Monday, October 31, 2016

Do it now!

There are still hundreds of vulnerable child refugees in Calais.

Please, please, will you email your MP immediately to urge them to speak for these children and to get the government to act under the Dubs amendment to allow 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children to come to safety in the UK.

Here is a link where you can find your MP's email address. 

You must include your postal address in your email.

Thank you.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Duvet day

I have been very busy this last week and was so tired yesterday, that I planned to do only two things: to go for a tiny bike ride, and to play my sax. I managed the former, just, but was too tired to bother to pick up some litter on the verge. And the sax? I played one and a half tunes and then gave up, exhausted. 

I was too tired even to do a Sudoku. I watched a lot of comfort TV, largely, to my shame, Gilmore Girls, which I privately swore off when I went to America in September. I am back on it again, hooked, despite my disdain for the two lead characters. The main one, Lorelai, is so annoying that when in a recent episode she had her heart broken I was pleased. She was partly to blame. Yes, this is really me (your warm and fluffy blogger who cried at the trailer for I, Daniel Blake, never mind the film) relishing the suffering of a fictional character who talks at 100 mph, is physically attractive and is supposed to be sympathetic to the viewer. I am a little shocked at myself, though not so much I'll be losing sleep. Why do I watch this stuff? It is entertaining, unchallenging, and is a world where everyone is housed, clothed, fed and loved. 

Meanwhile in Calais, vulnerable children are sleeping rough because of the heartlessness of our government. How can we persuade them to behave with decency and compassion?  Our MP gives us deaf and dumb breakfast. What about yours?

Let us do what we can as private citizens.

There is plenty of other stuff going on that's worthy of a rant, but I am leaving it here, with two excerpts from the poem, Home, by Warsan Shire:


no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps...'

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Those determined not to see

I did it. I went to see I, Daniel BlakeI went with Mary's younger daughter. I was armed with two handkerchiefs, but as it turned out, I only needed one. That was for the most memorable scene, set in a food bank. It was devastating, and was by far the most powerful moment in what was a hard-hitting film. 

Before I went, I read the British reviews on the website Rotten Tomatoes, and noticed that the right wing papers gave the film a lower rating than the liberal and left wing papers. And I thought "Hmm. Typical. They don't like the message, so they're dissing the film."

Now I'm thinking about the film and puzzling over my reaction, and wondering why it doesn't match the wave of feeling on the net. I think it's partly because I had steeled my heart to avoid collapse, partly because (as a writer) I had a few personal tiny doubts about some of the acting and some of the script - who do I think I am? This is the great Ken Loach! - but mostly I think it's because the film didn't tell me anything I didn't already know and have been fuming about for several years. 

I used to volunteer in a Citizens Advice Bureau which helps people with a wider range of problems, including wrestles with what was then the bungling bureaucracy of the welfare benefits system. Since I worked there things have changed: the benefits system has been redesigned to be punitive, inhumane, unbending, humiliating, and it is also financially even meaner. Added to this, the poisonous newspapers in this country have whipped up ill-feeling against benefits claimants so that the majority of the public thinks that benefits fraud accounts for 24% of claims, when in fact the figure is 0.7%.

know how the system works now because I read different newspapers and because of things I have heard from friends. In my day there were no food banks. Now these are an indispensable safety net, and they are run by charities, not the state, which is shocking. But what is more shocking is that over ONE MILLION people in the UK needed emergency three day rations from food banks last year. I, Daniel Blake shows why, and makes it clear that this need is due to circumstances beyond their control. 

The screenplay for I, Daniel Blake was written after research, in which the writer spoke to people claiming benefits, and to anonymous sources in benefits offices. Everything that happens in the film has happened to at least one person in real life, and the way the system is portrayed in the JobcentrePlus is realistic. So the truth of the film is beyond reproach. 

I don't feel qualified to express misgivings about the film itself (qua film) online, so I won't. It's an important film and delivers a message people need to hear, and that is all that matters. I just read a disgustingly cynical and snide piece about the film by Toby Young in the Daily Mail, where he peddles the usual Daily Mail lies. He queries whether someone who has had a heart attack and whose doctor says he must not work would be turned down for Employment Support Allowance. This does happen. It has happened. There is plenty of documentary evidence. Dying people have been told they are fit to work. 

As long as the politicians in this country shut their eyes to the suffering their policies cause, and as long as poisonous (and worryingly popular) papers like the Daily Mail vilify benefits claimants, there will be a need for films like I, Daniel Blake. I so wish things were different.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Guest post - crime writer, Christine Poulson

My good friend, Chrissie Poulson, crime writer extraordinaire, has a new novel out today: Deep Water. It's like all her books - intelligent, atmospheric and full of suspense. I know, because I've read it. Today, I'm honoured to have her as a guest on my blog, answering my questions.

Sue: Why do you think you write crime novels and not novels in some other genre?

Christine: I have loved crime fiction ever since I was a teenager. My best friend Pauline and I used to read Agatha Christie novels and try to work out on paper who had done it! I read widely, not just crime fiction, but as a writer I like the structure of the crime novel and it’s a great vehicle for the things that interest me such as the gap between appearance and reality and the ways in which people behave in extreme situations.

Sue: The blurb on the back cover of your novel mentions a cure for obesity worth millions and a death in a clinical trial. Did you have to do a lot of research before you wrote it?

Christine: My scientific education stopped at ‘O’ Level Biology. So it was ambitious, not to say foolhardy, of me to set a novel in a lab and have researchers at the cutting edge of biotechnology as my principal characters. I also needed to know something about patent law. So, yes, I did a lot of research for this one, more than for any of the other novels I’ve written.

Sue: Do you enjoy doing the background research for your novels or do you find it
a tedious necessity?

Christine: Mostly I enjoy doing research. In my old life I was an art historian and that was part of what I did. These days I particularly like it when it gets me out of the house to talk to people about what they do for a living. I’m very nosy and I love finding out about how other people spend their days. For my new novel I spent happy hours shadowing friendly scientists in the lab and listening as they explained their work to me.

Sue: You’ve written a lot of short stories. Do you prefer writing short stories or novels? And why?

Christine: I like them both! With a novel you have time to get absorbed in another world. It’s like a parallel reality that you dip in and out of. It’s a marathon requiring stamina, whereas the short story is a more of a sprint. You only have to keep it up for a few thousand words so you can be freer and more experimental. I’ve sometimes written from the point of view of a man, even once from the point of view of a fish! (That one is free to read along with others on my web-site – here )

Sue: Can you tell us what you're working on now?

Christine: Deep Water is the first in a series and I’m working on the second novel, also featuring researcher, Katie Flanagan. This time she is involved in a project which involves wintering over on a research base in Antarctica. When the last plane leaves, no-one can get in or out for ten months. There’s a killer on the base, and six months of darkness is about to begin.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mary and the pictures

I used to go to the pictures (aka the cinema) with my friend Mary. And actually, only with Mary. That was what we did together. That and talk - on the sofa, in the kitchen, in cafes, on park benches, on the phone.  At the end of the film, Mary insisted on sitting until all the credits had gone up and the lights had come on. We wouldn't talk about the film until the next day on the phone. That's what we process it on our own before discussion.

There was, however, one memorable time when we went at her suggestion to see a gritty and depressing Mike Leigh film. I can't recall the title. I've expunged it from my memory. It was an early showing and we sat in the cinema cafe for a drink afterwards. I'd hated the film so much because of the unrelenting misery, that I couldn't hold back, and said: "What on earth would possess anybody to want to see a film like that? Why would YOU want to see a film like that?" My voice was supersonic, high like a tiny bat's voice (if bats could speak). It behaves like that when I'm upset or angry or excited.

Mary laughed. I can't remember what she said, but during the following conversation she did have a realisation that, unlike her - who would relish a film with subtitles about abortion in Romania - I go to the pictures to be entertained, uplifted or moved, not to be harrowed. I don't mean I like lightweight, vapid films. I want something substantial, just not harrowing. So films like Twelve Years a Slave are out and ones like WitnessPride, Billy Elliot and Richard Linklater's Before films are in. Mary wanted films that made her think and feel, but hated violence, like me. After that episode, when we were fixing up our next trip to the pictures she would sometimes say things like "There's nothing suitable for you this week. I've checked." And we'd laugh.

I'm thinking about all this at the moment, because I went to see Born to be Blue, a film about Chet Baker, the brilliant (drug-addicted) trumpeter. It was well acted and interesting, gritty and tough. A film for Mary. I went because of the jazz angle, and came home wanting to get out my sax. I didn't. It would have woken Dave. 

And I'm thinking about Mary because there is a film that I want to see and I don't want to see, and I know for sure that Mary would be going if she were still here: Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and it's about what real life is like for hundreds of thousands of people in the UK in 2016. 

The New Statesman critic said: "The greatest virtue of I, Daniel Blake is its patience in confronting painstakingly the incremental humiliations visited on the neediest in society." 
The Guardian critic said: "...a drama of tender devastation that tells its story with an unblinking neorealist simplicity... 

I just watched the trailer. It made me cry. The trailer made me cry! See what a wuss I am. 

I love you, Mary.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

This writing life

As a postscript to yesterday's blog post, try watching this.

 It creases me up.

Monday, October 17, 2016

real life for writers, and a question

I've not told you anything about my writing life lately, have I?

Last autumn I was intensively pitching my TV comedy drama based on my novel  BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU to TV production companies. I had interest and very nice comments from one company, but then they said it didn't fit with their ouevre because it was pre-watershed i.e. family-friendly. 

It was a huge achievement to get them to even consider it, because most film and TV companies refuse to look at unsolicited scripts from writers. They only want material submitted via agents. You know that old conundrum that you can't get a job until you have some experience in it to put on your CV, and you can't get that experience because you can't get a job?  Getting an agent as a screenwriter is rather like that. You have to have a body of work - screened work - to show them, before an agent will take you on. And you can't have original work of your own even considered, never mind screened, unless you have an agent.  

This, above,  is the background to what follows.

While I was away in Colorado in September, I received this email from a production company to whom I had written last November:

Dear Sue,

I understand that you contacted my colleague xxxx xxxx with the pitch for your comedy drama But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You. Apologies for the delay in responding to you, but xxxx has gone away on maternity leave and your pitch has been passed onto me to respond.

Whilst I thank you for considering us to help develop your idea, I’m afraid we don’t accept unsolicited ideas and would encourage you engage an agent to represent your interests going forward.
Whilst the premise for your comedy drama does sound very promising, I’m afraid it is not something that I would be able to develop further as two quite similar comedy drama ideas in development.

Sorry to not have more positive news, but do be encouraged that there does seem to be something very distinctive and heart-warming about your idea and I wish you ever success in adapting it for TV.

With very best wishes,


What is remarkable about this is that someone even bothered to respond - so yyyy deserves full marks for that. But 10 months later? Since I wrote to these guys I have adapted the same material into a situation comedy.

This is real life for writers. You sweat over your writing, redraft it, rewrite it, get feedback from trusted readers, rewrite it, tweak it, then sit down to submit it to publishers, agents, film companies, whoever. Then you wait for weeks months for some kind of response.

Then you get a blank rejection, or hear that something similar is in production. 

You squawk in frustration, kick the door post, go out on your bike, dig the garden, watch junk TV, go to bed, wake up and consider whether you have the emotional energy to launch another marketing campaign, and decide you would rather crawl on your hands and knees to Bakewell and back. You do all the jobs on your to-do list, including the dreaded one labelled 'tax return' - as if you ever earned enough to pay tax - and go out on your bike again. "I'll start next Monday morning." you think.

So here I am. It's Monday morning and the sun is shining with rain forecast for later. I have gardening to do and I'm getting twitchy because I've not been out on my bike for four days. My dearest friend died last year. Others close are ill or have died. Life is short, and there are plenty of other writers out there with great work to offer. Is it worth continuing to spend my time on pitching mine? 

Answers in the comments box below, but please don't wait ten months because I could be dead.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Long distance mother

On this doorstep I stand
year after year
to watch you going
and think: May you not
skin your knees. May you
not catch your fingers
in car doors. May
your hearts not break.
(excerpt from Evangeline Paterson's A Wish for my Children)

Isaac, 43, Google employee, husband, father of two, with a cat and a mortgage, broke his ankle on Thursday. It's a fractured ankle with torn ligaments, and he's in a lot of pain. It's a fracture, not cancer, not a broken heart; he's not being bombed in Aleppo. But here am I, his mother, 4,500 miles away, hating his being miserable, hating being powerless to do anything to make him feel better or cheer him up. 

My brother just rang and heard the tone of my voice and said "What's the matter?" I told him, and he responded: "I'm sorry. But he's a grown man. You're not responsible for him."

I pointed out that he would be upset if his only daughter was in pain, and he agreed.

The science?  Research shows that when women see someone in pain, their brains react as if they themselves are in pain. Men's brains don't work the same way.

Whatever. It brings me back to the truth of that quote: "A  mother is only as happy as her least happy child."

the photo is by Lux Hepworth

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Citizens of the world

You know what? I think I'm getting old. I was about to write and tell you how hectic it's been around here, and then lead into the post, but before I started writing, I scrolled down the blog and found several mentions of life being hectic. I don't have a paid job and it's just normal life with a few extra things thrown in. So what's going on?

Perhaps I'll ban the word "hectic" from the blog. Last week was my first week back from abroad, and on Saturday we had an event that I've been helping to plan since August. Bakewell churches were hosting a group of women and children asylum seekers and refugees on a day trip to Bakewell. We had activities planned for them inside and out, two home-made meals, and transport to and from Sheffield, where they've been given accommodation (our nearest city.) On the Thursday night before, I got very little sleep, worrying about if it would all go to plan, and generally fretting - would they have a nice time? would they? would they?

On Saturday morning I was so nervous I was thinking of ringing up my co-planners and saying I was ill and couldn't come, sending Dave to deliver the food I'd cooked. I am a friendly person, but talking to people I don't know, starting from scratch, is hard.

But I went, and I was the one to wait on the  main road to greet the visitors as they stepped down from the small coach we'd chartered. The volunteer from Sheffield was the first to step off the bus with a warm smile, a hearty thank you and an outstretched hand, and she was followed by our visitors - all smiling. My heart lifted, and I relaxed. It was going to be OK.

It was more than OK. As soon as the children got to the Quaker Meeting House they launched into the games and activities we had waiting for them. And the women accepted hot drinks and wanted to talk and get to know us, just as we wanted to get to know them. Everyone in Bakewell who took part enjoyed the day, and felt privileged to meet our visitors, to hear their stories, and to make a connection.

I have hesitated to tell you about it lest you think I was parading my do-goodery. But it's not, and it wasn't. All of those planning the event have been touched and are touched every night by the news of people fleeing the horrors of war, starvation and persecution. What could we do to help besides collecting clothes to send and giving money?

I am sure you feel the same, and I'm telling you about it in the hope it will inspire you to think about what you might offer.

This initiative, which we plan to repeat, is a very small local practical thing. It won't change the world, and it won't help anyone to start a new life. But it is a sign of friendship and warmth and support, and offers a day away from a daily life of hardship, living in basic accommodation on scant resources. (Asylum seekers are not allowed to work and get £5 a day to live on). In post-Brexit times of racism, jingoism and insular thinking, it is a way to show our common humanity. It was a wonderful, memorable day, and now we are torn between inviting our new friends back, and inviting new ones on a future visit. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

October picture post

Suddenly it's autumn. Yesterday when I was gardening I had to wear a fleece, and when I went out on my bike I had to wear gloves. This morning is so dark I've decided to bring the SAD light down from the attic. 

I have a blog post composting in the back of my head, and while it matures, I'm going to share some October photographs of where I live - taken over the last ten years within a mile of our house.

View over our garden wall at the back:

Our lane:

 the village church:

Dave and me on the Monsal Trail (October 2007 - it is wider now):

The Monsal Trail (2007):

View from the Trail:

Left hand front garden with slackline:

The Trail again:

The main road to the village:

We are so lucky to live where we do.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

a suggestion

It's been a hectic week of highs and lows, and I am sitting in bed this morning wanting to blog, but feeling too stunned. I'll share one thought...

If you can no longer bear reading the news because it is too upsetting or appalling or disgusting, find one small, practical, real, local thing you can do to make the world a better place and concentrate on doing that. It really helps. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Visibility and vanity, and a happy heart

I've been woozy with jetlag and missing my girls, but I don't want to dwell on that. I want to talk about my hat.

Are you a female over 60 with grey hair, and when you venture out do you feel invisible? 

Buy a hat. 

You know the new hat that Isaac and Wendy bought me for my birthday? I had to wear it on the journey home from Colorado because I already had hand luggage so I couldn't bring a hatbox. I managed to store it in the overhead locker without damaging it, but all the time in the airport, charging from one terminal to another, hanging around in waiting areas, queueing to board, I wore my hat. And I noticed people looking at me - all kinds of people - young, old, men and women. I was visible for the first time in years!

OK, they may have been thinking "What the hell has she got on her head?" but there were no rude comments, no nudges, no winks. And when I asked the stewardess on the flight to Manchester if she would help me find somewhere to store my case, and she took it from me, I watched her. She took several minutes to make a space for it, stored it away, and shut the locker. Then she went back and opened the locker and checked the address label to see who I was. Did she think I was someone famous? Poor sap.

On Tuesday I wore the hat around Bakewell (with some trepidation) and no-one looked at me. Why was that? Answers in the comments at the bottom.

I want to ask you, though...about the positioning of the hat. I think it's a fedora and i think I should be wearing it like this:

But for some reason I feel really, really happy when I wear it like this:

What do you think?

Monday, October 03, 2016

Still in transition

Have you noticed, those of you who are gardeners, how hard it is to sit and relax in your garden, when you can see weeds that need pulling and jobs that need doing? And yet if you're in someone else's imperfect or untidy garden, say that of a holiday cottage, you can relax just fine?

I've just spent two weeks in a house with a 4 year old, a 6 year old, two very active parents and a cat, and I can say without offending said parents that there is clutter in that house. Even so I could relax.  I came home on Saturday to mowed lawns (to please me), vacuumed carpets, an empty laundry basket, no washing up, and a fridge full of yoghurt. I am forever grateful that I live with a housekeeperly man (yes you, Dave!) but I was struck on arrival, yet again, by our clutter, and I'm not talking about the yogurt cartons.

Admittedly, Isaac and Wendy's house is bigger than ours, and the rooms are bigger, so the clutter doesn't take up so much visual space. But I don't think the size of anything is relevant: it's just that clutter in someone else's house doesn't annoy me, just as long as it doesn't get in my way. In a similar vein, doing the washing up in someone else's house can sometimes be pleasant, whereas at home it is always a chore.

I can see that clutter, the clearing of clutter, hoarding, and a superfluity of objets d'art on display are a continuing area of disagreement at Hepworth Towers. We have different views: there is no right or wrong, and there is no way out.

Here is Lux "giving Cece an eye test" in one sitting area of their open plan living space:

photo by Isaac Hepworth