Dymocks Reading Challenge – 02

Dymocks Reading Challenge – 02

Jane Eyre and Swallowdale are done, I’m already reading more with the Dymocks Reading Challenge (for the complete list of what I’m working through, please read over to here) than I have done in ages. Although re-reading Swallowdale, I realised I should have read Peter Duck before it (as I thought I ought to, but got persuaded I’d misremembered by Wikipedia, who listed them by published date). Peter Duck is the story the Swallows and Amazons made up in a wherry when they were altogether over the winter holidays. More on that when I’ve read it; which I’m not looking forward to, but more on that when I’ve read it 😉

Jane Eyre was read to me by Thandiwe Newton, it’s available on Audible as one of their bonus titles. Reader, I have a confession. By the time Jane got to Morton to become a teacher, I was a bit over her company. So I skipped ahead (about four hours), and missed how, very handily, the one door she knocked on when destitute and hungry, turned out to be her long lost cousin’s house. #YeahRight

I’m not going to do a full on review, as I think more than enough has been written (and analysed to the point of people not enjoying it) about the book already. Anyhoo, the reunion with Rochester was quite sweet and at least I can say I’ve now (mostly) read it. I’ve still got it on my kindle, so may get round to closing the loop. But Wide Sargasso Sea is halfway read and I’m enjoying that much more.

The premise of Swallowdale is fairly simple, the crew of the Swallow are back in the Lake District again for their summer holidays. They’ve got school books with them with holiday tasks they need to complete (French verbs are mentioned more than once), but they want to forget towns, school, the train ride up and get sailing. I’m deliberately doing a deeper dive into Swallowdale, because it’s often overlooked in the series – I know this because I had to fight like crazy to get all 12 on the shelf in the bookshop I worked in in the early 2000s.

However, the first day they’re able to sail to Wild Cat Island, they notice Captain Flint’s houseboat is all shut up, and he’s covered his cannon (Reader, relax it’s only a little one that was used to start boat races). On the island, they put up their tents and build a big fire in the campsite. A note with the firewood left by the Amazons tells them to put lots of grass on the fire to make it smoke so they’ll be able to see, even from the head of the lake, that the crew of the Swallow have arrived. This is what the Lake District country looks like for those who’ve not seen it before.

Moors north on Coniston, picture credit

While the Swallows are settling in and getting supplies organised from the ‘natives’ other farmers in the region. They hear that the Amazons’ Great Aunt is also visiting, and that Captain Flint is staying at Beckfoot with Mrs Blackett, so Nancy and Peggy are not going to be able to camp on the island with them. The next day, the Swallows decide to sail for Horseshoe Cove, which is the last place they were altogether on the lake the year before. A picnic is packed, the Swallows head off and during the day the Amazons sail into the bay to meet them.

Nancy and Peggy explain that the Great Aunt (G.A.) is visiting; so not only can’t camp, they can’t sail as much as they want to either. They also have “…been sitting up and saying please and thank you till we didn’t want to come to meals at all.”

That quote from Nancy was always one of my favourites from the entire series of books. She’s a strong, independent character, often recognised as the author’s favourite. Unusually, particularly for books written nearly 100 years ago, there are four girls, two boys as the lead characters. In Arthur Ransome’s other books, girls continue to figure highly throughout them too. Adults are summarily dispensed with, unless they are needed for moving part of the story on. The six children consider themselves explorers and sailors, hence the term ‘native’ for describing adults they come across. It fits in with their world view, how they spend their time and how they use their imagination to explain adults encroaching. Because the books are written from the children’s point of view, this does explain their endurance, as you feel you’re exploring and sailing with them.

The first time they all together again in Horseshoe Cove, the older four, Nancy and Peggy (Amazon Pirates), John and Susan, (Captain and Mate from Swallow) are happy to sit by the fire and catch-up. The younger two Swallows (Titty and Roger) are restless, so head off inland, but are told to stay beside the beck (river) so they can find their way back to shore. Titty and Roger keep climbing up through a forest, following the water flowing down to the lake; until they come into a valley, where they discover a cave. Full of excitement, they head back to the bay to get torches, but find out they were gone far too long. The Amazons are going to be late for tea with the G.A. and are in a hurry to leave. But despite already being late, Nancy and Peggy want to go back to the island to see the Swallows new tents and to collect the feathers moulted from the ship’s parrot for their arrows. [Writing this prĂ©cis is hilarious, it sounds crazy already, but just you wait.] They all sail off to the island together, Titty and Roger talking about the valley, the six of them agree to meet back at Horseshoe Cove tomorrow morning to investigate the valley further.

Basically, the G.A. is introduced to the book to keep the Swallows on their own. Yes, they are camping on Wild Cat Island, but not knowing when the Amazons are able to meet with them, the plans are going to be at best tentative.

The next morning, the wind is strong and gusty. John has already seen the white sail of the Amazon flying through the islands on the lake, and he knows that he’s already lost the race to get there. He’s also worked out the route he wants to take in his head, but because Susan always tidies up before she leaves the camp, they’re later leaving than John wants and he’s cross with his crew. He’s then full of keeping the plan he’s over thought in his head, and ‘hangs on’ with his sail.

The sail buffets around in the wind at the head of Horseshoe Cove, John sails straight onto Pike Rock and Swallow starts to sink. Everyone swims for shore, Titty holding the telescope overhead to keep it dry. When Susan and Roger are also clear, John throws the anchor towards the shore because part of another plan has formed already where he wants to try and get the boat up and off the bottom.

The six of them change into their bathers, Susan stokes the fire and they try to dry clothes and supplies for the day. John dives down time and again, moving the bows of Swallow around, cutting away the sail and ropes, removing the ballast and with the help of the anchor rope, they are able to get Swallow up off the bottom. As she’s pulled up high on land, Captain Flint arrives in his rowboat. He realises what’s happened and helps them all to first shift camp from Wild Cat Island to Horseshoe Cove, but also to patch up Swallow and get her to the boatbuilders.

After leaving Swallow with the boatbuilders, Captain Flint takes John back to Holly Howe to tell their mother, the ‘Best of All Natives’ about what’s happened. John stays in the rowing boat but sees when she jumps up out her chair that Captain Flint has told her. Bridget, ships baby, and Mother come across to the shipwrecked sailors to count them all. That Bridget has come too reassures all of them that it’s ok, they’re going to be able to stay shipwrecked and not go back to Holly Howe. Mother hears about the wreck, agrees that they can’t stay on the shoreline, but they can camp in the valley, and heads off to meet another set of natives who are able to give them milk each morning.

The Swallows spend the night in the make-shift camp set up on the shore, but after exploring, allowing Titty and Roger to show John and Susan the cave, they decide to shift camp up to the valley. The Amazons and Captain Flint help them to move camp. In the valley, they set up their tents, they build a fireplace, and damn up a pool with bigger stones for bathing and they discover the watchtower rock. This is at the head of the valley, now called Swallowdale, and gives them a 360 view of the countryside. Because it’s so big, the Amazons can see to where they live in Beckfoot at the head of the lake and tell the Swallows they’ll make a surprise attack one day. They hurry off to get back for tea, but run into a flat calm and are late again. Susan sweeps out the cave, which is cool enough to put their provisions in and has a shelf they can put a candle lantern on.

The rest of the book is mostly them exploring the countryside around them, John is shaping and planing the replacement mast for Swallow, John builds a pedestal for the parrot cage to sit on and Captain Flint teaches them to fly fish for the trout in the stream and tarns in the next valley above Swallowdale. The G.A. is barely in the book, but by withholding the Amazons from a lot of the story, her presence is felt all the way through it. Nancy and Peggy are expressly forbidden from sailing or meeting up with the Swallows as they’ve kept missing meals. During the summer, it’s not normally a problem for the free-ranging girls who are known all over the lake, but when the G.A. decides its meal time, she will sit in the dining room. Not waiting for Cook to sound the gong to say when the meal is ready, but then she won’t eat anything until the girls are at the table either. Mrs Blackett and Captain Flint, or Uncle Jim, are talking in the garden one night, Mrs Blackett starts to cry at the strain of it all, which upsets Nancy and Peggy.

This leads to one of the most ridiculous chapters, possibly in all children’s literature. I made myself read it this time, but from the first time I read the book; I can remember thinking “WTF?”, and I’d just skip the whole thing, and then again in everyone of my 100s of re-reads thereafter. I preface this by saying that Titty is an odd character. She’s full of imagination; she’s the one that thinks up explanations for adults interaction, she’s got an imaginary friend called Peter Duck (yes, we’re coming back to him next in the series), and she is full of the classical education that was the norm then, as in learning poems by rote and then holding life in comparisons to the classics. Susan is very much the mother figure; making sure everyone gets fed and watered, she’s the sensible older sister and can be ‘almost native’ around food and rules. She’s the catalyst that keeps everything going, without her sensibility, they wouldn’t be able to have as many adventures. John and Roger love boats, ships and sailing, John is also sensible, but passionate; Roger is exuberant and cheeky, both the boys want to grow up and join the Navy ‘like Daddy’, so Titty is written as the romantic foil to all three of them.

Back to the candle grease chapter. The Amazons make their surprise attack, but because they forget to take their red caps off, Roger spots them in the heather through the telescope. The Swallows quickly strike camp and hide in the cave as a joke to surprise the Amazons. When they’ve been surprised and they’re putting the tents back up, Nancy says that Swallow is nearly finished. They know they all can’t sail and explore the high-country at the same time, so they’re making plans to climb one of the mountain peaks, that they’ve named Kanchenjunga as it’s hummocky. But as the Amazons are struggling at home with the G.A. they don’t know exactly when it will happen.

At the end of the day, the Amazons are late, again, and decide to head home by road to see if they can get a lift, three of the Swallows go with them. But Titty stays back as she decides that she wants to make the G.A. leave; she wants to give Nancy and Peggy their holidays back, she wants to free up Mrs Blackett and Captain Flint, she imagines what it would feel like if someone made the Best of All Natives cry. She stays in the camp, collates the candle grease that has melted onto the shelf in the cave, she melts it down in the frying pan, and makes a voodoo doll of the G.A. She then walks solemnly around the cave three times reciting an incantation. Not having silver pins, Titty decides to hold the doll close to the fire to melt the arms of the G.A. reasoning that if she’s achy, the G.A. will decide to leave to go to the seaside to get better. Titty drops the doll into the fire and is convinced she’s killed the Great Aunt.

I’ll leave that to settle, shall I?

Of course, nothing happens. But there’s much angst from the deep-feeling Titty, who asks everyone she comes across for news from Beckfoot. The boatbuilders get Swallow fixed, she’s now drying in the sun to not damage the paint. The mast is completed and while John is smoothing the linseed oil into the wood, the Amazons fire an arrow into the heather at Horseshoe Cove from Mrs Blackett’s launch (motor boat). Telling the Swallows to ‘Show the parrot his feathers’, knowing he will rip the arrow apart in indignation, the Amazons have hidden a note inside the arrow. They explain the G.A. is leaving soon, so if they’re going to climb Kanchenjunga before sailing again, the Swallows need to start for Beckfoot the next day. Nancy and Peggy give instructions on how to get to their house overland from Swallowdale, reversing the journey of the surprise attack they made. If they head off tomorrow morning, the Swallows can camp halfway up the mountain overnight, the Amazons can join them the day after when the G.A. has left, they all can summit the mountain together. Hurrah!

On the march

The overland trip takes place, with Titty and Roger leaving patterans of pine cones to help them find their way back again to Swallowdale all the way along the moor. They find the hidden rowing boat to get the Swallows further up the Amazon river and to the bottom of Kanchenjunga, and paddle it closer to the house, to collect Nancy and Peggy. John gives them an owl call, he spots them sneaking out the house, hoots again and they run off in the opposite direction. When John gets back to the rowing boat, the Amazons are arriving through the rushes. Captain Flint is also within earshot and tells them next time to choose a different signal as the G.A. wants to write to the British Museum about an owl hooting in the middle of the day. He promises to cover for them, but they mustn’t be late.

The Amazons hop into the boat and update the Swallows on what’s going on, how they’ve only got out by the skin of their teeth as the G.A. knew something was up, and suggested that they both went to their room to learn a poem to recite that evening. Captain Flint suggested Casabianca, which they’d already learnt at school.

“Theboystoodontheburningdeckwhenceallbuthehadfled,” rattled Peggy.

The Amazons show the Swallows where to camp overnight, introduce them to another farm for milk and head back off home. The next morning, they all climb up the mountain together. Enjoying a picnic of donuts and lemonade at the top, Roger finds a metal box in the cairn on the top of the mountain with a note in from Jim Turner, Molly Turner and Bob Blackett saying they ‘…climbed the Matterhorn. 2 August 1901’. Susan asks ‘Who is Bob Blackett?’. Nancy says ‘He was Father.’ Using the stub of Titty’s pencil, they all sign their names on the back of the paper, ’11 August 1931. We climbed Kanchenjunga’ and put the note back in the metal box.

They all head down the mountain and back to the Amazon to sail over the lake; the Amazons are camping in Swallowdale that night, they packed their boat before they left so they ready to go. John and Susan go with the Amazons, Titty and Roger want to walk back overland to follow their patterans.

Talking with the husband about Swallowdale, I showed him the map in the end papers, particularly the route Titty and Roger took overland, over the moors, on their own. Roger is 8 years old, Titty at the most 11. Off they trot, no parents, no older siblings, with only a string of pine cones to direct them. In washes a sea fog so they can’t see more than a few feet in front of them. When they find a beck, they follow it for ages, to realise they’ve gone miles out their way, into the wrong valley. Roger twists his ankle, Titty has to leave him behind (!) to get help.

In the fog

When I went to the Lake District, a group of us went walking, up hill and down dale. It being a military group, you could say we were slightly better prepared than Titty and Roger, what with hi-vis jackets, food, drink, mobile phones and so on.

The thought of two children toddling off, with only some chocolate and a compass, in sand shoes, with no way of communicating gave me the heebie-jeebies last week. I know what our son is like at 10Âœ, he’s only just graduated to talking to people unprompted in shops, let alone sallying forth on half-a-day’s hike on his own. I know the first principle of children’s books is often ‘get rid of the parents’, but OMGoodness, coming back to this book as a parent was scary.

Swallowdale is still one of my favourites in the series; look out for We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, Secret Water, Winter Holiday, Pigeon Post, The Picts and The Martyrs, Coot Club and The Big Six as I progress through the challenge. I’ll cross post to here as I finish them.

In my head, the books were a safe place to retreat to, I loved escaping to their campsites in the Lake District and Norfolk Broads. I love that when I was reading them, sixty years removed from when they were written, the books still spoke to me, because they didn’t talk down to me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review of Swallowdale, that it will make you want to revisit one of your favourite books from your childhood.

Dymocks Reading Challenge – 01

Dymocks Reading Challenge – 01

Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers, won’t drown.

While I’m reading Australia Day, by Stan Grant, I also re-read Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome. I think this book has been in my life since I was 7 or 8 years old – almost 40 years. The book itself is just shy of 100 years old, being first published in 1930. I was given the complete set of twelve books in dribs and drabs for Christmas and birthday presents, or would buy them with book tokens. The husband brought me the beautiful Folio Society set for a birthday before we left the UK.

Re-reading it now, with a ten year old son is both nostalgic and eye-watering. I cannot imagine sending him off to an island, in the middle of a lake, on a boat, with no life-jackets onboard. No refrigeration for the food they take with them; or the milk they drink gallons of, being sent to visit Dixon’s Farm to collect fresh milk each morning in a milk can – they only rinse out in the lake, (bleee). Let alone the Walker children are just told to let the natives know every day or so that they’re ok. Every day or so?!

The story starts with the now accepted stereotypical trope of ‘get rid of the parents’; for the crew of the Swallows, Mother stays at home with Vicky the youngest child, (so called because she looks like photographs of Queen Victoria, and her Nurse) at Holly Howe, while Daddy is away in Malta preparing to set sail again serving in the Navy. The family have travelled to the Lake District for the last 2-3 weeks of their summer holiday. The Amazon pirates’ father was killed around the end of the First World War, their mother is but a fleeting glimpse in this book. But they also have Uncle Jim, who this summer has turned native, by writing his book ‘Mixed Moss’

I think we’re pretty free-reign with our son. When we go to a playground, we park ourselves on a bench, he then runs off and comes back for food and water. Before the old Eltham Wooden Playground was burnt down, I heard “Mama, I’m stuck!” To find him hanging on for grim death at the top of the slide, on the outside of the tube, after watching some bigger kids climb up it. A mere 3m off the ground.

He was about 7, or the same age as Roger Walker, Ship’s Boy, at the start of Swallows and Amazons.

He’s now 10, and no closer to being allowed to sail off into the sunset from the Peak of Darien on his own with a fishing rod, blankets and hay stuffed into a sack to sleep on. Never mind that he’s an only child, the world has changed and while we’re bringing him up to be independent. I can’t imagine not talking to him morning, noon and night. I miss him when he goes to school FFS.

Anyhoo, it was a different time. But, the first time I read it, I was caught up in the romance of it all. Living, breathing and swimming alongside them in the water of The Lakes. I’ve only been to that part of the UK a couple of times, and have only been to Windermere once. Needless to say, it wasn’t like how it is in my mind. Watching the original movie from 1974, I squirmed with disappointment, I’ve not even bothered with the 2016 version. Reading the plot synopsis, it’s too far away from the book for me to cope with. (A person’s got to know her limitations).

These twelve books have by my ‘Strength and Stay’, (to borrow from Queen Elizabeth II) for the vast majority of my life. Like Mapp and Lucia, when I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious, I know I can open these books and retreat into a world I know intimately. Worlds so far removed from my own, but that I know like the back of my hand. That they’re all set between the wars is not lost on me either.

What are your favourite reads from your childhood? Swallowdale, (possibly my favourite) and then Peter Duck (my least favourite, next to Missee Lee) are next. I’ve promised myself I’m going to read all of them, so I will. But for now, I want to concentrate on Australia Day.

Dymocks Reading challenge

Dymocks Reading challenge

Dymocks Booksellers are an independent chain of stores in Australia. In my book club, one of my friends shared their reading challenge for 2022, (the printable list can be found here). I’ve rattled through my shelves and have selected the following books to tick off the list through the coming 12 months.

From their ‘extra challenging’ section

Not selected yet; ‘Read entirely outside’ and one of the ‘Dymocks Book of the Month’.

Dymocks Reading Challenge Selection

Some of these I re-read most years, some I’ve been meaning to get around to and some I’ve got to buy to complete the challenge. Some I’m not looking forward to, as I know I’ll struggle with them. But isn’t that the point of life?

If you’d like to join in, follow the #DymocksReadingChallenge.

Revisiting, #MeToo

Revisiting, #MeToo

Cover of Tarana Burke's book, Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement

I’m reading Tarana Burke’s Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement. It’s not an easy read; but the interviews Tarana’s been giving have told me, the book is a necessary one. It’s also a book that BrenĂ© Brown said in their conversation on Unlocking Us, “You start reading as one person, and end as another.”

I’ve archived my personal blog, but have been ruminating on cross-pollinating some posts to this website. On my walk this morning with Tarana’s words ringing in my head, and indelibly across my heart, here’s the first post I’m re-sharing.

Any posts I add to this website from my personal blog will be labelled ‘Revisiting’.

Originally published on 17 December 2017.

As we approach the festive season, it doesn’t matter what people wear, how they act or what they do. If they look uncomfortable, leave them alone. If they say ‘No.’ leave them alone. ‘No’ is a complete sentence, it does not mean ‘Convince me’. Don’t be one of those people who gets so drunk they think it’s funny to lurch, lean, grope, manhandle or even vomit over someone else.

– On the tube in London, a day trip up to go shopping. Probably the Circle Line as that swung past Victoria. I feel a hand on my bum, it brushed past it at first, then slowly crept round to touch it (me) properly. I grab hold of the hand, hold it aloft and ask “Does anyone know who’s this is? I’ve just found it on my arse”

– On the dance-floor in a variety of clubs, the rooms are hot, dark and people are rammed together. It would be an unusual weekend of clubbing if one or other of my friends didn’t get groped. Note to all you youngsters; talk to the club staff and bouncers, get to know them, be nice, polite and friendly – they’ll help you out no end. Until then, wear trousers as much as possible so you don’t get an attempted fingering on the dance floor.

– Drunk Portsmouth football fans on the train home after winning the FA Cup, smoking and drinking on the train. I’ve sat in the front carriage deliberately as when I get on the train at Waterloo, it’s nearly evening. The drunk fans start heckling and abusing me. Knock on the driver’s door to ask for help as I can’t walk past them out the carriage. He looks past me and does nothing as ‘I’m just the driver’ I ask about the guard instead and get told he’ll message him. No help arrives, heckling gets worse. Do I get off and wait for another train loaded with more drunk fans, I knock on the drivers’ door again. Ask if should I pull the emergency brake? He said if I did ‘It’s not an emergency sweetheart’ so I’d be fined. When I raise an incident form with South West Trains, I get told that “For the safety of their staff, the guard and driver chose not to approach the men on the train”. Luckily the Police were more sympathetic. Yes I should have called 999 (or 000, or 911).

– ‘You can’t refuse me, don’t you know that you stupid bitch.’ Yes, this did end up in One Last Hundred Chances

– ‘Come and take these notes, but write long-hand, I want to look at your legs.’

– ‘It’ll only take a minute, no-one will know.’

– ‘For a good-looking girl, you can look awful. You really should wear make-up every day.’

– The primary school swimming teacher who’d ‘check’ on how the girls were doing getting changed afterwards.

– That until I’d had counselling, hypnosis and EFT I couldn’t bear people breathing in my ear, but the smell of Brylcreem can still make me want to vomit.

– I’ve also lost count of men who think it’s funny or that other people won’t mind if they get their penis out in public. “Is that all you’ve got?” usually works well, or “Do you do that in front of your mother?”

enough is enough

enough is enough

We know it is ‘not all men’.

We know that he was a ‘just bad un’ in the Metropolitan Police force.

This is endemic and it has to stop. Politicians have to stop pissing about diluting rights and step up, because the cuts you’ve made to services and the lack of action is causing violence against women worldwide is at a crisis point. But when every single woman you know has either been verbally, physically or sexually assaulted; when do you say – this has to stop?

When it affects your family? Because someone in your family will have already been followed and made to feel uncomfortable when they were out shopping or walking.

When it affects a friend? Because your friend would have already laughed awkwardly at a joke about what they were wearing, saying, doing. When your friend tried to get away because she felt uncomfortable, they would have already been told to ‘lighten up love’ or ‘it might never happen’ or ‘frigid cow, can’t you take a joke?’

When it affects your sister? Because your sister has already been leered at in public. And now arseholes are putting tiny cameras in changing rooms and bathrooms, because leering at us in public isn’t enough for some people.

What about when your daughter has to have a tracking app on their phone active all the time, only wears one earphone, carries her keys in her hand as a weapon. They try not to walk at nigh;, but if they’re on a zero-hour contract and need to eat that week, they might not have the money for the bus if they get called into work a late shift, or the money for a taxi, an uber or a lyft. Even then, they could be locked into the back of the car and taken, drugged, abused, killed.

Please, as a male, link together that when you don’t call out behaviour in a bar, or in a chat group, or online because you are scared about what could happen to you; you have to multiply that fear for being a woman. Multiply that fear again for being a woman of colour. Multiply that fear again by being gender fluid or trans.

Intersectionality is a fairly new concept, but the data points are growing. If you are a straight, white, male, good for you. You’ve hit jackpot in this patriarchal, sexist, racist, misogynistic society. The chances are you are probably teflon coated, because you have an army of cronies who will vouch for your ‘banter’. You probably think the law and rules don’t matter to you, because there are a buffet of people in suits who will line up to defend your actions; while dragging the name, reputation and image of your victim through the mud.

If you’re a person who identifies themself on the LGBTQI+ spectrum, or is a person of colour, anything you do just to live in this world will be taken and used against you. Twisted as being corrupt or harmful to ‘the poor children’. Expressing yourself through make-up, ew! Wearing and having your hair, inappropriate! Falling over and hitting your head on a wall in your cell, you’re drunk and we won’t take adequate care of you; in fact we’ll drag you over your bed by one arm damaging your body further. Rainbows, that is the devils work. We must protect the children!

Although the churches and institutions will close ranks and protect the people in power to protect their reputation first.

It is not all men, but it will take all of us to stand up and call it out. To say ‘that is not ok’ and to be strong, resolute and not back down in the face of adversity. Because, we’re done.

We’re done with this bullshit.

We’re done with women being told what they need to do to protect themselves, instead of men being told to not be arseholes.

We’re fed up of being scared all the time.

We’re tired of being told we need to look like plastic dolls with our hair extended, lips blown up, false nails, fake-tanned orange skin, eye lashes extended, blue-white teeth, dieted to the bone, but with breast and butt implants, and don’t forget your need to draw your eyebrows on if they’re not up to expectations.

I want to go to the gym, do my work out and not be expected to arrive in full make-up. Or to have to fend off people who want to ‘spot me’. Or tell me that I’m doing it wrong, ‘here let me correct manhandle you’. Or film me.

I want to go for a massage without the workers there having to put signs up asking you to leave your underwear on.

I want to walk listening to an audiobook with headphones in both ears.

I want to feel safe to try clothes on or use a public bathroom, without having to check there’s a camera in the cubicle or hiding under the toilet seat.

I want to run to the shops without make-up on and not be told ‘you like tired today love, have you tried putting some make-up on’.

I want to be able to concentrate on something when I’m at work or out without being told to ‘smile’.

I want to be heard in meetings the first time I speak, not to have what I’ve said repeated later and then agreed upon as a good idea.

I want men to be able to stand up against a bully and be cheered on, not to feel scared that they’re going to get hit, knifed or shot.

I want everyone at any training session or match for any sport who falls over to be able to take note of what happened to them, without being yelled at to ‘get up you girl’.

I want professional male soccer players to stop falling over and pretending they’re hurt to get an advantage. You’ve got enough of an advantage.

I want trans people to be able to compete safely in their chosen sport.

I want men to feel their feelings and be brave enough to ask for help, instead of thinking they need to toughen up.

I want men to do household chores when they see dishes need to be done, not because they’ve been asked to do them. Because you are supposed to be an equal in the relationship, not a delegate.

I want people to be able to trust that if a police officer shows their ID, they know they are in the police force.

I want organisations and politicians to stop hiding their money in offshore accounts, so everyone can afford to go to the doctor, dentist, a good public school.

Times Up.

the story behind the story

the story behind the story

I first started writing One Last Hundred Chances around 2004 or 2005, I’d just left my hometown of Eastbourne and the characters pretty much wandered into my head unannounced.

Hazel, Freya, Chris, Abigail; the four school friends who formed the core narrative have all had different tangents and storylines. Because of this, I can actually see them as four fully-rounded people, foibles and all, which I hope comes through in the story. Stella and her husband Steve, Chris’ partner Jono, Abigail and her husband Scott, with their two children, Amelie and Scarlett, have also all been loafing around in various guises for a while too.

I guess there is a bit of me in all of them, although when I go to the beach, I will never look as good or as put together as Stella. In one version, Stella originally worked part-time as a dominatrix; a few chapters was the four of them and Steve fitting out her studio. I had fun with that one, but as they lived in Brighton, I shelved it as too much of a cliché.

Also removed was the scene I wrote about Chris coming out to his parents. Last year’s pandemic meant (like many others) I inhaled Schitt’s Creek. I loved the world that Dan and Eugene Levy created, particularly the complete lack of homophobia. I do feel the more that occurs, the bigotry and asshat-ness will be shown up for the revolting behaviour that it is.

One of the first scenes I wrote was the shopping trip around The Lanes, although it had a mercy mission with Hazel and Stella rescuing Freya from buying up half of Lush. Another early scene was one in Lewes, where I had all the girls meeting for lunch. I talked about ‘starting out at the base-camp of Boots and walking up School Hill’, for those of you who’ve walked up it, you’ll know how steep it is.

Then The Duchess appeared. Freya’s mum, who is a truly awful person, avid social climber and will not stop until she’s driven her family to their expected status in life. The car trip from Brighton to Eastbourne, hospital visit and Freya’s family history fell out of me. I particularly like Freya’s sister Victoria saying that even though she lives in New Zealand “It’s still not far enough away.” When you read that section, neither I nor Wendi, my wonderful editor, needed to change much in it. Except for my tenses, as I get them all arse about face, and think I always will do.

But for the next few years, not much happened. I’d add bits in, rewrite other bits, tinker, fiddle. However, nothing much came from it. I had probably 20-30,000 words (about a third of a novel), but other than ‘school friends, keep it small’ I didn’t really know what to do the four of them, or with it.

So the four of them would linger in my imagination, I’d make occasional notes in my phone or on emails to myself. My writing process is odd, insofar that I will hear a sentence in my head and whoosh, off I go and out it comes. And amazingly, if I make a note of that sentence, even months later, I can still riff off it.

Then, our house got broken into. The bastards took so much; jewellery, watches, small electrical stuff, even packed things into our bags to cart it out the house. They also took our Mac, which had baby photos on, and everything that we’d had on USB sticks, because the memory was so big, why wouldn’t we put it on the Mac?

As an aside, despite having individual serial numbers, apparently you can’t trace a stolen Mac with them. Which is maddening.

We went through everything we could find to try and find the files we’d lost. We had some files in the cloud, but not everything. We had some files on external hard-drives, but not everything. Friends started emailing and texting photos of our son as a baby, but the book, other than what was in my head was gone.

I gave it up as a lost cause and forgot about it. In the interim, I was having problems with my lady bits, after backwards and forwards for seven years and thirty-odd years of horrendous periods, I was finally scheduled to have a hysterectomy in April 2019. Hurrah! I hired a hospital table to go over the bed, as until the surgeon started, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to perform the surgery via key-hole. Reader, he did. However, just in case I was opened up stem to stern, I wanted something I could read / colour-in and rest my laptop on to watch movies if not.

I bounced back really well, I had six weeks off work to recuperate. I pulled out my laptop and started writing. I cleared two or three 10,000 word days in the first week re-writing what I’d lost and found that the plot had changed. Domestic violence and coercive control was coming through thick and fast in the behaviour towards Hazel from Ronnie. I got more of the book down, let my imagination run riot on plotting and settled in to do some research.

Going online and following breadcrumbs, I found my way into a couple of Reddit forums and a closed Facebook group. I lurked for a bit, then started sharing things that had happened to me, encouraged other people to report and then I posted this:

I am writing a novel about coercive control and DV, do any of you want to share your stories with me? If you’re happy for me to include them, I will ensure nothing will identify you. Is there something that happened to you that you would use as a red flag? Is there a story you want to tell so you can let it go?

I set up a seperate email address, and slowly stories and messages started to come in. My research continued and then I listened to a BBC Woman’s Hour article on the eight escalation steps abusers follow, more information from the BBC here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49481998

This was my framework, I had a clear pattern of behaviour I could make Ronnie follow. Using different memories and dialogue from the people who emailed me their stories, the book started coming together.

Then the pandemic hit in March 2020. The whole world was upended, DV incidents started to spike and I knew, I just knew I had to get the book finished and out into the world.

I looked at the ‘normal’ publishing route, and was horrified at the length of time it would take. People didn’t have that long! So I investigated self-publishing and put feelers out for an editor on Upworthy. Enter Wendi from https://www.cuttingecopy.com/ I gave her and another editor the dream sequence, followed by the shopping trip in Brighton and the hospital visit to read for a trial run. The other editor put it all into Hemingway and sent it back to me, Wendi went through with a fine toothed comb, made some great suggestions and off we went.

I printed out a calendar of each year from 1996 to 2006, plotting everything in from TV events and movie releases, FA Cup Finals, to concerts at Wembley, Bank Holidays, anything and everything I could think of to remind me. I listened to music from that period all the time, memories came flooding back about what it was like to live then. It pays to be a pop-culture nerd at times.

I set myself publication date of 1 October 2020. I gave Wendi everything I’d written to edit and tidy up, while I carried on with what I needed to write. We would spend ages on video conferences chatting about the story, working it out, talking things through until one call when Wendi said, “You’re going to have to show Ronnie hitting Hazel. Everything is about her being worried about it, or she’s in the aftermath, we need a scene where he does it.” We made that the middle of the book as it’s the fulcrum point.

I am so proud of it. Even if I got the formatting and pagination a bit skewiff in the first version and only realised when my author copies arrived. I’ve also added more resources at the back. The book took fifteen years to be finished, but is all the better for the delay. While I’m hard at work on book two, when I put that last full-stop down on One Last Hundred Chances will always be one of my proudest moments.

one last hundred chances

one last hundred chances

My first novel One Last Hundred Chances is out now.

A unique book, based on eight domestic abuse survivors’ lives, woven together to show how the recognised patterns of behaviour occur in a relationship.

Survivors who shared their stories with me not only to reclaim their narrative; but in the hope that by sharing their worst experiences, someone will recognise or understand what is happening to them, and be strong enough to leave.

Hazel finds herself in a relationship she didn’t want. As her family and friends fight to keep hold of her, Hazel is in the fight for her life. Slowly being robbed of her identity and individuality, she must somehow find the courage to break free of her controlling partner. How many chances will she give him before she finally manages to escape?

Set in the quintessential English seaside town of Eastbourne from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the story is a reflection of changing times. Hazel is a bright young woman whose persona is slowly and deliberately being eroded by her ‘loving’ partner while trying to hold on to the heady optimism of being young in 1990s England.

From the simpler time of fax machines and those indestructible Nokia phones, it’s a retrospective tale of one woman’s struggle to hold on to herself in a time of constant flux and an insight into the lasting impact of manipulative relationships.

An emotional read for all of those women who once ‘lost themselves’ for the sake of love, and to all those who refound their inner ‘me’ years later…

I’ll share the story about how I started writing it shortly, and how it ended up being a completely different book from what I thought it would be.