See poster for dates! I’m touring with Golden Boy and my publisher Bonnier Carlsen in Stockholm for three days next week. I’ll be documenting and live streaming some of the tour on my instagram, so come join me and you can imagine being an author from the comfort of your home! http://instagram.com/civilizedanimal For enquiries, contact me via the online form on the website or – even better, because I’m always on there – on instagram. Can wait to see you, Swedish Readers! <3
Thanks to writer Cath Bore for interviewing me for Get Into This. Cath writes zines are making a comeback.
An excerpt of me chatting away: “…something dangerous is happening on the internet: a tendency to no-platform, or aggressively troll those we disagree with. A silencing of women and feminists, by feminists and progressives. I think disagreement is healthy. I know we are strong enough to be able to argue against viewpoints we might find upsetting, and tolerant enough to listen to a point of view that is different from our own. But this is not the culture of the internet. By creating a paper zine, we can share ideas face to face, and perhaps have a more human reaction to writers who have been brave enough to put their ideas out into the world, hoping to make it a better place.”
Read the full article here.
Order Rants online here, or buy in store at The Book Fayre, Woodhall Spa, and Skylight Books, Los Angeles.
Very happy to read Jessie Thompson’s run down of the zine I edit, I Hope You Like Feminist Rants, which you can order online here, or buy in The Book Fayre, Woodhall Spa in the UK, and Skylight Books, in Los Angeles.
A wee excerpt: “…it produces some really frank, eloquent writing (one of the best pieces is from Tarttelin herself, on why men need feminism).
A space to explore longheld assumptions is vital; in one essay, Julia Callahan says she was wrong to think that saying no to abortion and having a child at 15 “was equivalent to a death sentence”. It’s a boldly honest piece of writing that made me question my own entrenched beliefs.
It feels like the carving out of a really productive, useful space for women to speak. ”
Read the full article here.
[photo above is Rants Zine – all those ordered online get hand drawn illustration or collage – order here]
Damn it, I’m a day late for posting and I didn’t even realize!! That’s because this week has been so awesome/busy/wait…what was I doing?
I’m in the awesome/busy headspace TODAY (Tues 1st March) because this week is already really exciting but I think it’s skewing my vision of last week, which is what I’m supposed to be blogging about.
Ah hell, I’ll kinda do both.
So, last week was my last few days before my (self-imposed) BOOK DEADLINE. I work so much better to self-imposed-anything. I just don’t think I’m set up – in ANY part of my life – to react to external stimuli of praise or pressure. Don’t get me wrong – praise is great! What really means a lot to me is when people say Golden Boy (for instance) has changed their life/mind. In a larger sense, that makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with my life, and in a smaller sense, makes me happy and in a good mood all day. But, for instance, thinking, ‘oh maybe one day I’ll win the booker and be written about in The Guardian’ doesn’t make me sit down and work. Thinking ‘I am excited to learn about intersexuality and to do better than the last manuscript I wrote’ DOES make me work. It’s the same with (for instance) skateboarding. Thinking I’m gonna be great at it is fun but doesn’t do the same for me as thinking ‘if I keep doing this trick over and over, I’ll get it’. Internal vs external stimuli (kind of).
I tend to drag my heels the last few days however. There is a lot of bitty work (remember from two weeks ago I talked about editing?). But there was also a really interesting chapter to write about incarceration, which was so much fun to do. I’ve added a character in this draft that has been the MOST fun to research. I love to find everything out about a topic and pour it into a book. As a reader, I also like to learn while I read. That’s why I will always come back to Jodi Picoult’s novels. Like watching a documentary and reading a novel at the same time!
So last week was a little slow, but hey… I got there. I finished my edit of the new book LITERALLY at 11.59pm, Monday Feb 29th. And now it’s in with my agent. 😁😁😁😁😁😁😁
Of course, as it always happens after you do a lot of hard, sometimes interesting, sometimes slow, work, this week I am feeling some real MOMENTUM!! Cool stuff to tell you soon, merry readers!
In this week’s news: Rants Zine stuff!!!! But obviously more on that in next week’s blog. Woohoo!!
The official launch events of the zine have been slightly delayed due to me being extremely close to a new draft of the mysteriously titled (for now) THIRD BOOK… I know. Very, very exciting. More on this imminently…
This last week however, I received the printed zines (60 pages), and have been posting them to the contributors. British essayists and artists began to receive their copies this week; international wordsmiths, cartoonists, and illustrators will find their issues landing in post boxes over the next fortnight (several of our contributors are from the Southern Hemisphere, including a trainee nurse who has news for you about the fabulous, and shrewd, work of a new domestic abuse charity).
The tongue-in-cheekily titled I Hope You Like Feminist Rants (known colloquially as Rants Zine due to our Twitter handle @RantsZine), has its roots far back, in my work with British performers’ union Equity’s Women’s Committee (lots of apostrophes there). When I got my O1 work/live visa for the good ole U.S. of A in 2013, I stepped down from my work with the committee, and as chair of the union’s Young Members’ Committee, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to fly back four times a year for the meetings. Pragmatism had to win out.
Still, I wanted to do something, personally, for women. I think a lot of us feel an emptiness inside if we are not doing something for the good of others, or the planet (I sound like a Miss World competitor). I always wanted to leave the world better off for my being here, and I think most people either want the same thing, or, if they haven’t realized they want it, feel empty for the lack of that ambition. Writing Golden Boy and presenting lectures on intersex and gender helps me feel good about who I am, but, although my gender politics are likely to infect every book I write, it’s not enough.
Over the last few years I’ve scratched this ‘do something good’ itch by writing articles for British newspapers about libraries, donating to charity, and volunteering for political campaigns, including manning phones for Obama for President 2012, and producing videos for the Green Party’s Romy Rayner for MP in 2015. In autumn of last year, I concocted a plan for a women’s retreat, and ran it earlier this year (see the blog from January 11th).
For the retreat, I created welcome packs to set the tone for the event. I included a tampon from Time Of The Month, producers of 100% Pure Certified organic cotton, unbleached, hypoallergenic tampons with no chlorine, perfume, viscose, rayon, pesticides, or chemical fertilisers, a steal at £2.80 for 10, and with none of the nasty chemicals linked to reproductive problems or cancer. We also had Fair Trade, vegan, organic, ethical condoms made in the U.K., from our sponsor French Letter (try their Aroma Passion or Ultra Thin 3 packs now on offer for £1.99). For the packs too, I planned a zine.
The zine would be called I Hope You Like Feminist Rants as a nod to its content. I asked incredible, intelligent, talented women from around the world if they had any topic they would love to rant about, and encouraged them to write in whatever fashion they liked, as the typical journalistic style was created in a patriarchy, by men. They didn’t have the constraints of a required word count, or format. The only guidance writers had before they wrote their pieces was a short chat as to the subject, to make sure we didn’t have lots of people writing about the same thing! (The theme of essay “Boys Will Be Boys. Girls Will Be Sluts” by K.C. was suggested by at least three writers, so it must be a hot topic.)
Everyone submitted first drafts to me in November. Some essays needed only a comma adding here or there, some needed restructuring for the idea to be communicated, and all were a joy to read. You can’t imagine how wonderful my mornings in California were that month, opening my inbox to find yet another riveting, passionate essay.
I really love editing. My approach is simple: editing is about cutting out the chaff and working with structure to a) reveal the purest version of the writer’s voice and b) (particularly in non-fiction) communicating as best as one can the thrust of the essay or story. I always say to writers that they can reject any suggested change – they decide the final version of their work (which is how it is with novelists, at least, with my editors), but that I won’t publish something that will embarrass them, or me, mostly meaning poor grammar, spelling, or something incorrect presented as fact (creative grammar can be interesting, but if it gets in the way of my understanding your work, it’s working against you).
I can’t understand when writers balk at having their work edited. What I wouldn’t give for someone to edit my work for free, and how grateful I am to my editors, past and present, for helping me see where I am going wrong – and what I’m doing right!
The zine is a contribution; a platform for women to talk about subjects they can’t speak about
elsewhere. This might be because those ideas go against the grain, are controversial, or oppose accepted feminist ideas and approaches; or it could be because contributors are not ‘famous’ enough to get asked to write for mainstream publications – our contributors include a fourteen-year-old school pupil, two trainee nurses, and a nursery school worker and expectant mother.
We also have, of course, some household names writing for us. Kit De Waal is an author and funder of a creative writing scholarship at a University in London. Eminent and frequently published mathematician Leila Schneps writes for Rants about growing up in Boston, Mass, in the 1960s, in the heart of hippydom. Comedian Samantha Baines, Time Out’s Featured Blogger of the Year 2015, made me laugh my head off with her contribution.
Shelley Harris, bestselling author of Richard and Judy book club pick Jubilee, and new novel Vigilante, provided more giggles with her piece on the menopause. Lastly, I was excited to have a book recommendation by Natasha Minoso, blogger and creator of Book Baristas. Natasha warmed my heart with her loyal support and frequent recommendations of Golden Boy on her blog, Instagram, and twitter, and I ‘followed back’ two years ago, when she had about 1500 followers… she now has 76.5k on Instagram alone, and a smashing job at Penguin in New York to boot!
Like most independent zines, contributors are unpaid. No one is forced to write; they submit because they want to reach other women, and I edit and publish the zine because I want to make a space for women’s voices which would otherwise go unheard, on topics which would otherwise not be broached. The cost of the zine – available to buy here online – recoups the production costs only, in printing the zine and posting to contributors. Costs are kept to a minimum, so content doesn’t have to be. Any extra funds will go to the printing of issue #2; the aim being that slightly less will come out of my own pocket next time.
Believe me when I say, it is so worth ordering. These essays and pieces of art were so, so brilliant to read, and make fabulous material for book clubs, youth groups, schools and women’s communities to use as starting points for serious debate. So, enjoy, and… please consider contacting me to contribute next time! I will start work on issue #2 in March, and am looking for diverse voices in general, women from developing countries, innovative forms of expression, and points you feel you’d be shouted at for making. If you are a shop owner: I will be announcing news on stockists soon, and would love to add your name to the list! Send me an email at abigailtarttelin [@] hotmail dot com.
Longest blog yet, and now I will reprint the editor’s letter below:
“Imagine for a moment a world in which women of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, professions, and feminisms, are important and worthy of attention. Dedicated to discussion, Rants rejects a journalistic style developed in and by a patriarchy, allowing women to speak in their own voices, be they conversational or formal; in their own format, including thoughts, essays, poems, and art; on topics that might not be current; with opinions that might be controversial, and might not be popular, but are relevant, thoughtful, and have worth. We will not always agree with every rant we publish, but feminism is a critical project, and its advancement relies on fearless exploration. We stand by the rights of women to have differences of opinion, to debate, and to discuss. It is the only way we as a society, and as a movement, have ever progressed.”
Weird title, but that’s how I would describe it. I mentioned in my first blog I had found the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin very helpful. It’s sort of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for people who would rather not see a therapist. I have mixed feelings about actual therapy. I have at least two close friends who have really benefitted from it, and I do think saying a thing out loud is cathartic, and often necessary. On the other hand, I believe – like my Mum does – that saying a thing out loud over and over again is just scratching at a wound, and talking about yourself a lot isn’t the best way to get out of your own head, put your problems in perspective, and take affirmative action to change them.
The idea behind The Happiness Project is simple, and goes something like this:
Think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
For instance, one of the very basic ways I achieved the above was to write a list of the things in life that made me feel good, and to write a list of the things that made me feel bad. If I could, I completely cut out the things in life that were making me feel bad, for instance, a relationship. If it makes you feel bad, it’s not making you happy. It seems so obvious, but so many people use up their years on relationships that make them feel occasionally euphoric and generally shit. On the list of good things was, for example, Buffy. Gretchen suggests throwing yourself with abandon into what you love. In the past year, I have acquired a Sunnydale t-shirt, Yummy Sushi pajamas (debuting at a pajama party this Friday), and Netflix, so I can watch the whole series, over and over again, from wherever I am. It’s been worth it for this alone – apart from social commentary documentaries, the only things I have watched are BTVS and Wallander. Later this year, I’m going to a big Buffy event. If I’m still keeping up with the blog, I’ll yell you all about it.
Another thing I wrote on my ‘feeling good’ list was ‘Family & Friends’. I mentioned I run regular karaoke nights, and organized a women’s retreat in January. My Grandad always says human relationships are the most important thing in life, and I feel they are. This week was a lovely week for family, and I made sure to see my friend Romy, who ran for Green MP last election, and her children. It’s so much fun to see the kids, and even nicer that they know me now, and her son tells his Mum, ‘My friend Abby is coming round today’. With small kids I’m both really into playing, and then also pretty no-nonsense. You would think that would make someone less popular, but kids seem to appreciate it when an adult is firm (but not crazy firm) – because they know, in truth, that that big, scary person is on their side, and they feel more secure with you.
We also celebrated a 90th birthday in my family this week, with a big party. I spent lots of time with my brilliant cousins, playing bananagrams, talking politics, and getting angry about body image and their curriculum (they are all in school). We had another birthday too, with a lovely walk, pub grub, and presents. My Mum has always said when you’re feeling down you should do something for someone else. Creatively wrapping a bag of thoughtfully selected presents for someone you love, and organizing a day of surprises, has to be better for you than even the best therapy. I guess sometimes though, the problem is that you are too outwardly focused to sort out your own life, and that might not be solve-able with giftwrap.
On that note, the only difficult thing about my particular experience of human relationships (which I think many people share), is how to balance having them with the ‘feeling right’ portion of Gretchen’s statement and, particularly, the ‘atmosphere of growth’ bit. Right now, I don’t know where to live. I am quite happy where I am day-to-day, but I am not sure I can see the growth. I have lived in London, New York, and Los Angeles, and am now (mostly but not always) back at home. I have grown up in a remote, agricultural part of the UK. Farming has decimated the landscape. Everywhere you look is a field with a homogenous crop, and no wildlife. Investment is so much less than urban areas in Britain, and the roads are as bad as those I rode my bike over in Vietnam (I really want Top Gear to come here and try driving on them). I wouldn’t send my children to the secondary school I attended in a million years, which makes it difficult to think about raising children here. This is such an important issue. My friends with school age kids in the area currently either home school, or drive an hour each way every day to take their kids to a Steiner school.
I really like the people in my community, the cute villages and towns, the small businesses, and my family, who are still here, but I wish I lived either somewhere beautiful, mountainous, and still wild at the edges (something I love about living in Los Angeles), or somewhere with a little more to do. Ideally, I’d like to have both, either in two different places, or in a city like Los Angeles – the problem then being that I’d be a world away from my family. I am struggling to see how this balance can happen, and have given myself until September to figure it out, mainly because I want to concentrate on work, and because I am taking a class here that I am in love with, and want to see how that goes and how both the class, and work, pan out over the summer to affect my decision. By my next birthday, I’ll be living somewhere. On the ‘more to do’ note, it was so fun to be in London last week and have everyone around me talking about publishing, or filmmaking. It would be so great for our area if we had access to these cultural industries. Also another slight hiccup to our area: as much as I have never been focused on searching for a partner (more on that approach to love another time), it would probably be helpful if there were a plethora of young, available guys in the area to serendipitously bump into.
I haven’t shared much online about what I’m currently writing. I often see authors post on social media regarding what they are working on however, due to my experiences over the last few years, I’ve been nervous to report on works-in-progress, in case they never get published…
But that’s bullshit. Failing is – obviously! – a useful and vital part of any game, including the author game. To paraphrase Clueless, tis a far better thing to do stuff, and, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, not, when you come to die, discover that you did not bother to do anything beforehand, because you thought it would be embarrassing if it went wrong…
Is the above bastardizing rather than paraphrasing? Perhaps.
When it comes to book publishing too, so much of what constitutes a ‘good book’ is down to fashion, personal tastes, and the market: not getting a manuscript published doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Some of the best writers I know aren’t published, and/or have been rejected by very well-regarded agents and editors. While Golden Boy garnered a tonne of interest with editors back in 2012, we also were turned down by several giants, who loved the book, but weren’t sure how to publish and market it. Another for instance: I recently recommended The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera to a friend. Would it be picked up if it were written today? I think it might be deemed not ‘plotty’ enough.
My UK editor fed back to us about my book last week (more on that soon), and so I was able to get to work with all my notes. When I start an edit, I usually print off the manuscript and read it to myself. Sometimes at the beginning I read it aloud, because it helps me to focus, and not to skip over paragraphs where I know what I’ve written. It’s important to read every word to see how I’ve built the story, for instance: is the voice climbing gradually or jumping jaggedly towards the climax? Does the manuscript need structural changes to aid in comprehension or tension?
I make notes as I go, with a red pen, but I try to limit them to: small typo corrections, ticks for when a chapter is moving along well, and instructions at the end of each chapter. For instance, on page 66 of this manuscript, there are two red ticks, and the note: ‘You haven’t mentioned H! Incorporate + sweeps edit. Otherwise good.’ (‘Sweeps edit’ is my own lingo. It means sweep through the chapter, checking typos, small errors, cutting lines that are not needed, and smoothing the voice to aid fluency.)
My US editor is a genius when it comes to zoning in on what a manuscript needs, and as I read, I noticed her notes summed up what was right and wrong about this draft. She said from the halfway point she couldn’t put the book down; neither could I even though I knew the ending. She said the voice and characterization of the protagonist/narrator needed work in the first half; it did and that’s largely what I’ve been doing this week. She suggested adding a character for a purpose that will remain undisclosed for not-wanting-to-do-spoilers purposes. I am adding that character. I love THEM (purposefully non-gendered) already.
That was Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday, I gallivanted to London again. I didn’t have any meetings booked this time, just a vague feeling that writing would go better in the café at Foyles, and aided by downtime, i.e. seeing friends in the evenings. Switching off completely when I’m not writing helps refresh my brain. I went immediately to Drink, Shop, Do, ordered their delicious home brew, Alice In Wonderland tea, and got to work. I think by this point I had already started typing on Draft 2.
I began Draft 2 by creating a file, which I labeled Draft 2, in MS Word. I use Word because agents and editors use track changes to edit. DO NOT BUY the 2016 version. The page numbers no longer show over the scroll bar, the bar at the bottom does not show where your cursor is in the word count (eg 17,548 out of 93,456), and you cannot leave tabs open when you shut down your laptop and have them reopen when you boot it back up, all things I have on my old version of Word; all things I used daily when working and now have to do without.
I then created a second file, called Try, which I used for brainstorming ideas. One of these ideas quickly became the new first chapter of Draft 2. I started to copy and past text from the Draft 2 document into the Try document, and highlight in green what I had moved over. I do this in small chunks, a few paragraphs at a time. During initial writing of any manuscript, I allow my mind freedom to choose which part of the book I want to write at any given time. When editing, for fluency’s sake, I try to start at page 1, and progress through the whole draft. Bit by bit, I then edited the text as per the instructions I left myself in red pen on the print out of Draft 1.
Hopefully that gives you some idea of how I edit. I am by no means at a full draft, but I hope to have a Draft 3 by the end of February. This will be made up of a thorough edit for Draft 2, and (after a full read-through of a print out of Draft 2, red pen in hand) a further ‘sweeps edit’. My first drafts rarely look like my finished books, because I am not precious. I change things structurally to make them better. In Golden Boy, the Hunter character was added in a later draft, and Max’s parents changed careers and got an education at Oxford (enterprising of them, given the time frame for the writing of Golden Boy was six months from conception to sale).
There you have it: I talked about my work-in-progress. I feel vulnerable, and a little wild.
I spent time with family on Monday and Tuesday, and also saw my friend and her kids. Wednesday and Thursday, I was a bit run down. I guess I had a mild virus or something. Friday, I picked up. All week long, I wrote little bits here and there, but I don’t like to write when I’m ill, because my words run ill too.
Writer/readers might find this counterintuitive, but I do not write my best stuff when I write every day, or if I write when I know nothing is coming. Actually, I’m not sure I know many authors who DO write every day. Surely you’d get burn out? I have to say I write a lot, but I write best when I’m inspired and enthused, and it seems odd to force myself to write when I’m feeling ill, when I know a few days of rest, a high vitamin diet, and some Buffy means I’ll be better in no time, and excited about researching and writing prose. Thinking about it, I’m pretty certain the same goes for longer breaks, like burn out, or feeling overwhelmed: don’t sweat it, do something else, and pretty soon you’ll be so excited to write you won’t be able to help it. And what’s more, you’ll write something good, and not shit, or – horror of horrors – mediocre.
Since I was in no mind to write, I decided to #brainfeed (a term I have stolen/borrowed from Nomadness creator Evita Robinson) myself some literature, resulting in my week being bookmarked (ha) by some fabulous novels. The idea of brainfeeding is that what comes out must come from what is put in. If I constantly read crappy thrillers with no characterization, I’m certain I would forget how to draw a human being using words. If I solely watched reality television, I might lose all sense of perspective. If I was constantly on tinder and treated men like they were disposable, I would eventually become a psychopath.
On Monday night, late, I finished House Rules by Jodi Picoult. While reading this book I was waiting for feedback from my UK editor on my latest book draft, and so I was working on another manuscript I have going on. JP writes informative books (this one explores both autism and forensic science), with multiple narrators (something I really enjoy writing), and her books are always enormous. Some I like much more than others. House Rules was great, and I reviewed it here, on my Instagram. In terms of inspiration, it really got me going on this new manuscript, because while the plot is a little The Bridge-esque, one of the themes discussed within is a medical condition. I thought about how JP incorporates autism into her book, and was enthused to write mine.
I think I finished Lila by Marilynne Robinson on Friday. I’ll review it on Instagram in the next couple of days. This novel took me a long time to read. I loved the language, and Lila’s life story, but it wasn’t split into chapters, and so it felt like a heftier read, even though it was half the size of House Rules. I resolved to break down both manuscripts I’m currently working on into small chapters, as I did with Flick and Golden Boy. This is an award-winning book and, while the language is more sumptuous than JP’s, juxtaposing the two books made me relax a little about mine: authors often feel pressured to think about awards, and press, but JP is a very commercial writer. She doesn’t win a lot of awards, but she’s one of the bestselling female writers of all time, which means her work and the ideas in it reach a lot of people, like Golden Boy has. I remembered it’s more important to me that a novel is accessible and can touch reader’s hearts, and spur social change, rather than impress critics.
Next, I started reading All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki (btw, both Ozeki and Picoult have awesome websites – definitely check them out!). By this time, I had got into a rhythm of reading every day, and remembered how much I loved to do that when I was little. RO is like the middle ground between JP and MR. She’s pretty literary because her characters are so unique, but she also writes to make you turn the page, and her books feature quite accessible or popular topics. RO inspires me because she makes weird choices – for instance, one of her characters in All Over Creation speaks in the first person, and the rest are described in the third person, by an omniscient narrator who is not (so far) a character in the book. I love the sound of her life: she studied in Japan, moved to New York when she was 29, became a documentary filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest, and now she divides her time between Brooklyn and British Columbia with her artist husband (RO fans will meet a version of him in Tale For The Time Being). To me, that sounds AWESOME.
I am 29 in October this year. I think it sounds like a cool age. I thought that about 27, but I think I was mistaken. Maybe I’ll make a big move when I’m 29. That should work out, because I have been thinking about what I want to do in the next six months, and it is mainly writing, and creative projects. Hard work always precedes change. I wonder where I’ll be in a year’s time, and what I’ll be reading then.
I mentioned in my first blog of 2016 I was struggling underneath the surface with some problems – as we all do from time to time. I also mentioned that the morning after being upset, the first thing I did was call my friend Andy.
Since 2011, I have lived between Britain and the USA, so even my best friends I don’t see regularly. Andy is my best friend that I see least. I think, in the last year, I have seen him once. His family? I last saw them at a camping festival we attended together in August 2014.
This is a major problem, and I realized that following the car accident I also told you about in blog #1. Still, life takes over. Andy and I both went through traumatic events; mine somehow made me so stressed that it was hard for me to spend time with Andy. We write together, and I wanted to create work with him, but I was exhausted and pushing myself to write books, since I had a two-book deal I was struggling with. I didn’t know where he could fit in my life.
I’ve written before about how pressure follows your first success – in any field. Before, no one cared, now suddenly people do, and some offer advice that doesn’t fit with what you want, and who you are. A couple of years ago, after meeting on an acting job, Andy and I wrote two screenplays together, which got us meetings with HBO, Scott Free, and a host of film and television companies.
Despite this, I have been pushed to write on my own. Perhaps some thought I would have an easier time convincing a commissioner of my worth, since I have a track record as a writer and Andy does not. But I love working with Andy; our screenplays are a product of what we are together and not one individual’s talent, and I’m really proud of them. I think they’re great!
I missed working with him. I missed his positivity, and how we were as a team, both in writing, and presenting ourselves to producers. We laugh a lot, we jump off each other, and we can finish a draft in four days flat. We would make excellent TV writers. He is thoughtful, interested in everything, always makes time for people, and is a loving human being, including being a great Dad and partner. Andy definitely makes me more able to be myself, because he’s into me for who I am, kooky and crazy, quiet or loud, happy or tired, like all my very best friends. On the Monday we spoke, I was reminded of all these things. We booked a trip, and this week I visited him at his home in Leeds.
I stayed for two nights, and we broke the back of a story. It started out being something we would make ourselves, as an independent film, but I also think it would make an excellent television series. The frustrating thing about TV and film though, is waiting for someone to realize you would be good at something, e.g. acting, writing, or directing. It’s better to make something yourself, and then be able to say to people, ‘See…’
Apart from the writing – which was like old times, ideas flying thick and fast, shooting each other down without offense or zipping along on the surf of the other’s thoughts – I had a blast reconnecting with Andy (I got to the perfect amount of drunk again! Twice in 2016!); conversing deeply with Kate, who herself is a beautiful writer I had the honour of publishing in Phoenix; and playing with their kids, three wonderful, thoughtful, sweet, and funny human beings it’s a true pleasure to know. It reminded me that life is enjoyed in the moments, and that family – including the family you choose – is what makes me happiest.
The rest of the week has been devoted to working on a book project. I currently have a manuscript in with my U.K. editor (my US editor has already got back to us – more on that soon). It took a lot to get this manuscript ready, but feeling inspired and encouraged by my agent and US editor, and kind of freed by having met the challenge… now I can’t stop coming up with ideas! So I’m working on something new, while waiting for edit notes.
On Thursday however, I had the pleasure of visiting King Edward’s school in Louth, where I ran a zine workshop with a Y10 class, and 6th form creative writing students, followed by a 30-minute talk to each group on being an author. I so enjoy giving talks, especially to young people, and love to encourage them to dare, and to dream. Two of my most memorable “visits” are talking to York St John’s students about intersex in culture, and skyping with Year 10s in Magdeburg’s Norbertusgymnasium in Germany. This visit was just as exciting.
We talked about the history of zines, and then the classes made fanzines or perzines. The students were so clever, and inventive: the zines were comedic, insightful, beautifully drawn, and on subjects like Isaac Newton, Middle Earth, and tea! Several zines touched on body image, which made me so sad. I commented on this, and I hope I got my point across and didn’t make the students feel bad.
I hate that we live in a world that can make them feel the importance of who they are inside is dwarfed in comparison to the urgency of “having a great body” – whatever the F that means. I urge all girls/women to take responsibility for how we are perceived in the world – post ugly selfies, laugh on camera, show personality and not just your tits, so younger women will have us to look up to and not these victims that have nothing to show for their lives but a body. I feel sorry for those who build their self-worth off compliments about their looks or weight, but I also say: hey, girls, you are responsible. We are each part of society, and we need to do our bit to make it what we wish it would be. I mean, I have a body. I love my butt! But is it what I’m about? Is it all of who I am? Hell no.
A further, personal note on beauty: Following blog #1’s upset episode, I have noticed as I let myself be myself more over the last few weeks that I have started to appreciate my own beauty, not as something that fits in with society’s accepted view of beauty (e.g. ‘Oo, I’m looking so thin today’), but for how it comes from my personality and shows in my body. Maybe I have been smiling more, or letting myself smile more freely because I am training myself to not adapt my expression for social media, but I have noticed the beauty of my smile more. It has real humour, and warmth in it, and recently it has seemed freer, and kinder, in a more inclusive way. You can see how my Instagram has changed @civilizedanimal.
I want to thank the students for contributing so much to our workshops, and for being such kickass, inspiring people. I had such a great week working on my book projects, but it was you guys that truly made my week, and if I could I’d come back and be friends with all of you.
Last week, I left you on kind of a philosophical note. The retreat really made me think, and in some ways it was really hard to face up to some things I feel about my life at the moment. I say ‘was’, but I don’t want to put it like that. There’s such a temptation to feel like all battles are won after a good week, but it’s important to keep pushing for what you believe your life should be.
Having said that, I felt like I nailed every day this week. It started off well: I watched Maidentrip on Netflix, about Laura Dekker, the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe sailing, and immediately made a note to learn to sail (more on that at some point this year ;) ). I called my friend Andy and had a good, healthy, emotional chat. I’ve been feeling a little down about guys lately, so it was nice to talk to a true legend.
In the early part of the week, I took some elderly relatives out for lunch, went swimming with a friend and her kids, polished off some admin, wrote, and got given a nickname at a new class I’m taking and really enjoying, which made me feel accepted. My Grandad always says life is about human relationships. Community and family are really important to me, and, let’s face it, to everyone’s mental health. We are social animals. If someone acts like they don’t need people… they’re fronting in a way that defies all logic and reason.
On Thursday I DID SOME BOOK STUFF. If you are one of my readers, I know this is the exciting bit, so I put it in capitals. Also, if you are one of my readers who keeps asking me about a film adaptation of Golden Boy… keep reading.
Recently my literary agent helped to fix me up with a new book-to-film agent. A book-to-film agent is basically someone who agents your book to film companies. Film companies and studios sometimes have scouts that are really involved in the publishing world and track down the latest blockbuster books as if they were spies. It’s all cocktails, and Frankfurt, and beautiful hotels. My ex used to do it, and I particularly appreciated the beautiful hotels part. In fact, travelling and drinking also suited me. Smaller companies work on the basis that an executive or a producer will get super excited about a book/play/comic and track the author down through their agent to pursue the rights to make it.
An independent film producer who is incredibly kick arse has been after Golden Boy for a while, but it was difficult to set up or, frankly, to know what to do, without a book-to-film agent. My new one, Matthew Bates at Sayle Screen, has been wonderful. Thoughtful, clever, and with a GSOH (I feel like I’m suddenly writing his dating profile…), he arranged a meeting with the producer, and the writer and director she wanted to work with. I liked them both, so she set up Golden Boy with a television company, and me meeting them was the reason we got together on Thursday.
“Television?” I hear you say. Yeah, television. Everybody felt that a) Golden Boy has such a wealth of information about everyone in it that we could mine it for a TV series and a film would sadly have to hack out much of the material, and b) one of my main goals with Golden Boy was to reach a lot of people. There’s no point having something important to say, and then saying it to a small group of the academic, uber-literary middle class. I think it’s something we achieved well with the book. It translates. This could happen to you, your family, your community, the boy you love at school. It’s why we are published in eight languages, and over seventy-five countries, by nine different publishers. An independent film (because of the controversial material studios would, and have, been hesitant) would reach a very small audience. Television could reach a huge one, and create real social change.
It was a fun meeting. I felt like basically we just all agreed about how to make it, laughed, and ate oranges. I spoke to Matthew the next day on the phone, said I liked the team, and the direction they wanted to go in, so he’ll take it from here. The biggest task will be the writer’s, Josh’s, if it gets picked up as a pilot.
I met with my literary agent, Jo, who I have been with since the beginning, for Thursday lunch. That was equally as exciting as the first meeting, because she has read the first draft of my new book (REALLY early draft but I have a deadline for my UK publisher this month, so it has to be handed in), and loves it. There is understandably a lot of work to do (she saw Golden Boy at third draft, and my editors saw it at fifth draft), but we’re excited. So I might have some even bigger news for you soon. Cross fingers.
Saturday I met the cinematographer I worked with when directing the “Jennifer Lawrence” and “Girls Won’t Mind” videos, and I had dinner with my friends I have been staying with, then Sunday was reserved for family. Friday night topped off the week beautifully though.
Last week, I spoke about being authentic. Being authentic is easier, as Gretchen Rubin says in The Happiness Project, when you’re living in the moment, and experiencing new things aids this. We are so unaware of ourselves when we are engaged in new activities. As we ate bao buns on the Chinatown monument, I told my friend Rosie that I needed a night where I didn’t know where we had ended up, like I used to have when I first moved to London, and to be just the perfect amount of inebriated. In general, since the car accident, I have felt aware of everything and everyone, as if preparing for an emergency. Serendipitously, I had just that night: pub, karaoke, and a club I had never been to, dancing all night, friends and friends of friends i.e. both old, beloved people and new, lovely people to talk to. I was totally in the moment, the perfect amount of tipsy (thank you Sambuca), and experiencing new places and people. I felt very me and very happy, then, and since.