Search This Blog

Friday, 27 February 2009

. . . And now my other cat hates me!

NaBrought Lola to the vet this morning. She wasn't best pleased and did the cat equivalent of a "Fuck You" by turning her back on me and letting out a really nasty fart (all the more amazing as she hadn't been allowed to eat since 8pm the previous night). I left her in the kind hands of the vet, and phoned later to be told that all had gone well, Lola was spayed, stitched and fed and could I pick her up? Home we went, opened the basket and Lola promptly shot out and hurled herself through the cat flap. For the rest of the day she has been sitting on the fence, with an evil look in her eye.

Ten minutes ago she suddenly went nuts and raced round the house, then bolted out the cat door again, but not before giving me the kind of look that a patriotic Frenchman would give a Nazi. I've heard that anaesthetic can send animals a bit nuts. Is this true or is she going to hate me forever? And she's supposed to be kept in tonight but she refused to come anywhere near me. Oh dear. Suddenly, multiple pregnancies, sluttish cat behaviour, unwanted kittens, and even shaggging her brother doesn't seem such a big deal right now . . .

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

My Cat is a Pervert

This morning, I padded down the stairs to find my plumptious and jowly ginger cat Charlie, sitting fatly by the cat flap, staring fixedly. At first I thought his mate Mrs Robinson might be walking brazenly round the garden. (She is a blowsy cat, who if she were human would have bleached hair, high heeled mules and say 'cock' a lot. As it is, she often pops in for breakfast and a quick sniff of Charlie's bum) But no - Charlie was looking at his sister Lola, having a wee. Lola looked up once or twice and flattened her ears as if to say: "What are you looking at perve?" but Charlie just carried on looking. Literally a Peeping Tom!

Well he's going to be a Peeping Spayed by the weekend. This latest act of feline weirdness is only the latest in a series of hissings, squabbles and catty fist fights between the two of them. They used to curl up together! Now they can't walk past each other without aiming a furry punch. Off to the vet on Friday. Only nobody is allowed to mention it because the last time they had to get some injections, they just sort of knew. I don't know why, but the second I opened the cupboard where the cat baskets are kept, they both streaked upstairs and hid under the bed! Anyone got any tips?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Help! I Need a Publisher

A girl's best friend is her blog. Really - it's great to stumble across a great new writing blog, full of vim, vigour, kindness and most of all Great Advice. It's written by Nicola Morgan who spent years not being published. Now she is. And it's not hard to see why. No I'm not related. I just think her blog is great.

Writing Feedback

For a writer, constructive feedback helps you get better. Not the flattery, nor the bland approval, but the decently phrased expression of confusion or disapproval. It’s the literary equivalent of a pulled tooth; painful and a bit upsetting but in the long run, it will make you better. Anyway this is the stuff I tell my creative writing students and it’s aimed at the ones who shriek: You’re not getting what I’m trying to do! when I point out the lack of story, or info dump when back story gets shovelled into the narrative like snow on a street instead of gently dribbled in like oil into mayonnaise. And as I offer this criticism as gently as possible I find myself thinking that it’s feeding into my writing and hopefully making it better. I tell them the story of a fellow editor at Random House who read a book proposal and made notes in the margin. Unfortunately she forgot to rub them out when rejecting the proposal. The actual rejection letter was the usual blanditudes of the book not fitting into the lists, liked it but didn't love it etc. But the comments in the text were another story. They ranged from Shite to What the fuck is this? to the utterly crushing Can't Write.

So when I’m overrun with work from my students I sourly reflect on the massive gap between my carefully phrased positive criticisms and what I really think. It's not pretty. What if, instead of writing, Interesting idea to write an epic poem about an intellectual argument between Mars and Venus but not sure it’s sustainable, I was entirely honest with You show neither writing talent, nor the ability to listen to advice, and seem to think that utterly incomprehensible writing is a true mark of your maverick genius. If I have to mark your awful poem I swear I will kill myself.

Not funny enough said a dear, close friend whose work and word I trust utterly when looking at a very rough draft of a script I wrote. And yes, it’s a comedy. I sat wanting to cry and hit him while shouting: You’re not getting what I’m trying to do! Instead, far more maturely I sulked. Oh and I don’t get what’s happening in Scene Two he added, unaware that he’d just punched a hole in my heart. Or Scene Three.

I looked over the script again and realised he was right. It wasn’t funny enough. And it wasn’t clear enough either. I still hated him and wanted to hit him but he was right. So I am taking a large, stinky spoonful of my own medicine and rewriting.

Actually having someone who tells you the truth about your work is as important as writing itself, I think. It doesn’t mean that you should shrug off praise and plaudits, because writers get little enough of them. But being able to take a deep breath and rewrite to make it better is what sorts out the writers from the dabblers and the epic planet poeteers.

And here is a really good post on criticism from Jane Smith.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Half Term and Haircuts

Half term. It creeps up you like Christmas and Chlamydia – silent, encroaching and suddenly overwhelming. But it’s times like this that I feel particularly glad I’m freelance.

I’m writing two scripts at the moment, and an article and marking a great deal of work from the Open University Course I’m teaching. That crept up on me as well. As a freelance it’s very hard to turn down work, so one minute you’re convinced that nobody will ever commission you again and the next, you’re frozen in overload panic. I’m not complaining (she whines) but on the brink of half-term, a heavy workload does test my work/life balance and finds it a completely stupid wanky phrase that means nothing!

So with The Boy who cannot be parted from his electrical entertainment, The Girl who needs stimulation and entertainment, and me with my workload, I’m going to visit my mum who lives by the sea, and is so sprightly it’s infuriating. But before we go I take The Girl to get her hair cut, so she looks slightly less scruffy. More importantly if I don’t get her hair sorted, Mum might Get Out the Scissors herself. And that wouldn’t do given some of the Horror Haircuts of my Childhood – far far worse than the horror of half term.

I think mum thought that saying a Hail Mary and (sometimes) wiping the bacon scissors was far more effective than several years of actual hairdressing training. As a result of her efforts, my dad would come home, look at my newly shorn hair and say: “You look like Joan of Arc!” He meant it as a compliment but when I saw the film, and noted that even with her amazing cheekbones, Ingrid Bergman’s hair resembled a seventies Purdy cut by a blind gardener, I cringed at what my hair must have looked like.

Off we trot to the local barber, where men sit in rows, waiting to have proper manly haircuts. They do two types normally – short and very short. But since The Girl started having her hair cut, they’ve added, A Quick Trim to their repertoire. There is none of the usual scent of sprays, lotions and urgency in the air, neither does someone called Leonard ponce about in tight leather trousers screeching: “Who cut your hair?” in a faux Italian accent. Instead, there’s a faint smell of well worn denim, and man dirt. The Girl sits quite happily in the shearing chair, while all around her, tough blokes chat to their crimper. “Yeah so I told him he could fack off”, “Bish bosh smack in the marf” and “Shut it you slaaaag” (no I didn’t accidently walk onto the set of Eastenders), while I read back issues of Nuts. There’s Rate My Uploaded breasts, which is pretty self-explanatory. Flick the page and there are Stupid Signs where doughy men are photographed pointing to signs like Spunk Alley and Turkey Cock Lane. Next page has a picture of a man with a large snake coming out of his nose, followed by an interview with Chanelle from Big Brother, naked, (you suck in that stomach girl!) informing Nuts readers that the idea of a threesome with a Nuts reader really turns her on.

Actually, a onesome with a Nuts reader doesn’t do much for me – considering I’ve had two kids and breastfed both of them, I’m in better shape than most of the beer bellied, saggy arsed, spotty faced pics of male Nuts readers. They seem unaware of the odd disparity between the hot babes they dribble over and the slightly rank, overweight, slack mouthed image they present. Or maybe that’s the point. Despite the girls in every single interview pantingly admitting that girl on girl action with a Nuts reader is their Ultimate Fantasy, there is about as much chance of your average Nuts reader getting it on with a Nuts Babe as there is of Nelson Mandela releasing a three way sex tape with Paris Hilton and Bishop Desmond Tutu. While I totally understand the fury Nuts provokes in many women, I flip it shut feeling pretty good about myself. Well about my tits and arse anyway.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Black Dog Part Two

Firstly thank you for the kind and thoughtful messages. I’m always surprised to hear that fellow bloggers, their posts dripping with witty, erudite remarks also know the bleak pit of black dog-dom. You’d think I’d have learned by now that anyone and anyone can be struck down, but it still surprises me.

Anyway, my parole seems to have been extended and the dog has slunk off as mysteriously as he arrived. I’m not sure why but he’s gone. So I thought about how I’d handled this brief spell this time.

I’m not trying to pretend I’ve had chronic depression, the kind where even turning your head to the wall is an effort, but the word itself can be misused. Feeling sad is not depression, and neither is disappointment or 'feeling sorry for yourself' as a person once suggested to me, as I sat, stunned. A bit like my friend in labour, vomiting from pain being told by the midwife that she was ‘being silly.'

There is no better description of depression for me than Malignant Sadness, but if you think there is, I'd be curious to hear. That flat, bleak, emotionless, frozen landscape. Where the smallest effort seems like a Herculean task. For some it goes on for months or years.

All I can say is what works for me. I do know that it blights lives and the more we talk seriously about it, and share help and advice the better. I read Sally Brampton’s wonderful book Shoot the Damn Dog and my heart ached for her terrible suffering. She tried many many combinations of antidepressants, vitamins and talking therapies before she found what worked for her. Now she takes antidepressants, high doses of Omega 3 and does yoga. Her depression was severe and long lasting. This is what works for me:

• Exercise. It really does work. Walking is meditative and releases feel good hormones.
• Eat properly even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you don’t think you’re worth feeding well.
• Try to keep the boozing to a minimum.
• Drink lots of water – yes boring but flushing yourself out feels good even if your spirits are in the toilet.
• Ask a kind person to massage your hands or feet – touch is soothing
• Friendly animals can help; you don’t have to pretend with them. Cats and dogs are nice. I knew a jolly parrot who nibbled my ear quite sexily. Hamsters are not friendly – they’re the Cheryl Cole of the animal world, really gorgeous to look at but would bite as soon as look at you.

If it goes on longer than a couple of weeks go to the doctor.

It helped me a lot that a writing friend I respect laughed loudly at something I’d written. (This wouldn’t have worked so well if I’d written a gritty drama)

I’ve included a link to the Daily Mail (yes sorry but it’s quite a good article) on whether or not depression can be good for you. I think the idea is total bollocks but what the sufferers have to say is interesting.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Black Dog in the Corner

A smiling lady handed me a leaflet yesterday. It had a picture of two smiling people, surrounded by baskets of apples and inexplicably in the background, a large (unsmiling) moose. The headline was: All Suffering Soon to End, immediately followed, less cheerfully by When the End of the World Comes, Who will Survive? Who indeed? Cockroaches? Minor celebrities with firearms? Rats? No – only Jehovah Witnesses apparently.

I was feeling slightly gloomy which brings me out a really sexy combination of anger and tearfulness so I asked the lady: “Didn’t you think the world was coming to an end before? And you all sold your belongings and went to sit at the top of a hill, only unfortunately the world carried on as normal?” Her smile retained its full wattage: “Oh yes” she said. “It was known as The Great Disappointment.”

I’ve had a rather grey few weeks. Not Great Disappointments, just a succession of too much not-fun work, endless slush, the bitter and irrevocable realisation that cheese gives me spots, and an indecipherable contract.

Have you ever found yourself reading through a contract, seemingly written in English but so thick with clauses, sub clauses and indemnity blah that you can feel your brain sliding off the page? But after someone I knew got into terrible professional trouble for not paying attention to some tiddly widdly sub-clause in a sub-section, I have always given my contracts to someone else with big red rings round the bits I don’t understand ie everything except Sign Here. Luckily Husband is a) a contracts expert and b) deeply and generally suspicious. So when he started frowning and mugging and re-reading bits of it over and over again and still frowning and mugging, I felt my heart plummet. Because I knew I would have to contact the company and ask questions.

“Don’t worry,” says Husband. “Just tell them you want a bit of clarification on x y and z.” So I write a very polite email asking them to explain what subsection 6 means, all the while thinking that I will never hear from them again, and I really should get an agent to deal with this stuff and why can’t I understand contracts and why am I so stupid?

“Contracts are designed to be confusing,” says Husband comfortingly. “Nobody can understand them. Except me and a few other very clever people.” He is sweet and kind and right.

I’m blithering on about this because the exact moment I send the email asking for some clarity on a contract, I can feel a dark, spectral mist wrap itself round me and I know it’s back. He's back. No warning. No warning at all and the black dog slinks silently into the room and sits in the far corner. The thing is, I don’t know where he’s come from. Or why. And I thought if you’ve ever been through it, you get a warning. I know what the signs are – a slowing up, a lassitude, and a grey heaviness. Or was the vague gloom I’ve been feeling the last few weeks the sign? I’ve been moving around a lot today to try and shake it off. Going for walks, breathing in rain and air, stroking the various animals who wander in for a free feed, sniffing The Girl, trying to soak up her artless joy. The Boy knows – he always does. When he was a baby I was crushed with PND, and ever since I’ve been sodden with guilt at his sidelong glances and “Are you ok mum’s?” I make the most of his bony hugs, keep moving and hope it will pass soon.

The moving about is because the writer and psychologist Dorothy Rowe once suggested that it helped to think about what your depression looked like and I thought of mine as cold inertia. So maybe I should call it Black Ice, rather than Black Dog.