Saturday, 12 April 2014

Who inspires you?

How hard is it to break out from what you know into where you'd like to be? The twisting journey is the thing but where do you look for inspiration to go on? No, its not about going on.That's not what I mean. I am talking about breaking a new path. Destroying what was expected and creating reality from a long held dream? Earning a living as a published novelist in the place of being a corporate writer? I turn to musicians. Their work, their stories. The whole thing. Picture this: you see Prince in concert when you are fifteen and from that moment you decide that you will play instruments like he does. Then Madonna signs you. Soon you count decades in the music business. It's the stuff of fairy tales yet Meshell Ndegeocello's life is well documented. I know there's a lot of hard work and talent in the spaces between those sentences, but the work actually went somewhere. It didn't founder on compromise or fad or anything like that. That's what gets me out of procrastination. And I don't understand all the rap music I hear but I'm fired with so much energy and admiration for the stories of those who create this art form. Imagine turning from a life in the projects to disrupting an entire industry as Jay Z has done with his innovative approach to business. Or changing perceptions and broadening the audience for your art from in the way that will-i-am has. And this one's not a rapper but, how about Pharrell Williams inspiring people from nations as far away as Somaliland - I mean Somaliland! That tiny haven of peace amidst a thunder of bullets flying....I don't think I've ever seen women in hijabs dancing to a mainstream record like that. Makes me feel like anything is possible - my career as a novelist is possible and so the struggle continues.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Words and meanings

I get called scary sometimes; an ex (whom I should never have dated) once called me intimidating. Sometimes when I am super stressed, people will tell me I look calm. Other times when I am stressed, those same people will say that I look aggressive. These days I dismiss other people's impressions as misguided projections. Words like scary, dominant and intimidating don't bother me at all. I imagine that I would have the same reaction to being called bossy. I was called the n-word once though. One time to my face that is. It was so weird how it happened. I must have been about 15 or 16 on a visit to the UK from Ghana. My dad put me on a train to Great Yarmouth with instructions to get off at Norwich where family friends would meet me. I imagined Great Yarmouth to be this huge yawning mouth that I was going to be lucky to escape. My dad, who has always had the gift of making friends with strangers, introduced me to a Yarmouth-bound family who made room for me to sit with them. Their daughter was a few years younger than me and was happy for someone to talk to. As the train pulled away, I waved at Dad feeling safe and happy. My new friend, let's call her A invited me to play spot the cow. It was a beautiful summers day- the kind where the clouds and sky are exactly as you would wish them. The grass looks so healthy you could eat, drink and dance in it. I played A's game, squealing and pointing out of the window at the cows she didn't see first. When we got bored we sang as many TV jingles as we could remember. It was the Eighties. Brixton and Toxteth were rioting. Miners were making threats to strike. Cashpoint machines were the latest New Thing. Mrs T was in charge and unemployment was a regular news feature. A group of older teens boarded the train an hour or so into the journey. They were mostly boys - sort of rough but not frightening. At least not at first. They entered our carriage and sat not far from us. There was a single girl in the group: blond, pretty and well-turned out. The boys seemed to treat her with respect. They made sure she was comfortable, included her in their joking. They were loud but easy to ignore. I was too busy pretending to be a few years younger and playing my game. I was on holiday from the revolution madness in Ghana. I was enjoying being childish. The boys began to recount the details of a recent altercation. They became excited, their voices rising as each told his part in the fight. Someone began to sing. I'd heard the song before but in the train it sounded different. I stopped giggling and just stared out of the window. I missed my Dad. The other boys joined in with the trigger, trigger shoot the n----- song. The family I was with said nothing. The boys began to laugh and the moment might have passed when the girl said, 'Oh look there's one here.' I was too young, too fresh off the plane to feel anything other than shame. I hung my head and stared into my lap. My train-journey family did the same. To my eternal gratitude those boys took one look at me and changed the topic. The train journey continued in silence. My train-journey family didn't wave when I got off at Norwich. Everything changed because of one word. The current 'ban bossy' brouhaha reminded me of that incident. Words are so powerful yet I wonder if anyone would feel threatened, I mean really threatened if they were called bossy on a train? Okay that might be an extreme and out of context analogy. But we should be asking whether the fear of being perceived as bossy is really what prevents women from asserting themselves. If that really is the case then why don't we also ban nursery rhymes that tell girls to be sugar and spice everything nice? If, as Beyonce says in the ad, this campaign is about leadership positions then shouldn't we be telling girls to emulate their bosses? Isn't that what bossy means? To be like a boss? In general (in general) I believe that most words are just words, and real change comes from a deeper place.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Once you get started...

Wow, twice in the same morning. This is something of a role. Ha! Or roll. Thing is, blogs are short. Or can be. There are no rules except they better be pithy if you want to catch someone's attention. I've spoken about rappers before but maybe that's where they do well. They catch us as we think with their fast and clever words. Poets do that too but music is so easy, so accessible, so regular. What a great way to reach someone. A book seems all too baggy. Too much time and concentration needed. So they need to fool the reader. Make like they are a pithy intuitive thing. However hard. Seep into the consciousness like an ear worm and stay.

Is there anything left to say?

I guess the thing about learning to be a writer is that after a while you just have to write. After you have learnt all the technical stuff about POV and whatnot the only thing left is just to let your material flow and see what happens. So what about the blog then? What's it for? It's two years since I last blogged (sounds like a confession) and this seems like a really good way to work my muscle. Someone said writing is about getting rid of the crap before you get to the good stuff. You know like sucking marrow out of the bone. You need to write a ton of rubbish sentences before you get to the one that is as close to your character's thought or an overhead conversation. Today this blog is helping with that.
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