Absence

I’m sorry for the lack of posts – I have had  a short story on the go since February and a few more episodes of Amy planned. 

Events got in the way. I hope normal service will be resumed soon
Anne

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Writing Dilemmas

A nasty pesky persistent and painful dose of shingles has kept me from writing. In “The Railway Children”, Mother states, ‘I haven’t an idea in my head for a story, so there won’t even be (iced) buns for tea for some time.” Cute! Sixpence per story and enough cash  to to buy buns. The “Bring back Fiction to Women’s Magazines” Facebook page would be apoplectic at such poor rates.

I’ve got the ideas for stories but I’m unsure how to proceed with them. Moreover while there were no hot cross buns over Easter, we didn’t exactly starve as I became the Queen of Spices serving up vegetarian fare for visitors and offspring. It’s amazing how many different ways courgettes and aubergines can be presented – but this research was not exactly at the forefront of my mind, and I would kill for a juicy, charred, salty,  steak right now. It’s been an adventure, this veggie thing —  my personal favourite being the Thai veggie burgers masquerading as Thai fishcakes, served in pitta bread with salsa and jalapeños. Hopefully, an overdose of vitamin c and spice will kill this virus, before the extra cooking and prep kill me!

So why the writing dilemma? Part of my research about Amy involved watching documentaries about Looked After Children and care leavers. It was sobering, heart breaking,unjust, filled with profanity, despair and disillusion. It was unbelievable the obstacles they faced. Young people in care forced to move placement multiple times, and more likely to fall into prostitution and drug use. So my fictional Amy is just that: fictional, far from lifelike, and yet to depict the realities I’d have to write from places that are beyond my experiences and criminal. I don’t know whether I have the courage for that. I mean consider my opening line: “The first time I gave  a **** *** for money I was twelve years old. I was ******** ** by the time I was sixteen.”  It’s not biographical, not young adult, and alienating in terms of language. And yet….

The other dilemma is of course whether I have anything of value to contribute — and I am worried about this. Friends are going through crises of their own: mental health, relationships,  dodgy hips, arthritic knees, ageing, renal failure, dementia,  God, Church, family and marriage. Where they write about these , they do so movingly, from a vulnerable place. Where they speak of them they do so in various ways guaranteed to elicit my sympathy, humour,exasperation and impatience. Where they talk continuously, repetitively and endlessly ruminating, I mutter, murmur and shrug. If they Facebook them, I scroll past. But in these contexts my Amy preoccupation and worry about the writing of her  are inconsequential.

Perhaps I should just get on with writing her but I am worried that in pursuit of reality I will offend and alienate.  In the meantime I have more aubergines and courgettes to prep.

Thai spices? Check.

Moroccan Spices? Check.

Italian Spices? Check!

OK Greek spices tomorrow and maybe Amy will pick up a stir fry from the Chinese where she is sleeping rough.

 

 

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Amy Revisits her Old Home

So Amy, what are you doing here in South Wales?

FFS! I stared around the interview room: Carpets, sofa, flowers  — ok plastic flowers, the usual discreet tissues all designed to make it feel homelike. Idiots! Didn’t they fucking realise? I thought I’d try victim. TBH I’m tired of rebelling but I didn’t want to give in either. I just wanted what I can’t have! I rubbed my eyes and let slip a tear then reached for the discreet tissues. I made sure I had two to screw around with in my hands and then took a deep breath….

School’s been awful recently. Everyone is on my back. Teachers are more worried than me about my grades. Thing is I know I’m gonna do badly in science. And I can’t get my head around the maths thing. English Lang will be ok  but I’m not sure about lit cause I can’t get the hang of the quotes and things. It’s just nag, nag ,nag; target, target, target, every, flippin day. I need a break. I didn’t ask to be dumped there. I’m a hundred and fifty miles away from where I was born! The valley’s a dead end place – literally. There’s no way out except the B road. I’m not allowed to go down the village unsupervised and the thing is, what they don’t realise is that the more they watch me, the more I want to escape. I’ve got to get away. In the old days I would’ve saved my dinner money but coz I’ve got a care package the money goes direct to the cashless account. They’ve even got my finger print! I pointed to the sheet on the cop’s table then shrugged.

So how did you get the cash together?

The first thing I did was make friends with Seren. It was quite easy really – she’s such a nerdy geek and lonely. A few questions about homework: Was Curley’s wife really a tart? How did she (Seren ) revise angles and shit? And how did she go about preparing for her speaking and listening stuff? It was pathetic really. I mean — no-one bothers with her, she’s so studious. Not allowed to mix with the kids from the town. I think she’s delicate. I know she has asthma and her glasses are coffee jar thick so that she needs to have textbooks enlarged and she has a helper. No-one wants to make friends with the helpers’ kids coz all the helpers do is listen in and report back; or worse still, they gossip amongst themselves.

I was dead careful as I laid my plans.  “OOOH well done you for making friends… Well, Amy, its nice to see you finally making an interest … I hope its not too late ….” Everyone was so ‘encouraging’, like. I mean, way to make a girl feel positive about stuff.

It’s always been way too late. I was born too late to know my dad, and mum didn’t want to know. Dumped me with the oldies – his mum and dad –  and then she buggered off. The oldies’ house was nice though. Not posh or anything. It had a long back garden with a swing. There was  a ginger cat and Bamps always smelled of bacco. She was always making cakes so the kitchen smelled of cooking: Shepherds pie, sausage and  chips, eggs and  beans on toast. We always ate in the kitchen.  Mamgu always said she wanted us to be a proper family.

Yes, but the cash, Amy. what about that?

My plan was quite simple really. Get an invite to Serens, Let them get to know me and I’d get to know them and where they kept things. It was fiver here, a bottle of  wine from the weekly shop – they bought loads. I sold them on to some kids in year 10 after watering them down and rebottling them in recycled screw tops that once had cheap fizzy stuff in them. So when Mrs Lewis the helper said to me that Seren had complained to her about not getting any of her money back, I knew it was time to act. I stalled the helper with promises that I’d ask my care workers of the cash from my allowance. I googled the bus times in an IT lesson. The bus left at 8.14 – the same time I left for school. Ten hours door to door. I was well shattered!

Ok, so tell me now about the breaking and entering. Why did you break into no 4, Woodfield Terrace

 

 

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writing disappointments

Rejection comes in all forms, shapes and sizes and a submission rejection (albeit in a professional context) comes in all shapes and sizes too while dredging up the feelings of  those niggly personal rejections. At the moment it’s still raw. The reasons were cost, diminishing budgets, a huge number of submissions and in this context just not good enough to make the final cut. The letter entered with a jolly “but keep writing.” Hmm yes ok… but the questions How? why ? Why would you want me to keep writing if you won’t accept my work? What is the secret ? Am I just not young and sexy enough? Have I griped enough/too much/too little about writing becoming elitist and academic? If I’m not good enough that’s fine. Was it just a throwaway line?

But please don’t make writing an elitist academic thing anymore than it is now. The more I think about it its becoming more for those in the ‘tower on the hill’ and less about the stories and voices of the day to day.Perhaps I’m just sore and my perspective will change but I don’t think so. One of my pupils wrote a brilliant line about life being timed when a bomb starts ticking (WW1 poetry) and that line made me explode, yesterday with an OMG that’s amazing! I hope she goes on to write more and more.

 

Another Amy episode in the pipeline

 

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Amy 2

This also contains swearing so if you are offended don’t read it. I would however appreciate feedback. It is possible to excel only in language, and to hide that ability. It’s the easiest thing in the world to underachieve. It is Amy’s gift for language which makes her funny and expressive and I am pretty fond of her  but she is in for a rough time!

 

I could see my form tutor speaking, but I couldn’t hear him. I could hear noise, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He hissed and spat, but well… I just wasn’t getting any of it. He was sooooooo angry!

I was still sore and tired after being dragged back to the house last night.I’d only had about four hours’ kip. Didn’t want to come to this dump anyway – but my support workers said ‘routine’, ‘normal’ and ‘boundaries’ and ‘importance of education’ so many flipping times it was easier just to get dressed. I pointed out to them my jumper was still manky and smelly. They said it was my fault for bunking off. ‘Consequences’ Duh! I wonder if they play jargon bingo when I’m not around?

So after they left me at the school gates I swapped it for a hoodie.   To be honest, sleeping rough ‘adn’t done me much favours neither.  The cold gets to you. Any warmth you get is superficial – doesn’t reach inside. And like I said I was sore. But my form tutor wanted me to take it off. so I said ‘No.’ They don’t like it when I say ‘No.’ I explained to Sir that I was still cold, and I was getting achey and fluey and that my jumper was smelly. He told me to borrow one off the stock in the cupboard, but they’re just as bad – you never know who’s been sweating in them… who’s been sweating in my jumper? LOL, just about any minger!

So there he was speaking at me, mouth moving, moustache (ugh!) with drips of spit, and I got suddenly tired. “Fuck it!” I thought, over and over the words in my head beating time with his words like some cuckoo clock in my head. It went on for quite some time, I tell you —  he waxed lyrical, as the saying goes. I mean who knew you could get so much milage out of ‘smelly, school jumper, cold, fluey achey and No.’ And all the time the f words like a tune in my head, ding donging until  the words jumped out of my head and into the space between us!

That stopped him! And then he did the teacher thing: wide eyes, eyebrows high above the frames of the glasses and then that sarcastic thing of ‘I don’t believe I heard that.’ To be honest neither could I. Sir’s alright! He’s not the best English teacher I had and he’s definitely the worst tutor I’ve had but he’s okay. He just doesn’t get anything that isn’t level five, gymnastic and two parent families.

I tried to say I was sorry that it just slipped out like but I found myself in the deputies’ office and it was a two pronged attack, of choices, life choices, moving forward, attainment qualifications, boundaries, language, counselling school support worker respect. Then it got to the more serious stuff like inclusion, exclusion,cooperation, restorative justice and then the D word – Detention.

So here I am in the school hall freezing in my school blouse and jeggings. How bloody mean can they get? The deputies’ corridor of death is warm and snug and my hoodie is hanging there: pink and lovely with my name on the back. It was a present from the foster home before last. I miss her, but she had to stop fostering me because her mum got sick. And home time won’t be much fun. My support workers will be called in for a four pronged attack and while I know they won’t feed me gruel, or send me to bed without any supper, it’ll be a loooong, boring night with two fifty something prison warders, no internet privileges or phone – again! So I’ll have to read. But that’s ok, but  if I told them I love reading, I bet they’d withdraw library ‘privileges’ too. So a three bee night for me: Bath Book and Bed!

 

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Thoughts on Language

I’ve been pretty much preoccupied with ideas of language these days. Who speaks? Are they speaking for themselves? Are they giving voice to others?  What kind of register is used?  What is lost when a basic register meets the professional  – complete with jargon? What do you do when you lower the register as a professional? Is it patronising or is it possible to find a common ground? I feel pretty much alienated as I read job advertisements full of jargon and corporate speak. and find myself asking, ‘Yes but what does it mean? What do you do on the day to day basis?’ So lots of questions about language  but no real answers. According to the science of Facebook – my vocabulary hovers around 30k words – yeah I know, one of those random tests. I was quite pleased. But if I as a graduate feel alienated, and feel that the language is difficult, obscure and irrelevant to experience; if I feel  that I don’t know what they want when filling in a job application, how do others feel?  I explore these issues in this short piece which contains  a lot of swearing. So if you’re offended by F bombs leave the blog now.   But you, see that brought with it other questions about language. Who am I to put swear words in the mouths of teens? Who am I to write about experiences I have not had. Lots of people have asked me what happens to Amy (of Amy’s Diary).  This is the next phase which I have planned and written an opening extract.

All copyright belongs to Anne Phillips.

 

I love this bridge at night. It’s like a bridge of hope. Cars swing on and swing off sweeping the water with white and red lights. It’s even better when there’s a full moon hanging over the mountains; and the world is so still it feels like you are held in an endless silence. It’s the bridge that links: Island, mainland, water, mountains, farmland. Concrete and tar suspended in mid air on steel strings. It’s like flying. I can see the length of the coast. Some nights its windy and the rain hits side-wise. Sometimes at sunset the colours catch my breath it’s like the world is on fire. But sunrise, that’s a promise that is. A lovely fat gold ball of a promise that my day’s gonna be ok.

You alright, Amy?

Amy. Use the persons name to get them to engage. Get Lost! I shake the copper’s hand off my arm. I’m not gonna fuckin jump, ok? I’m waiting for the sun.

Amy, it’s three o clock in the morning. It’s freezing. Come on –  you’ve got to go back.

Same old, same old! and I’m dragged to the car. The PC sighs.

Amy come on. You know you always go back.

Only cause I know there’s no fuckin choice! Two of you one of me, and God knows how many fuckin caseworkers support workers care plans and bits of paper. Don’t you get it? I’m a person I got rights and feeling too. I zone out. She mutters about duty of care, local authority care… her words disappear as the cop car slides along the A55 then to the valley, up to the village,  further up the hill to the cottage they’ve rented. Well, no  care home or foster home would have me – not after that last one!

I know I smell. The copper’s hand hovered over my head  – didn’t quite touch me and in the car now, she holds her breath or breathes through her mouth. It makes me feel like scum.So what? They don’t need permission to have even an hour’s freedom. They get to eat, sleep cook shop whenever they like. They don’t get it that smells is what happens when you’ve bin sleeping rough. I stink – cooking smells, sweat smells. My clothes are covered with street dust and dotted with bird shit  – bloody seagulls at the back of the Chinese takeaway! Its nice and warm by the vent. Hell though if I’m feeling hungry!

It’s the  care workers that get me . No! Don’t get me! They’re so full of jargon: plans, justice, restorative justice, sanctions and then we get to sit down and “discuss” why I bunked off again.  They discuss. I’m “sullen and quiet –  unresponsive”. I don’t “engage”. I saw all this on a report once.You see a lot when people think you can’t read much! That’s how I knew they found me another foster home. But it was across the border, so I got desperate like! I didn’t think it was a lot of damage – I mean that’s why they have things like insurance and premiums. I was lucky that it was described as an accident. Could’ve got a criminal record. Still had to change schools though.

And, well, bunking off? They call it “absconded”. The more posh the word, the more workers, agencies, e mail, paper and phone calls  are involved. If it’s absconded then they can call the police to get me in the car to force me back –  the workers can’t touch me –  literally! It’s the only power I had and that’s why there’s two of em now!

 

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A Literary Eveningand three Amys

Let me  just preface this that aside from an A grade in English Language my O levels were grim. I left school without many formal qualifications. Those came later.

 Something strange happened this evening. I was at a short story event in Bangor, listening to Thomas Morris speak about his experiences, education and process that led to the publication of his short story collection, and his subsequent prize of Welsh Book of the Year. Annwyl is the word that springs to mind for this young Welsh Writer. Compassionate, Funny and intelligent are the others. It’s fair to say I came home buzzing with ideas, first lines and a fair dose of envy and admiration. 

He read a story, Clap Hands, about the life of a single mother, Amy. It follows a series of events and characters who are random, funny, and real. The story is closely observed, sympathetic and scarily close to home. Indeed it was as if he had observed my childrens’ antics when I became a single parent. Thankfully he hadn’t! 

As usual there was a Q&A session and as usual, I was too shy to get to grips with my concerns. You see, this is a 20 something to 30 year old man, writing about a woman probably slightly if not a little older. 

How did he he accomplish it?  

Which  ways would her narrative be similar or different had she told it herself? I find it problematic that we never hear her voice directly and I wonder if this is a rehash of the nineteen thirties when women were portrayed through the eyes of men, because they were too busy and confined in the domestic sphere or in Amy’s case, caring for a widowed mother, three children, and the endless drudgery of jugglng finances, hoping the ATM will spit out some cash, that thefood cupboard will last till payday and that her absent husband will finally send home maintenance for the kids. All this while hanging on the telephone for responses from the various agencies in her life!

It is an excellent story  filled with the pervasive anxiety about the next thing to go wrong, and peopled with other characters I want to know more about. One character has been through the care system. Coincidentally, she was called Amy by her birth mother until being renamed. It got me thinking about Amy’s Diary, and mine and Anne Collis’s Amy who negotiates school and the care system. I still wonder what happened to her. Tonight I had an inkling. I suspect she left school with minimum GCSEs and had some difficult adventures. I think her story will be gritty, difficult and contain the odd profanity. Lets hope I can make it as compassionate as the one I heard tonight. But what I was unprepared for, was the fierce urge to protect her and her story. I have no idea where that came from! 

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