesman with his corkscrew curls. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


On Monday the people of the UK were invited to record their movements, no matter how small or seemingly trivial, by way of a diary entry and upload it to the Mass Observation Archive. The idea is to obtain a snapshot of life in the UK.

This is nothing new, of course. They've been doing it for ages and was perhaps most famously utilised by Victoria Wood in Housewife 49, a book and then a film based on the wartime diary kept by an anonymous woman in World War II.

I've looked at a few of the archives trying to find ideas for stories and it is a sightly surreal experience. You are poking your nose into someone's private life. It feels like you're trespassing and shouldn't really be there at all. It is even stranger because the early diaries were written before computers and so are handwritten on scraps of paper and then scanned in. Somehow, being able to see a stranger's handwriting allows you to form an even clearer picture of them in your mind's eye.

So I wrote mine. Monday was not a particularly remarkable day. It rained. I went about my normal business, cleaning, cooking, studying, writing. My children started their exams so that will probably mean that the day will affix itself to my memory but other than that it was pretty standard.

But that's kind of the point. If you look at Facebook or Instagram you'd think that the whole country was living the dream - well who can blame people for wanting to filter out the good bits of their lives to project and leave the chaff behind? What I liked about writing my diary for the project was that I had permission to talk about the mundanities of life, the daily grind that makes my world slowly turn. And somehow writing that down for an anonymous audience allowed me to be more candid than perhaps I might be if I'm aware who is reading.

I don't suppose anyone will ever read my record of Monday 12th May 2014 but it's there nevertheless, allowing me to make my own little bit of history.