Robsession

As a freelance feature writer, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed interviewing many people over a period of some years. It is sadly a rare event now, but a few years ago, I interviewed a lovely local lady and cake maker extraordinaire, Claire Potts. What happened next explained the power of the interview. We met to discuss promoting her phenomenal cake business. After a while, I was struggling to find something fascinating to hook my article on.

As is often the way, the interview steered off-piste; we also talked about her travels and her obsession with one Mr Robert Pattinson. My first thought was that, while she seemed perfectly normal and indeed, very pleasant, maybe she was a little odd. However, it helps not to judge on our first prejudice, but to listen to what a person has to say. I asked her to write an article about it. She did, and while this is now old, it really helped me to totally get it the power of obsession and Twitter!

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Over to Claire:

As I write this, I have not long returned from a week in New York with two of my best friends. Nothing too unusual in that I hear you say. Well no, until I tell you how I came to be friends with these two lovely ladies, and many more.

Two words. Robert Pattinson. Yes that’s right, the actor. And yes, I’m old enough to know better, having turned 40 this year, married with a child.

But that’s how I’ve become friends with several wonderful ladies, who have become my best friends. And it’s why I’ve travelled. And boy have I travelled! All to see Mr Pattinson, at least that’s how it started. Now he’s just the icing on the cake.

November 2009, I first set out to a red carpet event in London, on my own. Something I’d never done. Six months before I wouldn’t have even considered travelling from Cornwall to London, staying there and going to an event, alone. But then I was given the Twilight books to read, and was hooked. I rushed out and bought all the books and the DVD. That’s how this all started.

I watched the film, and as soon as ‘Edward’ walked in I was mesmerised. “Who the f**k is he?’ Straight to Google! And that was it. I was suddenly a giddy school girl all over again; it was crazy!

I already had a Twitter account, and so I started posting a few Twilight things and soon found a whole community out there. Fan sites and other grown women trying to make sense of what the hell was happening to them!

It was through Twitter that I found out about the event in London. It was to promote New Moon, the second Twilight film. And the cast was going to be there, which meant Rob. I got all the details, I booked train tickets and a hotel. Just like that. And I was more excited than a kid at Christmas; I was 35. I was at the front of the barrier for 11 hours. In the cold. And it was so worth it I couldn’t wait to do it again.

That’s how things started, with an obsession with Robert Pattinson. And that’s what it was. Everything became about him and Twilight, to my husband’s great amusement. I’m very lucky that he thinks this whole thing is hilarious and just rolls his eyes at me a lot. He also looks after our son when I go off on my travels.

The travelling started in April, 2010. By this point I’d been talking to a group of girls on Twitter for several months; most of them were from America or Canada. And they decided they wanted to meet up. Trouble for me was I was here, in Cornwall, a very long way from America. I was gutted, as I didn’t consider it an option. They were planning a week in new York, a twilight/Rob get together. It sounded wonderful, and I so wanted to go.

I mentioned it to my husband, saying what a shame it was I couldn’t go. ‘Why can’t you?’ came his reply. I was amazed. He was telling me to go? Yes, apparently he was!

Now you need to know that my husband is considerably older than me, and had a whole other life before we met when I was just 16, something he’s always been very conscious of. It’s always bothered him that I didn’t really have a life of my own. And then when our son was diagnosed with  several conditions, my life shrank even more. So he told me to go. Live, experience things.

So I went. I went to NYC on my own to meet people I’d never met and only knew via Twitter. I knew how bonkers it all sounded. But I had the best week, met some amazing ladies, with whom I’m still friends.

The trouble was it gave me the travel bug. Couple that with the addiction that is Mr Pattinson. I needed to see him again, I needed to see my girls again, and I needed to spread my wings again.

So a year later a film premier came up, in NYC. This time I didn’t need to think about it, I just booked flights. Hubby eye rolled some more and took me to the station.

To cut a very long story short, I met the girls and once again spent many hours in the cold, and the wet, the mother of all thunderstorms, in fact! But spending hours together like that you get to know each other, you talk and talk. You bond, not just over your mutual obsession with a hot actor either. Although that was the reason we were all there, to see HIM. And we did, up close. But that was only the start, we had the rest of the week exploring New York.

It’s not just New York though. Later that year another premier came up in LA. So we all met up again there. 2012 came a premier in Berlin, the Cannes film festival, the Glasgow film festival and more trips to London. All to see Rob yes, but by now it was as much to see each other. In between I went to Atlanta for thanksgiving, in the home of a friend I met on Twitter. People still look at me funnily when I tell them that’s how I met my best friend, but it’s true. She’s from Atlanta, and there would have been no way we would have met other than through the internet. I can’t imagine life without her. Or without the third cog in this wheel who I met at the Berlin premier. She’s from Nottingham and again we would never have met had it not been for Rob and Twitter.

Being asked to write about it all, I really didn’t know what to say or where to start. To someone on the outside it sounds crazy. A grown woman obsessed with an actor travelling all over the world to see him, and doing it with people she’s only met online. Saying it like that it does sound crazy. But the reality is that Rob and Twitter have just been a vehicle for discovery. He’s been the excuse to travel, and Twitter was the means to connect with like-minded people.

This year we again went to Cannes, and again saw him several times. But it was really more of an excuse to have a few days away with very special friends.

And NYC the other week? No Rob involved. That’s right, it was purely three best friends having a holiday together, perfectly normal, until you find out how we met.

What started as fans getting together to get all giddy and silly has turned into life long friendships. It’s opened my eyes to the possibilities within myself. I know now that I can do things, that I don’t need to be scared. Because of the support from these wonderful Robsessed women I now run my own cake making business. I wouldn’t have taken the leap if not for them, and I wouldn’t have them without Rob and Twitter.

I now have a life beyond home, I go out and do things. I’ve found out so much about myself, things that I like. I’ve seen places I would never have seen, and long may it continue.

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So now comes the hard slog…

I have pleasure in offering you a contract.

Followed by: We do our best to produce high-quality books, and we shall do just that with your book; a book which I hope you will be proud of.

Music to my ears.

Some people receive heartbreaking numbers of rejections, so to read the above in an electronic communication really was the knees of the bee, especially as it all happened so very quickly.

Think of those poor Brontë sisters waiting weeks for the post to arrive. Not in this digital world. Rejection or acceptance is as swift as a sword.

So, now comes the hard bit:

  1. Finish writing the book. I have a deadline.
  2. Edit the book, re-edit the book and edit it again and again until it feels right.
  3. Seek photos and permissions.
  4. Read publisher guidelines and adhere.
  5. Complete publisher questionnaire.

On it goes until it feels like getting a publisher is the easy part … but when it is a non-commissioned book, a book written simply because it needed writing, a book which is a part of my being with which I have bored all my friends (to whom apologies) I’m glowing, so I shall have my moment and bask before realising it is 23.13 and I am still tapping away!

What’s the worst that could happen?

Today I flicked through a book on writing by Bridget Whelan, called Back to Creative dog-726006_960_720Writing School. Don’t all dash out to by it but yes, writers read about writing, too.

I quite liked a chapter at the end of the book (why do I always start there?) which explained the difference between journalists and creative writers. Journalist need to know:

What is the story about?

What happened?

When did it happen?

Where did it take place?

Why did it happen?

So, yesterday on the BBC website I read this. The story is about a dog thought to have cancer. She became sick and had a CT scan. It happened in Yorkshire. Miraculously, the dog did not have cancer, she had simply eaten four teddy bears, toys of the owner’s chihuahua dogs, apparently.

A creative writer asks: What if?

Or even what is the worst that could happen? 

That is what creates the story. However, is it that different to journalism? If poor old Maisy the St Bernard had cancer, no one would actually bat an eyelid, sad though it would be. Four teddies in her gut sends the imagination into overdrive.

Was she jealous of the chihuahuas? Did she like the taste? What kind of teddies? What’s it like to be eaten by a St Bernard? On it goes. People, you have a story.

Result.

Wicca – what’s it all about?

I’m not Wiccan, I’m not anything particular in terms of belief systems, but when offered the opportunity to find out more about Wicca from some practitioners in Bude, I jumped at the chance. Research for my writing is always welcome, and I always enjoy learning new things/being open to ideas. The session was held at the Wise Old Crow shop.

The workshop was promoted thus:

Wicca is the backbone of modern paganism, and owes much of its popularity now to a man called Gerald Gardner, who strove to widen the horizons of what had been an underground belief system. This most British of mystery religions has been a satisfying spiritual path for thousands and is still growing and evolving today. Come along and find out about it from three Gardnerian witches from a local coven based in the Bude area.

I learned that Wicca and witchcraft are not the same things. Wicca is an organised belief system, while witchcraft is, according to this website a spiritual system that fosters the free thought and will of the individual, encourages learning and an understanding of the earth and nature thereby affirming the divinity in all living things…

Wicca believes in a female (goddess) and male (horned deity) demonstrated through rituals that revolve around nature and natural cycles.

It has no uniform doctrine, no scripture, no bible; therefore, the ritual of the system is of vital importance. Animism is important, the idea that all objects, even inanimate, are enthused with life force.

There is also a focus on pantheism, the idea that all things are divine. That is quite hard to wrap my head around.

It struck me that Wicca varies from organised religion, despite the insistence on ritual, because of its focus on the feminine (not to dismiss the masculine, for it is a balance) compared to the more patriarchal nature of more established religions such as Christianity. It is an aspect I rather liked and found engaging.

Meanwhile, the idea of naked witches dancing around a coven is old hat scaremongering. Now, nakedness is used as what is known as ‘skyclad’ ritual in some groups, more as an energy force than some weird sexual practice.

I’m not convinced it is for me, as I am not big on ritual. That said, I enjoyed holding a wand! It is, however, an interesting belief system to check out and those who try it seem devoted to their craft and magick.

 

My elastic (I hope) brain

cranium-3199408__340Mum had dementia. Dad has Alzheimer’s. My big brother had Multiple System Atrophy. Pardon me, but when I think about brains, it is often negatively.

Listening to Radio 4’s recent words on the ‘elastic brain’, I was intrigued in a positive way. Neuroscientists have been into this for some time, but it was new to me, and I enjoy the novelty. Neophilia, it’s called. Novelty is good for the brain. Keen on crosswords, try a sudoku. Cereal every morning, have toast. Challenge yourself and your comfort zone.

When I taught sociology, social change was one of the big social issues. Very generally, it is thought that people do not like change as it leads to uncertainty. However, change also leads to progress and improvement, which is wonderful. Think of all the things we would not now have if no change occurred. We’d be stuck doing the tedious stuff of our forebears.

I like the idea that we can rise above conventional ways of thinking and be creative.

I like the idea that we can look beyond the existing order, thereby challenging it.

I particularly like the idea that we can think in non-linear ways that sometimes defeat logic.

I begin to feel excited at the thought of challenging existing ideas and questioning assumptions. Let’s have a paradigm shift (taking me back to Kuhnian sociology).

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Stretch it and shape it by:

  • trying new things/foods/activities
  • making mistakes by doing the above
  • living your passion – alway
  • moving outside your comfort zone
  • changing life in positive ways

And yes, I also like the idea of brain downtime, when you can stop thinking, giving your brain creative space. Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading in the bath so much.

Further info:

This article goes into much more interesting detail.

 

Blood Brothers

Down here on the north Devon border there is not much choice of theatre unless you are prepared to travel many miles. I struck lucky to see that Blood Brothers was on the bill  at the Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple, on my birthday. Promptly got two tickets (rather decent ones, actually) not sure of what bang I’d be getting for my bucks. I mean, Willy Russell is amazing but what calibre would this performance be? I had nasty visions of Flashdance endured at the Blackpool Winter Gardens whirling in my head, though I had since seen a rather better musical in the shape of Paint Your Wagon at the Everyman in Liverpool.

Russell, the Merseyside writer of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine has an intuitive way of presenting downtrodden women and Blood Brothers is no different. It is heartbreaking throughout but primarily when one sees yet another young woman ‘up the duff’, her future assuredly crap.

Blood Brothers was one of the longest-running musicals in the West End, ably produced and directed by Bill Kenwright, before it set off on tour; it has been massively popular. As the lady in the queue for the ladies’ loos – there is always a queue) said to me: “Who’d have thought something of this calibre would come to Barnstaple?” Who indeed?

The show is a ‘Liverpudlian folk opera’,  a tale of two twins separated at birth to live very different lives, one poor, one posh, reunited later by a strange twist of fate. The script contains so many tugs on the heartstrings it is hard to know where to begin. A mother of too many children whose husband ups and leaves her in poverty. A woman unable to have children who is prepared to lie her way to getting someone else’s. Unemployment, depression, social divisions, all set against a backdrop of Liverpool’s iconic Royal Liver Building. Crucial to the tale is an unnerving ever-present and all-knowing narrator, chilling in tone, who my daughter found extremely menacing. He was meant to be.

In the version at Barnstaple, Lyn Paul played the key character, Mrs Johnstone. Her vocals were strong, powerful and outstanding; her acting is pretty decent, too. Lyn was a singer with the New Seekers and lead vocalist for this song. To be honest, I couldn’t fault the casting, nor the strength of class-based feeling the play evoked.

Could I get through it without shedding a tear? No. I held out until the end when Mickey’s depression got the better of me. I’d grown to like Mickey, a decent lad born into difficult circumstances (despite a later move to Skem – Skelmersdale – which is pretty grim) whose future/fate (prison, depression, losing the girl he loves) is sealed by his real brother, Sammy, who is a total hard case, and probably brain damaged.

The poignant question he asks his mother, why not me, why didn’t you give me away? hurts like hell.

Yet, it isn’t all doom and gloom, for there is a tremendous amount of humour within the show. We were gripped for the entire performance; despite being middle class, my sympathies were most certainly with the stricken Johnstones and I really, really wanted a happy ending.

Alas, for the poverty-stricken classes, it simply doesn’t happen. Russell was realistic to the last.

 

Life writing – anyone wishing to learn?

Life Writing

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Photo of actress Ellen Terry and friends including Pamela Colman Smith https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/bram-and-guvnor-who-knew-archives-could-be-so-much-fun/

If anyone is interested in life writing, I’d be keen to offer a group, as it is a particular interest of mine.

Do you have:

  • Secrets to tell?
  • Stories about your ancestors?
  • Events from the past you wish to explore?
  • A desire to tell your version of your life from your perspective?
  • Loss or experiences to deal with?
  • A fascination with a historical or public figure?
  • A love of writing?

Life-writing can be transformative.

It involves biography but it can also relate to the lives of objects and institutions or perhaps individuals, families and groups. So, autobiography, memoirs, letters, diaries, journals and oral accounts/interviews.

Can also cover issues suited to blogging or tale collection: birth, dementia, gender, conflict, family life, travel, etc.

If you have an idea you’d like to work on, please advise Dawn at budeandbeyond@gmail.com and I’ll find a time/space to offer these sessions.

Aims:

  • To encourage self-confidence in memoir and life writing and get you started on your quest.
  • To enable you to develop appropriate skills and practice to succeed.
  • To develop self-awareness and self-evaluation as a writer – make your words count.
  • To develop an awareness of any ethical issues.
  • To consolidate your learning with group feedback on yours and others’ writing

Writing is like giving birth!

Aside: men can still do this!

My friend who had written her first blog post in five months used this very phrase this morning, and she’s right. So, this one’s for her.

First, you conceive an idea which you tenderly and possessively incubate and nurture; every fibre of your being is relentlessly aware of the idea growing and developing; you are essential to its success.

Then, the day eventually arrives when your idea must make an entrance into the world. Usually, it is a natural process, but sometimes you need help from others, as in an assisted birth.

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It can feel like a very slow process reaching the breakthrough moment.

Following the natural route, giving birth is a very individual experience, one of immense self-focus. Your entire being concentrates on pushing this baby out. Every fibre is wired to the task at hand. You know exactly what you need to do and only you have the strength and wherewithal to do it to your exacting requirements.

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There will be tears…and mess!

People may make encouraging comments or mop your brow, feed you sips of water, or offer advice, but it really is all down to you. No one else can do it for you; the same goes for writing where, in fact, others can get in the way.

Yes, it helps to have lovely surroundings and a cheery band of followers, but they do not actually affect the end result.

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It can feel like a long way to climb

That end result is, at that time, your only reason for being. This is exactly what being immersed in a book/writing project is like. It is not meant to be easy, but remember…

When writing, everyone else in the room is superfluous.

The end result is an achievement for life.

So, my advice is to write for yourself, not an audience.

Push out of your creative self what you want to say.

Forget the rest of the world. You can deal with them later.

 

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

I cracked through this book at quite a pace.

‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.

A tale of a grumpy old man in an old people’s home in Amsterdam is not the likeliest candidate for a global bestseller. Having sat in nursing homes for many an hour, however, it appealed to me. I liked the idea of someone creating an old-but-not-yet-dead club which spoke to the renegade within. I want to be a cantankerous, challenging old woman who refuses to eat poor food and to be shoved in front of the telly to watch inane drivel. I want to zip around on my scooter if I can’t walk, like the fabulous folk I see along Bude Canal. And I want fab friends to have a giggle with when the chips are down.

Now, I detest being stuck inside, I dislike being told what to do, and I hate having my freedom curtailed. Living in a regulated environment where I have to eat what I’m given (or not), wear nappies and do as I’m told is unthinkable, yet it is what has happened to both of my parents, so I stand a fair chance.

This book brings hope. First, that one can remain subversive and break the rules well into one’s last remaining years. Second, that you can make new and very deep friendships even in your eighties. Third, that you can still fall in love when old, and fourth, that you may struggle with your ailments but can also approach them with dignity and humour.

Along with the kind old chap that is Hendrik, the diary author, I warmed to the rascally Evert who likes a drink, loves his dog, and who keeps having bits of his limbs amputated. There is a wonderful section where Evert and Hendrik are playing chess, the latter in a blue mood so amputee Evert suggests he stops whining and buys a noose if life really is that bad. What are good friends for? Not making light of it, the issue of assisted suicide arises again and again.

Meanwhile, I am enamoured by Eefje, a sparkling lady who joins the throng, but mostly I fell for Grietje, a woman slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s, perhaps because it resonated. Her friends see her gradual decline and vow to support her, which we know they will. She meanwhile, prepares herself and accepts her fate with far better grace than I would.

A book about a nursing home that is funny is a rare old twist and one I recommend reading. It will have you in stitches but also empathising with the issues surrounding old age…

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