Me and Killing Eve

Like pretty much everyone in the latter half of 2018, I was gripped by Killing Eve. I watched it (savouring it weekly rather than bingeing, taking my time over it) and I read the first book, struck by the difference in tone to the series. It was, I reasoned, a product of a male novelist being adapted by a female screenwriter. After all, I spent a decade of my life looking at the representation of gender in minute detail as part of my role as an A-level Media Studies teacher. This was my bread and butter, something I was deeply interested in. I threw a tweet out about how I felt there were differences and then sort of forgot about it.

Until I got an email asking whether I would like to write a short piece about it to mark the publication of the second book in the States and the upcoming second series. Oh, and it was for The Washington Post- a paper I’d long admired right back to my uni days when, as a journalism student from a very working class background, working for newspapers like it seemed like an unreachable dream. Of course I said yes.

And so I set about researching everything I could about Killing Eve and its print counterpart, the Codename Villanelle books. I read the latest book and watched Fleabag, to better understand Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing style and how this had shaped Killing Eve into the phenomenal success it was; it struck me that as a spy novel (a genre traditionally very male-dominated), it had amazing resonance with women and seemed to be coming as part of a shift in TV drama. We’re now seeing more female-led writing rooms, with showrunners such as Shonda Rhimes, Tina Fey and Phoebe Waller-Bridge becoming more prominent and a move towards female led shows.

I spent hours re-watching Killing Eve, taking a whole notebook of notes on minutiae that I would never use but that helped me formulate my essay. I even took apart the fireplace in our living room to rescue a birthday card that had fallen down the back in an attempt to procrastinate. To me this was the most important piece of writing I’d ever done. THE ACTUAL WASHINGTON BLOODY POST.

I had 850 words. I had to keep it to the bare bones. I had to decide if ‘thrush cream’ would translate to an American audience (not really. Stephanie, the commissioning editor, explained that in the States ‘thrush’ is usually considered to be passed between mother and baby during breastfeeding. Nice.) I wanted to write about Fleabag and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s weirdness around parent/child relationships and how this transferred to Killing Eve. I wanted to write about how the mostly female soundtrack made us feel that this was a more feminine environment than traditional spy dramas and how the attempt to make Charlie, in the recent adaptation of Little Drummer Girl, a fashion icon in the mould of Villanelle didn’t work. I also could have legitimately mentioned Olivia Colman twice, but I resisted the urge.

Anyway. I submitted my piece a week and a half early- despite my best efforts with a screwdriver and the mantlepiece. Mainly because once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. I remembered that I love writing and I love pop culture. Also, I can now actually say I’m a proper writer who has written for The Washington Post. And that’s really cool

You can read the article here.

Let’s ‘foster a conversation’

Recently, I’ve been told (twice) that a company wanted me to write a sponsored post on my blog, not for pay- or even, gasp, for the exposure!- but to ‘foster a conversation’.

Now, I want you to imagine a pipe burst in my house and I called my usual plumber. If I told him I wanted him to work for free, in order to ‘foster a conversation’, he would laugh at me and rightly so. Because I’d be paying him for his skills and his time. Even if he did accept to work for ‘the conversation’, because he’d heard somewhere that I was not actually socially awkward and was in fact a secretly brilliant raconteur, he’d still get tea and biscuits out of me. Which is more than I’m being offered here. Most galling was the very, very well-known, very famously profitable company that wanted me to write about how to earn extra money- by not paying me any.

My time outside of work is precious. I don’t have a lot of it, to be honest, and I want to use it well. A few years ago, I did do some work for free. I had a sleepy baby and was trying to get my writing up as a possible sideline. I made a bit of money, but then I had to go back to work in a job that is apparently one of the most stressful to do. I also have a three year old and they are hard. work. I want to do stuff in my downtime that’s fun and not pressured. If you want me to work to a deadline, you pay me for my time. It can be monetary, or it can be in the form of a product/book/event. (I’d also like to point out that I’ve turned down stuff in the past that, even though it was paid with money, didn’t fit well with me or my blog.) I do make exceptions for charities, which is only right.

The thing is, if you want me to spend my scarce free time on something for you, you’re getting my attention and my skills. If you offer me nothing in return, you’re telling me that these things are worth nothing. I’ve spent a lot of time doing stuff for nothing (I used to do a lot of stuff on the blog, a few years back), I thought about it and realised I’ve sort of outgrown it, to be honest. I want to work to earn money for me and my family and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I’m envious of those who can earn a living writing; to me it’s been very, very hard to get anywhere with that.

These days, I’m a bit of a blogging bumbler. My life is very, very different to when I was doing my journalism degree, or even when I was flirting with being a bit of a beauty/parenting blogger. I couldn’t bear the pressure and I just wanted to write about things I did or books I read. I don’t make any money from either blog and that’s fine. I’m happy to work with companies I like and have a mutually beneficial relationship with- and I enjoy that work. Would I turn down something if it was interesting? No. But I don’t feel like I have to chase anything either- especially ‘exposure’.

My letter to the Unknown Soldier

As this year is the centenary of the start of World War I, the project 14-18 Now has been commissioning art projects and other events to mark the event. One of the projects is collecting letters to the statue of the Unknown Soldier who stands on Platform One at Paddington Station. Today is the last day you can submit a letter before they are collated to be stored in the British Library.

Image: 14-18 Now

Image: 14-18 Now

I decided to write a letter for the website and, as I’ll be featuring bits and pieces of World War I stuff on the blog, I thought I would publish it here as well. I decided to write it to my great-grandad, John Hennessey. I’ll post more about him soon.

 

It’s funny; I’ve only discovered more about your war experience since writing to your niece. Your daughter- my grandma- didn’t know you’d been gassed. She said you never spoke about your time at war to your daughters.

I keep your photo in the living room. You’re there with three of your pals, all dressed up in your army uniforms. I assume that they were also part of the same Irish regiment. You all look terribly young. I think about my own son, husband and brother and think about how I would feel if they were called up. I’d be terrified. I can imagine your parents were horrified when you signed up, underage.

Through research, I found out about your regiment. Your regimental song is ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’, which I sing to my little boy as I get him ready for bed. He’s your great-great grandson and he definitely has a family resemblance! I always think about you as I sing it.

To be honest, I only know snippets of your life at war. I know that you told my mum you had shrapnel still left in you. I know that there are family legends that you walked frm Cork to Dublin to join up (although having done my research, I’m not sure how true that is.) I was told that you’d never had a pair of boots before joining up. I’ve seen your village and where you were born- I can believe it.

I desperately wish I could speak to you and ask you about your life. Searching through archives and speaking to relatives only gives us so much.
Yours sincerely and with love,
Stephanie

What happens when I write

Recently, I’ve been working on a few of my old short stories with a view of entering some competitions; although I don’t think I’ll win, the experience of editing, working and tweaking, as well as planning new stories has been a good one. I was going to write about inspiration, but it’s hard to do so without sounding like a third-rate Oscar Wilde.

File:Parnaso 05.jpg

A load of Muses
Image: Wikipedia

When I was little, I always wanted to be a writer; but a lack of confidence has made it hard for me to actually go out and try my hand at doing it properly. I’m entering the competitions as a way of getting my self-esteem back up- not necessarily because there’s a prize, but because I can then tell myself I can do the work, I do have the discipline. I live in a world where I have lots of characters percolating in my brain, waiting for me to find something to do with them.

One day, I would like to be a freelancer full time; now I take occasional freelance work that’s usually education based. I think I would most be suited to copy writing, as this suits my skill set (I have a degree in Journalism) and I can pretty much write about anything non-fictional.

I was thinking about how I approached my creative writing and my professional stuff and I don’t think there is a difference, really. I usually work to music and have tea on the go. Obviously I can’t do it when D is about because a) if we’re on our own, that’s a tad neglectful and b) even if his dad is around, I often find a board book (usually Kipper) being shoved in my direction with an imploring ‘ta!’ being said repeatedly at me. As much as I’d love to support myself and my family on the proceeds of my writing, it’s a distant dream, particularly until D is eligible for free nursery!

The lack of confidence is a massive hurdle for me. People tell me they like my stuff, but then there’s always a shred of doubt. So I think I will work through the short stories for now and then see how I go.

Any tips?

(PS- if you do want me to work on something for you, my details are here.)

The most fun you can have with a stamp!

A while back, I stumbled upon Postcrossing, a website which connects people through a very simple concept- send a postcard to a random person in the world and, once your card arrives, your address will be given to another random person so that they can send you a postcard.

Some of the postcards I've received so far..

Some of the postcards I’ve received so far..

I love this idea because I love post. Also, doing something like this really helped me when I was in danger of becoming quite isolated at home, but unable to get my mind into writing a full letter. Postcards are relatively cheap and it costs 87p to send a postcard anywhere in the world. The man in local post office is always a bit puzzled when I go in and buy stamps in bulk, but I like to think I’m helping keep Royal Mail alive or something (I buy ten a month. Otherwise, it’d be ridiculous.)

It’s amazing how the small act of putting a few words on a postcard and then sending it can really cheer someone up. I’ve had some awful days and then got home to find a couple of postcards on the mat. It’s been a great surprise. What’s also really nice is when the senders have tried to match the card to my tastes, or written something that shows they read my profile. I try to do this too, as it shows some thought. I love reading the profile and then looking at my stack of postcards to decide what to send where. I also attempted some Russian a while back, but the receiver didn’t comment on it, so I don’t know how terrible a translator Google is!

russian

My first attempt at Russian- probably not that brilliant, to be honest!

 

 

I’ve also enjoyed buying postcards- I’ve bought some from Etsy and Folksy, as well as Paperchase and the local tourist information centre- as well as finding an old collection of art postcards I’d picked up.

So, what do I DO with all my postcards once they arrive? I’ve been sticking them in the kitchen on the cupboard under the stairs. I like to chatter to the baby while pointing out pictures and telling him where they’ve come from and what the pictures are of. I know he doesn’t really understand at this point, but he loves looking at them and listening to me witter on. Maybe when he’s older I can take him to visit some of the places where the cards have come from. That would be exciting!

If you’d like to see all the postcards I’ve received so far (and some of the ones I’ve sent!) you can do so here.

Do you fancy signing up to this?

 

Debbie Harry’s Guide to Success

So, I turned 28 last Wednesday. This doesn’t really bother me, as I have never really been squeamish about my age (some may argue that I’m still young enough for it not to be an issue, but then I don’t think age should ever be an issue.)

It’s remarkable when I look back at the last ten years and what’s happened in my life. But I can’t shake off the feeling that I’m not quite where I should be. I never intended, at this junction, to be a teacher. I was so sure I was going to be a writer for a national magazine or newspaper. But at the crucial moment, I lost all confidence. I chose a different path. And although I’m successful in that career path I chose, it’s not ultimately where I think I will be for the rest of my life.

Sometimes, I think the boat has passed and that I am destined to stay on the same course. But then I think back to the statement at the start of this blogpost and think, “Why should I be held back?” Also, I then remember that Debbie Harry didn’t hit the big time until she was 31. I have three years left until I reach that.

Debbie Harry toiled for years until Blondie became big. I sort of do that now, what with the blog, the occasional freelancing and so on. I mean, I’m not saying I could be as big as Blondie (I’d never be so arrogant or assume so much- also my singing is horrendous), but I think Ms Harry can be an inspiration when I’m in the deepest depths of my despair.

I would love to finally have the confidence in my ‘novel’ ideas to actually get them down on paper and be really happy with what I produce. When I tell people the storyline, they always seem interested, but I can’t put down the thought that they’re feigning interest just to be polite. That nasty, vicious voice of self-doubt and self-loathing creeps in. FYI, it sounds a lot like a Disney villain. Ursula, to be exact.

To be honest, there’s not a lot I can do about it, except try and defeat the self-doubt and octopus lady voice. I need to get writing, rather than just talking about writing. I need to start asking around, offering freelance ideas. I need to be proactive, even though it’s uncomfortable. I should also stop putting the word ‘novel’ in inverted commas. How can anyone else take my ideas seriously if I don’t?

In short, I need to play Blondie really, really loudly and imagine I’m Debbie Harry.

Spring Goals

I figured, as it’s nearly the end of February and we’re predicted a really warm end of the week, I thought I would look ahead and set myself some goals for the next few months; the period between now and June is busy at work and I need to make sure that I’m not just doing work stuff. So, with that in mind, I’m going to set some goals for the time period until June 1st.

1) Read more fiction- and enjoy it! I’ve written about this and I’m determined to continue with it. I’m slowly getting to grips with the problems I’ve had. Maybe I read a few rum books, but it’s getting better. I am currently loving Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Vile Bodies’, so I will read more of his books in the coming weeks.

2) Be positive- it’s really easy for me to get bogged down in my job, so I’m going to try and take everything as it comes. This target also means I need to not allow stress to envelope me. Which leads me to…

3) Get into exercising- I started both jive and yoga this weekend and I really want them to become things I really, really enjoy, even when the novelty has worn off. I’ve started to read up on the history of both and this is really helping me get my head around what I’m doing.

4) Do more writing- and be brave about it! I need to make sure that I start work on the ‘novel’ and maybe put myself forward for writing competitions, solicit some work (perhaps) and really get going with the work. Writing is the thing I love doing more than anything. I should do more of what I enjoy.

5) Knit some yoga socks!

6) Make something with my sewing machine.

7) Buy some utterly brilliant shoes that I will actually wear.

I think that’s a pretty comprehensive and achievable list… Do you have any goals for spring?

Losing my mojo

Today has been a bit of an odd day. The cold weather I have wanted for so long has finally come (any chance of some snow? Please?!) and I’ve kind of gone into ‘hibernating mode’.

I usually, when this happens, pick up my knitting needles. But I have no desire to at all. It’s been the same all week. At first, I thought it was just because I have had an insanely busy week, which looks to continue into next week too. I tried to do a bit of knitting. It wasn’t fun. I tried a bit of the Ongoing Monster Tapestry* that I have knocking around. I did a bit, but then got bored. It is weird having no creative juices at all. Even my writing has gone to pot. There is nothing in my head- not one creative thought excites me. I have no desire to make anything, or to write a sentence of the ‘novel’ I’m writing. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

This troubles me. I am used to running around like a mad thing, my head fizzing with ideas, my brain all keen and enthusiastic to such a degree that I would out-perk even the perkiest, most wholesome Mid-Western college student in a rom-com. I know I am tired and a bit stressed and a bit listless. But this is ridiculous.

Instead, I spent today sorting out my Ladies in Monochrome blog, buying a proper domain name, importing the whole thing over to WordPress, setting up a dedicated Twitter feed and scanning and sorting photos. All a bit boring, really. It’s all I could manage and the sorting and organising made part of my brain very happy indeed.

I’m going to try and rectify this grave situation by sitting down with The Killing season 1 and hoping that I can muster up the energy to knit a bog-standard, no thought sock.

*The Ongoing Monster Tapestry is actually a really very pretty, if large, William Morris design.