A Writer's Life: Moments from the Life and Work of a Self-Underemployed Writer
Author: Sarada Gray
I started my first novel, aged 8, in a draughty vicarage, finishing it 14 years later. My first poem emerged on a Sussex beach in 1965, but I didn’t return to poetry until 2007: I’m still trying to find out why.
I have published short stories, poems and reviews and am a recognised performance poet. I’ve been married 21 years and have two children, Holly, 20 and Daniel, 17; but my husband now wants to be known as female. My struggles with this and its effects on my writing, are the springboard for short stories and a radio play.
Before I disappear altogether from the blogosphere I want to mention some of my followers. These people are the life blood of a blog, people who not only follow but also take the time to read, like and comment, so I’m going to mention specifically those who have consistently liked and commented on my posts.
There’s Beetleypete, a dedicated blogger whose blog features snippets from life in Norfolk as well as short story series and guest bloggers; Taskerdunham who posts about memories of Yorkshire life, Wilfredbooks, a publisher and book reviewer and Alex at mybookworld24, another book review site. There are many others who follow and comment from time to time and I have appreciated you all. Thanks for reading.
I promised you some highlights, and here they are. We begin with one of the high spots for me of the last decade-and-a-half, which is my time on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. The plinth had been empty for decades and there was a project led by Anthony Gormley to use it as a space for public art. People would enter a lottery to win a one-hour slot during which you could do anything you liked (provided it was legal and decent) and take with you anything you could carry. I entered, not remotely expecting to win, and to my delight I was awarded a slot in the middle of the day. I’d been going to do yoga for an hour but had been ill so in the end I decided to do some poems for peace. At this point the local CND group got involved and offered a minibus and some banners; it was a great day.
Left to right: Kate Hudson from National CND, old man who looks like Michael Foot, Mark, Jan – (in red holding the banner) and – erm, some others from Leicester CND plus onlookers.
Back home, we celebrated. Present were the three of us plus Peter, Stephen, Jan, Yvan and Claire. Also, back from Lifebeat – Holly! She brought with her a number of necklaces and bracelets that she’d made. I made pizza and salad and hoped that others would bring snacks. In fact everyone brought wine so we ended up with 2 bottles of rose, one of white, plus 2 wine boxes (one of which Steve had mauled in an attempt to wrestle it open) and half a bottle of red.
A good had was time by all, the pizza went down well and the plinth video generated a lot of interest. We watched another one of a woman in…
It occurs to me that after all we’ve been through last night’s goodbye was a bit on the perfunctory side. After all, we’ve been together for 14 years, or some of us have, so we deserve a better send-off. In due course I shall be reminiscing about some of my favourite posts as well as touching on some low points: I shall give a mention to some of my most loyal followers and highlight some of the best comments. There may also be photos…
I’ve enjoyed my blogging journey despite the frustrations of working with WordPress. I’ve enjoyed the interactions with readers and the connections with other blogs. I’ve relished the challenge of finding something to write about nearly every day. I’ve posted some stories and poems and for the first couple of years this blog was the only outlet for my work.
And I’ve learned loads: how to structure a good post, how to write interestingly (I hope) on a variety of topics, how to deal with trolls and spammers and of course how to navigate some of the many obstacles WordPress throws in our path. But when the best ideas you can come up with are repeats of something you’ve already done, it’s time to move on, even though I may not have anything to move on to. I shall miss you all and I hope you’ll miss me but as the song says, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. There will be no jumping of sharks on this blog.
Please keep sending in your comments as I value them all. And as the travellers say, I’ll see you down the road…
You know when you’re watching a TV series that used to be good but starts to fall off a bit? When it jumps the shark? Or maybe it starts repeating itself. No series can carry on forever and still retain its quality. Friends managed ten years and finished with dignity but TheSimpsons carried on long after the shark had been jumpedand I don’t want to do that. It’s been a good run but I have to acknowledge that the passion I once felt for writing this blog has diminished. Yes, I’m in the speedboat and I can see the shark waiting in the water. I think it may be time to lay this blog down and try something new.
I may come back in a few days with some retrospective postsbut for now I’ll say so long and thanks for all the fish.
Time, as many clever people have spotted, doesn’t actually exist. And yet we have to live as if it does. Try ignoring time and you get into all sorts of trouble – like for example today, when I looked at this site and realised it was almost 2 weeks since I’d posted. Gulp! So here goes.
I guess the most exciting thing that’s happened in that time is the addition of an exercise bike to our household. I’ve been having a lot of trouble motivating myself to get out cycling, what with the weather and all, so when I saw this on freegle I thought it would be the ideal solution. I requested it and waited: no response. I asked again and got nothing. Assuming it must have gone I gave up, but a few days later I checked and it was still there. I worded a very polite request saying how much I’d love to have it and a couple of days later I got a reply. All the messages had gone into the spam folder apparently – that’s happened to me too – and if I was still interested it was mine. Brilliant.
As it was free I wasn’t expecting anything fancy but look at this! It looks almost new. It’s very sturdy and it has a digital readout of distance, time and heart rate. I’ve been doing 5k every day this week. It’s not much but it’s 5k more than I was doing before.
I came across this the way you do, trawling through Netflix and alighting on a slice of Steve Coogan. I was never a fan of Alan Partridge – I think comedy should be a release, not make people more uptight – but recent incarnations of his in films such as Philomena have revised my opinion. So we gave this a go.
From the trailer I thought it was pretty clear that ‘Greedy’ McReadie was a portrait of Philip Green, though as the action progressed we decided it was more a composite of Green and Mike Ashley: anyway the action shifted from present to past to distant past in a way that seems de rigueur nowadays, showing us bits of his childhood as well as some deals he’d made and centring on the staging (the word is apt) of his 60th birthday party on a Greek island.
For the centrepiece builders are constructing a wooden amphitheatre where a real lion (actually a very convincing piece of CGI) waits caged up to fight a ‘gladiator.’ The parallel is apt; McReadie is never happier than when shouting at people, unless it’s when he makes a deal that will net him millions while crushing the poor garment workers who have to fulfil the order. He’d have made a good Roman emperor.
There are some frankly revolting scenes as a film crew making a ‘reality show’ on the same island are obstructed by a group of refugees camping on the beach. They can’t clear them away so they decide to film themselves giving the refugees some food. The poor sods are just about to tuck in when the director shouts ‘Cut!’ and they have to wrestle the food away from the refugees so they can film it all again. It reminded me of this Steely Dan song.
The climactic scene comes when Amanda, a member of staff who has tried to help the refugees, spies McReadie taunting the lion and presses the button to open the cage door. The result is predictable: McReadie shows his hubris by believing he can talk the lion out of eating him. He can’t. He dies, horribly. Afterwards Amanda says, ‘I didn’t feel it was me pressing the button. I just happened to press it and the cage door opened. Then the lion came out and killed him. That’s how McReadie is; he makes a deal, the company cuts its costs and the workers suffer. But he thinks it’s nothing to do withhim.’
I’d have enjoyed this film more if it hadn’t spent so long skipping about time-wise. It also needed to make up its mind what type of film it wanted to be: sometimes it was a drama, sometimes a documentary and sometimes a comedy. Of course a film can have elements of all three, but it needs to decide which one predominates, otherwise it’ll feel like a muddle.
I was beginning to think nobody was going to pay attention. Barry Cryer died several weeks ago and I expected a flurry of tributes; special editions of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue or reminiscences by old colleagues, but found only radio silence. Finally today I came across a radio 4 tribute, Cryering with Laughter, presented by Jack Dee and featuring numerous people who’d worked with him. It’s an entertaining listen featuring many of his favourite jokes, but there was one story I liked the best. Cryer was one of a kind; old-school in the same way as, say, The Goodies (yet not quite so corny) but devoid of sexism or racism and always interested in up-and-coming comedians. One of his friends was Kenny Everett and he tells this story about Ken’s TV show, in which he was involved:
‘Kenny used to have a character called Cupid Stunt. After the first series Bill Cotton (a bigwig in the BBC) collared me and said look, we can’t have this kind of Spoonerism on the BBC. He’ll have to change it. I said OK, and in the second series Kenny changed the character’s name to Mary Hinge. Bill Cotton came over. See? he said. You don’t have to be rude to be funny.’
Like Jack Dee and many others, Cryer was great at self-deprecation. When asked which series of a radio show he’d liked best he said, ‘the third – because I was just beginning to get the hang of it.’
For Cryering With Laughter is a great listen, featuring colleagues such as Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry, Andy Hamilton and Jo Brand. Go forth and seek it out, I command you.
A while ago there was a joke doing the rounds on social media with ghost-like figures rampaging around with raised arms. The caption read: ‘There are no ghosts, only people who got lost in their duvet covers.’ I know how they feel as I’ve spent the last week getting lost in mine. But no longer! For the duvet is finished. I would love to upload a photo but I can’t figure out how to do that from my phone as I’m on the desktop so maybe later… in the meantime imagine a smooth silky expanse of crisp minty green spread over a wide area and facilitating deep and peaceful sleep and you’ll get the picture. It actually did seem to help us sleep for some reason – maybe the smoothness, maybe the freshness, I don’t know. Anyway despite all the hassles – and there were many hassles, what with finding thread that wasn’t fit for purpose, running out of bobbin thread two inches from the end of a seam and filling the bobbin only to run out of top thread necessitating a trip to the shops, not to mention the difficulties of wrestling with massive pieces of fabric – despite all these hassles it really was worth it, not only to have a cover I actually like but also the satisfaction of having made it myself. And here it is:
What next awaits me in the soft furnishings department, I wonder? Reupholstering an armchair? Who knows? Watch this space I guess.
Very exciting today; my fabric came. Large swathes of crisp polycotton in a fetching mint green sat folded up in a grey package just waiting for me to unfold them. I spent several minutes just appreciating the minty freshness before I began measuring. The advice when cutting fabric is ‘measure twice, cut once’ but I must have measured half a dozen times before getting out the scissors, so paranoid was I about getting it wrong. It’s not a straightforward operation: the duvet is wider than the fabric and so I had to cut one strip folded lengthways and another folded across. But I’ve measured them on the actual duvet and it all looks good. There’s even enough left over to make two pillow cases. Joy.
But of course before I could even get to this stage I needed some thread. No joy at my local craft shop: they had all shades of green but not mint, so Sarah directed me to a market stall where a woman called Janet has been known to sell thread. She had some but again, every shade but mint. So Janet directed me to Loros (charity shop) where oh joy, they had two in exactly the right shade of minty goodness. But, oh no! When I got them home I found that one reel was almost finished and the other completely tangled. So what I shall do now, I don’t know.