In Her Words…. by Abigail Tarttelin

 

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Abigail Tarttelin

 

Abigail Tarttelin is the author of award-winning intersex novel Golden Boy, and editor of I Hope You Like Feminist Rants zine. Issue #2 on Motherhood is for sale online now at http://civilizedanimal.bigcartel.com.

Follow Abigail on Instagram @civilizedanimal

 

 

 
In the last week, I have made three long distance journeys in my car, to meet a newly-born relative, visit an old friend, and collect a colleague from the train station for a very exciting work project. I own a 2014 New Generation 1.2 SE Hyundai i10, with Bluetooth, a roomy interior, and leather steering wheel, and I love driving it. Before I bought it I made a list of requirements, then whittled it down to my deal-breakers: it should be five-door, economical, and easy on the eye. I scoured What Car? for vehicles that fit the bill, leased a Chevy Spark, visited several garages, and rejected all but one on the grounds that the lads working there assumed I didn’t know anything about cars, and asked if my parents would be paying (hell, no).

I couldn’t afford the optional stop-start technology but at £40 for 440 miles the standard SE is cheap to run, and, because I bought it new, came with five years of unlimited-mileage warranty, roadside assistance, and health checks. The engine is near silent and does 80mph on the motorway without hassle.

Yesterday I was filling up my tank, watching another woman disembark her vehicle, and thinking about how much I like to see women driving. I get oddly emotional about it. Stranger still, I also like seeing women at the petrol station. I asked myself: why?

First, I suppose it’s because just fifty years ago, it wasn’t the done thing. Even today, in parts of the world, it is forbidden on religious grounds (Saudi Arabia), or uncommon (for example, in Afghanistan or Egypt). These women are exercising a right which wasn’t theirs until recently.

Women driving has changed incrementally over the last 5 decades. In my family, my Nan never learnt to drive; my great aunt – a gutsy, single mother – got her license later in life, and my mother passed her test in platform shoes and drove to London the next day. My cousin remembers her as the cool auntie who would pile the kids in her estate and take them on adventures. She lived far away, on the coast, and had a hip, long-haired boyfriend (my Dad). In the UK, the percentage of women driving rose from 50% to 64% between 1995 and 2010. I am represented in this statistic, passing my test two days before my eighteen birthday in 2005, and then my advance driving test the next year.

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Abigail’s mum

So, the swelling feeling in my chest is partly that each woman driving is a little victory in the face of history, but it’s also, for me, about something more personal than that.

These women are going somewhere, at their own volition. When the car runs out of juice (here comes the petrol station part), they will not be stopped, because they have the economic power to fill it themselves. A car is an intimate personal space, for a woman to be alone, an individual, an independently thinking and moving person; a momentary bachelor, no matter her personal or marital situation. She is the driver of her car, her life, her ambition. She is an active force, and not passively carried to her destiny in the passenger seat, or stopped by the headwind. She is an arrow, shot from a bow she strung herself, moving through the world at her own will, and in her own time. She strides valiantly through the oil moistened forecourt with her bank card in hand, as men (why are there always so many more men than women at petrol stations?) stare at her, wondering where this goddess came from, and where she is going. But they’ll never know, because she doesn’t rely on f***ing anyone.

Right Now I’m….

Watching: Chelsea Handler on Netflix

Reading: Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

Listening to: Beyonce’s Lemonade

Pass it on:

Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Brodie Lancaster (Filmmes Fatales zine editor) @brodielancaster

Sarah Winter (Versailles actress) @sarahelizwinter

In Coversation With… Shelley Harris

Shelley Harris

Shelley Harris is a novelist (Jubilee and Vigilante), writing teacher and mentor. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, two sons, two cats and a snake.

Shelley is on Twitter: @shelleywriter and her website is shelleyharris.co.uk

 

 

How did you end up doing the job you do?
In the kind of messy way most authors end up doing it – through trying and failing, trying and learning, trying and succeeding. When I was just about to give up, I met my literary agent Jo Unwin over a cup of tea at a writing festival. After that, things moved quite fast, but the whole process had taken years; I started in my twenties when I was living in Paris and finally got published when I was settled with two kids.

What are you working on right now?
I’m sloshing about in the primeval soup of my next novel. It’s a slow, slow process watching it form (is it forming…? is that…? am I ready to…?). Part of me adores this bit because it’s so liberating, and part of me is terrified I’ll never get there.

Describe your first job
It was a bit grim, truth be told. I worked on a local weekly paper in the recession of the early 90s. Usually, local journalists get trained and ship out fairly fast, but there were no jobs to move to. So everyone stayed, stagnated, and set about being as toxic as possible. Seriously: the vegetable shows were light relief from what happened in the newsroom.

On the bright side, I learned to write tightly and to deadline and I managed to see films for free. Of these skills, only one seems to have stayed with me.

What would was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?
By the time I was published, I’d already completed Plans A (reporter) and B (teaching: a job I relished), plus a whole load of other letters. Mystery shopper, seller of wine, hawker of greetings cards, Oxfam shop volunteer, full-time parent – you name it.

Who would you most like to work with?
When you’re a writer, ‘work with’ can have a wide application. I’d like to work with Olivia Coleman (who is my perfect Jenny Pepper – the protagonist of Vigilante). And I’d really, really love to collaborate on a graphic novel version of Vigilante with artist Alison Bechdel.

What did you want to be when you were little?
I wanted to be two things: a writer (natch) and an actor. I still hanker to act, but comfort myself that writing is its own kind of method acting. I’ve definitely slipped into role a few times to get a sense of what the world feels like for my characters.

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What are you most proud of?
Professionally speaking, I’m actually most proud of having written my novels. In the end, it’s not the publication – thrilling though that is – but the arse-breaking process of writing them that makes all the difference. I’m proud of doggedly getting up again multiple times after failure and rejection, and just keeping going (fun and character-forming!).

Which one thing would you like to change about your industry/working life?
I would love the industry to be properly diverse. My experience is that it’s filled with lovely and dedicated people drawn from quite a narrow social band, and that they unconsciously reproduce what’s most familiar to them.

It would be nice if authors got paid a living wage, too.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?
Yawningly predictable I know, but having to keep quite so many balls in the air is pretty challenging. It’s hard to get that intensive, uninterrupted focus on my writing when I’m also a hands-on parent, teacher, mentor, friend, partner, housekeeper, family communicator and so on. I actually love the texture that diversity gives my life – not to mention the material it offers – but it can be frustrating, too. We tease men for being monotaskers, but when I’m in a certain mood it seems like the biggest gift patriarchy has given them.
Who is your favourite fictional female character?
Of course, that’s an impossible and unfair question – how could there just be one? But Mattie in Lissa Evans’s Crooked Heart might come close. She’s a former Suffragette living in wartime London, and I can’t imagine there’s a reader who hasn’t adored her.

Right Now I’m…

Watching: the entirety of The Good Wife. Most of the time I think it’s a standard law drama (set in a firm where all the women are preternaturally beautiful – yawn), but then there’s something really playful or clever in the writing, and I let Netflix roll me on to the next episode.

Reading; Kit de Waal’s ‘My Name Is Leon’, the story of two brothers in care who are separated because of their different ethnicity. There’s not a trace of mawkishness, but it absolutely grabs your heart.

Listening to: Belle and Sebastian’s The Boy With The Arab Strap on repeat. By rights I should have been doing so for years, but have only just discovered Belle and Sebastian through the good offices of novelist Stephanie Butland.
Pass it on:
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Naomi Frisby (@frizbot), whose The Writes of Woman has become more than just a cracking book blog. She uses her platform creatively to lobby for equality in the (very un-equal – see above) literary world.

Sarah Franklin (@SarahEFranklin), one of the people responsible for the current short story renaissance. She founded Oxford’s Short Stories Aloud, a literary night bringing together actors, authors and cake. Her blend of warmth and incisiveness has attracted writers such as Margaret Drabble, Rachel Joyce, Jon McGregor and Tracy Chevalier. Sarah was a 2015 Costa short story judge.

Stephanie Butland (@under_blue_sky). Stephanie juggles two fascinating careers – as a novelist (Letters to My Husband, The Other Half of my Heart) and as a thinking expert (she’s one of only 40 De Bono master trainers worldwide). I’m especially fascinated in how these two skills cross-fertilise.

Vigilante

In Conversation With… Zoë Howe

Zoe Howe

Zoe Howe – image credit Melanie Smith

Zoë Howe, is a music author, musician and visual artist based by the Essex Riviera. She is married to the drummer Dylan Howe and they have a tortoise-shell cat called Marzipan. Zoë’s books include Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits (2009, Omnibus), Wilko Johnson – Looking Back At Me (2012), Stevie Nicks – Visions, Dreams & Rumours (2014, Omnibus), Barbed Wire Kisses – The Jesus and Mary Chain Story (2014, Polygon) and Lee Brilleaux – Rock ’n’ Roll Gentleman (2015, Polygon).
Zoë’s debut novel, Shine On, Marquee Moon, is out in September via Matador.

 

How did you end up doing the job you do?

By being crazy about rock ’n’ roll from a ridiculously young age! My dad, formerly a late night rock DJ, had a great record collection which he kindly allowed me to explore from a very early age (I treated it with great respect – at least, I think I did), plus my older sister had / has really great taste in pop. There was always a lot of passion for music in our house and I remain musically very greedy! I’m not a snob and have very eclectic taste to say the least. When people ask me what kind of music I’m into, I find it quite hard to answer.

What are you working on right now?

Book-wise, I have my debut novel Shine On, Marquee Moon coming out at the end of September. It’s a rock ’n’ roll love story, tinged with satire and dark humour. Rock chick lit. For boys as well as girls. It’s a bit nerve-racking, but also exciting – and I was utterly amazed and thrilled when I heard that it had been short-listed for the Virginia Prize For Fiction this year! That gave me such a boost.

I decided to self-publish it with the company Matador, who came highly recommended – they take care of the editing, production, distribution etc. I did have an opportunity to work with a publisher I’d not worked with before on this book, and I appreciated that offer very much, but I had made a positive choice to self-publish and decided to stick with my decision. It’s my first novel, it’s a personal project but also I think artists across the board should try to have more control over their work where possible. Self-publishing has changed, the stigma is disappearing. I chose to work with Matador because they put out really good-looking books and strive for quality. More and more established authors are encouraging new writers to self-publish. I think as long as you work with a discerning editor and ensure the book looks good, then it can be a great way to go.

At the launch of ‘Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits’ in July 2009, with Slits Tessa Pollitt and Viv Albertine.
At the launch of ‘Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits’ in July 2009, with Slits Tessa Pollitt and Viv Albertine.

I also play drums and percussion in a few bands. I’ve played since I was about 11. Southend has always had a fiercely vibrant music scene and I’m massively proud to be a part of this continuing thread of Estuarine rock ’n’ roll in my own small way.

Art-wise, as I write, I am sitting by some of my work in the esteemed Leigh Art Trail. I’m a guest artist this year, and very privileged to be so. This particular collection of collages I’m showing as part of the Trail is themed around dreams, enchantment and the heavens and it’s inside a cute little shed at the end of sculptor Karen Christensen’s garden. I’ve made a playlist to accompany it, as is my wont. Lots of Ink Spots, some Clint Mansell, Nico… it’s my strange little beach hut of dreams! I’m also preparing some work for a group show with the fab Piney Gir for next month at Islington’s White Conduit Gallery, which I’m really excited about.

Describe your first job

I was about 12 or 13 and worked part time in a local health shop. Groovy, man. In my excitement, I’d instantly spend my paltry wages on dried pieces of apple and sesame halva. Or I’d manage to save some and then to the charity shop (many of my clothes came from charity shops, or were hand me downs, or were charity shop hand me downs – thankfully it was the 90s when this sort of sartorial caper was de rigeur) or second hand record shop I’d go. Must have been a funny sight, on reflection – this little girl rummaging purposefully through the racks alongside lots of older blokes who looked like Nazareth roadies.

Then I did lots of waitressing in various caffs and at a kosher hotel which was like the Happiness Hotel in The Great Muppet Caper but with fewer musical numbers. I broke my fair share of crockery (saves on washing up). But I did well for tips in the hotel because I was one of the only members of waiting staff there who wasn’t routinely offensive. Read Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen and you’ll get an idea of the ‘vibe’.

What would was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?

I don’t know if you could call any of what I do a career, although I feel very lucky to be able to make some semblance of a living by doing what I love! I think the fall-back plan would probably be to become a rock star or something. You know, something achievable.

Where do you feel most inspired?

Being on the beach near where I live in Southend On Sea. I have space to think there and ideas always come, seemingly from nowhere. Whether they’re good ideas is another matter! I have a particular affection for that beach, it’s almost as if it has a personality and I kind of view it as a friend. I love the crazy sunsets, all the dogs leaping about, chasing geese and having the best time ever (the dogs, not me), the weird stuff that washes up. It’s also one of the only places where I do not listen to any music. I like to hear the water and the wind, the boats clanking away in the breeze, that’s the ultimate music! It feels like sacrilege to plug your ears up against that.

What did you want to be when you were little?

More exotic. Specifically Latina. That was pretty much my sole ambition. (I was obsessed with Rita Moreno in West Side Story.) An impossible dream, no matter how much black hair dye and hooped earrings I got my hands on. I have very pale skin thanks to Celtic blood and a vampiric schedule. I have a ‘studio tan’ – that’s what they’d call it in rock ’n’ roll circles anyway, which makes it sound groovier. All the same I was, however, a pretty good latin and Flamenco dancer as a teenager, as it goes. Olé.

What advice would you give your children (or nieces/nephews/young people)?

Be kind, but not a doormat. Look for the good stuff and more good stuff tends to appear. Keep a sense of humour. Don’t worry too much about what people think – try stuff out, make mistakes, get better, keep being creative. (Punk helped me MASSIVELY with that). Pick your battles and conserve your energy for what matters. You get one go at life on this beautiful planet (depending on your beliefs) – so turn up the colour, the volume and the contrast, switch channels if you want to, and don’t let the squares drag you down!

 

Wilko Johnson and I at Rough Trade East, pic - Simon Reed : Musical Pictures
Wilko Johnson and I at Rough Trade East, pic – Simon Reed : Musical Pictures

Which one thing would you like to change about your industry/working life?

I long for the day when we don’t talk about ‘women writers’, ‘women musicians’ – one day we will talk about WRITERS. MUSICIANS. We have a long way to go. Then there are the ‘women in rock’ articles and events – which on the one hand I support because, otherwise, those voices might not be heard at all, but on the other, and depending on how they are put across, I realise they can potentially either neatly tidy female artists away for another day – (‘female’ is NOT a genre!) or, while being interesting and important, preach to the converted and keep us further separated.

I’m interested in integration rather than further segregation, which I know is rarely the intention, but we can inadvertently reinforce a sense of separateness, as well as reinforcing some of the negative feelings and righteous anger that naturally comes when you are banging your head against sexism every day – and that includes sexism from others of the same gender. Women are not always that nice to each other, are they? When it suits them not to be. Queen Bee syndrome, basically indicative of intense insecurity, and why? Because we’re conditioned to feel there isn’t enough room for all women to have their shot. Just one woman on the panel. Just one woman on that movie poster with five blokes. Subliminally, we’re panicking. You can see why, but what a load of bollocks. Don’t buy into it. It gets in the way of your creativity, which is something that should be joyful and liberating.

What you give your attention to expands, it’s that thing again. I was certainly angry for a goodly while – and anger is, as PiL eloquently put it, an energy – but it can also get in the way and stop you from seeing what’s so great about life, you can get shunted out of balance. Being equal – it’s so simple, but we often make it complex. Being equal doesn’t mean being THE SAME, or squashing our femaleness / maleness / sexuality / personality; it means having an equal chance, an equal voice, being treated and respected as an equal. There still seems to be confusion over this.

There’s also a perception that women writers would only want to write about women, women musicians only want to be work with other women musicians. Whenever I’ve been in bands and have been the only woman – something I have no issue with and don’t even think about – people are often surprised that the rest of the band are boys. Like I’m only supposed to be in a band with other girls? You can be likeminded spirits and make music together regardless of how similar your genitalia happens to be.

Again, it’s about tidying people into neat little boxes. (I’m pretty anti-tidying per se.) It’s too easy to be pigeonholed creatively – and to pigeonhole ourselves. We’re told we have to focus on one thing otherwise we won’t be taken seriously etc – that may work for some but not everyone.

Since childhood my strengths were always music, art and writing and I’m only happy when those three things are ticking along in balance in my life – if one of those elements is missing I don’t feel right at all. The thing is, it took AGES to get there. Finally I’m free of all that conditioning nonsense and I don’t really care what people think about me doing lots of things, life is meant to be fun and joyful and creative. I hate that attitude of ‘you’re this, so you can’t be that. Who do you think you are?’ People can get antsy when you break through the little walls they’ve constructed for you. Well sorry, dearies, if you want to live by weird self-made rules and restrictions, knock yourselves out but don’t give me a hard time if I don’t comply.

To give a recent example, the other day during an exhibition I was involved with, someone I don’t know said, ‘And now you’re an artist all of a sudden!’ I might have misinterpreted it, but it sounded loaded – like, ‘What gives you the right? Get back in your box!’ It didn’t sound friendly. I get that now and again. Well, it’s not ‘all of a sudden’ – you just noticed, that’s all. If you’ll forgive me sounding terrifically poncy, I express my creativity in different ways and at different times, as lots of people do, or should at least feel free to do. It also took a LONG time to get out of my own way and be true to what I a) want to do and b) am ok at, so don’t YOU fucking start, mate.

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Photo: Gary Franklin

 

Who is your favourite fictional female character?

Aunt Dahlia in the Jeeves and Wooster novels. She’s hilarious, as warm and fiery as a single malt and she absolutely kicks ass. No fools suffered by Bertie Wooster’s favourite aunt, no siree.

Right Now I’m…

Watching: The Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series. Touch of class, that.

Reading: Austin Osman Spare – The Life and Legend of London’s Lost Artist. Surrealism, occult, it’s all in there.

Listening to: Louis Armstrong’s divine version of ‘La Vie En Rose’. That beautiful, soft piano lick, shimmering up the keyboard at the beginning is transcendent. When I finally check out, I’d like my spirit to float to its next destination while accompanied by that sparkling, feathery little piano lick. I don’t think I could go far wrong.

Pass it on:

Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Simone Marie (Primal Scream) @simonemarie4

Jane Powell, founder of the charity CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably @Calmzone

Vanessa Lobon, co-director of Doc N Roll Festival @vanessalobon

In Conversation With… Marianne Levy


Marianne LevyMarianne Levy is a novelist. She’s written a series of books about Ellie May, a little film star, for children aged 6-9, published by Egmont. Her latest book, for teens, is Accidental Superstar, published by Macmillan. It’s about Katie Cox, a young singer songwriter, who records a song in her bedroom and changes her life forever.

Also a voiceover artist and freelance writer, Marianne’s work has appeared in the Independent on Sunday, the Financial Times’ How To Spend It and on BBC One. She lives in London with her husband, daughter and a bad tempered cat.

 

How did you end up doing the job you do?

When I was in my early twenties, I was trying to make a living as an actor. I was sent a lot of scripts, and most of them were pretty dire. It frustrated me, trying (and almost always failing) to get a part in something I didn’t think was any good. So I suppose I began writing books because I wanted to tell my own stories and regain some kind of control.

That’s one answer to the question, anyway. How does anyone ever end up doing what they do? I don’t quite believe in clear paths. Life’s complicated.

What are you working on right now?

My second book for teenagers, Accidcental Superstar: In Concert. My heroine Katie is trying to navigate her way through her newfound fame, along with all the usual difficulties of being a teenager. And, if this current draft is anything to go by, she’ll be making the most terrible mess.

As part of my research I’ve been getting deep into what it’s like for teens on social media, and it’s fascinating and scary. More and more I’m coming to think that I’m so glad that we didn’t have any of that when I was 15.

Marianne Levy and kids

Describe your first job

It was selling double-glazing over the phone. I spent three shifts as a cold caller, coming between people and their partners/ children/ dinner/ TV to try to persuade them to buy plastic windows. I didn’t get a single customer, and I’m glad.

What was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?

I’ve never had a plan B.

Who would you most like to work with?

Lena Dunham just gets better and better. Nora Ephron, if she was still with us. But then, I’ve had the good luck to work with two terrific editors in Ali Dougal and Venetia Gosling, so I really can’t complain.

My friend Susannah Pearse is an astoundingly talented writer of musicals. I’d love to do something with her one day, but I’m too shy to ask. Maybe she’ll see this.

Where do you feel most inspired?

The boring answer is, when I’m at my laptop. I can only find inspiration through thinking, and I think through writing. I work best in the café at the end of my road, because then I can’t procrastinate as much as I would at home. It was a bad day when they got WiFi.

Marianne in Cafe

What did you want to be when you were little?

When I was very little, a writer. Then, an actor. Luckily, when I was about 24 I saw sense and went back to writing.

What advice would you give your children (or nieces/nephews/young people)?

Be brave.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?

Managing my fear. It’s a leap of faith, writing a novel. And, for most of the writing process, what’s on the page is pretty bad. Telling myself that if I can just keep going I can make it good… it’s hard. Harder than the actual writing, I think.

What are you most proud of?

Passing my driving test when eight and a half months pregnant.

Right Now I’m…

Watching: Michael Palin’s Full Circle. It’s hard for me to go anywhere as I have a toddler, but this gives me a tiny taste of what it’s like to roam.

Reading: I’ve just started ‘Undermajorduomo Minor’ by Patrick deWitt. I loved his novel ‘The Sisters Brothers’, so I have high hopes.

Listening to: Podcasts of This American Life. One day I’m going to run out of episodes and then I don’t know what I’ll do.

Pass it on:
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Shelley Harris, one of the strongest and kindest women I know, and author of the novels ‘Vigilante’ and ‘Jubilee’ @Shelleywriter

Abigail Tarttelin, the very embodiment of bravery. She’s an actress, singer and the author of ‘Flic and Golden Boy’, @Abigailsbrain

Jane Hill @JaneHill64 She’s had the most fantastic career, from writing novels (Grievous Angel, The Murder Ballad, Can’t Let It Go) to standup comedy to running a radio station. I’ve been following her on Twitter for the last few years, and although I’ve never actually met her, I feel like she’s a friend.

Accidental Superstar cover

Ellie may

In Conversation With… Catie Wilkins

Catie Wilkins

Catie Wilkins is a writer, comedian, screenwriter and children’s books author. ‘My Best Friend And Other Enemies’ is a series by Catie for 8-12 year olds and has been published by Nosy Crow.

Catie has also written for the BBC, The Independent, New Humanist, Tantrum, Standard Issue, Matador Films, and she appeared on ITV4’s Stand Up Hero. Catie lives in London with her husband, baby daughter and two rescued cats, Liono and Smithers.

 

How did you end up doing the job you do?

It was kind of a meandering path. I was working at various normal jobs, mainly admin based, and in my spare time, writing. I also started doing stand up comedy. I gradually met other comedy writers and more like-minded people. I wrote lots of different things, eventually a sitcom got optioned, then ultimately rejected, but that led to me meeting the person who is now my book agent. She liked a book I’d written and knew some publishers who were looking for a similar voice but younger. I came up with something at her suggestion, wrote the whole thing on spec, and they decided to publish it.

What are you working on right now?


New books, a comedy documentary, articles, my one-year-old baby. Not literally working on her. With her? Either way she is work. But lots of fun too.

What was your B plan if this career didn’t work out? 

There was no B plan as such. I’ve done lots of different jobs: delivering pizza, developing photos, bar work, admin. Lots of admin. I would probably still be temping and trying to get paid for writing. But I would always be writing, even if it was only for me.

Who or what has been your biggest source of inspiration to date? 

I always loved comedy and stories. So when I was a kid, Roald Dhal, Victoria Wood, French and Saunders, The Simpsons, Roseanne, Father Ted. Now I love Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, Kristen Wiig, SNL, Douglas Adams, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut and loads more.

Where do you feel most inspired? 

My bed at night time when I’m trying to go to sleep. When I did more stand up and before I had a baby I was a bit more nocturnal. Now my day starts at 6am but my brain still hasn’t got the memo. I end up making loads of notes on my iPhone in the dark. But at least the next day I can go through them, so I’m rarely staring at a blank page.

Catie Wilkins

What did you want to be when you were little?


A mermaid.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?


“Keep going, it’s hard, babe.” – My husband.

What has been your career highlight to date?


I never had particularly high aspirations for myself, so my career has already surpassed my fifteen year old self’s bucket list. Which seems to be the secret aim of how I’ve lived my life. Sometimes when things are happening I think, ‘Fifteen year old me would be so excited we just did a gig with that comic we used to watch on TV.’ For me there’s been a constant series of mini highlights, which make up for all the tough bits and rejection along the way. Things like performing at the Bloomsbury Theatre, winning the Gong Show at the Comedy Store, or being bought pints by vanquished hecklers at the Edinburgh Festival during our first gang-show run. Being published was definitely a stand out highlight.

Which one thing would you like to change about your industry/working life? 

WELL. OK. I’m not being anti-my-industry, BUT… Firstly, more review space for children’s books. Children’s books currently get 3% of all book review space in newspapers, even though they account for 30% of the UK book market. A brilliant campaign called #CoverKidsBooks has been launched by children’s literature critic, Imogen Russell Williams to help rectify this. Everyone would benefit if children’s books were more fairly represented. Parents would be able to buy more than the same Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and David Walliams, if they knew more about what was available.

Secondly, it’s very hard to get paid to write or develop a script in the UK, in part because there’s no set schedule or budget for development. In America it’s a proper business with a pilot season, writers unions and things in place to help protect and develop new talent. Sometimes I wish we could bring some of that over here.

Thirdly, unpaid internships and the fact that new writers coming up are expected to do so much work for free is pushing out the voices of a huge section of society, from journalism to TV.

Who is your favourite fictional female character? 

Liz Lemon.

Right Now I’m…. 

Watching: Better Call Saul on Netflix (and also re-watching Community for the millionth time)

Reading: ‘Modern Romance’ by Aziz Ansari

Listening to: The Adam Buxton Podcast (and Elmo’s Song)

http://catiewilkins.com

@Catiewilkins

Pass it on: 

Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Pamela Butchart @Pamela_Butchart (award winning author of some very funny children’s books)

Wendy Wason @Wendy_Wason (very funny comedian, writer and actress)

Vikki Stone @vikkistone (very funny musical comedian)

My Best Friend and Other Enemies

my great success and other failures

In Conversation With… Fiona Gibson

fiona gibson2-1

Fiona Gibson started working on magazines at 17 years old when she landed a job on Jackie. She has edited more! and Just Seventeen, writes for Sainsbury’s magazine and the Telegraph, and is the author of ten romantic comedy novels. 

Fiona has twin sons who have flown the nest, and lives in Glasgow with her husband Jimmy, their daughter Erin and rescue collie cross, Jack.  As well as writing, Fiona loves to run, draw, cook and is a recent convert to the joy of yoga. 

 

How did you end up doing the job you do?

Even since I was a Jackie reader, I have always been obsessed with magazines. One day, when I was around 15, I was lying on the living room rug reading my mag and said to my Dad, ‘I want to work on Jackie.’  Dad’s great – he’d worked for a magazine himself (Architect’s Journal) and knew that Jackie was published by DT Thomson in Dundee. He was totally encouraging. I started firing off comic strips and jokes to various DC Thomson comics – which they paid me a fiver a time for – and when I’d finally finished school, I applied for a job at Jackie.

I worked on various magazines throughout my twenties – after Jackie I went to Just Seventeen, then more! – but when I had my twin boys at 32 I decided to go freelance and have a stab at writing a novel. I was still writing features for magazines by day so I had to write the book at night. The way I looked at it, I was chronically sleep deprived and looked terrible anyway – so it didn’t really make much difference! An agent who’d spotted my features in Red magazine asked if she could represent me.

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What are you working on right now?

I am at the very best part – starting a brand new novel. I write two a year, for Avon (a division of Harper Collins) which is quite a stretch and means there’s not much of a break between finishing one and starting the next. But that’s okay – after a few days I’m usually itching to get started on something new.

Describe your first job

I was a junior writer on Jackie which involved writing bits and pieces – like the horoscopes (which I made up) and the multi-choice personality quizzes. To be honest, I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d left home and moved into a bedsit in Dundee and found myself working with a fantastic team of lovely people who were my age, or a tiny bit older. I never went to college or university. Jackie was my training for life and I loved every minute of my three years there.

Jackie Magazine

What was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?

I’d had notions of studying art – I have always loved illustration. But although I applied to art college, I didn’t get in. My portfolio just wasn’t good enough. Apart from that, I had no idea of anything else I wanted to do.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I work mostly in my workroom in our Glasgow flat. However I can get a bit cabin feverish and that’s when I take myself off to a cafe, which really helps. I like writing with lots of chatter – plus good music – in the background. I also love working on trains. Working at home can be a little dreary as I am, by nature, a pretty sociable type! And I do miss all the hi jinx and chatter of office life – although friends tell me there really isn’t time for those sort of capers any more.

What advice would you give your children?

Explore all sorts of things so you can discover the general areas of ‘stuff’ that inspire and appeal to you. For me, it was always writing and art – and I loved French at school too. From this, you’ll start to get a feel for what you might like to do in life. There’s terrible pressure to say, ‘I want to be a such-and-such’ at 14 years old, which is nonsense. There’s no need to decide on a specific career path so early. But it is important to be open to trying things so you discover where your passions might lie. I am very lucky in that I love my job and it doesn’t actually feel like work. I would love my sons and daughter to have this sort of life too.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

This came from Dad, who is still fighting fit at 81 years old and sailed from Scotland to Antigua after retirement! He said, ‘Do a bit extra, give a bit more than is expected of you.’ He said it would help me to stand out and get places. I am quite a grafter and so is Dad – he was a freelance architectural photographer and I saw the passion he had for his work. He didn’t mind working late down in his darkroom to get a job done, and he was often driving at breakneck speed to the post office in order to get a set of prints in the post on time. We are similar in that we are a little harum-scarum in our approach, but we both get the job done!

What are you most proud of?

I’ve loved working on magazines and I also love writing novels. Professionally, I guess it’s finding something I enjoy and making a living out of it since I left school 34 years ago, all through raising three children. Personally, it’s being Mum to my three lovely kids – Sam, Dex and Erin. I’m very proud of them all.

What has been your career highlight to date?

I have worked on some wonderful magazines but I have to say the highlight was editing more! at a time when it was flying off the shelves. At its peak – this was early 90s – we were selling half a million copies per issue. There was no competition as such and I had a brilliant team – features meetings were often held in a tawdry wine bar just off Leicester Square and would dissolve into hilarity and chaos. I came up with the idea of Position of the Fortnight – actually, it was semi-nicked from a feature She magazine used to run called ‘Function of the Month’, a kind of icky old sexual thing that we turned into something cheeky and fun. It was a unique and magical time and, happily – thanks to Facebook – many of my workmates from those heady days are still in my life now.

fiona gibson and cathy cassidy
Fiona with Cathy Cassidy during their Jackie days in the early 80s

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?

Keeping my mind on the job and not allowing distractions to lure me off track. Generally, I can focus pretty well, but writing the middle section of a book is definitely not easy. It can feel like wading through concrete sometimes. I just have to keep going, battering onwards, then something clicks and writing the last few chapters is heaven. But I’d never say that writing 100,000 words of engaging prose is easy!

Right Now I’m…

Watching: Homeland.  My husband Jimmy and I are addicted

Reading: Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran – I just love her

Listening to:  All kinds of soul stuff: Al Green, Lou Rawls, Shuggie Otis. I’m a soul girl at heart.

Pass it on:
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog?

Sarra Manning is a fantastically funny woman and a brilliant author of both adult and YA fiction. We worked together on Just Seventeen and she’s a marvel!
Twitter: @sarramanning

Cathy Cassidy is a hugely successful children’s author and one of my oldest and closest friends. We met at Jackie magazine in the mid-80s and get to the point when we need to see each other.
Instagram: @cathycassidy
Twitter: @cathycassidyxx

Fiona latest novel, The Woman Who Upped and Left was published earlier this year.

the woman who upped and left