Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Deaf or just weak?

Yesterday I listened with disbelief to play by Katie Hims on Radio 4, Dragonfly. Good writing and fine acting, and it kept me listening. However, if listeners were supposed to feel sympathy for the lead character, I didn’t. Expectant father Cal, who was deaf, acted oddly; we found out that 20 years ago he had walked out on his pregnant girlfriend just before the wedding. His excuse was that his future father-in-law had called him a ‘fucking cripple’ and the epithet rankled. Dearie me, what a spineless, self-pitying wimp.

Yes, people who live with any sort of disability have to run a marathon every day and don’t get the support and understanding they deserve. Yes, the world can be a callous, ill-bred, hurtful place. But the real victim was Gabriel, the baby he abandoned, put up for adoption by his despairing mother.

If you bring new life into the world, you have to be prepared to put your child first and your own concerns second. Children need love and care every day of their lives. As any parent knows, that is unremitting hard labour. The play’s ending, when Cal writes his son a letter offering to make contact 20 years too late seemed to me another maudlin gesture rather than a genuine attempt to right a wrong done to a defenceless child.

Thanks to the author and actors for a thought-provoking play. I still feel its sympathies were misguided.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Teaching people to read in the electronic age

As someone who needs to read as much as she needs to breathe, I find it scandalous that our government allows so many children to drift through the school system without ever learning the magic of reading and writing. I have seen estimates that in England one person in every five is “functionally illiterate”, able to cope with only the smallest, simplest words. These people are tragic outcasts, cut off from understanding information the rest of us take for granted, like gas bills, letters from the children’s school, or diversion signs on the roads. I used to teach reading and writing to adults, and I know the courage it takes to turn up to a class and admit to ignorance.

So I was interested to see a recent call for authors to write stories for unskilled readers to be released in Kindle format, stories targeted at adults, that they could read in privacy, at their own pace. Great idea, but someone who is scared of reading - and reluctant to admit it - is never going to buy an electronic reader, however much they come down in price.

Before they progress to an e-reader, why not teach people to read on the ubiquitous iPad? There are quite a few iPad apps available for teaching children to read and write by playing around with words, but I haven’t found the equivalent for adults.

The person who could invent such an app would never become rich, but he would earn the heartfelt thanks of one in five of the population.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


April is national poetry month in America, and Susan Adcox has chosen one of my poems, PATCHWORK, to feature on her interesting grandparenting blog. Along with a selection of poems, the site contains useful tips on the joys and problems facing grandparents. Read it at http://grandparents.about.com.

Monday, 7 March 2011

A Sackful of Shorts free for one week only

For one week only, until 12 March, A Sackful of Shorts, an anthology by members of Hornsea Writers, is available free from www.smashwords.com, allowing readers to sample diverse genres. As well as my own contribution, Sisters, which was first broadcast on BBC Radio Newcastle, the anthology includes tales of romance, humour, success and failure. Well worth reading.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Marquise de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet

I’ve just re-read the memoirs of one of my favourite people from history, the Marquise de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet. Her first name was Lucy, but I always think of this redoubtable woman by her grand French surname.

Of Irish descent, she married into the French aristocracy and took her place at the extravagant, doomed court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Fleeing the guillotine, she and her husband started over again as farmers in North America. There, she learned how to chop wood and draw water from the well, as well as doing her own cooking and washing. She met French emigrés, Dutch colonialists, Quakers and native Americans.

Dictated shortly before her death aged 83, her memoirs cover everything from political intrigue to domestic detail. Nothing was too trivial to record and I find her diary a treasure trove.

She was a flawed character. Buying her first slave in America, she describes with no compassion that his personal possessions would “fit inside a hat”. When the upstart dictator Napoleon looked round for a few aristocrats to give his new court legitimacy, she and her husband hastened back to France to resume a life of privilege.

Yet she had a talent for survival. Whatever life threw at her, she hitched up her skirts and got on with it – including her own multiple pregnancies. Whether bartering homemade butter for winter necessities, or assisting at a roadside birth, she was ever resourceful. I might not have liked her, but I would like to have known her.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

New writing for the stage

I spent an enjoyable afternoon at Hull Truck Theatre, watching a dozen playlets, monologues or scenes from longer plays, all by writers belonging to Script Yorkshire, a regional support group for stage playwrights and scriptwriters. All were performed script in hand, with no scenery and minimal props, although the actors certainly made the effort to bring their characters to life.

My own favourites were Oh Well, a ghost story by Andrew Harrison, and Pepperoni for One by Gary Clark, a reflection on marital nagging where the female characters were played by a man.

Even more interesting was the immediate feedback from a panel of three theatre professionals. After each piece, the various authors came on stage to hear comments about staging their work. As writers, we all know that candid feedback is invaluable, but it takes guts to listen to it in front of a theatre full of strangers.