Tag Archives: Nottingham

A journey complete and a new one just beginning…

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I’m relaxing tonight after another wonderful weekend in Nottingham with the writers and readers of Bold Strokes Books, plus other friends who we can count as new readers and even potential writers. It’s been lovely. I intend to write a much longer blog about it at some point because there’s lots I want to say. But for now, there is just something I wanted to post.

From my seat on the panel I had a good view out of the window, across Nottingham. My city. So much of this place has meaning for me. So many memories, so many moments. I like to attach them to geographical places. I like to think “that happened there, at this moment…” That way I know those memories are real, whenever I look at a building or see a view. It seems more solid than trusting my own faculties, or other people’s. We were high up, on the fourth floor of the bookstore. I could see a lot. I won’t go into the memories…some of them are old and faded, fondly handled now and again. Some are more recent and still only released into the past with great reluctance. I couldn’t help but stare and contemplate the journey…

I will undoubtedly write more. But I have a sense right now of having completed the first leg of the journey I’ve been on since I returned to the UK from Slovenia two years ago. The first Bold Strokes event marked the start of it. This one marked the end. The resting place for now while I work out the direction I have to go in next. I remember who I was and where I was. I remember the light inside me flickering weakly, being afraid to let it shine. And I know how I felt this weekend. Emotional, yes. Very. And not all of them good emotions. But not timid or afraid. Not frightened to be me.

These pictures say it all…

July 2010. First Bold Strokes festival.

July 2011. Second Bold Strokes festival.

 

August 2012. Third Bold Strokes festival.

I spent a lot of today on the verge of tears. There’s a lot going on. But I find comfort in remembering the journey. The travelling, the stopping off points, the exact moments of it. The places I’ve found rest and solace. And the ultimate comfort, though the path into the future isn’t clear, is seeing how far I’ve come. The photos prove it. Finally, I worked it out and the light is shining brighter than ever. Now I just have to work out the best way to keep it blazing strong.

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.

Good Queen Bess

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Just a quick post…because it follows on so well from my last one in which I posted photographs of the two Queen Elizabeths. I spent the whole of Monday and the whole of today performing my own interpretation of the first of them at work. The greatest queen ever to rule Britain…as I’ve been telling people all day. I’m not sure whether she is or not, but I certainly believed it while I was still in the wig, costume and make up. What do you think? 🙂

True, my interpretation probably owed more to Miranda Richardson’s fabulous Queenie in Blackadder II than historical accuracy. But I still found myself embodying the character. It struck me how similar creating a character in a novel as a writer is to creating a character as an actress. I always try to embody the characters in my books for a while too. It’s a fascinating process.

And it was amazing fun. I don’t know where the girl who was terrified of public speaking went…but I can’t say I miss her!

Oh, and just in case you wanted to know, I didn’t win the Lambda Award I was nominated for. But I honestly don’t mind at all. I’m thrilled Ghosts of Winter was nominated, it was a real honour. And I don’t write for awards. I’m getting good feedback already for The Locket and the Flintlock. One reader writing to me to tell me how much they enjoyed it…that’s what keeps me going more than any award ever could.

Ramblings…

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I’ve got one or two things to talk to about tonight. Nothing very profound, but still, good things. I’ve been tired lately, I’ve been working so much. At my day job, you understand, at the Galleries of Justice museum, which is many jobs rolled into one. I’ve been a Victorian warder, a Georgian murdress and a servant-whore in the last couple of weeks, as well as working with school groups.

Today was an interesting day at work. The Galleries of Justice also operate the City of Caves, a short distance away. This is a network of caves, accessed through a 1960s shopping centre. The caves, like the hundreds of others beneath the buildings of Nottingham, are manmade, cut into the sandstone rock on which Nottingham stands. It’s the same rock that Nottingham Castle is perched on, and into which the dungeons of my usual haunt at the County Gaol are cut into. They go back as far as medieval times, but found their heyday later, when used as a tannery (where leather was made). Still later, the residents of Drury Hill, an infamous thoroughfare in Victorian and early-twentieth century Nottingham, cut down into the rock to make cellars and extra rooms below their houses. Later still, they were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War. It’s a fascinating place. The history is tangible, and you can see it in layers, like a physical timeline. In one part of the cave system you can look above your head and see the concrete underside of the uncommonly ugly Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. Just below–in places almost touching it–are the remains of the red brick walls of the houses of Drury Hill.

Drury Hill

You can even see some of the old kerb stones. You are practically standing in the cellars of those houses, looking at the steps they cut into the stone, the broken dividing walls that made them into seperate properties. And you see the sandstone itself, the older caves, the medieval well. Just a little further on and you find an old tavern cellar, divided by just a wall from the railway tunnel that brought about the demolition of the tavern itself. The whole place is a mess of chronology and archaeology, fact and fable.

Part of the Tudorl tannery

It’s hard to be a tour guide there. But what a privilege to spend time in such a meeting point of history. So many human stories, over so many centuries, all gathered in some gloomy holes in the sandstone, cowering under the concrete of progress. But still there, persisting, when they could have been filled in and lost. Even Drury Hill, once so notorious and now invisible from the surface, still lingers there. A ghost of the past. These are the things that move me. These are the things that make me want to write historical novels. I want to find the stories, resurrect the ghosts, find their traces in our present and bring the history back into the light. It makes me feel excited about being a writer again.

On a different–but related–topic, I’m excited to talk about a new anthology. My writing group, Sapphist Writers, have been busy for some time writing and collecting poems and short stories. And now we’ve put it all together into an anthology. Even the wonderfully exuberant front cover was a collaborative effort. This collection is all about celebrating the diversity and creativity of a group of women brought together by a love of words. It will be available online (we’re finalising in which formats) through the Sapphist Writers’ blog, from 28th February. That’s the launch night, and also the night that Sapphist Writers are receiving an award at the Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage Celebration Evening. The anthology contains two of my poems and two short prose pieces, and a whole host of other wonderful pieces. All proceeds will be going to Nottingham Women’s Centre.

So, good things. And writing about them has made me happy, despite my being hormonally grumpy tonight. I’m finding life’s like that at the moment. There’s lots of depressing, agonising, sad and difficult things. They don’t go away. But the bright, happy, exciting, colourful things are always there too. And that’s wonderful!

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!

Wow, what a weekend!

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It’s taken me until Thursday to recover from the 2nd Annual Bold Strokes Books Author Event in Nottingham. I don’t think I realised quite how much I wanted it to be a success, just how important it was to me. Even when all the work that could be done had been done, there was still a certain tension. I suspected it would be wonderful, but I didn’t know for sure.

I shouldn’t have worried, of course. It was wonderful. Although it’s kind of a blur for me, I’ve heard enough feedback to know that people had a interesting and fun time.

Personally, I found it phenomenal that we’d brought together such an ecclectic bunch of people. Mostly women, and mostly gay, but not all. Mostly readers and budding writers, but not all. To see old friends and new chatting together, people from both sides of the Atlantic and from various UK and European destinations all getting on together. There are no words for how exciting that is. They appreciated the books, the readings, and my beautiful Nottingham. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And knowing that it was, in part, because of me. Wow. There aren’t other words for it. I feel genuinely proud.

And how wonderful it is that words brought these people together. Creativity, inspiration and a love of fiction. This is why I write. I love words, I love imagination, I love escaping into a fictional world. I love to read. To have the ability to create those worlds, to give readers new words to respond to is an amazing thing. Facing a room full of those readers makes me only appreciate it more. And I’m aware of what a gift it is, how lucky I am. I felt humble and proud at the same time. So many discerning readers, mostly older and more widely read than me, and a whole bunch of talented writers…to be part of it was an honour, to know I was one of the reasons it was happening almost astonishing.

Reading from 'Ghosts of Winter'

I’m still vaguely bewildered when someone asks me to sign a book for them. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that. I still have an inner terror that they’ll be disappointed and wish they’d not bought it. I signed a lot of copies of Ghosts of Winter. I’m just beginning to trust that people genuinely want to read it and aren’t just humouring me…And it means the world.

If you are a budding writer, this is for you: Write. Write with all of your heart and soul, as if you’re going to be published. Know, in the back of your mind that you might not be, but believe that you are. Write something you would be proud to see in the world. Don’t limit yourself by what you think the world wants to see. Write what you want to say, what is in your heart. And don’t listen to the people who tell you you’ll never make it. Because you just might. If you want to write, make it part of your journey. “We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.” (Gloria Gaither). As a writer, the chances are you will stumble a lot. There will be rejection, there might be criticism, envy, or people who tell you it can’t be done. But don’t lose sight of the rainbow or the fact that you CAN fly. This weekend was my rainbow. It was glorious and I am so grateful for it. But I wouldn’t have seen it if I’d not kept writing. Not been afraid to change direction when the first one wasn’t working. Not been afraid to send my words out into the world and see if someone would publish them. In what were very dark times for me, I reached for that rainbow and I wrote. On Saturday and Sunday, I really truly appreciated how vibrant those colours are.

Last year, this event marked my first event as a writer, and also, in many ways, my public coming out. It’s been quite a year since then, personally and as a writer…Without going into depth, it’s been a journey that’s brought me back to myself. To punctuate this phase of my journey with such amazing, special events is a real privilege. But it’s not a full stop, just a comma…there is more to come. Next year’s event will be more amazing. I have another book, The Locket and the Flintlock coming out in May 2012. And I’m still taking one step after another on my journey. I read somewhere recently that “Success is a journey not a destination…” (Ben Sweetland) and it’s true. The success of the wonderful BSB event was amazing. It reflected my own success as a published writer. But I’m going on…I won’t rest on the success and be content. If anything, it drives me forwards.

So I want to say thank you. To everyone who was involved in the BSB event. To my publisher, Bold Strokes Books, for letting my voice out into the world. To Victoria Oldham, for supreme and inspiring organisational skills. To every writer (and editor) on the panel (Gill McKnight, Lesley Davis, Justine Saracen, Stacia Seaman, Cari Hunter, I. Beacham, Jane Fletcher). To Waterstone’s for hosting a queer event in a mainstream bookstore. And especially to the readers, the ones who came, and the ones who couldn’t but wanted to. To everyone who has supported me personally. For every hug and every reminder to breathe. Thank you.

Onwards and upwards. Next year’s going to be amazing!

Discussing the publishing process...

No more limits…

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Today I spent four hours in Waterstone’s in Nottingham sitting behind–and occasionally meandering around–a table piled with copies of both of my published books, Truths and Ghosts of Winter. My first solo book signing. Or my first solo sitting-on-my-own-in-a-bookstore-hoping-I-at-least-sell-one-copy.

Truths

I set my target low. One copy. And I beat that target, several times over. No, I didn’t sell lots of books, and many of those I did were to people I already know. But I certainly sold more than would have ever been picked up from the shelves of Waterstone’s on an average Saturday. I also got to hang out with some great people, who came to keep me company, who I most likely wouldn’t know if I wasn’t a writer, including my fellow Bold Strokes author Lisa Girolami. And I got to sit and look at my books. MY books. All published and shiny in their beautiful covers, with my name on the front.

To begin with, it was intimidating. To be all on my own, with my books, in a store full of wonderful books of all kinds, and lots of literature-hungry customers. I couldn’t quite get past the idea that I was a fraud and that anyone who bought my books would be disappointed and wish they’d bought one of the thousands of other books in the store. I’ve always been in awe of Waterstone’s, of the brilliant volumes on the shelves and their myriad of compelling covers. So it was hard to make myself “part” of it. I felt like an intruder.

Ghosts of Winter

But then something happened. I wandered around and picked up some of those books. I revisited favourites, let titles catch my eye, examined the covers. I read the blurbs. So many intriguing stories. And my overall impression was one of a world without limits. Fiction really can go wherever it wants to. Within five minutes I’d found a book about the second coming of Christ in modern day New York, a depiction of a medieval queen, a Regency romance, and a book of vampire erotica. And that was such a small sample of what surrounded me.

Of course, I’m hardly saying anything new. Part of the point of fiction is that it is unlimited. The writer sets the rules of their own world and everything takes second place to the story. Those rules bend however a writer wants them to. However, writers can be limited. I was. My first novel, provisionally titled Butterfly will never be published. It’s not badly written and I very much like some of my characters.  But I wrote it with limits. I considered that my friends and family would read it. I considered that I didn’t really understand people that well and thus in dealing with the psychological mind-set of my characters, and didn’t want to present unrealistic thought patterns or motivations. I indulged in characterisation and description, but I never let my mind soar free. The result is something rather mundane and constrained.

The limits have relaxed a little. Becoming aware of my sexuality and finally grasping hold of my individuality led to Truths, written very quickly, in a time when I no longer worried what my relatives would think. Ghosts of Winter is unusual in some ways, but I was still frightened what people would think, so I made sure to stay “safe” with my second novel. There are really no controversial characters or ideas, nothing complicated to understand. Emotionally, it was a challenge to write, but it also fit nicely into the limits of what I thought I could achieve. There is nothing outspoken. Maybe nothing outstanding. That’s not a derogatory comment, but an acknowledgement of the fact that my novels are unlikely to provoke much comment or thought. I even worried a lot about the idea of including a short romance between gay men in a novel with a lesbian target market.

If I’m honest, I was scared to go further. Talk about religion, for better or worse? Include a character who does not have their wicked side in check, but is still appealing? Challenge expectations–of both the heterosexist world and the lesbian community? Many brilliant novels do none of these things. But the reason mine don’t, I realise, is that I didn’t feel capable. Who am I to delve into the mind of a villain? Who am I to present a confident, experienced, witty protagonist? Who am I to use psychological, philsophical or theological ideas as part of my plot?

Today I realised that I can do all of those things, and more, because I’m a writer. I DO have a talent for it. I can create worlds with my words. And in those worlds, I make the rules. I am the powerful one. The only limits are the ones I choose to impose. Any bookstore is a repository of worlds created by other writers. I’m as good as them. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. But I’m a writer just like any other. When I pick up one of their books and admire their bravery, at tackling a difficult or in-depth topic as part of their plot, or for taking on a twisty, complicated structure, I don’t need to be intimidated. I need to remember I’m a writer too, and I have no more limits than any of them. I can be intelligent, witty, wicked and fun…thoughtful, controversial, romantic, far-reaching. I can soar on the wings of imagination.

So, on with the writing. But I’m going to indulge that teenage rebellion I never allowed myself before. I’m going to open all the doors of my mind and see what’s lurking. I’m going to embrace my curiosity and the paths my intellect leads me down. I’ll even look in the dark places, the questioning places, and the fun places.

And I will trust my readers to come with me into that world. I’ll seduce and charm them with words until my rules are the ones that form the boundaries.

I finally believe that I can do it. I was perfectly legitimately placed in that bookstore today. Writing is the gift I was given and I am a writer.  That means I’m unlimited.

And, maybe, life will imitate art. 😀

By the way, I’m very much looking forward to the Bold Strokes Books 2nd Annual Author Event on 23rd and 24th of THIS MONTH!