Category Archives: News

An Exciting Day

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Wednesday 13th June, 2012. A pretty fabulous day. At least until I realised I was catching a cold. Before that it was brilliant though. I went to London, with work, to help deliver the education program at the Royal Courts of Justice. But on the way I had a royal encounter…

It just so happened that the Queen was visiting Nottingham as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour that day. Nottingham has quite a history where Diamond Jubilees are concerned–it was as part of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations in 1897 that Nottingham was given city status. And the people of this city were certainly excited to see her…they think there were 35,00o just in the Old Market Square. I hadn’t given it much thought though, since I was off to London. Then I arrived at the station and found that the Queen would be arriving shortly and, since I had a train ticket, I could wait in a place beyond the ticket barriers where only a few people were waiting to see her (compared to elsewhere).

So I did. And I reflected on why I wanted to. Politically, I’m fairly ambivalent about the monarchy. I recognise their privilege, the inherent unfairness of anything hereditary and their real irrelevence to the politcal life of this country. And yet…and yet…I can’t help but be a bit of a fan. Perhaps because the Queen seems like a genuinely good person. Perhaps because I recognise that even if we didn’t have a monarchy we would undoubtedly still be led by with privilege and money, so I can’t hold that against them. But mostly I think it’s that I’m aware that I’m looking at history. The figures of the queens of the past fascinate me, all of them, but especially the first Queen Elizabeth. I was awed to see her tomb in Westminster Abbey and to just be a few feet away from her earthly remains. So to see a living queen, plus a future king and his future queen consort is exciting to me. I can’t help it.

Anyone who hears me talk about history will know that I am all about the history of the ordinary people. I love the untold stories, trying to work out the little details of the lives of the poorest people in society. My writing research and my job give me endless opportunity to understand those tales and to try to breathe life into them once again. However, it is impossible to ignore the big events of history, the stories of the powerful, the great and not-so-great. Those stories are interesting too and part of the fabric of this country’s history and culture. I can’t help but enjoy it. I was unashamedly excited to get to see the Queen, and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. When I’m an old woman, I’ll be able to say that I saw a Queen in her Diamond Jubilee year. No one’s been able to say that since 1897. It’s an event, a moment in time. And so very British.

So, without further ado, here’s some photographs, for anyone who hasn’t already seen them!

And if that wasn’t excitement enough, then I headed off to London. I love the place. History just oozes from every building and flagstone when you look at the place through my eyes. The Royal Courts of Justice are amazing…to be able to enter that grand doorway and actually have a job to do in there was wonderful. It’s an impressive and awe inspiring place, but I didn’t feel scared of it. When I was at Oxford University all those years ago the sheer grandeur and weight of history of the place terrified me. Now I feel quite at home in those surroundings, I find. I loved it there. Significant historically and such an important place–the highest civil court in the United Kingdom and main court of appeal. Wow.

And then I wandered around the vicinity. The Strand, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, Old Bailey, Cheapside, Holborn Viaduct. Even then names fascinate me. Bread Lane. Wow. And I saw so much history…not to do with kings and queen and great events…to do with what London has been to Londoners, and Britons, for centuries. The area destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, the churches rebuilt by Wren. The churches which house the bells of the rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’. St Paul’s Cathedral. The site of the old, infamous Newgate Gaol and the public executions outside, now the location of the Central Criminal Courts. The old newspaper offices of Fleet Street, the Temple Bar boundary dragon, site of the old City gate. The oldest tea shop in London. There is so much to see. I tried to soak it all in, but there’s never enough time in London, it seems!

Temple Bar boundary dragon, the Strand

Twinings tea shop, there on the Strand since 1706

I loved this. The site of an old well outside St Clement Danes Church.

The corner of the Central Criminal Courts…the site of the old Newgate Gaol

St Mary-le-Bow church, home of the famous Bow Bells.

Old newspaper offices on Fleet Street.

St Paul’s Cathedral

And the best part of all? I wasn’t remotely intimidated by any of it. Not the grandeur, the history, the hustle and bustle, the crowded tube or the very solemn Evening Prayer service at St Mary-le-Bow. I just enjoyed it all. I don’t know where this new confidence came from exactly and I can’t pinpoint on which day exactly I stopped being scared. But it feels very, very good indeed. 13th June just showed me how far I’ve come. It’s a wonderful adventure.

Surprising myself…

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I’ve not posted for a while. I guess life has rather got in the way of reflections on life…I’ve also barely written a thing, depsite two  nagging streams of creative inspiration which I am convinced will lead to full novels at some point. I’ve just not had the chance.

But I have got a new job. A job I don’t mind telling everyone about, because it seems to compliment my writing, my academic interests…and is generally more reflective of who I am than any of my other recent employment. I’m now an Interpreter at the Galleries of Justice musuem (in the Shire Hall and County Gaol of Nottingham, the place I fictionalised as a setting for my first novel Truths).

The Galleries of Justice

I love my job. It’s very random. Just yesterday I sat down facing a severed head…walked past a sword propped in a doorway on the way to the staffroom…had a conversation with a witch who then went on to kill the Sheriff of Nottingham in a Victorian courtroom…dodged through the shadowy cells so as not to interupt the ghost hunters…oh and spent the day dressed as a stern Victorian. In the coming week I’ll be a reform school teacher and a drunken Georgian prisoner. I’ll also work, as myself, with groups of school children, helping them understand their experience of visiting such a historic building…

And I am constantly surprising myself. I first had a taste of the job when I was 18. At that time I was terrified of public speaking, but my desire to share my knowledge of history won out and I found I could talk to huge groups about what went on the gaol exercise yard. But I’m still not comfortable being the centre of attention, or with the sound of my own voice. So before every tour group reaches me, I have a moment of wondering “what on earth am I doing? This isn’t me! Why would anyone listen to what I have to say? I can’t even act!”

But then, anywhere from one to thirty pairs of eyes are on me and I open my mouth and…I surprise myself. I am stern. I am loud. I am authoratative. I share my knowledge. I crack jokes and get laughter in response. I gesture emphatically. I let myself become a character and don’t feel remotely reserved about it. And I am shocked every time. I wonder where Rebecca’s gone.

It’s an amazing learning experience. That surprise is very similar to how I feel when I remember I’m a writer. The revelation is “wow, I really can do this…and people are actually liking what I do…”

I hope to never lose that sense of wonder. Because I think it’s crucial to not taking life and it’s opportunities for granted. I think it’s essential to fulfilling the potential we’re all born with, to knowing just how much we can do. Just now and again you have to surprise yourself. And in order to do that, you have to push…you have to take risks…you have to try to do the things you don’t think you can. Because when you discover you can, it’s the most amazing feeling. You see the true miracle of how multi-faceted we all are, the skills and traits we all keep hidden because we’re not confident in them…and seeing that, you realise how much fun life can be if you stop being scared of it.

I’m not saying give everything a go. There are things you don’t want to try in life. I have no interest at all in adrenaline rushes and will never be a thrill seeker in that sense. But there are always those nagging thing. The things you want to try…the things you see others do and suspect you could do just as well…the things you’ve always wanted to do. If the opportunity arises…go for it. You have to. We’re here to live our lifes and keeping the things you want to do buried under a lack of confidence stops you living life to full…

So. Go for it. Let your light shine into the world. Tap into your creative side and trust your instincts. Surprise yourself by finding just what you can do. It’s the way I’m trying to live…one day at a time, learning about myself, one surprise at a time…I’m getting there…

Oh and my third novel now has a beautiful front cover! The Locket and the Flintlock will be released in May 2012 by Bold Strokes Books. That’s a thrill that never goes away…and the wonderful surprise of seeing my name on a book cover never really diminishes…

Please check out the Galleries of Justice on facebook and also add our very own Villainous Sheriff, to see photos and find out about special events!

Warning: I’m talking politics again!

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I’ve been quiet about all things political lately…I’m not sure why, other than I’ve been writing a lot, working a lot, and my mind has really been on other things.

But I have to vent my feelings about something that’s really annoying me. Okay…I’m biased. But it’s with good reason. I choose to be a member of the Liberal Democrats. I CHOOSE. And I don’t feel let down, betrayed or compromised by Nick Clegg’s decisions since he’s been Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government. I am now completely fed up with the sympathetic expressions when I tell people of my political affiliation. I am also sick of people who make up their minds without listening or trying to understand.

We have a coalition government. That means no one won. The Lib Dems actually came third. A very long way from winning indeed. If Labour or the Tories had won clearly, the Lib Dems would still be the third party, the one no one ever thought would be in power. Instead, they’re in a coaltion government. In power and able to implement some of their policies. But they didn’t win. So when you ask Nick Clegg why he went back on his pledge over university tuition fees, or why the policy on Trident is closer to that of the Tories than the Lib Dems, he’s going to tell you that he has to compromise because he’s in a coaltion government, and as the “junior” partner in the coalition at that. So stop asking him. Ask him what the Lib Dems are actually doing in goverment. Ask him on what issues they’ve made the Tories compromise. Ask him about the campaign for the Alternative Vote and his reasons for supporting it. Don’t keep going on about what the Lib Dems haven’t done. Don’t perpetuate the idea that somehow our Deputy Prime Minister simply bends over backwards for David Cameron and breaks all of his promises in the process.

Politics is not a perfect science. I’m not sure there’s ever been a politician or a political party that didn’t let someone down, somewhere. But I don’t understand why the mass media and so many of the people I talk to are so dreadfully condemning of the Lib Dems. As Mr Clegg pointed out when I saw him interviewed this morning on Sky News, they haven’t merged with the Tories. They will still fight them in elections, they will still oppose them on electoral reform. Yes, they’re working with them. And many of us with liberal sensibilites hate the Tories. However, I’m no more a supporter of Labour than I am the Conservatives. If the Lib Dems were in a coaltion with Labour, there would still be compromises to make and disappointed voters.

So I wish people who ask me why I still support the Lib Dems would listen to what Nick and others are actually saying. If you listen and don’t agree, then fair enough.  But don’t get so caught up in the idea of politicians betraying their voters that you just get angry with the situation. Because then logic goes out of the window.

The irony is that it’s being said that Mr Clegg himself will be the reason people vote “No” to electoral reform–as a vote against his leadership of the Lib Dems and role in the government. Yet the reason his hands are tied and that the Lib Dems have always been consigned to being the third party–and therefore with the least influence in any coalition–is that our electoral system hasn’t worked properly for years. By supporting AV and voting “Yes” in the referendum, we’d actually give the Lib Dems a chance in future elections–to show us what they’d really like to do if they were in power.

I still believe the Lib Dems are the party of fairness, equality, tolerance and progress. I’m still proud to carry my membership card. So, will people please stop the sympthetic looks. I’ve made my political choices by listening and reading…not by gut reactions. Is it really too much to wish other people could do the same?

Okay, political ranting over…I’ll go back to being an author now…I’m currently eagerly anticipating the release of my second novel Ghosts of Winter from Bold Strokes Books in April, and very excited to hear that my short story ‘She Knows I am Watching’ will be in the Cleis Press anthology Girls Who Bite: Lesbian Vampire Erotica in September. I guess I’ll focus on that when the politics gets annoying…

More about vampires soon! 🙂

Broken politics…Or whatever happened to the Lib Dem surge?

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I never thought Nick Clegg was going to change the political landscape of the UK all by himself. I never really thought this election would be a huge breakthrough for the Lib Dems. But I didn’t expect them to lose seats. No one–even the experts–who saw the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll thought it was correct when it foretold a terrible disappointment for the Lib Dems. After ‘Cleggmania’ surely they would at least gain a few seats?

Depressingly, as the night wore on, the exit poll was proved to be correct. In fact it was even worse than it predicted. They lost five seats. Though their overall percentage share of the vote increased, it really achieved nothing at all for the party in its own right. So today we have the depressing analysis: the Lib Dems were style over substance; Nick Clegg might have charisma but the party doesn’t; the review of Trident, proposed ‘amnesty’ for illegal immigrants and pro-Europe stance put people off once they looked into Lib Dem policies; people didn’t trust a party who hadn’t prepared for government; the last week of their campaign was disappointing…the list goes on. There is undoubtedly an element of truth in these explanations. But I don’t think this analysis is either fair to the Lib Dems or the real story.

The disappearance of the Lib Dem surge is the triumph of the old politics, as Nick Clegg himself might have said. The last week of the campaign was marked by both the Labour Party and the Tories using the argument that a vote for the Lib Dems would let in your arch-enemy–either the Reds or the Blues depending on your point of view. Vote Lib Dem and be stuck with Gordon/vote Lib Dem and let the Tories back in…it’s enough to give a floating voter nightmares. And it worked. The Tories have been broadly successful and Labour didn’t do as badly as they might have done, coming a comfortable second.

The worrying thing is that, in most constituencies, the Lib Dem share of the vote didn’t even rise that much. In most places it can’t be said that the Tories got in because the left/liberal vote was split. People returned to the old parties, voting for one of the big two, because they were worried their voice wouldn’t be heard if they voted Lib Dem. For all the supposedly positive campaigning and sound bytes in favour of ‘change’, the strategy of both major parties in the final week was to exploit the old party battlelines, the old broken politics, the instinctive inherited loyalties. The Lib Dem disappointment is the final proof that politics in the UK is broken and must be fixed. The country voted for a hung parliament but, ironically, their return to two party politics may just stop the reforms so many have been calling for from getting through.

Image from http://www.libdems.org.uk

Of course all is not lost. Nick Clegg finds himself in the position he was always heading for, that of ‘kingmaker’. The Lib Dems have more influence now than ever before, despite the election result.

However, if they are to seize their chance at sharing power, it seems likely they will have to compromise on their demand for proportional representation. Nick Clegg today sent a message to party members stating  “I repeat again my reassurance that whatever happens in the coming hours, days and weeks I will continue to argue not only for the greater fairness in British society, not only the greater responsibility in economic policy making, but also for the extensive real reforms we need to fix our broken political system.”  Yet all David Cameron appears to be offering is a discussion of electoral reform. A committee is a very long way from a commitment. If Nick Clegg clings to his reforming instincts it could be a deal breaker. It would be political suicide to align himself with the (suddenly ready for electoral reform) Labour Party while Gordon Brown is still their leader. It therefore remains unclear what ability Clegg has to push for the reforms this country’s politics so badly needs.

It seems to be a given amongst the electorate at large that some sort of reform is needed. Most ordinary people interviewed by reporters apparently agree with that. They voted for a hung parliament because they claim to have lost faith in the old politics. Yet the result is still a product of the two-party first past the post system. The courage to vote for real change deserted many voters, terrified by the Labour and Conservative return to old-style campaigning, in the last days of the campaign. The hope of the Lib Dem surge just melted away.

Will the Lib Dems still be able to fight for reform? That is my one hope for the effect of their increased influence in a hung parliament, whoever they have to work with. Because this election has been a victory for the old politics and for negative campaigning. I hope with all my heart that this possibly once in a generation chance for change is not lost because, in the end, the old broken system still triumphed.

“…our electoral system is broken, it simply doesn’t reflect the hopes and aspirations of the British people.” (Nick Clegg 7/05/10)

I agree with Nick…

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First, let me say that I’ve been a Liberal Democrat supporter for a long time. I’m one of those self-righteous ones that saw the first televised leaders’ debate as a confirmation of what I’d always believed anyway, the Lib Dems are worth listening to.

What amazes me about the fallout from the debates is how ready people are to claim Nick Clegg was only successful because he’s a better debater/better looking/not Gordon Brown. There’s an element of this of course. His personal charisma helps on TV. However, as I see it, this is doing the British people no justice at all. Are we all so stupid and easily swayed by the media that we’d actually vote for someone because they were better than the other two over an hour and a half debate? I know we live in a reality TV world, but I don’t think this is the whole story.

I think people have been looking for an alternative for a long time. The loss of faith in New Labour and absolute lack of support for Gordon Brown needs no explanation. But the assumption that this would mean an easy victory for David Cameron and the Conservatives was always flawed. We still haven’t forgiven the Tories for the eighties. Many of us cannot stomach the idea of a Conservative government ever again. David Cameron may have moved them towards the already crowded centre ground, but they’re still Tories. A lot of people might have lost faith in Labour but they’d sooner have their finger nails removed with pliers than vote Tory.

And so everyone lost faith in politics. Yes, there were lots of reasons. Politicians lie, as the expenses scandal proved. Politics isn’t a thrill a minute. But, to me, the major issue was that no one saw a party they wanted to vote for. A vote for the Lib Dems seemed like a waste and besides, the papers only ever patronised them and their policies were never examined. Then the debate came along and we finally saw the Lib Dems for what they are: sensible and different. Not a pair of sandals or bowl of lentils in sight. They might have flaws, but there isn’t a party that doesn’t. They are a viable alternative.

Nick Clegg isn’t God. Nor is he even President Obama, despite they way some people are talking. He’s not even that brilliant at debating, just better than the other two. He’s no political outsider riding in to save the nation. He’s just another well-educated politician.  The point is the excitement about the Lib Dems is justified by far more than the cut of Nick’s suit or his haircut. It is patronising towards the party and its supporters to claim that it’s all about media hype. Despite the best efforts of the media to tear their manifesto apart in the name of ‘scrutiny’, the policies are holding their own. All that’s happened is that people have finally noticed them and taken them seriously.

And they deserve taking seriously. The drive towards electoral reform, the review of the Trident nuclear system, the economic proposals that might not be perfect but are better than the other two. A sensible and not hysterical approach to the Euro. A lot of fuss was made about Nick Clegg’s lack of patriotism when he wrote an article which basically said Britain needed to get over itself. We’re not the country we used to be. And he’s right.

To me, Britain’s greatest quality these days, and the reason I’m still proud to be British and to live on this island is our liberalism. Our tolerance, openness and equality set us apart from nearly all other countries. The major party that best represents the mindset of those of us who aren’t likely to vote for the BNP or UKIP is the Lib Dems.  We’ve finally realised their way of thinking is more relevent to ours than the outdated ideologies of Labour and the Tories. Yes it took a glossy TV debate, but this is so much more than Pop Idol politics. Whoever the Lib Dems have to work with in our flawed political system, an increase in their influence can only be a positve thing. They will change the system for the better.

And on a final note, Nick Clegg on gay marriage: “I support gay marriage. Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same, too. All couples should be able to make that commitment to one another.”  (Pink News, 17 Feb 2010.)

Makes sense to me. I agree with Nick!

Homophobia on a Sunday morning

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On Sunday morning (10th Jan) I watched the BBC’s Sunday morning debate show, ‘The Big Questions’ on BBC 1 by chance. You can watch it too on the BBC iPlayer if you’re in the UK. The second debate of the morning asked whether people should be honest about their sexuality, quoting the example of the Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas, who recently came out.

It seemed like an interesting point to debate. I thought we’d get a discussion on the difficulties of coming out for people in the public eye and for gay people in general. However, being a Sunday morning show, religion came into the discussion very early on. After a very eloquent contribution from a gay priest about gay people being allowed to be honest with themselves and the world, the debate degenerated into whether homosexuality was right or wrong. A former magistrate told us that it was wrong according to the Bible, while offering no answers for what gay people are supposed to do. Repress their sexuality? Just ignore it? Or maybe they’re imagining being gay?

Then a gentleman in the audience treated us to a quote from the Bible about how men and women are supposed to marry and become one flesh, something he claims gay people can’t do, however hard they try. Clearly that’s up for debate and he was left looking rather silly by the gay Member of Parliament seated next to him. He was largely undaunted though, going on to claim that heterosexual couples can reproduce, which makes being straight the right way to live (as though all straight couples are having children), only 1% of the population are gay, and that people aren’t born gay, it is brought on in the course of their development. Like a psychological disorder.

The discussion progressed to whether the Anglican church should embrace gay clergy and their gay congregation or not, which was interesting, if you’re into these things. Then we went back to whether gay people should come out or not and the same gentleman in the audience managed to make it sound like if no-one came out there’d be no gay people, since coming out is essential to the gay movement. Which is clearly ridiculous.

The potential for debating these points is of course endless, I don’t need to do it here, and the more homophobic opinions weren’t shared by the majority of the people in the BBC studio which, for balance, included Peter Tatchell, the gay human rights campaigner, who was given the last word.

What I was left thinking about, however, was how easily homophobic views had just been aired on a Sunday morning show. When the racist leader of the British National Party was a guest on ‘Question Time’ a night time political debate show, it caused massive protests outside the BBC studios, egg throwing, and national headlines. Yet two people with clearly homophobic views–people who believe being gay is not valid and is against God–are allowed onto a morning show, undoubtedly watched by all the family, without a whimper of protest. I applaud the BBC for allowing controversial speakers their freedom of speech, which almost always ends in them being shown up as the bigots they are. I wonder though, why racism can motivate the nation to protest, while homophobia is barely noticed?

Is homophobia the last acceptable prejudice? I don’t like to think so, but that show on Sunday morning certainly gave me pause for thought.

Don’t ask, don’t tell…

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I’ve just been pointed in the direction of a story by Steve Williams on care2.com (read story) which tells how an American soldier, Private Bethany Smith, who after allegedly suffering intense homophobic bullying, including death threats, within the ranks and being refused a discharge despite admitting to being gay, felt she was forced to go AWOL and seek asylum in Canada.

Of course, you could wonder why any gay person would want to joint an army with a policy like ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’. This is the system actually designed to allow gay people to be in an army which still officially prohibits homosexuality. A soldier found ‘guilty’ of homosexual conduct will still be discharged. So the idea is  just don’t talk about it and no-one will know.

I don’t want to comment on Private Smith’s case in particular, other than to say I am appalled that, in these apparently modern times, that anyone is bullied for their sexuality – or anything else that sets them apart – in their workplace, and that their employers do nothing to resolve the situation. Just because being in the army – any army – equates with being tough, it should not be a place where bullying is acceptable.

What I do want to talk briefly about is my own astonishment when I discovered what  ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ means. The first time I heard of it was during the episode of (that wholly accurate reflection of lesbian society) ‘The L Word’ where the character of Tasha is charged with homosexual conduct. I wondered what her girlfriend Alice meant when she used the phrase ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. Once I found out, I was astounded.

This attitude, that homosexuality can exist, as long as no-one talks about it, is exactly what society has been trying to escape from for the last century. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ makes ‘gay’ a dirty word in a way that society in general has left behind. Have the American military not noticed that we’re in the 21st century now? I don’t pretend that the army will ever be an easy place for gay people, but to have an official policy which condones making homosexuality effectively a dirty secret, in this day and age, frankly horrifies me.