Musings, Twitter, Writing

The Lights that Dazzled

Since I was old enough to talk, I used to say that I wanted to become ‘an actress that sings’, or so my mother tells me. I’m sure it didn’t come as a huge surprise; my grandmother was a singer and an actress (as well as a writer and artist), so it was already in the family. And my parents set about helping me to pursue my dream with gusto.

Despite being the middle of five children, and my parents barely scraping by financially, I was sent to a string of ballet lessons, tap, jazz dancing, drama classes, and years and years of singing lessons. I dread to think what my parents had to give up to pay for them. That’s a debt I hope I can repay, somehow, someday, but it’s one that currently weighs heavy with guilt.

I spent so much of my childhood on the stage, completed my Drama GCSE, my Theatre Studies A-Level, and went on to university to gain a BA Hons Degree in Drama and Writing. And this was when everything changed for me.

In my graduation gown

There had always been things about theatre, about performing, that I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t like rehearsing, I hated learning lines. Technical and dress rehearsals were like torture. I also suffered, and still do, from almost crippling stage fright. Every time I performed, my mind went blank as I stood backstage, ready to enter. I’d step out into the lights, squinting in their brightness, my heart pounding at the sight of the shadowy figures filling the auditorium, and, even then, I wouldn’t be able to remember my first line. Somehow, thankfully, it always came out as I opened my mouth.

But my heart didn’t stop racing, my palms didn’t stop sweating, my legs didn’t stop shaking, until several hours after the performance had finished. And then the buzz hit. The absolute high of achievement. That’s why I did it. That’s what I loved.

But university wasn’t all I imagined it to be. I was living my dream, studying the subject I loved, yet it wasn’t making me happy. University was emotional, and confusing, and, for a girl who grew up in a very small country town, the social aspect was an absolute minefield. I spent three years treading carefully, and screwing up at every opportunity. And I didn’t know how to fix it, because I had no idea who I was, or how I fitted into the world. That’s something that would take me another ten years to come anywhere close to grasping.

Performing, acting, was a huge part of who I was. My identity was pinned on it. It’s all I’d ever aimed for in life, everything I’d always been working towards. And I suddenly found myself realising that this was not what I wanted to do with my life. It was strange letting that go. It was partly a huge relief, a lifting of a burden I hadn’t even realised wasn’t mine to carry. But it also left me identity-less. And for someone struggling to find their place in the world already, losing the one solid piece of identity I did have, it was massive.

As my degree progressed, I let the drama slide a little, I didn’t care as much, didn’t give it my all. It was the writing part that I loved. And I realised: I didn’t want to be on stage speaking someone else’s words, being someone else’s character, I wanted to be writing them myself. I wanted to sit at the back of a darkened auditorium and watch people speaking my words. I watched my classmates relish their time on stage, while, for me, it became a chore.

Back then, the publishing world wasn’t what it is today. I’d barely heard of Amazon, and self-publishing didn’t really exist at all. It would be another decade before the first Kindle came on sale. Becoming an author was, by and large, an unattainable dream. Of course, all of that was going to change.

Geekery and Creepery, Musings, Twitter

In the Footsteps of Bram Stoker

I spent last weekend with my family in Whitby, up on the Yorkshire coast. It was a birthday present for my husband, who turned 30 this month. We used to visit Whitby in the days before we had children, and it was a wonderful weekend full of nostalgia and unhealthy food.

It was also a weekend full of literary delights. Whitby has an important literary history, more of one than I had even realised, so it turns out!

Whitby, and more specifically, it’s abbey that sits, in ruins, above the town and the sea, is the spot that inspired Bram Stoker to write his famous book Dracula. He spent six years living in Whitby, taking walks each morning, looking over at the abbey, the 199 steps leading up to it, and watching the cargo boats coming in and out of the bay. Enter Dracula. I just had to seek out the sights, walk where he walked.

 

While I was looking for the location of the blue plaque that marked Bram Stoker’s history in Whitby, I stumbled across evidence of another literary visitor to the town. Apparently, before Stoker came here, Lewis Carroll, creator of Alice and Wonderland, was a regular visitor to Whitby. He stayed here six times, in a building that overlooks the same abbey that later inspired Bram Stoker to put pen to paper.

 

And then we found a second plaque for Mr Stoker. Well, I had to sit here and ponder the view for a while. Did it inspire me to write? Frankly, this entire town does. It’s brimming with history, all wrapped up in fascinating little backstreets of crooked houses crammed against one another. I’d quite forgotten how much I love this place.

A bench looking at the view that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula
Me sat looking at the view that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula

 

The guesthouse in which Bram Stoker stayed, is actually still a guesthouse today. You can rent his room, which has been restored to Victorian grandeur. Yes, I am planning to stay there. A writing retreat, I think. Watch this space!

When it came time to, sadly, bid farewell to Whitby, we drove onto the historic city of York for the day, where another literary delight awaited us!

A Harry Potter shop called The Shop That Must Not Be Named

Musings

What the Hell is British Culture Anyway?

There’s no escaping it, the last few months have been tough here in the UK. Starting with the attack on Westminster Bridge, then the explosion in Manchester, another attack in London, and, most recently, the Grenfell Tower fire. So many people needlessly killed, so many lives ruined, so many wide-reaching ripples of grief.

In fact, things haven’t been right for a while. In short, it’s felt like a country divided. And over the last few years, I’ve heard a lot of people going on about British culture, and how mass immigration is watering it down. Attacking it, even.

But what the hell is ‘British culture’ anyway?

I’ve never been able to pin it down. I’ve asked people, challenged those who say we’re losing it, asked for a definition. And no one’s given me a satisfactory answer yet. What is it? Eating fish and chips by the sea? Meat and two veg? Binge drinking? What exactly are these British values that everyone is so desperate to save?

But watching the events unfolding in the last few months, watching the reactions and responses, I’ve finally nailed it down. I finally feel like I know exactly what British culture is.

It’s joining together in times of trouble; looking for the things we have in common, and not our differences. Standing strong in the face of adversity, with a bold display of bravery, unity, and bloody mindedness. Helping those in more need than yourself, even when you have little to give. Carrying on, no matter how wet, difficult, or horrendous things are. And doing so with a sense of humour, always able to laugh at ourselves and our enemies. And above all, above all, love over hatred, and the knowledge that good will always win.

That’s what British culture is to me. And I couldn’t be prouder to be a Brit.

Musings

Resolutions for 2017

I’ve made a lot of resolutions over the years, and I’ve broken almost as many. I’m a quitter. I always have been, and I resigned myself to the fact that I always would be. Or maybe I just used that as an excuse. Over the past three months, something has happened, no, I’ve done something, to prove that this is no longer the case.

On October 13th 2016, I walked into my very first Slimming World meeting with hope and optimism. That optimism wasn’t misplaced. I’m beginning 2017 more than three stone lighter. I plan to end the year at my target weight. As a slim woman. Something I’ve never been before. I am not a quitter, and I’ve proved that. (If you’re interested in this, I post a lot about Slimming World on Instagram)

In the light of that, I feel, for the first time probably ever, that I can make a long list of resolutions for the year. And I feel that, for the first time, I am capable of seeing them through. So here goes…

  • I will reach my target weight of 10 stone, and I will maintain that weightloss, and enjoy a healthier, fitter, slimmer life.
  • I will give more of myself to my boys; I will give them more time, energy, and focus, and be less distracted.
  • I will declutter and tidy the house.
  • I will make lasting, happy memories with those I love.
  • I will stop wasting time simply mooching around the internet or watching the TV just because it’s on.
  • I will focus more on building my writing career, with less distractions, and more organisation. I will create action plans, and I will follow them through. I will stop using a lack of time as an excuse. I will make time. I will manage time.
  • I will allow more time for reading. I will turn off the TV more, and I will read in bed instead of playing pointless app games.
  • I will be kind and generous to both myself and others. I will not feel guilty for occassionally treating myself, and I will open myself to more experiences and opportunities. I will say yes more.
  • But I won’t be afraid to say no. I won’t feel guilty for putting myself first sometimes. I will not spread myself too thin or burn myself out simply because I feel obliged to others.
  • I will look for, and document, the good things in life. I will avoid futile arguments and debates. I will hope, I will be optimistic, and I will see the good in people for as long as they deserve it.
  • I will stick to things, and not look for easy or quick ways out. I will finish what I start.

And no excuses now. I know that I can be stubborn and resolute if I want to be. I know that I can be determined and self disciplined. But I won’t abandon the wishy-washy, spontaneous, unprepared side of me either. I can be both things. Because you never know when a wind might come to blow you onto another path, or when that other path might be exactly where you’re meant to walk.

What are your resolutions and hopes for 2017?