Blue Sky Rain

Today was the third day of rain despite bright sunlight. There is something beautiful and disconcerting about rain falling from a blue sky, a single wisp of cloud loosened over head. The potential for rainbows of course. But again, disconcerting. Out of place. I watched an old lady bent and twisted by her years hobble past. Unable to hold an umbrella. She wore a mismatch of prints. A tartan skirt, patterned tights, a yellow arran jumper. I felt I should help her but didn’t know what to say. She didn’t remind me of my grandmother – my grandmother was large, swollen instead of diminished by age – but the tatty jumper, yellow wool unravelling does make me think of her. Her fingers moving the needles, wool wrapped around her little finger, keeping the tension. She never used fancy wool – too expensive – just nylon yarns that didn’t wash well, but she could make anything. She taught me when I was little but it wasn’t until recently that I started to crotchet again, my hands and fingers echoing hers, they remembered her techniques, her lessons better than I could. Her DNA recalled by more than just my blue eyes and sharp temper. The strands of being are much longer than that.

And tomorrow my next novel is published, and she isn’t here to be proud or pinch my cheek.

Been reading…

two fantastic books that I wanted to share with you.

I don’t often write reviews, I feel uncomfortable pronouncing my verdict on the work of a fellow author, but what the hell…

Galley Beggar Press’ latest offering, Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge is great heft of  ebullient, glorious literature. Don and Is embark on a picaresque romp around Essex, their quixotic (yes, that Don) quest (driven by Don’s love for Chance and his obsession with the ‘hyperfine transition of hydrogen’) bringing them into farcical and deranged conpaul-stanbridge-forbidden-linetact with the contemporary world.

This book is lyrical, beautifully rendered, brilliantly clever, baffling and hilarious, but what struck me most keenly is this is a book about friendship and love and that Don’s life work detailing the ‘hyperfine transition of hydrogen’ is an alchemical remedy for sorrow and loss, as it ‘offers the opportunity for the restitution of all things in the symbolic world, marking as it does, the delusion of temporality.’


Bluemoose stablemate Sharon Duggal’s The Handsworth Times is set in 1981 and riots fume and falter and fester throughout Thsharon-duggal--handsworth-times--paperback.jpgatcher’s broken Britain and its inner cities. When a tragedy threatens to destroy the Agarwal family (the characters in this book are fantastically drawn) a riven community comes together.  This moving and ultimately uplifting book is a must read for our times, reminding us that we are all connected, that prejudice and division must have no place in our society and that together we are stronger.


Bad Mothers – the worst taboo?

What a relief to hear the writer Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Treasure, exhort mothers to tell the truth, “even – no, especially – when the truth is difficult”. (Guardian, 19/04)

Not only is motherhood not always what it’s cracked up to be, but women are left isolated and sometimes, children put at risk, as we are too afraid to ask for help or let off steam by talking honestly. It’s time to tell the truth. Mothers, shout it from the rooftops.

We don’t want to hear a mother’s truths: we don’t want to know about her struggle with herself as she wrangles her children. We don’t want to know about her resentment or even hatred for her child; we close our ears when she lets slip that she finds motherhood boring, unfulfilling or terrifying. We want mothers to hide their complexity because complexity maketh a monster.

As a mother, I, too, have hidden behind the lies and half-truths, been ground down by the political and patriarchal policing of motherhood that Waldman writes about. I, too have been a member of that exhausted congregation, soaked up each commandment on perfect parenting. You’re not feeding them right. You didn’t breastfeed long enough. You’re allowing too much screen time. You swear too much. Let alone the questions that trap women in the good-bad, angel-monster dichotomy of femaleness: are you back in your pre-baby jeans? Bonding with the child? Having enough sex? How’s that career? House looking beautiful?

Despite having close relationships with other women in which I can discuss many intimate details of my life, there exists a taboo against admitting that we might not find motherhood as satisfying or riveting as we’d hoped. Though I adore my children there have been times when if I could have, I’d have handed them back. But would most women admit that? Not a hope.

As a daughter I have viewed my own mother through the lens of fear and loathing because she didn’t fit the “good mother” mould. As a little girl I remember my horror as she told me not to call her “mum” and warned me off having children. What freak would describe being a mother as “hell on earth?” Raising three children alone, she was no freak, I see now, but a young woman under pressure who sometimes resented her children.

As a young girl I couldn’t see her as human, as having needs that weren’t being met. As a woman, and now, as a writer, I see the horrendous strain she was under.

As a novelist I’ve freed myself. My need to understand my mother’s ambivalence, to reclaim my own complexity and to find empathy, led me to Cora, the protagonist of my novel, Wounding.

Cora is, in fact, the everywoman; the ‘everymother’. She is knotty, broken in parts, confused; so damaged by what she perceives as her “lack” that she looks for punishment in self-harm. She, like so many mothers, is at risk of being completely subsumed.

“She pictures the children, their demanding, clutching limbs, their hungry faces, their toes and fingers, grasping, grasping. Natural demands that ask too much of her. She is defined by what she is unable to give. She is defined by her lack. She is lack, a void, a blank space that devours. Takes, takes, takes. She cannot give.”

I created Cora because I wanted to write from a female point of view that wasn’t simplistic. I didn’t want to reduce her to a stereotype. I wanted to test the reader: can you feel compassion for this flawed woman? Cora struggles to fit the expectations of her family and wider society. Does this make her normal or deviant? Unnatural? An aberration?

I was prepared for some backlash to Wounding but I’ve been surprised by how many readers, in particular, women readers, have identified and empathised with her struggles.

There’s nothing ‘natural’ in our current blueprint for motherhood; as Waldman tells us too, women are the primary authors of our own subjugation. I want the story of motherhood to be rewritten, for just as women have begun to claim some equality we are reminded that we aren’t ready yet to be individuals, with our own motivations, tastes, passions and fears. We are trapped in the dichotomous territory of femaleness: good or bad, angel or monster.

Writing Process Blog Tour

The marvellous Salena Godden invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, answering the questions below before nominating other writers I admire to continue the tour… Watch out for Springfield Road AND Fishing in the Aftermath – Salena’s memoir and poetry collection, both out this year.



  1. What am I working on?


As always I’m juggling a few projects, not sure if this helps my process or hinders, but it’s how I work. So, I’m writing my next novel, So the Doves, meddling with two plays I’ve drafted and reworking The Mesmerist’s Daughter for re-release with Neon Press. There’s an academic essay sitting on my desk too and some poems… I have a very messy brain. Plus I’m leading workshops, performing and hoping to perform some more. With a bit of luck, So the Doves will be finished by December and I can get stuck into another novel that’s been hanging around in my head for a while, Salt and Ashes.


  1. How does my work differ from others in its genre? 


That is a crazy question. I don’t work to a specific genre or think in those terms. I write about what interests me, in a way that I hope engages with the characters and their world. I try to write about people that aren’t usually the focus of literature, but I’m not alone in doing that. Readers are usually the best judges of what is unique to a writer’s style. All I can do is write the way I write… If I tried for originality, I’m afraid it would be too self-conscious and mannered, which is definitely NOT what I want.


  1. Why do I write what I do?


To understand, to look deeper and more clearly. All writing is political – consciously or not. I grew up in a working class family, on a council estate – a lot of my fiction addresses issues that stem from that, even covertly. I try to write about characters to reveal their complexity, their ‘dependent origination’, if you like, so as not to reduce them to stereotypes – whether that’s about gender (in WOUNDING) or poverty and education, (in So the Doves). I know it’s a cliché, but I feel that I don’t have a lot of choice… Like most writers I have my obsessions, my ‘thing’ that I’m working through. I don’t want to write to provide answers however, I write to begin the questions.


4. How does my writing process work?


I write around 2000 words a day, Monday to Friday unless I have a deadline. When I sit down to write it comes fast, but I can sit on an idea for ages, making notes, writing fragments, planning, creating character profiles – I fester in it for a while and then it begins. Short stories I tend to write in one sitting, and then edit over the next couple of days. I was incredibly lucky to work with an amazing editor for WOUNDING, that was a fantastic experience, having someone you trust read what you’re doing and giving you honest, skilled feedback. I have my routines – but nothing superstitious – I walk the dog, run, do yoga, meditate – all that stuff and then sit down at my desk and get on with it.



Right! Back to it… Thank you for reading this far, let me know how you go about your creative process. It’s now my pleasure to hand over the Blog Tour to one of my favourite writers, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, her novel, HOME, published by Red Button Booksis a brilliant, unsettling story and I highly recommend it.


Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone’s first novel, Home, is published by Red Button Publishing. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, her second novel, a series of picture books for the under fives, and a blog tracking her attempts to read a novel a week for a year. Rebekah also teaches creative writing for City University.