Tag Archives: social media

A tribe of writers

Did you know that there is no collective noun for writers?

I suppose it’s not so surprising, really, what with writing so often being a lonesome experience: sat with a notebook, or in front of a computer, or reading a novel, or lost in important imaginings.

But actually, it’s pretty hard staying focused on all that without a group of people around you that know what it’s all about.

Plenty of people have mulled over this question of what that group should be called: I quite like ‘an alliteration of writers’ – if only for how it sounds. Or a ‘hyperbole of writers’ – but maybe just because it’s one of my favourite words… For me, my group of writers is most definitely a tribe.

Mainly our interaction exists in this virtual world – we met through social media, and our blogs, and through the wonderful What I’m Writing community. I found it all a bit awkward at first: I realise meeting people online has been pretty standard for years now, and on a more personal level I don’t think I would ever have become reacquainted with the man who became my husband if it hadn’t been for Facebook. Still, though, it took me a while to get my head round the fact that these people who I knew only through their words, who I had never actually met in real life, could become my friends.

Turns out that was nonsense.

It is different, getting to know people online. But in a lot of ways it cuts through all the crap. Reading people’s blogs is like a little window into their souls, and much as it can feel strange sometimes to share perspectives on the world which might only come out in real life after hours of chat with people who are essentially strangers, it all becomes worthwhile when you find the words which dance around the same frequency as your own – and even more so when you meet the people who wrote them.

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When you end up with a lunch like the one we had on Saturday, which starts at 1pm and lasts into the evening, with eight creative and talented and opinionated and awesome women sat around a table sharing their thoughts on everything from politics to parenting to relationships to, of course, writing. When you realise that somehow by bonding over words of fiction you have happened upon a group of people who share a deep injustice at the state of the world and the determination to do something about it. When you accept that each one of them will do that differently, but that’s ok – just like we’re all going about this writing thing differently, and that’s ok too.

We spent ages dissecting the pros and cons of self-publishing and agents and independent presses, of aiming high versus getting your words out there, of writing what you want versus trying to shape your work for the market. And our conclusion? They’re all just different ways of doing things, and we all have different perceptions of the way that will work for us.

And that’s ok. And more than a little bit liberating.

I am so grateful for all of the amazing friends I have met during the different phases of my life so far, and to have come across this brilliant group of women now, just when I’m starting to own this current incarnation as a writer, feels almost too good to be true.

Because although writing is by its very definition a solitary pursuit, there is a strength in numbers that cannot fail to help when the self-doubt sets in. And after Saturday, it feels more than that: we protect each other, sure, but we inspire each other too – and egg each other on to pursue our own impossible dreams.

The world has felt like an increasingly scary place to be this year, and whilst part of my response to that has been reaching out to old friends and finding with relief that they are very much still there, the fissures that have opened up in our society have made me doubt whether my place within it is quite as secure as I once thought it was. Having focused for a long time on carving my own path, confident to choose the road less travelled if that is the one that calls to me, I am feeling the need for back-up.

And here, through my writing tribe, whether they are tapping away at a keyboard hundreds of miles away or sharing just one more glass of wine across the table as day turns into night, I might just have found it.

Writing Bubble

In pursuit of popularity

We moved on to the third series of Black Mirror this week, which began with the slightly too close to home satire of Nosedive.

I say too close to home, but actually as I was watching (and judging) the protagonist as her picture-perfect life descended into chaos after her pursuit of people’s approval became just that bit too obvious I spent most of my time thinking how glad I was that I had managed to avoid getting sucked into the social media cess pit that already bubbles just beneath the surface of our society.

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Sure, I have a pretty active online presence. There’s this blog of course, and the instagram and twitter and Facebook accounts that go with it. But I don’t strictly use them as promotional tools. I mean I use them to promote my posts sometimes of course. But not exclusively, or even mainly. And the rest of what I post is just observation or record-keeping. I don’t really care if anyone reads it, or if I get more followers as a result.

Not much anyway. At least I don’t think I do.

I mean, I don’t even know my Klout score.

I’m not even sure I really understand what Klout is, but that’s what I thought of as I saw Lacie delight over the positive reviews she received and despair as her rating began to plummet. And if you’re serious about blogging, or social media in general, then of course you have to come out on top, right? Of course people have to like what you do the best, because otherwise why would anyone want to invest in you, to use you to help sell their brand and bestow on you all the perks that come with that?

I guess it is different in that ultimately the things being rated are brands themselves, yes? It’s not the people who are being judged, even if sometimes it’s tricky to tell where the person ends and the brand begins. And really that’s the whole stamp of a successful brand in this personality-driven blowing culture I’m dipping my toes into – it needs to be authentic, to have integrity. Otherwise what’s the point?

Anyway. I’m not doing that. That’s not what this blog’s about – it’s not what my social media presence is about. I don’t care about my ratings. It doesn’t matter how popular I am. I just want to write.

Except…

A few days ago I heard back from the administrators of the competition I’d entered one of my novels into. It was a standard response – exceptionally high standards, yada yada, I should be proud of even finishing a novel, yada yada – the upshot of which was that my novel hadn’t made it through to the next round. It hadn’t even been longlisted.

And I reassured myself that it was the response I’d expected, obviously. I hadn’t thought I’d hear back so soon, had figured I’d be able to hold on to my optimistic imaginings for a little while longer, but I hadn’t really dared hope that my novel would get anywhere.

Except of course I had, because that’s why I’m still doing this. That’s why I’m still writing, and editing, and submitting, because one day I believe that someone will pick up one of my books and declare it a masterpiece.

But not this time.

And really, why should it bother me? It’s just the opinion of one person after all. One more person, who admittedly counts for rather more in this fickle world of publishing than your average reader, and in fact is one of the gatekeepers who decides whether the average reader ever gets to make their own mind up about the book I’ve written, but still just one person.

And it’s not really about me. It’s about my words – my work. Except I haven’t quite mastered the art of separating that out from the very essence of my soul quite yet.

Ultimately I guess there’s less than I thought that separates me from Lacie, and that whole slippery slope of the popularity game. I could ignore it completely I suppose, just write because I love it – because I do love it. But if I’m honest I’d quite like people to read the stuff I write, and to like the stuff they read.

So I’ll keep on keeping on, nurturing my corner of the internet whilst not being too bothered if it sometimes seems a bit littler than I might like. Writing the things I feel like writing, occasionally reaching out to the gatekeepers who might help me find a bigger audience but trying not to mind too much if they don’t respond.

It’s all a bit of a minefield this aspiring author business.

I think I might need a holiday…

 

Writing Bubble

Beyond Brexit

It has come to something when, five days since I woke up to discover that the people of the UK had voted to leave the EU, this news has now been relegated to third in my list of things that are keeping me awake at night.

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Firmly at the top is my incredulity at what is happening within the Parliamentary Labour Party. As a fully paid up Labour member, I am incensed that they have chosen now to mount their nefarious coup on Jeremy Corbyn. It has little to do with the referendum result – Corbyn after all succeeded in bringing two thirds of Labour voters with him into the remain camp – and everything to do with the fact that, for a range of reasons, a huge number of Labour MPs just don’t like him or what he stands for. Their numbers have swelled now, of course, with others making a frenzied guess as to the most likely winning side and plumping their allegiance there, and the leader of the Opposition, elected by an overwhelming mandate less than a year ago, is left clinging on by his fingertips. The PLP has yet to present a single alternative candidate for the leadership role, and polls suggest that even if they did Corbyn would still win the support of the members – and rightly so, from where I stand.

Then over in the Tory camp, we have had the resignation of Cameron (even though he said he wouldn’t) leaving us with the terrifying prospect of Boris Johnson for PM. He might not win, but our other options don’t exactly fill me with optimism: Theresa May, who wants to repeal the Human Rights Act, Michael Gove (or his successor Nicky Morgan) who have ripped apart our education system, or maybe perhaps Jeremy Hunt, who is still in the process of dismantling our NHS. I quite genuinely want rid of the lot of them, but given the state of the Labour party I can’t see that happening in a general election which could be called as early as October this year. In fact the only people who are likely to benefit significantly from all of this are UKIP, who despite the continuing odious behaviour of their leader are currently celebrating the validation of everything they stand for.

Which brings me to the fallout from that Brexit vote itself. Naturally, pretty much every major claim the Leave camp made is proving to be false – from that £350 million a week for the NHS, to the reduction of immigration, to improved fortunes for our fishermen, with more revelations coming out each day. Our economy is in dire straits, Osbourne is promising tax rises and spending cuts, and the EU seems intent on making an example of us despite the government’s continuing assertions that they can use this as leverage to cut a better deal.

More important than any of this though is that seemingly the vote to leave the EU has opened the floodgates to a torrent of racist and xenophobic abuse up and down the country. My own work recently on the resettlement of Syrian refugee families in Torbay has shown me how close to the surface these racist views have been hiding, waiting for validation that a hatred of ‘the other’ is not only ok, but a justified move in the name of self defence. That validation has been growing in the rhetoric of the Leave campaigners over the past few months, most notably that of course of Nigel Farage, and now that the Leave campaign has ‘won’ there are many who seem incapable of extricating that ‘victory’ from supposed proof that the rhetoric was actually fact, and that those who would never before have voiced their racist views in public can now do so with impunity.

As someone who generally has a pretty strong sense of self-efficacy, I have been almost completely floored by this barrage of contradictions to my conception of the world we live in. When I haven’t been frantically cross-referencing media sources to try to discern some sort of truth in the midst of it all, I have been scouring property websites for somewhere to hide on a distant Scottish loch, and eagerly encouraging my husband to renew his lapsed Canadian passport.

But actually, I quite like where I live. I am quite fond, despite all of its efforts to put me off, of the UK. And so, through stubbornness or denial or a combination of the two I will not, for now, be going anywhere.

There are, however, some things I need to do for myself if I am going to survive in this post-Brexit world:

1) See the result of the referendum for what it is

Despite the glee of many factions of the Leave camp over the narrowly won referendum, I do not believe that there is anything to celebrate here. That is not just because I staunchly believe that remaining in the EU was the best thing for our country, but because I believe that the vote to leave was a symptom more than anything of a broken society.

I wholeheartedly appreciate the motivations behind those calling for a second referendum – it is becoming increasingly clear after all that the Leave campaign was won on lies, and that no-one actually has a plan for what to do next. However I also believe that a second referendum would only succeed in disenfranchising further the millions of people who have voted for change, and whose trust for the political system hangs from a fast-fraying thread.

For what it’s worth, I’m not entirely convinced that we will actually be leaving the EU at all given the various barriers that still lie between our government and that decisive action, but we cannot simply ignore the seventeen million people who voted for that, however unfounded or misguided we might believe their reasons to have been.

Rather we need to look at those reasons, and look at how we address them moving forward. We also need to seriously shake up our politicians and our press, who have wilfully moved from barely acceptable propaganda to outright lies in order to deceive and manipulate the population. Those are not the foundations on which a democracy survives, and all of us deserve better.

2) Re-evaluate my political engagement

Since I was elected to my town council last May, I have been directly involved in politics in a way I haven’t been before. As a teacher, I was always politically engaged – keen to work with the unions, and to recognise that being a public servant was not just about the very important business of teaching itself. I worry, though, that in local politics my view has become narrowed.

You would not believe the amount of things a town council has to do in the wake of government funding cuts, and the upshot of that is that a group of volunteers who care passionately about their community are being kept extremely busy just making sure no vital services fall through the gaps, with very little time or energy to engage in the bigger picture of the real forces that are making everyday life so very difficult for so many people.

I don’t think I’m ready to step down from being a town councillor quite yet, but I do want to become more involved with my local Labour party – perhaps even actually switching my allegiance to them as a councillor rather than continuing as an Independent. More and more I believe that it is Labour’s vision, on a local and a national level, that will really make a difference to communities like mine. Though of course that vision at the moment is under threat, and unless Labour can maintain the commitment to progressive politics rather than returning to a dance around the centre line with the Tories I may have to have a serious rethink.

3) Join those standing up against racists and bigots in pursuit of a tolerant, inclusive society

It drives me to distraction that this even has to be a ‘thing’, but there is no doubt that our society is currently experiencing something of a free-fall into the past as far as equality is concerned. The myriad of incidents that have been reported in just the past few days are no doubt only the tip of the iceberg, and whilst I have yet to witness anything myself there is no way I will be ignoring it if I do.

In the meantime I have a safety pin firmly attached to my lapel, and I will continue to support and promote the groups who are working tirelessly to ensure that the bigots do not win.

4) Take a step back from social media

There is a difficult balance to be found, here, between making sure I am as informed as I can reasonably expect to be and not getting completely suckered in to the internet at the expense of the real world. There are so many incredibly complex, multi-layered issues to grapple with, and there will be for some considerable time to come as all of this crazy takes its course. I need to somehow accept that there is no panacea for my aching brain to be found amidst the conflicting words flying around the world wide web, and that if I am going to maintain some semblance of sanity I need to take a step back and trust that somehow good will prevail. If it doesn’t there’s always that loch.

5) Make time for the things that are important in my life

Friends and family, and my writing. When all is said and done it comes back to these.

I have lots of events to look forward to over the next few weeks where thrashing out the truth in all the chaos can be done over a cold drink rather than through a keyboard: who knows, we might even be able to talk about something else!

And then there’s Arthur of course, who is most definitely getting frustrated with the political monolith that has inserted itself so ungraciously into our lives. Whilst it is his future I am most afeared of in the middle of the night, I clearly have a responsibility not to let it impact unnecessarily on his present – and to be present, both physically and emotionally, as much as I possibly can.

And finally there is writing, and the plans I made for summer before this cataclysm hit. Those poor novels are still languishing on my hard drive, and I can’t let political turmoil be just another excuse for not showing them the light of day.

For better or for worse, we are living in interesting times. It is up to us – as it has always been – to make the most of them.

 

Writing Bubble

The campaign continues

This week, I have mostly been writing tweets. Facebook posts too. I have been working on how to convey my message as clearly and succinctly as possible to support and promote the #StandUp4Brixham campaign – and generally it’s working pretty well.

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There’s been lots of work on the ground as well – since my leaflets were completed last Wednesday  afternoon my iPhone estimates I’ve covered about 30km going door to door with Arthur in the sling. There was a meeting last Tuesday evening that Arthur also had to come to, and on Saturday we had a hustings event to talk to members of the public. It’s been nerve-wracking getting out there and speaking up, but I’ve enjoyed it too.

The social media side of things is an attempt to engage with people who might not normally be interested in local politics. The campaign has a growing Facebook page and twitter account with nearly 200 local followers between them. I’ve appreciated the support of local businesses with more established accounts sharing and retweeting my posts. And one of my tweets attracted the attention of my local MP and ended up in the paper. So far so good as far as profile-raising goes.

But there has, perhaps predictably, been a less pleasant side to putting myself out there.

It started with the comments at the end of articles on the local paper’s website, where amongst other things I was labelled a ‘rather sad individual who spends all of her waking hours gratuitously criticising [the leader of the Abolish Brixham Council group]’. Other commenters leapt to my defence, but it was a strange feeling to be insulted and accused of something I haven’t done by a total stranger.

Twitter has been even more intimidating. There are four accounts that have repeatedly targeted me through replies to my tweets, with exchanges like this one:

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(BRATS, incidentally, is a group of local residents who campaigned against a Tesco development in the town centre. I have had no involvement with them despite numerous suggestions to the contrary.)

The tweet which sparked all this off  – and more besides – was a link to a letter which had been published on a local news website. I really wasn’t expecting it to be so controversial.

There’s a lot that is strange about the accounts in question – the similarity between their names and the lack of followers for example. Were these exchanges happening on my personal account then I would not hesitate to block and report them. But I’m not sure exactly how I’m supposed to respond in my current role as council candidate – I am obviously very keen to engage with interested Brixham residents, but I have to admit that these communications are beginning to make me feel uncomfortable.

I realise as well though that, on the grand scale of things, there’s not really anything desperately offensive going on here. Twitter does seem to be a place where some people hide behind a mask of anonymity to behave in a way that they never would face to face.

So I will soldier on, draw on my years of experience working with challenging teenagers, and try not to take it too personally. One of the things it is clear could be improved about our local council is the quality of its communications and its transparency in working with people in its community. And I refuse to be intimidated out of my attempts to do just that.

 

Muddled Manuscript

Why we cannot afford to get complacent about our right to breastfeed our babies

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A storm erupted on social media yesterday which reminded me that we still have a long way to go before society fully accepts that it is perfectly normal and natural for babies to be fed from a woman’s breasts.

As I’m writing this, my toddler is nursing in the sling. It’s easy to get complacent in my own little corner of the universe – to forget that there are still many people who would look on what I’m doing as disgusting. Sure there are reminders now and again. The woman called a ‘slut’ by an elderly couple for breastfeeding her child in a coffee shop in London. The nursing mother subjected to abuse by teenagers on a local bus route. But it’s relatively easy to dismiss these as little pockets of ignorance – important to stand up against, yes, but situations that arose in the heat of the moment.

And then yesterday it emerged that a popular ‘family friendly’ cafe in leafy Surrey had decided it was appropriate to display this sign on their front door:

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I, like many others, was gobsmacked. I mean – what were they thinking? A woman’s right to breastfeed her child – and indeed that child’s right to be nourished and nurtured – is entrenched in law. It is illegal in this country to tell a woman she cannot breastfeed her child, or indeed to discriminate against her in any way for that reason.

But here is an established business telling its clientele, openly and publicly, that they have the right to tell breastfeeding mothers to feed in the toilet.

This is wrong on so many levels. There is the fundamental idiocy of suggesting that it is in any way appropriate for a baby to eat in the place where people defecate. I have yet to find anyone who has expressed this as well as the poet Hollie McNish, so I’m just going to leave this here:

There is the thinly veiled implication that well-behaved dogs are more welcome than breastfeeding mothers and their babies, the mind-bending logistics of a group of mums taking it in turns to leave their friends and their coffee and cake at the table and take their baby and the thoughtfully provided chair into the disabled toilet. Or perhaps the whole group is expected to relocate, coffee and cake and all.

All of this aside though, there is a psychology at play here which is insidious and dangerous, and that is where for me the biggest problem lies.

I’m not too worried about me. I hope I’d have the guts to tell the cafe where to stick their sign. I know my rights, and I’m confident enough in the many benefits to me and my child of continuing our breastfeeding relationship that I wouldn’t be put off by such an impolite notice.

But what of those who are less confident? What of the mum in the early stages of breastfeeding her child who is self-conscious and embarrassed? What if she decides that this precious social time with her friends is so important that maybe she’ll just take a bottle to feed her baby when she goes out? What of her dwindling supply, her feelings of failure and resignation to not being able to follow through on her desire to breastfeed? What of her child, missing out on the many benefits that nursing can bring?

Not forgetting the rest of the cafe’s clientele. Like with many forms of discrimination, there are the people whose discomfort at being in the company of a breastfeeding mother simmers just below the surface. Seeing an official sign like this normalises their attitude, perhaps increasing their confidence in expressing their inappropriate views in another situation.

The cafe has claimed that there was a misunderstanding. Using the oldest excuse for bigotry in the book, the cafe owner has claimed that having breastfed her own children how could she possibly be discriminating against breastfeeding mothers. But there is nothing I can find in that sign that is ambiguous: she claims she has the right to ask breastfeeding mothers to feed in the toilet. And that is unequivocally wrong.

The cafe’s ratings on various online sites have plummeted after people expressed their disgust at their gall. The prospect of a nurse-in protest was clearly not one the owner wanted to face, and I understand the sign has now been taken down.

This is ultimately a good thing. But it took five weeks for this story to be picked up by social media – that’s a long time for something so damaging to be in the public sphere.

So whilst this particular tale of discrimination might have something approaching a happy ending, it is clear to me that this is not a time for us to be complacent. Not at all.