This Week I Have Been Mostly… Writing And Teaching

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.