A Letter To… My 11 Year Old Self by Abbey Craig

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Abbey is freshly 40 and preparing to move back to Scotland with Barry the husband and Stanley that cat (after 17 years in London) so that they can share happy times with family.  Abbey and her dad, Rikki, are writing and illustrating stories for children with life limiting illness, drawing on Abbey’s experience of having terminal breast cancer as well as her lifetime of working with children through drama.  Abbey hopes to create stories in which children can recognise themselves and their medicalised lives but through fantastical, magical tales that will give light to darker moments.

A Letter to my 11 year old self

Dear Concorde (me),
No one is going to remember that type of aeroplane by 2017. No one will have called you that for YEARS, you’re not going to be defined by your big nose. Or your buck teeth. Or your long face. Or your fat arse. Or your cellulite.
You won’t be defined by any of those things because I’m giving you this letter with this almighty tip, the best tip you’ll ever get…
Be kind to yourself.
Don’t be your own worst bully, don’t call names at yourself in the mirror. Please don’t start because you’ll never stop, not until you realise you’ve wasted so much time and now your time’s nearly out.
Right now, you’re 11, you’re at the top of your game, about to be school sport’s champion, fabulous story writer, muscular, a dancer, a keen learner, honest (ish), confident, chatty, popular and a ribby tangle of big teeth and jagged bones.
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The school is going to allow a book company to come and sell books to the class and without having to get parental permission you’re going to sign yourself up for some Judy Blume books. That’s when it’s going to start in earnest, the total preoccupation with being sexualised and alluring.
Don’t buy the books, or the Sweet Valley High ones, don’t instigate the BBP CLUB (Boys, Bras and Periods).  Keep winning the races against the boys and giving them kiddy backs. You really don’t need to wear that bra you’ve been given by your older friend. Stop hoping the boys are going to notice it and don’t be thrilled when one of them does and gives it a ping.
Don’t see the other girls as competition. They are your sisters.
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I’m not trying to deny your burgeoning adolescence, but please listen to me, don’t turn your back on that plucky pre-teen, she’s the better woman.
You are a better woman at 11 years old than I am at 40. Nearly 30 years of telling yourself that you’re not good enough takes its toll.
If becoming a woman is like emerging from a cocoon, you are the vibrant, bright green, juicy caterpillar and I emerged, a drag queen of a butterfly with antennae extensions and streaky tanned wings.  I suspected I was a fat moth but I wanted to be a pretty butterfly so badly!
If someone bullies you everyday saying the same things over and over again, you’ll start to believe them, without question.  So why didn’t I ever grow out of bullying myself? Why didn’t I stop judging myself as if I was a pubescent boy, obsessing over the biggest breasts and the prettiest face?
I feel such a fool for falling for the beauty myth that I told everyone else to be wary of!
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When I got married (yes, that happens, but he’s Barry, not Morten Harket), I had fake hair added to my own, I had eyelash extensions, a padded bra, a corseted dress.  Nothing natural was good enough. I wanted to look natural, but with the help of fake things.  I wanted to be able to dance with abandon but I didn’t want my ankles to look fat, so I got heels. I battered my skin with an onslaught of sunbeds to get a tan, I got acrylic nails. I dieted, I got thinner.
Then, just a few months later, I got cancer.
Overnight, everything I’ve spent my adulthood cultivating, went.
My hair, that I’d always thought was my good feature (although not good enough for my wedding day), all fell out.  Then ALL my hair, head to toe.
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A childish, hairless landscape but with lumbering, adult curves and waves.
The eyebrows I’d thought were woeful and my long, thick eyelashes had enough of the insults and left too.
Without hair for coverage I noticed my vagina seemed to have acquired a ledge over the years.  My face puffed up and I looked pale, undefined and ugly.
My breast was taken away, the good one that had always been bigger than the other one, “Not so smug now Mrs Left” said Mrs Right. All my very expensive and hugely padded bras were made permanently redundant, push-up only works when there’s something to push.
Lots of scars from complications.  Radiotherapy tattoos, crispy, scorched skin.
Then keyhole surgery and my belly fell onto the mattress that night for the first time in my life and it’s never got back up.
An instant menopause and weird comfort eating has made things rub and chafe and I waddle.
But guess what? I don’t care.
I asked everyone to avoid putting photos of me getting married on social media because I suspected it would kill my happy memories of the day. When I got in from having my first head shave I put the photos on Facebook.
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I presumed no one would find me attractive anymore so I didn’t care about trying.
I decided I didn’t want to medicalise my body any further and I didn’t have reconstruction on my breast.
I took myself right out of the running and I gave myself freedom and honesty for the first time in a very long time.
For one whole year as my body recovered from the acute treatment I rejoiced in the feeling of being alive and unburdened of the black cloud of regret and bitterness at not being good enough.
I had to be brave and face the world feeling completely naked and plucked. You haven’t started to build all those layers of self consciousness yet, so don’t!
I am sad for what I’ve lost, the body that I couldn’t tolerate before but that I’d love and cherish now.  I miss flashing some cleavage, I miss squashing one breast up to the next.
I miss wearing necklines lower than my clavicle.
I miss being trussed up in ‘sexy’ underwear.
I miss my thick eyelashes that never grew back. I miss long hair.
I miss the body that was able to conceive.
I miss having no scars.
But I love being free from that need to be seen as attractive, sexy in particular.
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Abbey and Barry
I was so proud of myself for getting to this point, I planned how far my new outlook could take me in life.
Then after a year of the new me, the new me that reminds me of you, I found out that I’m not going to get the opportunity to make this more than just a test drive. The cancer is back but this time it means business.
But it’s not a waste, it’s a realisation and awakening that I’m so glad happened.  I feel more fulfilled and open to happiness than I have done since I was you.
So please learn from my mistakes and be bold, like you are now.
Wear flat shiny shoes that can keep up with your strides into adulthood.
Let yourself off the hook, don’t sweat the small stuff.  Be well, be healthy, be happy and be free.
It’s the hardest thing to do, but tell yourself you’re brilliant as you are and you’re more than good enough and then make sure that’s true.  Live! Make me proud to be me.
If they call you Concorde then fly with it.
With all the love I have,
Me xxxxxxxx
P.S. I should tell you, because I forced myself not to care, I now smile and pose for photos and I laugh at the bad ones and keep the good ones. Everyone around me is thrilled I want to record our moments together with a photo.  I still see the things I didn’t like but I also see good things and I focus on those,  instead of beating myself up.  I’m no longer ashamed,  I actually like what I see, a happy photo is always a good photo.  A clever photo might be a pretty one but nothing can beat a happy one.


Abbey is currently writing books, which her dad is illustrating, for children with life limiting illnesses.  
Until recently she has also been running children’s drama workshops in London: http://www.stripeysocksdrama.co.uk

 

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In Conversation with… Nadia Shireen

Nadia Shireenchildrens book author and illustrator

Nadia Shireen mainly writes and illustrates children’s picture books, (although she does write and illustrate other things as well). She lives in London.

1) How did you end up doing the job you do?

I took a very long-winded route to get here. I’ve always loved drawing and writing, but when I went to university I thought I should be sensible and get a law degree. My English teacher was furious. She glared at me, shook her head and angrily whispered, “That’s it… you’re going to be a bloody lawyer!” (Mrs Aldridge, if you’re reading this… I’m not a bloody lawyer.)

It became clear about half an hour into my law degree that I hated it. But I pointlessly slogged through it. In fact, I carried on and did an MA in Criminology… which was even more pointless!

I eventually moved down to London, rented a very cheap room from a kindly relative and started working in the magazine industry. Everyone told me it would be impossible to get a job, but I just kept turning up to the same office, trying to make myself useful and essentially refusing to leave. I wore them down in the end.

I worked as a sub editor and production editor on a variety of magazines for the next 10 years. I had a lot of fun… but eventually it had become a bit of a drag. The work was unsatisfying and I was bored. I started doing evening classes in illustration to perk the week up. Then I found an illustration course in Cambridge where I could study part time, allowing me to continue working four days a week in London. It took two and a half years. At the end of it there was a degree show, where I displayed my end of term project – a dummy of ‘Good Little Wolf’. To my utter shock and disbelief, some publishers liked it and offered to publish it. I can’t tell you how surprised I was – it was a bolt from the blue – but it was fantastic and it changed my life.

2) What are you working on right now?

My next picture book, which is about a plucky young girl with black curly hair who challenges a big, horrible, powerful monster… Any similarities between any persons living or dead, etc etc…

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

Music has always been the thing that takes my brain to new and unusual places, so I’ll go for the pop stars that formed my musical foundations: The Beatles, ABBA, David Bowie and The Pet Shop Boys.

4) Who would you most like to work with?

Well, it’s not something that can ever happen, but I always loved those ridiculous Monty Python annuals. I think I liked them more than the tv programme. I love all the funny annotations, the way they’d mess around with layout and type and all that. And obviously Terry Gilliam’s drawings and collages are brilliant. I wish I could have drawn a few bees and hedgehogs for them way back when. It might be fun to collaborate with some funny writers and create something similarly silly.

5) Where do you feel most inspired ?

I get really inspired by being outside, ideally in wild, quiet places… places far away from noise and humans, where the sky feels huge and open. That’s when I feel relaxed and insignificant. It’s liberating to remember how little we matter, in the grand scheme of things. I grew up in Shropshire, and you can get to the Welsh border in about 20 minutes. I think about the places we would go to when I was a kid, like Lake Vrynwy, Church Stretton, a little place called Inwood. Now I live in London and don’t really get out into the open much, and I miss it. The closest I get is having a very slow jog around Hampstead Heath. I hate running but also secretly quite like it. I like it when my legs get muddy and achy, and the wind stings my cheeks. It’s good when I can allow my brain to drift into a different gear, so that creative ideas can breath and move around a little.

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6) What did you want to be when you were little?

I wanted to be a cartoonist and then I wanted to work for Smash Hits magazine. I’ve sort of managed both, so I’ve got nothing to complain about.

7) What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Always start with the strongest colour, or the most extreme idea. You can tone it down later if you need to.

8) What has been your career highlight to date?

I never thought I’d have a job that would take me into schools, but now I do. When I see children getting enthusiastic about drawing or writing stories, it gives me a huge buzz. Once I watched a class perform a play based on one of my books, where they had winningly adapted ABBA’s ‘Money, Money, Money’ into ‘Honey, Honey, Honey’! How good is that? I feel privileged to do what I do, and meeting young readers has been a hugely rewarding aspect of this unexpected career.

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

I procrastinate a lot, which feels like an even bigger sin now my working hours are mostly dictated by childcare.

10) Who is your favourite fictional female character?

It’s a toss-up between Rizzo from Grease and Darlene from Roseanne.

Right Now I’m….

Watching: Hey, Duggee and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom (not entirely my choice, but they are great.)

Reading: The Sellout – Paul Beatty;  The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend; Head On – Julian Cope.

Listening to: I typically start the day with the Lauren Laverne show on BBC 6 Music. And then I play around on Spotify for the rest of the day. There is so much music, and not enough time to listen to it all, and that makes me anxious and annoyed.  At the moment, my most recently played albums are by: Solange, The Blue Nile, Eluvium, Julianna Barwick, Childish Gambino and Anna Meredith. I also enjoy making comforting playlists full of the same old songs in slightly different orders.

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

Anna Phoebe, violinist @annaphoebe

Chloe Lamford, Set designer @chloelamford

Harrington & Squires, letterpress studio @bobandhorace

In Conversation With… Georgina Atwell

Georgina AtwellGeorgina Atwell is the founder of www.toppsta.com the children’s books website where children review books and share their recommendations. After a career in publishing and running the ebook store for iTunes, she now mostly works from her home office and tries to forget about the snacks calling her from the kitchen. She lives in Oxford with her husband and two children and loves jumping on the train to come into London to meet publishers and discuss children’s books.

How did you end up doing the job you do?
I came up with the idea for Toppsta back in 2009 but just as I was setting it up I got a call from Apple, offering me my dream job of running their ebook store. I just thought, I’m never going to get this opportunity again, I need to do it. But after 4 brilliant years and with two young children, it just didn’t offer me the flexibility I needed and I knew that one day I wanted to run my own business. So I quit. Lots of people thought I was crazy but I’ve not regretted it for a second. I love what I do – the publishers I work with, the books we promote, the parents and children we help and all of it around my personal commitments as a Mum. I’m still working 7 days a week and all hours but it just doesn’t feel like a job anymore.Toppsta

What are you working on right now?
We’ve produced this amazing reading list of children’s book reviews written by our reviewers. I’m incredibly proud of it, it took a long time to put together and we’ve had brilliant feedback from parents, grandparents, teachers and publishers. I’m looking at how we can get it out to schools and parents and whether this is something we can put together on a regular basis.

Describe your first job
My first job was working in a deli near where my parents live in Oxford. I’m a complete foodie so I loved every minute. Particularly when my parents came in and I’d be suggesting all the yummy food they should buy.

My first work in publishing was very different. I was doing work experience for a publisher who had just published a book on pornography to accompany a tv series. They needed to return some of the images to picture libraries but they didn’t know which pictures belonged to which galleries. So I had the very dubious task to phone up various picture libraries, describe the pictures over the phone and see if they recognized the description. I was about 18 and absolutely mortified. I swear the other people in the office must have thought it was hilarious. Anyway, it toughened me up and is certainly unforgettable. I think that anyone coming to Toppsta for work experience has it pretty easy in comparison!

What was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?
There was never ever a plan B. But to be honest there wasn’t much of a plan A either!

Where do you feel most inspired?
After two years I finally have my own office, with a desk. Somewhere permanent for my computer and my books, as well as a door to shut if I need a bit of peace and quiet. It’s pure bliss after working at the kitchen table and having to shift everything back and forth.

But for inspiration, I’m a walker. If I’m stuck on something I’ll grab my coat and just go for a walk and have a think. I honestly believe that we think better when we’re on the move. Sadly I don’t live in a particularly rural area but even a few minutes walking around the block seems to clear my head.

What did you want to be when you were little?
It’s funny, I was a huge reader when I was young, I remember hiding under the covers reading the Famous Five with a torch and I studied English Literature at University but I never had any ambition to work with books. I’ve always enjoyed the business side of jobs; the sales, marketing and products and I think I thought that publishing was all about editing. I went for the graduate scheme at The Financial Times but was encouraged to apply for the graduate scheme at Penguin instead, as they thought I was better suited to publishing.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
Never assume. They were my grandfather’s words of advice and I think it’s good advice for life. Never assume it’s a bad idea, just because it didn’t work out first time. Never assume you’re going to close the deal until you’ve actually signed on the dotted line. Never assume a friend doesn’t want to see you just because they haven’t replied to your text. Never assume the kids can’t do something just because they haven’t done it before. Never assume.

What are you most proud of?
I love and I mean really love the emails and messages I get each day from parents via our website or social media. Some of them have really brought a tear to my eye. The mums and dads who have been struggling to get their kids to read but through our giveaways, they’ve been getting excited about receiving books in the post in a parcel addressed to them. The teachers who say that a child in their class has gone up a reading level, encouraged by seeing their reviews published on our website. It’s amazing to think that this idea of mine, run from home is actually making a difference. 90% of our Facebook audience are based outside of London, so we’re genuinely nationwide.

Which one thing would you like to change about your industry/working life?
Publishing is a predominantly female industry but I feel that since the financial crisis it’s become more conservative in the way that it works. I hear an increasing number of stories of requests for flexibility being turned down; people made redundant whilst on maternity leave; and there are sadly precious few women at the top of the publishing houses. That just seems crazy for our industry. Other, more traditionally ‘male’ industries like finance and law are trying really hard to get more women through the door and are offering more flexibility and initiatives, but in the meantime I feel publishing has gone backwards.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?
Not working round the clock. I have a tendency to work 24/7, I genuinely just enjoy the job but I’m trying really hard to fit it all in during the day and then read or watch a film in the evening. It’s a struggle, there’s just so much to do but I think for my own sanity (as well as my family life!) it will really help if I can manage it.

Right Now I’m….
Watching: The Crown (yes I know, I’m always late to the good series…)
Reading: Outline by Rachel Cusk for my bookgroup
Listening to: All the Single Ladies by Beyonce. My daughter (4) is obsessed with playing it and singing along.

Pass it on:
The talented Timma Marrett who works with @women_ahead helping women in sport and development.

In Her Words…. Sarah Topping

sarah-t-the-museSarah Topping is a freelance creative copywriter at Playing with Words. She lives in London with her husband, son and more books than they currently have room for.

http://www.playingwithwords.info


The Child that Books Built

Last week I asked my four-year-old what he’d like to be when he grows up.

‘A SPACESHIP!’ he cried.
‘You mean a spaceman?’ I asked.
‘No! A rocket launcher!’ he replied.
‘Okay . . .’ says I, ‘anything else?’
‘A caroderodontasaurus!’ he exclaimed, before running off.
‘Okay,’ I said again, before Googling the above and calling after him ‘It’s carcharodontosaurus!’ (but 10/10 for even knowing what one is).

Aside from the fact it’s physically impossible for him to be either of these things, I like his enthusiasm. As my parents wished for me and my brother, I wish for him to be whatever he wants, as long as it makes him happy. Though not a drug addict. Or a criminal. Dream big, little one, and see where it takes you. Because you never know, one day, that thing you loved so much as a kid could become your career, if all the necessary ingredients fall into place to make your dream happen.

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In these increasingly fathomless and downright scary times we face whenever we see the news, I’ve been thinking about dreams a lot; specifically, escapism. I’ve deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone because the bombardment of incomprehensible news is too much. And when it comes to escapism, I’ve realised how fortunate I am. I deal in escapism on a daily basis, for I am an avid, ardent, hopelessly devoted lover of books and reading. I thank my lucky stars this is the case. On the day things here began to seem so weird and uncertain, June 24th 2016, I found myself sitting on our sofa clutching this pile of books with an ice-cold G&T in my hands. I held them and concentrated very hard on what they represent. On this day that was so fuelled by lies and scaremongering, to me, these books stood for imagination and magic and humour and kindness and charm, wonder and adventure.

It helps to seek comfort in what you love, so I found reaching for the bookshelves a natural thing to do. But where did it begin? I have my parents, my English teachers and professors, and without a doubt, my school library and our local village library to thank for fostering and encouraging in me this unconditional love of stories and words (and spelling. Oh, spelling!). The hours I spent in that old Grade II listed building, with its nooks and crannies perfect for curling up in, with a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys or Point Horror, Sweet Valley High, Adrian Mole, Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton to name a few, are immeasurable. I didn’t know it then, as a frizzy haired kid with crooked teeth, but one day, my access to so many authors and illustrators and their imagined worlds would very much become my reality.

Because now, it is my pleasure and privilege to not only be a lover of books, but to have made books my career. For ten years, I worked at Penguin Books in London, moving from Penguin to Puffin and what is now Penguin Random House Children’s. When I see that Penguin or Puffin on book spines’, I see in my mind a place where book magic is made. A place where I spent hours surrounded by books, thinking about books, writing copy for and talking about books. When I read picture books with my son, I don’t just see the names of certain authors and illustrators; I remember a train journey I took with them or seeing them draw live at an event (yes, it’s Quentin Blake I’m thinking of here and it will forever be a Total. Life. Highlight.).

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As someone who adores books, you can guess what a special place it was to be. Since becoming a freelance creative copywriter in 2014, I have delved into the wonderful world of Harry Potter via Pottermore, I’ve discovered How to Train Your Dragon, written about motherhood for Ladybird and how to celebrate World Book Day. I’ve happily revisited the worlds of the BFG, Matilda, Charlie et al, amongst many other delightful projects, for both adult and kids’ books. I’m not throwing these names around lightly either, please know that. I’m more than a little overwhelmed to know that this year, my blurbs will feature on some of Enid Blyton’s most iconic series’; stories I still have the bumper hardback editions of, complete with sellotaped spines and inscriptions from my family wishing me luck in my 1988 ballet exam. For that little girl, whose recently rediscovered 1988 school report notes ‘Sarah is a keen reader. She always has her nose in a book’, it’s a childhood dream come true.

sarah-books

It is a special and privileged thing to be able to do what you love, and love what you do. I know that. This is why, taking all of the above into account, it’s so unbelievably sad and frustrating that libraries up and down the country are faced with cuts and closures. Talented and dedicated librarians are losing their jobs and future generations of readers are being punished. And it truly is a punishment, when these community spaces are not valued enough for what they offer everyone who steps inside and into a room filled with shelves of life-enhancing information and imagination enriching stories. Beyond that, they are being denied the experience of these books; yes, an eBook is convenient. But what about the smell and feel of the physical book? Beautiful, enchanting illustrations that sweep you away? You can’t lovingly smooth the pages on the Kindle app. Tap vs touch; it doesn’t compare.

Yesterday this quote by Professor Stephen Krashen, illustrated by Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, made me stop and stare. So simple, and so true. ‘Reading for pleasure, reading for life.’ It strikes such a chord because I am a case in point. I was, and still am, lucky enough to have access to so many books, as does my son and our new baby will too. I cannot imagine my life, or my children’s lives, without books. I’m so delighted when I see my little boy independently sitting with a book in his lap, gazing at the pictures and ‘reading’ the words he knows well, or when he asks me at 6.30am for a story. Well, obviously not delighted straight away because I’m so bleary-eyed, but once I’ve had coffee the answer is yes. It could never not be.

libraries

When it comes to reading, the doors it opens can’t be underestimated. And a love of reading cannot be supported if library doors are being slammed shut. ‘Ssssssshhh, we’re in a library!’ is a fond and familiar refrain, for these are places to be treated with respect and love. But there’s nothing to be quiet about when it comes to saving our libraries. Never mind ‘Sssssshhh!’. It needs to be a deafening roar.

Right Now I’m…
Reading: Most recently I loved Little Deaths by Emma Flint – devastating, mesmerising and I’ll have to read again, and Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – can’t stop thinking about the ending.
And when it comes to children’s books, the top five picture books we return to time and again are Kicking a Ball by Allan Ahlberg and Sebastien Braun, Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants by Giles Andreae and Korky Paul, Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton, Something Else by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell and Captain Jack and the Pirates by Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury.

Listening to: The ‘Hypnobirthing Relaxation Audio Colour and Calmness’ app with Katharine Graves.

Watching: The last series I binge-watched was The Missing series two, v chilling. And over Christmas we watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople on Netflix and I’ve been recommending it to anyone who’ll listen ever since.

Pass it On…  Nominate up to three women that you’d like to see featured on The Muse:
Katya Shipster @chaletdesoie
Katya is Deputy Publicity Director at Michael Joseph, mother of two small boys and co-owner of the stunning Chalet de Soie in Morzine, which she and her husband renovated from the ground up in 2013, whilst living and working full-time in London.
Blog: http://chic-happens.net/

Helen King
@hegsking
Helen is the former Head of Education at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre and Head of Campaigns for the National Crime Agency. Helen is now Director of External Relations for Pause, which works to help women who have had multiple children removed, as well as being mum to four young children. That phrase ‘I don’t know how she does it?’ Totally applies to Helen.

Shannon Cullen @imwreckedmother
Shannon is a Publishing Director at Penguin Random House Children’s, mother of two and her brilliant new book, I’m Wrecked, This is My Journal, which she recently wrote on maternity leave with her newborn son, publishes in March.

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