What Am I Working On?

Since I’m Back – though I never actually decided to be Back, just slid into it – I may as well update you on what I’m doing at the moment. Right now, I’ve just sent a piece of flash fiction to Everyday Fiction; I have a soft spot for them because they published my first piece of work back in 2012 and I can tell you, the difference between being able to answer the ‘are you published?’ question with a ‘yes’ instead of a ‘not yet’ is massive.

Speaking of ‘are you published?’ I’ve reminded myself of ‘Withnail and I’:

- Are you published? - Oh, no.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, I’m also working on a short story collection. It’s going to be problematic finding somewhere to send it as outlets for this sort of thing are vanishingly small, but I’m finding it interesting to see some of the threads running through my work; the way in which some of the stories, sometimes written years apart, actually link up and have common themes.

At the end of last year I sent off a poetry collection to Salt publishing; I have yet to hear back from them about that but somehow I feel hopeful. I don’t know why, it’s a real long shot, but there it is. I’m also working on a novel which this time seems to be coming together a little better. I set myself to write a thousand words a day and I’m up to 35,000 already so I’m probably about 1/3 of the way through.

Things seem to be gelling a lot more this year, and I feel hopeful of a better future in terms of publication. The acceptance of ‘Smart House’ was a good start, so if you haven’t read it yet, follow the link in this morning’s post – and let me know what you think.

And if you haven’t seen ‘Withnail and I’ yet, do so immediately.

Kirk out

I’ll Be Back

Well I seem to be back, don’t I? I didn’t mean to be back, but one thought led to another and I decided just to put some news in a post and then there was a film I wanted to review and before I know it I’m blogging again. The French have an expression ‘en mangeant l’appetit vient’ – it is in eating that the appetite comes – and the same applies to writing. If I’m ever stuck for ideas I just plunge right in and put down any old nonsense and before I know it I’m in the flow again. This seems to be happening here too.

How many times a day to you think of Boris Johnson? I know, I try not to either, but sometimes he just insists on popping up, and I read today that he’s been seen in his old constituency of Henley


looking at schools and houses; which presumably means he’s thinking of standing in that constituency. His majority in Uxbridge (my old stomping ground, at least until I was 2, so I guess I should call it my old toddling ground) is not very large and I’m absolutely certain he’s not given up hope of running for PM again. Even Owen Jones yesterday was saying he thinks the Tories might have one last desperate throw of the dice and bring him back again. Johnson, of course, thinks he’s Churchill. Not even close, sunshine. Not even close.

Can you imagine, though, if they did? Four Prime Ministers in as many years, only one of whom was actually elected by the public. And if he thinks we’ve forgotten Partygate, he can think again.

Sometimes I despair.

To cheer myself up I get emails from Positive News


This basically does what it says on the tin and reports good news stories from around the world, particularly on the environment. It’s very salutary. We all have to take care of our mental health – to which end, I’ve started turning my phone off while I work, something I should have done before but didn’t.

Happy Monday,

Kirk out

Tár Very Much

(Warning – Contains Spoilers)

Last night at the Phoenix, a much-loved arts venue which has had as many reincarnations as its name suggests, we went to see Tár.


If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a portrait of fictional orchestra conductor Lydia Tár starring Cate Blanchett. She’s a complex, unlikeable yet utterly stunning character, abusive yet humane and utterly devoted to her music. Yet she’s no cold caricature of a power-woman like, say, Emma Thompson in Late Night, good as that was; she loves her daughter deeply and goes out of her way to support her, she’s (generally) respectful to players in the orchestra – and yet she has a series of relationships with younger women who fall deeply in love with her and who she eventually dumps. One of these ends tragically and leads to her downfall.

She’s a complex character, and this is a complex film. Those who like simple narratives and clear morals will say that because she’s a powerful and abusive woman, this is anti-feminist – why not show her in a better light? Those who are anti-woke have seen a vindication of their views in one scene where Tár tears to pieces a young student who doesn’t listen to Bach because ‘cis white males’ are ‘not his thing’. Though she eviscerates the student in front of everyone, I think she’s absolutely right; surely we have to separate the man from the genius. I’m not in favour of toppling statues, just of giving more information about the people commemorated in them – and yet this is not a simple answer either, and that’s the point. In life there are no simple answers; we have to wrestle with things. Anything else, as Tár says, is trial by social media.

It’s a long film, nearly 2 3/4 hours, but I was gripped all the way through. The pace was slow and almost dreamlike despite some moments of high drama, but what I liked about it was that it was entirely different from the usual kind of Hollywood narrative. There are some puzzling non-sequiturs in the action, but these didn’t bother me as much as they bothered my friend; I just rolled with it. The scenes where she conducts are the best; I learned loads about orchestras and the role of a conductor and Tár herself is so magnificent, I could almost fall in love with her myself. Cate Blanchett is stunning and if she gets an Oscar it will be well-deserved. I’d go and watch it again tomorrow, and there are very few films of which I can say that.

The other film we saw recently was Empire of Light.


Again this was a stunning film with a female lead – Olivia Coleman – and again the pace was slow and dreamlike despite some moments of high drama. It centres on a cinema in Margate – the eponymous Empire – and was also filmed there: OH was quite distracted by knowing not only said cinema but also the man who ran it. I don’t think the manager in the film was based on Colin Crosby, however.

Coleman plays assistant manager Hilary in a classic Odeon-style cinema in the 70’s or early 80’s. We later discover that she has been in a mental hospital and been given a job in the cinema to help her rehabilitate. The cinema has a large and supportive staff and we get to know them all as the action progresses. Turns out the manager Donald, a married man played by Colin Firth, has a nice little number calling Hilary into his office whenever he needs a release (if you get my meaning) but things change when a new member of staff comes. Stephen, of Afro-Caribbean origin (this is only relevant later on when he’s the target of a racist attack) and Hilary strike up a rapport and eventually, in the gentlest way, fall into a relationship which is gentle, respectful and in every way the opposite of the sleazy knee-tremblers she endures in Donald’s office.

Even though the relationship doesn’t last it’s so refreshing not to see the typical Hollywood attraction between two people leading to them tearing their clothes off in the next scene. Hilary and Stephen do have a physical relationship but it’s so gentle and tender as they make love in a forgotten cinema screen in the attic, surrounded by pieces of abandoned scenery.

Toby Jones is also well worth watching (when isn’t he?) as the projectionist; this part, as well as the dreamy pace, reminded me of Cinema Paradiso.

This is another film I’d watch again, though I’d probably leave it a while. I think Tár, though, might make it into my top five all-time favourites, which are now (in no particular order)

La La Land

Withnail and I

A Knight’s Tale

Four Weddings and a Funeral



Kirk out

The Woman Who Almost Went to Bed for a Year

So there I am sitting in the cathedral and being mistaken for my sister as we both had the same hair (mine has grown purple since then) and wondering if I’d make it through the ordination. I wasn’t the one being ordained – though several people were apparently wondering if my sister had changed her mind and decided just to watch – so it shouldn’t have been much of an ordeal. But lately everything was an ordeal, even getting out of bed, and today I’d had not only to get out of bed but also drive for an hour along twisty country roads requiring split-second reflexes if a tractor should be coming the other way, find somewhere to park and discover where I was supposed to be sitting. Nothing was required of me for the next hour except to sit still and pay attention, but even that seemed a tall order. I didn’t know it then but I was on the borders of exhaustion, heading straight for Burnout Central.

What does burnout look like? And why was I burnt out? Let me count the reasons: I had problems at home, problems with work, money problems and a father-in-law who took up virtually all of my husband’s time so I couldn’t even talk about how exhausted I was. normally I’d have recharged the batteries with a holiday but the said money problems combined with lockdown meant that I hadn’t had a holiday for three years. I was completely drained, but every morning I heaved myself out of bed because the alternative (I felt) would be to stay there like Sue Townsend’s ‘Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year’ (https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/13160430) and I couldn’t allow myself to do that. I was going to be a successful writer; I must work every day or I’d be dead before I got there. So went the nagging voice in my head, morning after morning until the day came when I was physically incapable of getting out of bed.

I phoned the doctor, running the usual gauntlet of obstacles – finding the line engaged, getting the recorded message and hanging on – and on – until eventually I spoke to a GP. Joy! She was one of the good ones; dedicated, interested and thorough (I wonder where she is now.) I would have a range of blood tests; liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and thyroid function. I had a chest x-ray which was a saga in itself as the first one showed some false positives and I had to go back. ‘It’s your nipples,’ explained the nurse. ‘You’ll have to wear these.’ We both collapsed in giggles as she showed me how to tape curtain rings over the offending nipples: it gave me a laugh at least.

In this way two or three months went by. I was sleeping till ten or eleven in the morning; a dead, drowning sleep, dragging myself out of bed and spending most of the day sitting. I resisted watching TV but barely had the energy to do anything else. Walking to the bottom of the garden seemed a marathon: I felt I was drowning in fatigue. Going upstairs I had to climb two or three steps, then rest. It took me half an hour to eat a simple meal. I was putting on weight through lack of exercise, and one by one like failed lottery tickets my blood tests came back negative. This time the doctor called me:

‘Do you think the problem might be psychological?’

I reeled off my list of problems.

‘I’m surprised you’re still walking around,’ she said. ‘Do you think you’d benefit from some counselling?’

I thought I might, so she put me on the list and on that list I stayed. In the meantime I carried on plodding round the house, picking up books and putting them down and watching mindless TV which fell out of my brain the moment the credits rolled.

Of course I had to stop work. I write full time but now it was as much as I could do to write a couple of lines each day in my diary. I wound up the blog for ever and basically, I lounged. I lounged in the bedroom, I lounged in the sitting room; when it was warm enough I lounged in the garden and lamented all the weeding I had no energy to do. And I waited to reach the top of the list for counselling.

In the end I was able to access some funding and get private counselling, using someone recommended by a friend. My counsellor was brilliant and I made a lot of progress; I’ve made much more since, thanks to the techniques she gave me. I’ve learned to control negative thoughts and believe in myself more, and at the start of this year I felt more positive about being a successful writer than I have ever felt.

I started work again last September after a year off. My pattern of work is very different; I don’t push myself to do anything and I enjoy life more. When I tell people I’ve been off work for a year with burnout, most of them nod and sympathise. They know what that’s about.

So that’s it, that’s me up to date. I’m working on some short stories at the moment; before Christmas I sent off a poetry collection to a publisher and I’m 30,000 words into a novel. And who knows, I might even start writing blog posts again…

Kirk out

We Interrupt this Radio Silence…

We interrupt this radio silence to bring you news: I have this morning had a short story accepted by a site called Ink, Sweat and Tears.https://inksweatandtears.co.uk.

It’s called Smart House and here’s what they said about it:

Your control and examination of language is a delight to read. This is such a witty, pithy and Black Mirror-esque meditation.’

I was very happy about that.

I hope you’re all well. I’m doing much better than I was a year ago, of which perhaps more anon; in fact, I may even be Back…

Kirk out