Do you want to know a secret?

Some stories are not ours to share. It isn’t my right to share the stories of loss, pain, illness and even love of anyone other than myself. And for the most part my own stories are so closely interwoven with the stories of others, friends, family and assorted loved ones, that it’s practically impossible to share without contravening this rather simple notion. I’d argue that even if someone seems to encourage me to share their story, or doesn’t actually tell me not to, I still don’t have that right.

We ‘share’ so much these days. Sharing has become a touch of a button activity. I’m regularly told that by not sharing I’m not caring, that somehow by clicking that button I’m proving my empathetic, sympathetic nature to my friends, their friends, and on and on in a mirrored corridor way. By not clicking that button I’m proving myself uncaring, unsympathetic, somehow unworthy. And you know what? I’m not sure I do care, can care, about it all. About all the loss, pain, illness and love that flits across my timeline in a way that feels increasingly uncaring. It seems to scream out “I hit the button. I’m a caring person. By hitting the button I’ve done my bit’”.

I understand the attraction of peering into the mire of the lives of others offering as it does that cold-blooded sense of relief, the (let’s be honest) satisfaction of knowing that bad things happen to strangers too. But try to remember that our loved ones are someone else’s strangers, and that maybe we can do our bit by maintaining a solid fence around their mire.

So before hitting that button, remind yourself that some stories are just not ours to share. And if share you must you really can’t go wrong with kittens…

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3.06 mile snippets

Overheard, encountered and observed on this morning’s walk. In no particular order

‘Morning!’ x 5. All dogwalkers.

“Dad? Dad?” ‘MMmm?’ “Da-ad. I found a snowy stone in my trainer last yesterday.” ‘Mmm.’

A sign that read FOOTPATH CLOSED – at a totally unhelpful stage in my walk.

“Close the door. Close the bleedin’ door!”

“Excuse me, but can you tell me what the time is please?” Small strolling boy, somewhat late for school.

Diggers, lorries and assorted building site cacophony.

A well-coiffed woman, bent near double pushing a teeny child on a scooter, while simultaneously walking a fluffy white well-coiffed dog, and holding a conversation with a similarly well-coiffed woman pushing a behemoth of a pushchair within which was a well-coiffed toddler, who apparently answered to the name ‘Serenity’.

PLEASE DON’T FED (sic) THE ANIMALS. THEY WILL GET SICK.

14 For Sale signs.

Duck squawk. Goose squawk. Swan disdain. Gull squeak.
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“Sheila. Here Sheila. That’s a good girl. No Sheila. No! Sorry!”

“Those variegated ones like last year. I really think I’d ….”

“Woof” and variations on a theme of “woof” from assorted canines.

“Stop mucking about or you’re back in the pushchair. Stop it!”

‘UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT IN THE BAGGING AREA’

Birdsong. (Play for lovely sounds!)

Sunshine sparkling on the River Wharfe.

Sun on Wharfe

 

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Not the final curtain for us/them/you

Not the final curtain for us/them/you

And so it ends! I’ve written a play; a play that actors performed as a rehearsed read-through; a play that a few people, including two family members, paid to see; a play that I never saw. So You Want To Be A Writer (SYWTBAW) is the programme for would-be playwrights that is run and supported by the magnificent West Yorkshire Playhouse, and which I was part of for a few significant weeks. Those of you who’ve read the previous parts of this blogging series will know that it’s been a bit of a waltzer ride – and for someone like me who doesn’t really do fairground stuff that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. But it presented me with the opportunity to do something rather special, for me anyway.
Like many, many, many, many people I fancy myself as a bit of writer. No? Really? Who’d’ve guessed it? I dabble in a bit of poetry, have had an on-off relationship with drama and feel I can class myself as a writer (failed), having had a proper rejection letter for a short story I submitted to a popular with a certain age magazine not too long ago. So am I? A writer I mean.

Back pedalling slightly I need to tell you about my application to the SYWTBAW programme. It was about me of course, who I am, a couple of anecdotes about my life, the dog, the chewed homework, why I wanted to write… But it was also about the fact that there are quite a lot of women around like me, actually we’re bloody everywhere! But not really visible; instead we’re in a state of unbeing that many of those of us/them/you over 45 will understand perfectly. And yes there are more and more of us/them/you on stage and screen but given the amount of us/them/you there are cluttering up the place, shouldn’t we be just a bit more visible, a bit more ‘there’? For a start we could maybe be portrayed in more interesting ways, because after all we’re quite something, us/them/you. Don’t get me wrong I love Shirley Valentine, I love stories of women overcoming the odds, finding themselves, finding anything – the car keys can be an achievement in my case, tackling the issues etc etc. But so many of these stories are wrought with lashings of laughs and ‘her, she’s becoming a right laugh, she is’ moments, oh she left her husband because he ignored her, but she learned to laugh and stand up to her unappreciative family, bounce on a bouncy thing, have fun. Fun is all very well but I draw the line at bouncing. I appreciate that things have to be watchable, engaging, marketable but reducing us/them/you to something of a parody does none of us any favours. And being presented with ‘strong women’ as some sort of sop doesn’t really do it for me – I’ve seen strong and it’s really knackering.

So I’m saying all this but I’m not sure I’m able to offer a solution, or in fact produce anything that counters all the problems I have listed above; but you know what, I’m going to try. Because (stands up, raises eyes to ceiling and shouts) I’m a writer. Or at least I am on the days when kind friends, unusually kind family members and the occasional stranger tell me they like what I’ve put down on paper.

Anyway… I wrote a five minute play, which was far from perfect, but which was fairly well received from what I can gather. Sadly I wasn’t there because I was working away. At first I was upset that that would be my first and final opportunity to see my work on a stage. And now? Well now I have a five minute piece that I’m going to develop into something more, both in terms of length and dramatic strength. The protagonist? A late middle-aged woman of course, and one who has been described in feedback as ‘what a cow!’, ‘a great character’, and ‘worryingly honest’, so I think I should stick with her, don’t you?

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Look ma, I’m writing. And talking to myself!

Look ma, I’m writing. And talking to myself!

In case anyone noticed, last week I didn’t write my weekly blog following my Monday night playwriting workshop at a prestigious theatre in the North of England. So guess what? This week is a combo-blog!

Apologies for my attempt at a feeble Cagneyism in my title, but last Monday found me doing just that, writing! Emma Adams, who works with a number of different theatre groups, including Red Ladder, led us in a creative writing workshop. We literally wrote for close to an hour and three quarters, working on a series of exercises to stimulate ideas while encouraging us to draw on images and fleeting memories from our past, or letting our other senses lead us down different pathways to remember or re-imagine events and situations. We drew on memory to write about someone from the past, we listened to music to write about what that music evoked in us at that moment, we tasted sweeties and sniffed pieces of fruit to see where those senses would take us. It was tremendous fun and I found myself writing in a way that I had never really written before. I’ve always avoided writing descriptively – laziness maybe, or a lack of tenacity perhaps – but the last activity had me writing solidly for 15 minutes and the result was both unexpected and pleasing. We also shared our thoughts and what we’d written with someone else in the group. This was the first opportunity to have someone say how our writing made them feel, and what our words evoked in them. I was buzzing by the end of the two hours and at the very least felt that perhaps I could write. Of course that was probably due to a large degree to my ever so positive partner for the session who seemed to like my descriptive piece, or at least said he did, and hey at this stage I take the compliments where I find them.

Monday’s session was very different and took us back to actual playwriting. Monday was monologue night! Monday was ‘write a monologue and read it out to the group’ night! Oh yes, terror and inadequacy in equal measure throughout the first hour; near enjoyment and a sense that hey I’ve written a reasonable monologue by the end of the second. Mark Catley, who’s been working with us since the start, is a seasoned playwright and screenwriter and has a great way of helping you realise the point at which prose becomes theatre, or indeed vice versa. His advice on writing a monologue drew directly on his own experience and although I can’t be sure everyone in the group didn’t have the skill needed to write a monologue at 7 o’clock they sure as heck had a lot more skill by 9 o’clock.

I wrote a monologue for one of three characters, the three characters I’ve tentatively imagined in a particular situation at a particular time in a particular place – or in other words, my five minute piece. Before Monday my monologue-spouting character was important but not key, but by writing a monologue I realised that I could change things around a bit and it might be a lot more interesting. Or not.

Am I sure now what I’m going to be writing? Not really. Am I any less terrified than I was a few weeks ago? Not really. Am I better able to actually write something that might not be too cringeworthy for those who actually see it? Gosh ma, I really think I am.

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Structuring my story

Structuring my story

I’ve left writing this next blog post in my ‘KnowingD becomes a playwright’ series until several days after the second session, which was on Monday night.  I had hoped I’d be able to articulate how I’m feeling about the whole thing, or at least say something insightful and profound… well, guess what? I can’t.

And this is absolutely fine and dandy.  I’m quite pleased that my world hasn’t been turned on its head and that what I am feeling is enjoyment. Just that. On reflection I didn’t need an earth-shattering road to Damascus experience – too exhausting, and I have a bad knee – from the writing programme. My backstory has quite enough of those, thank you. I also wasn’t looking for something to fill my days, though not because my days whizz by in a flurry of productive, fulfilling activity. Time is my one abundant resource these days. And ain’t that a pain?

Structure: I’m a woman seeking structure! And egads and gadzooks it’s being handed to me every Monday evening at a theatre in the North of England;  in both a practical ‘how to structure a story’ way and then a ‘what to productively do with my time’ way for the rest of the week. I don’t really get bored. Having all this time on my hands means I get to read, watch movies and boxed sets galore, go out for afternoon tea and meet friends a lot. But having lots of time is dangerous because if you’re the slightest given to procrastination then procrastination becomes the norm. Why do something today when tomorrow presents the same time acreage? Time is not your friend. Take it from a woman who knows.

But I leap ahead… the ‘how to structure a story’ using 10 questions is ideal and delivered by a terrifically experienced and successful writer makes it doubly interesting. (The approach is based on John Yorke’s book Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story – which I can wholeheartedly recommend for anyone interesting in writing for the stage or screen).  A practical approach that holds huge appeal for me, Mrs Activist/Pragmatist (apologies to Kolb but I’m delighted that my decades in training and development has given me some useful terminology to misuse) who really can’t hack the theoretical and reflective to any great extent.  Applying the 10 questions, as we did in the sessions, to our favourite movies was not only fun but introduced me to a framework that has both instinctive and practical appeal. You see, being honest, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to apply what we learned on the programme because I know me. I worried, based on previous experience that I’d be the loudly silent woman in the room, the one who couldn’t quite keep one eyebrow and her top lip from silently proclaiming her cynicism, but instead it’s bloody brilliant! Listening to the others in the group is equally fascinating and enjoyable. Smart bunch, but not scary!

The ‘what to productively do with my time’ structured approach means my days are filled with thinking up stories, jotting down odd notions that could become stories, and some other writing as well. I’ve churned out an indifferent short story and an obtuse poem. And of course doing my homework! For homework we have to write a one page story that is told in the 10 questions – I’m up to three one-pagers, with not one of these looking like the one that could become my performed piece at the end of the programme. I’m not aiming to be class swot, honest, it’s just that I’m finding it fun – and that’s not a word that features highly in my personal lexicon. The added benefit is that I get to apply the 10 questions to everything story-based that I encounter on screen and on the radio. Massively entertaining and revealing.

But I need my own story, sooner rather than later. So onward I go in search of THE story, the one that warrants telling and of course watching!

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A reader not a writer?

A reader not a writer?

I believe I have some of my best ideas sitting in my car. Waiting for family members to turn up, queueing in standing traffic on the M62/M60* (*replace with your own hell road), lurking in car parks in those minutes before you really need to get out the car to keep the commitment you made to do something vaguely scary. Many of my life or career changing decisions have been reached sitting in my car. I’m not really sure what that says about me other than I spend too much time in my car apparently.

Anyway Monday evening found me lurking in the car park of a significant theatre in the North of England. The Archers hadn’t started yet so I couldn’t use the excuse that my extreme desire to hear about the state of Tom’s sausages had prevented me from turning up (I’m never late. If I ever apologise for being late understand that I was in fact lurking in the car park talking myself into attending whatever it was I was late for. So count yourself honoured that I arrived at all).

Why was I there? Why was I lurking? Why did I have an extreme urge to drive to Manchester and back to kill the next few hours and so not really have to explain why I was home ridiculously early? After all I want to be a writer. I must do because I actually applied to join the programme at said significant theatre in the North of England. The chance to work with a well-known writer of drama doesn’t come along too often, or at all for those who applied and didn’t get a place. And as a good friend has pointed out they offered me a place based on my written application. But yet  there I was in the car park poised to leap, bad knee and all, onto the next precarious Jenga bar that forms the framework of my life.

Of course I got out the car. I went into the eerily quiet theatre, joined the other members of our disparate group and spent the next couple of hours discovering more about the others’ personal stories. I’m not a writer. I didn’t just discover this on the night but it was fully confirmed when others revealed the extent to which they’ve written, published, had things performed, won prizes… Granted that wasn’t all of us so the group is an excellent mix of experience, background, age and gender and if it all comes together as planned then we’ve quite a journey ahead of us. But it seems important to admit this after a few days of pondering the event.

I guess I’d expected or hoped the first session would instil some sense of excitement, urgency even, wherein I’d be fired up to get ‘it’ all down, but that didn’t quite happen. To be fair I’m not entirely sure what ‘it’ I want to get onto the page, and then onto the stage and my worry is that this lack of certainty means I might not really want it, or not as much as the others seemed to! Gosh, this is exhausting!

However I faced the night armed with every new girl’s talisman, a lovely new notebook, and I’d inadvertently made myself class swot by already having ordered a recommended book, John Yorke’s Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story. And for this I thank many hours lurking in the car listening to BBC Radio 4. An abiding memory of the evening did in fact come from proudly showing my new notebook to the illustrious, well-known writer and shrieking, “look! I bought a new notebook for tonight!” His response, “me too!” was strangely comforting.

So off I go to write… but let me finish reading my new book first.

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An escape route

I‘ve proven over the years that I’m not a great employee and my response to this week’s 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups as the line was crossed … is my tongue in cheek view of employed bliss!

And as always if you get the chance it’s always worth checking out the other responses which you can find by clicking on the pretty globe below.

100wcgu-71

 

I’d gone too far this time. The way she said, “but I’m sure you didn’t mean to do it” with that faintly complicit smile directed at her partner, not at me, was my confirmation. Of course I’d meant to do it. I’d imagined a way out and planned my escape for months. I’d worked hard to test boundaries, check out the limits, prod at the perimeter of the rule book. Eventually I realised that it wasn’t the big things that would break their resolve and as the line was crossed, as I pulled into her designated parking space, I knew that tomorrow I’d be free.

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And (Yet) Another New Start

If I divide my age by the number of different careers that I’ve tentatively embarked upon, and actually held down, the result maybe doesn’t look too bad; but I’m possibly fooling myself. If I were to list the necessary skills that I’ve acquired to become my own equivalent of the butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker and that lad who popped his thumb into foodstuffs, and added these skills to my Linkedin profile, those who didn’t know me would think I was given to exaggeration. And then if someone were to ask me, ‘what do you do for a living at the moment?’ and I was to itemise the bits and pieces of things that earn me a rather meagre crust, their quizzical eyebrow raise would demonstrate that in all likelihood they thought I was in the throes of some kind of delusional episode. I try and stop myself using the phrase, ‘oh, I’ve done that!’ even though I often have.

I occasionally worry that I should have outgrown this floundering about in search of my own yellow brick career path, but tonight I embark upon yet another new start. However, I hold a tiny belief that this next detour may work well on a foundation built of things learned, tried and discarded. I could be wrong, because to be fair the plumbing didn’t totally work out for me, but I may have hit on just the job. A job where delusional isn’t necessarily a bad thing, too!

And if it works out reasonably well and I’m brave enough to share the process, watch this space …

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An eye opening moment

After my foray into the world of proper walking (http://knowingmoreorless.com/a-very-definite-first/) I can honestly say that my head is the only part of me that isn’t aching but it’s easy to remember that early morning feeling when the head’s pounding and the eyes just won’t open. In memoriam then here’s my response to this week’s 100 Word Challenge for grown ups (or over 16s if you prefer – though one doesn’t really equate to the other in my experience). And after you’ve read my response to … despite the pounding in my head … you might like to read other grown-up responses here

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If I open one eye gently, with care, it might be possible to coax the other one into life. Who knew my right eye was so stubborn? Maybe if I explain that when it opens all it’s going to have to face is a view of the ceiling, in very dim light? No, it remains well and truly shut. Okay. Perhaps my left eye can be convinced that it’s in the best interest of all my body parts to face the day despite the pounding in my head. And just who was it swopped my pillow for a concrete slab in the dark of the night?

 

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A very definite first

For those of you who don’t know me, and I’m kind of hoping that several newbies will drop in for a read, I am not outdoorsy, fit, sporty, or a great fan of the clothing required for the associated activity; though I do like comfy flat shoes. This bit of biog is essential background to why I’m writing a blog post about my walk up Pen-y-Ghent – vaguely historic, and a definite first. And as further background I am agoraphobic; any views that are described as breathtaking, stunning, awe-inspiring will render me breathless, stunned and awe-struck, with a touch of panic and hysteria thrown in for that fully rounded experience. Tears and retching are often the result.  Another reason I like comfy flat shoes is that I can rapidly turn my attention to them when someone utters that terrifying phrase, “Oh! Wow! Look!”

penyghent3

I’ve decided to use the pics I took as the route through the story.  Stopping to take these was my canny method of pausing to get my breath back, though I’ll try and avoid putting the expletives that ran through my head onto the page. Please appreciate my bravery in actually  raising my mobile phone to take in the view…

snowdrops

Snowdrops in a graveyard seem rather poignant. New life in the midst of death. But always  a welcome first sign of spring; winter is behind us! But is it?!

 

A nice gentle stroll past the graveyard and past cats. Cats! In less
than five minutes I saw 12 cats. Horton-in-Ribblesdale, what is it with the cats? But forget the cats; what about this snow? It’s March. March!!more snow
Around this point we caught up with several other groups of walkers, and the cry ‘nearly at the top’ was patently a lie for us Pen-y-Ghent virgins. When we were ‘nearly at the top’ it was impossible to do anything other than concentrate on clambering up rocks and avoid looking down.

  This unprepossessing column, I am told, is a trig point.

But more importantly it was the top, and I’d reached  it!  The expected fanfare was resounding in its silence. I got my partner to take a picture of me to prove my achievement, but even Photoshop couldn’t have manipulated that ruddy glow into anything pleasant, so it got deleted. You’ll need to take my word for the fact that I, me, myself took this picture. At the top of one of the Three Peaks!

summit

going down5

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this looks like a pleasant path downward. It was bleeding treacherous! Ice, snow and lots of loose shale meant that I skidded about in a very unseemly manner for at least a mile. And then there were the little hillocks of grit waiting to be raked flat to make the way a little easier – running up and over these was great fun. Though I don’t think my knees are thanking me for this bit of frolicking. Suffice to say that as the fleets of agile fell runners zipped past I wasn’t thinking, “I’m going to do that one day”. What I actually thought probably shouldn’t be repeated, so I won’t.

greenwall final
And this luscious wall could hardly be described as dry stone, could it? This green glory lined the last stretch of our trek; the totally flat, viewless stretch of our trek. Blissful!

I’m still not outdoorsy, fit, or sporty and I still don’t like the clothes much but you know what? It was as close to enjoyable as 9.8 km, mainly uphill, with panoramic views across a vast expanse of Yorkshire, is ever likely to get! But the chances of doing the other two of the Three Peaks remain fairly slim.

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