I Care What You Think….

Strewn over my bed lie two dresses, a pair of too-tight trousers, a too-short summer skirt and a chaotic mound of mismatched tops. In three hours I’ll be heading out for mid-week drinks and saucers of Spanish food; a belated birthday gathering. But what shall I wear? image

Wear whatever you feel comfortable in’ my well-meaning husband offers. Hmm, that’ll be his pyjama bottoms, my faded hoodie and a pair of egg-yolk stained slippers. I doubt my lounge suit will meet approval from the three women I’m going out with. Super-trendy types. The sort who know exactly what colour, fabric and shape is ‘this season.’ The sort who make mood boards with snippets from Grazia. The sort I have absolutely nothing in common with. So, why am I giving so much thought to what I’m going to wear? Will it matter that my shirt is my mum’s and my boots are from eBay? And as for my reliable boot cut jeans. Boot cut jeans? Boot cut! It’s 2014 don’t you know!

I shouldn’t care what people think. I’d like to be one of those people who genuinely feel they couldn’t care less for the opinions of others. And as much as I may have said, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what they think, that’s a colossal lie. I care what people think of me. I care what you’re thinking right now. I care that you like my new shoes, hair-cut, homemade spaghetti Bolognese and strawberry-topped cupcakes.

In two months I am meeting a children’s publisher and an agent. I will be showing them my new book. The book that hasn’t made it past first draft and the one in which no one knows neither the content nor the premise. Presuming it’s finished and swept of any grammatical mines in time for the meetings, I will need to calmly and confidently sell myself and my earnestly typed words. If I greet them in tears, fearful that one negative remark will make me pass out on their lap, what chance do I have of seriously competing in the ‘chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out’ world of publishing.

How I wish I could be like my four-year old son. He thinks nothing of blurting out his every uncensored thought, nor pulling down his pants in Tesco to scratch his genitals. He has no pretension; no fear of how he’s perceived and no problem wearing mismatched shoes simply because they are comfortable. He is the only human I know who really couldn’t give a rat’s arse about your opinion.

Weren’t we all like that once? So self-assured we didn’t need 100 likes on Facebook to feel validated. So brimming with confidence that we would proudly parade our naked bodies on the beach with nothing but a saggy poo-laden pull-up. Nowadays, I’ll self-consciously cover up by moon-white limbs and fret over what clothes to wear in this ‘sunny but not exactly hot enough for shorts’ weather.

Which nicely brings me back to the beginning. What to wear tonight. Sod it. I’m not going. Time to put on my husband’s pyjamas and have a nice cup of tea. Beats talking bollocks over tapas!

Is Being Original Overrated?

This morning I considered entering a BBC script-writing competition for a 30-minute comedy. After spending a few moments reading the guidelines, I lost interest. Apparently they’re looking for something ‘original’. A particularly ironic request considering the spectacularly unoriginal content of most of their programmes. A quick scan of the sample scripts in the BBC Writers’ Room tells me originality is not one of their priorities. Safe, predictable and unfunny are.

I believe the same can be said of publishers and agents. Everyone is shouting, ‘write something original’, but a fruitless and tiresome search for a ‘good’ book in my local library confirms my thoughts. Where are the original stories? If you want a book about a 20-something shoe-loving PR assistant from Chelsea with a useless boyfriend who cheats on her, you’re spoilt for choice. Or a book about an undomesticated 30-something singleton looking for love from her North London home. Yawn, yawn, bloody yawn.

Most of my children’s books are tried and tested, unoriginal drivel. Apparently it’s never been harder to get a book published. Well, clearly not. You just need to toe the line and write what everyone else is writing. Ideally something with fairies, princesses, pirates and cars.

Right now, my daughter is watching another Disney film. And I’m here tutting at the predictable precociousness piping out from the speakers.

But as my five-year old daughter contentedly sits with saucer-eyes enjoying every moment of the magic, she cares not for the script’s unoriginality nor grows tired of the stereotypical characteristics displayed by the dainty but spirited and beautiful heroines. She laps it up like an orphaned hedgehog with a bowl of warm milk.

So what’s my problem? Well, as a writer who consistently hears the ‘give me something original’ line, I’m confused; I don’t see much around me that is original. Isn’t it just shameless regurgitation?

Much like fashion in the noughties. It’s all just rehashed shite from decades before. Whilst my generation will remember fondly Flintstones jeans and England shell-suits, I doubt my children will be able to pinpoint a definitive piece of clothing that sums up their childhood. Nor TV programme, film or piece of music.Shell-suit

The twenty-somethings of today, with their windscreen-wiper eyelashes and thick eye-liner are simply reworking  the looks of the glamourous 50s and 60s. Although, whereas Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe knew have to deftly apply kohl, today’s TOWIE-inspired pups look like half pantomime ugly sister and half 1980s coal-miner. Same for the boys. Those huge quiffs and rolled-up t-shirt sleeves? That’ll be a 50s throw-back too. And probably a hundred years before then. Where’s their original stamp on the world?

Unoriginality is comforting. New ideas are not. The status-quo is welcomed with open-arms and those with pioneering ideas are ridiculed. Until they die of course. And then their lunacy is tolerated, celebrated and ultimately accepted as commonplace.

However, in spite of this depressing zeitgeist, I remain determined not to sell-out and produce horse manure. So for now, my script about a depressed 50-something bankrupt ex-lawyer working in a Northamptonshire prawn factory, will remain in my drawer.

Boys Like Glitter, Girls like Guns?

Today’s extensive coverage of the latest book related crusade, the ‘Let Books Be Campaign’ made me nod in exuberant agreement. At last someone speaking up about the ridiculous sexist nature of our children’s books. Boys like trains, girls like fairies? Could it be that girls like trains and boys like fairies?

However, one quick scan of my children’s book case and I see a prominent demarcation; half girly – ponies, rainbows, rabbits; and one half overrun with diggers, pirates and dinosaurs who poop planets. But do I care?

Well, no actually. Not in the least. I am perfectly content with my five-year old daughter reading ‘Evie the Magic Fairy Pixie Dancing Sparkling Pony’, as I am with my four-year old son, digesting his encyclopedic texts on 19th century steam trains.  They both listen to their stories with wide-eyes and questioning tongues. I’m not about the say to my son, “Right then sonny, time to listen to the one about the ballet dancing poodle who paints his nails mauve and lives in magic Froo Froo Land.”pink fairy

What’s important to me is whether my children enjoy their stories and how their imagination develops accordingly.  Each night I ask them both which story would they like me to read and it’s not always entirely predictable. Some nights, my daughter will stare at her brother’s picture book about modern transport and others she will ask for Rapunzel. It matters not in the least to me.

Girls and boys are different. They are not the same beast with different private parts.  Boys are born with more testosterone than girls (I think) and for anyone with a husband whose penis has prodded them in the back whilst they breastfeed their newborn child will testify, male and female needs are different.

However, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we adhere to societal stereotypes in the Twigg household. Not at all. I can quite often be heard telling me daughter that, whilst she could be a princess one day, she could also be a doctor. Or a pilot. Or a CEO of a football club. If she wanted.  Her choice. My son loves to dance and my husband and I happily sit and watch him perform his rendition of Swan Lake as the Tangled soundtrack plays in the background.

Although I admire the aims of the Let Books be Books campaign, I’m not sure whether urging publishers to quit labelling books as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ is a tad simplistic and naïve.  I can’t be certain, but I’m willing to take a punt that a pink, sparkly sticker book for girls will sell considerably more copies that a neutral-coloured non-gender specific sticker book with unicorns, dollies and puppies AND cars, robots and hammers.

As a writer of children’s books (ok, I’m writing my first one!), today’s news leaves me a little confused. One side of me wants to make my heroine asexual, rambunctious and tom-boy like but I worry that publishers won’t be able to sell another deliberately PC book about a chopsy female.  Aren’t you bored with Disney’s constant flow of animated heroines who are slim, big-boobed, and pretty BUT have massive balls too?   Yaaawn!    Can you see my dilemma?

I do not think my choice of bedtime story will restrict my children’s future career options nor make them oppressive, intolerant individuals. Until such a time, I won’t limit my daughter’s aspirations to activities labelled girly; I will surely indulge her penchant for fairies, princesses, pink shit and glitter. Equally, my son can dress up in his sister’s skirts but I’m happiest when I see him shooting people in the street with his plastic pirate pistol, bam, bam, bam!

I’m Back!

Hello again, 

Remember I checked-out of blogging, Facebook and Twitter to concentrate on my children’s book? My parting with Facebook lasted about ten days.  I missed the vacuous drivel and brazen boasting for some reason. Last week, I opened a new Twitter account and today, is my first blog post for some time.  Why the social media surge? Because I’m nearing completion of my book and it’s shameless promoting time of course!

I wonder how authors pre-Facebook ever managed to sell their wordy wares. And what about those writing before the PC, the internet or with just a quill? How did Milton ever find a publisher without a Writers & Artists Yearbook?

I’m not big on self-promotion or trumpet blowing. Should I purchase a Cessna and fly my family to Monaco for a lunch of white truffles, quails eggs and Beluga caviar, Facebook is the last place I’d announce it. However, I acknowledge I have a Everestic (not actually a word, but I like it) ascent to make if I want to see my children’s picture book furnish the shelves of Waterstones. And to do that, I need to shout, ‘LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!’ Eeeek, that makes me want to trade lives with a hermit crab.

I have often heard agents and publishers advise that it is often not the best writers who make it, but the ones who are the most tenacious who work day and night to get their work noticed. I was rather hoping this wasn’t the case. I’m happy with the colossal work ethic required, but wish talent could just be spotted from afar, much like models whose slightly dorky, pre-pubescent, emaciated, hot-pant-wearing bodies are spotted whilst taking the bins out.

Alas, time to turn on the Teeky Twigg PR machine. Actually, I need to finish the book first.  The book with the secret title. The book I’m too scared to tell anyone about, just in case my idea is stolen.  I’m meeting two agents in June; fifteen minutes with each.  If I haven’t got over my hermit-crab ways by then, I guess my writing dream will crash and burn.  Now back to Facebook, the best place to gain tips on unabashed promotion…

So Long…….For Now…

I started this blog six months ago, initially to chart the anticipated stormy voyage from ideas-ville to the promised land of published authors. However, I have become considerably side-tracked; spending more time on researching the ‘how’ and not enough time on the ‘now’ i.e. buckling down and physically writing.

Too much time has been lost to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and ironically, blogging. The end of the year is knocking at my door and I have little to show it. A notepad stuffed with scruffy scribblings and illegible illustrations will not an author make. I have become one of the countless others claiming to have ‘a book in me’. What point is a fantastic concept without a sustained and tenacious execution?Snoopy writer

Fortunately, my literary kipper-in-the-face came last night whilst watching the awe-inspiring Rise of the Guardians. Whilst my two young children excitedly watched Dreamworks weave their usual animated magic, I was captivated by the film’s integral message of finding your ‘centre’ i.e. your essence, purpose or raison d’être. It reminded me of mine and reignited my desire to write children’s books.

My mum recently reminded me of my first ever school report peppered with the words, ‘creative’, ‘imaginative’ and ‘distracting’. Whilst the last adjective remains debatable, the first two have never left my side. I live in a world where washing-machines fly and shoes and socks talk. Every inanimate object personified with human characteristics and emotions. Each one another opportunity to become a children’s story.

My path has taken many diversions but my ‘centre’ has remained resolute. I’ve worked in PR (writing and selling stories), journalism (writing and telling stories) and education (helping children discover stories). All different jobs but all sharing the same ‘centre’ of creativity and imagination.

Thanks to last night’s film, in particular the incomparable and enviable imagination of William Joyce, I’m reconnecting with my soul and returning my energies to writing my first children’s book. It will not write itself.

I am going to reduce the time spent on blogging and on browsing Facebook. No more ploughing through the Writers and Artists Handbook selecting suitable agents and publishers. No more reading ‘How to Write a Children’s Book’. No more listening to the ‘Do’s and Do Nots’ of writing. No more wasting time. I have an incredible and unique idea for a story which will need writing quickly before Dreamworks or Pixar have the same incredible and unique idea.

So, I’ll be signing off for a bit and I may be some time….

Under Attack!

Scanning today’s front pages, it would appear Britain is under attack from an army of saucer-sized killer arachnids hell-bent on chewing our faces off and eating our children.

The unfortunately named ‘false widow spider’ has had better weeks.  Although there are twelve British spiders capable of biting us, ’tis the false widow who’s having a particularly bad time of things.  I imagine all the other venomous insects in the UK are wiping their microscopic brows in relief.  The dragon-sized Asian Hornet must be rubbing his 6 hands together with joy.  Nobody gives a toss about his decimation of our honey bee colonies, we’re all too worried about the false widow pinning us down in the High Street and sucking our blood.spider

We Britons seem to revel in hysteria.  A quick glance of the National History Museum’s website, tells me that the false widow has been a British citizen for approximately one hundred years.  They have not just arrived on a bunch of bananas from Brazil and bemusedly found themselves in Asda’s fruit & veg aisle.

Yes, they are venomous.  Oooh, that’s a frightening word isn’t it. Venomous.  Snakes have venom.  Scorpions have venom. And so do countless peaceful spiders and insects living in our gardens.  Trouble is, a few people are allergic to venom.  Much in the same way some people are allergic to milk, nuts or gluten.  My friend is allergic to cat hair and should she stroke a moggy and suffer a negative reaction, her puffed up face is not likely to grace the front pages of the Daily Mail with the headline: “Killer British Cat Did This!”

I understand the ‘falsey’ has been on a bit of a breeding frenzy of late, hence the greater than normal population numbers, but the hysteria surrounding their existence is nothing short of ridiculous. If you are stupid enough to poke an uninvited false widow in the face with a biro, you may get a bite.  That’s a bite akin to a bee sting and not a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Hysteria towards spiders is not restricted to the poor false widow.  Many of us are terrified at the mere mention of the ‘s’ word and I offer no explanation as to why this is so.  They move fast, they have too many eyes and they hide in dark corners; not the most attractive attributes.  However, whilst I may not want to sit down and watch a film sat beside a spider, I do admire the little, often harmless, creepy-crawlies.

Imagine being the most loathed being on the planet.  Days spent in isolation in desperate search of a mate.  If you don’t get picked off by a crow, you’ll surely be victim to a Yellow Pages attack, hoover suck, slipper swat or toilet flush.  Considering the vital role the spider plays in keeping our fragile eco-system flowing, it’s spectacularly shocking that we treat them which such horrifying disdain.  Without spiders, your house, and more importantly, the entire world, would be over-run with insects.  This would destroy crops and skewer the entire ecological balance of planet earth.  Or something like that.

I understand people’s fear of spiders, but I cannot understand the desire to kill them simply because they do not like them.  What does such an outrageous course of action teach our children?  That, if we don’t like something, we destroy it?!  Of course, some of you may say, ‘It’s just a spider”,  or, “It’s just an ant”. Or a fly, a wasp, a bee etc etc.  Doesn’t really matter what it is, if it’s bothering you, just kill it.

There’s no ‘just’ about it.  Every thing on planet earth has a role to play and should be respected equally. It may be ‘just’ a spider to you, but without it, the world would be unrecognisable.  The humble, unloved, unappreciated spider is one of nature’s centurions and if you really don’t want a plague of locusts in your lounge, Sammy and Susie need a bit more respect.   Furthermore, as I am incredibly soft, I like to think each spider has a family somewhere, waiting for them to return, so please don’t squash them!

Help?!

Standing outside St Ives’ quaint cinema, excitedly awaiting Cloudy With the Chance of Meatballs 2, the ticket I had given my daughter to hold, predictably slipped her grasp and took off with the wind.

I couldn’t leave my children to take chase, so helplessly, I  watched it fly under a passing taxi, swirl around the heels of passers-by and finally come to rest on the front window of Co-Op.

To add to my minor distress, my son’s radioactive coloured ice-cream had escaped its cone and landed on the knee of his cream chinos.  Mouth-wash blue ice-cream everywhere.  Tears of devastation poured out.

Fortunately, and the reason for this post, a lady with a pram laden with shopping bags and a sleeping tot, stopped to help me.  She parked her possessions and darted off to fetch my cinema ticket before another gust of wind stole it for good.  When she returned, she handed me a pack of baby-wipes to clean up the melted blobs of ice-cream surrounding my son.  And why did she do this?  Did she want something in return?  Or was she being genuinely altruistic?

Recently, I’ve been helping a friend promote her business in the local media.  The reason?  I believe in what she’s doing and I want to help.  I can guarantee she’ll be thinking, why’s she doing this?  I certainly would.  When Geoff Thompson asked to mentor me and went on to introduce me to big-wigs at Bafta, the Groucho Club, as well as sending one of my scripts to a producer, I asked myself why?  Why is he doing this?

I understand the answer to be, because he can and because he wants to.  It really should be as simple as that.  Besides ours is a reciprocal universe and so kindness is usually paid back to us in one way or another.  Equally, if someone hurts you, the world will conspire to deliver their retribution, some time, some place.  A very comforting thought.

I’m not sure when our suspicion for others’ kindness begins.  Does it start in school when we learn about ‘stranger danger’?  When we are told that the friendly man with the puppies doesn’t want you to just have a mint humbug, he wants more?  Probably.  We are programmed from a young age to distrust people, especially those who appear really friendly, as they’re the people most likely to snatch us.

This does present a dilemma for parents.  I want my children to be open, polite and friendly to everyone, even people they do not know.  But how can I teach them that not all ‘nice’ people have good intentions. If only all kidnappers looked like the Child Catcher, the ‘stranger danger’ lesson would be so easy.

Our experiences with questioning others’ kindness continues throughout childhood.  I have witnessed this with my own children.  When my son offers to give the remains of his Milky-Way to his sister, he usually demands a swap of equal value in return.  She can have his Milky-Way, but she must hand over the caramel Freddo first.

For women, our mistrust of men offering us treats continues into young-adulthood. A drink bought in a night-club has little to do with concern for our thirst and more to do with the hopeful outcome of a quickie in the club toilets.    Or that could be just my experience.

And sadly, when our husbands treat us to flowers, chocolates or a new dress, it is usually because he’s after a quickie on the sofa.  Not my sweet husband you understand : )

It is hard not to be suspicious when someone offers to help us.  But there are people out there who help because they want to and are not expecting anything in return.  So embrace their kindness and take the baby-wipes. It could make all the difference to your day.

ps.  The film was brilliant!

 

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