Tag Archives: words

On words, and truth

This past week, for me as for many others, has been almost entirely consumed by the EU referendum.

I have been pretty certain of how I would vote since the idea of a referendum was even mooted – I feel more European than I do British, and the thought of walking away from an institution that has successfully secured peace on our volatile continent, and has always been there as a buffer to protect us from the increasingly right-wing leanings of our government, just does not sit easily with me.

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Still, though, I have wanted to put my conviction to the test – both as an individual and as a town councillor I have wanted to ensure that I am not missing a trick: that I am not so blindly caught up in an emotional response to this seminal issue that I skirt over the facts, and promote a stance that is, in fact, not in the best interests of me or my community.

I expected to discover, as I delved deeper into the realities behind the propaganda, that things were not as clear cut as my gut was telling me. That whilst there were good reasons to Remain, the Leave camp would also have compelling evidence to support their point of view. After all, there are many people just as passionate about getting rid of the EU as there are about staying within it – almost exactly as many, if the polls are to be believed.

But the more I dug, and read, and reflected, the more I became convinced that not only is remaining in the EU the right thing do, but that a huge number of people who are planning to vote to leave are doing so not because they believe that it will lead to a better future, but because they are fed up with the status quo.

They are fed up of there not being enough money to go round, of our resources not being enough to sustain us, of other people deciding their destinies. With this referendum, they have been offered a scapegoat: and bolstered by the lies of the Leave campaigners they have been fuelled to protest against this (to them) faceless organisation that (they believe) has done far more harm than good.

Except they are participating in a ‘revolution’ led by the very people who have the most to gain by reducing their voice even further, and they are protesting against a reality which doesn’t actually exist.

Take fishing, for example.

This is probably the key issue for voters here in Brixham, and the reason why even breathing in the direction of the Remain campaign gets you labelled a traitor and an enemy of our community. When I started looking into what it was that had prompted the fishermen to bedeck their boats with the livery of the Leave campaign, I was almost certain that this was one area where I would be proven wrong: everybody knows that our fishing industry has suffered at the hands of the EU, right? Meaning that, surely, leaving the EU would solve all their woes.

Except the reality isn’t quite that simple.

There is little doubt that, over its lifetime, the fishing policies introduced by the EU have had a negative effect on our fishermen. However, the policies were introduced in response to very real concerns about over-fishing – the impact of which has a potentially devastating effect on both the environment and fish stocks, and therefore on fishermen themselves.

Since Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign the Common Fisheries Policy has actually been subject to considerable reform – and is one of the best examples of how we as a member state of the EU can affect change from within. The figures now actually point to a real growth within our fishing industry, which is heavily reliant on the EU as a market for its exports.

There is still a problem with quotas, but the allocation of these is within the hands of the U.K. Government – it is them that have chosen to favour the huge commercial players at the expense of smaller-scale fishermen.

I completely understand why people in the fishing industry might want to use their referendum vote to retaliate against past injustices, but I do not believe that their position reflects the current realities. Given how many other areas – the NHS, the arts, scientific research (to name but a few) – will suffer if the UK votes to leave the EU, a Leave vote as a protest seems a very, very risky move to make indeed.

This whole issue of risk seems to be the thing that the referendum is hinging on right now. The Leave camp have somehow manipulated themselves into the position where to support them is the maverick move, the thing to do if you are fed up with any aspect of your life within the current system. Nigel Farage, with his hate-fuelled political career, is on the verge of precipitating the biggest shift in our government in my lifetime: he has made people believe that this is the only real opportunity to effect change that we will ever be offered.

But let’s just leap forward thirty-six hours to Friday morning. Let’s imagine what that vote to leave would really mean. We would have not only rejected the views of our current Prime Minister – someone who, on the vast majority of issues, I am utterly polarised from – but we would also have rejected the views of the vast majority of our academics, our business leaders, our artists, our scientists, our health practitioners, our trade unionists. The only group who would be united in celebration of this outcome would be UKIP, and in a blur of fear and propaganda they would have leapt from being a minor political force to the key drivers of our future as a country.

I really hope that is not going to be the case.

There is no doubt that Europe is not perfect, but no aspect of our political system really is. If we vote Leave, we are decisively saying to all of the European countries who want to be our friends, that we have no regard for them – and we have no regard either for the myriad of experts and professionals who have been warning us that this is a very bad idea. And that vote to leave would be conclusive: whatever the consequences there will be no going back, not without convincing the rest of Europe that despite us shunning them so hugely we deserve to be welcomed back into the fold.

If we vote Remain, we are putting our faith in unity. We are recognising that, in the words of the late Jo Cox, “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

There is still a long way to go before this European Union that we are a part of is the perfect fit for all of its members, but those are words that I would like to strive for, and a truth that I believe is the key to the future of our world.

 

Writing Bubble

In praise of tired

Early morning writing vibes have been strong this week. The word count is creeping up (13, 423 at last count) and I actually quite like most of those words. My characters are continuing to lead me through their story, opening my eyes to new aspects of their world and the people that they are becoming as they embrace their teenage years.

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Admittedly I have not exactly been leaping out of bed at 6am: it’s been more like 6.30 by the time I’ve got to my desk. But I’m beginning to realise that there are definite advantages to writing whilst I’m still not quite awake, and I’m hoping that embracing that might make the task I’ve set myself ever more achievable.

I remember when I was working on my first two novels, both written (the first drafts at least) before Arthur was 18 months old, I had a sense that the sleep deprivation was actually working in my favour. As long as I had a vague idea of where I was headed in each writing session, the constraints put on my brainpower by being utterly exhausted were more useful than you’d think. It meant I kinda had to focus on the task in hand: my brain did not have the energy to wander, nor to get caught up in battles of will between creative confidence and the demons of self-doubt. I just wrote, and worried about whether it was any good or not later.

I think I’m getting to a similar place by writing first thing in the morning now. I’m tired, but it’s not the (much less helpful) end of the day tired, where all the things I’ve done (and haven’t) have secreted themselves amongst my brain cells thus stripping them of any useful function. At 6am (or 6.30) my head is emptier. There is space for my narrative to spread itself out, for my characters to wander round and find their paths. But still not quite enough spare energy for my psyche to put up its niggling barriers against that story being told – that my ideas and/or my words are not worth spending precious time on.

In fact when it comes down to time, the only other thing I would be doing in that time is sleeping. And whilst I do (really, really) love my sleep, I reckon this is worth the sacrifice.

 

Writing Bubble

 

Now you are three

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Dear Arthur,

So now you are three.

How did that happen?

I remember when you were tiny, in those first magical, mystical days, I used to stare at you through the fog of sleep deprivation and try to imagine what you would be like when you were this age. How you would look, how you would sound, what you would do.

I never could have imagined you.

The way you draw in your breath and clap your hands in glee when something exciting happens: from the suggestion of a train ride to your first sight of snow to me making it home from an evening meeting in time to kiss you goodnight. You are excited by life, and I love that.

I love how you quickly make your way to the dance floor when a song you like comes on, throw your hands in the air and shake your booty with a huge smile on your face. I love that the dance floor is whatever you decide it is in that moment, from a clearing in your toys in the lounge to the rug in your bedroom to a select few tiles in the kitchen marked out by something only you can see.

Your imagination is spectacular. Inspired by story books and movies you create all sorts of people and scenarios to take you through your day. Wherever we are you can conjure up your own entertainment – and as your vocabulary increases you can share it with others too, making up stories for us just like we do for you.

And what a vocabulary. There was a moment recently, when you were once again telling me the story of The Polar Express, when you described the train arriving outside the window with its ‘hissing steam and screeching brakes’. Several times a day I am astounded by the words that have found a home inside your head.

You absorb everything around you, and if I stop and pause for a moment I can watch you do it. Almost hear the cogs in your brain turning as you focus in on new little details you haven’t noticed before. You ask about things of course – ‘why?’ is an increasingly common refrain, and I always try to answer you the best I can, even if the level of understanding you are seeking is beyond me.

You don’t just rely on other people for answers though. You are fascinated by how the world works, and are constantly experimenting, trying it all out. Sometimes your methods are a little frustrating – the throwing, the tasting, the taking things apart. But I know why you’re doing it, so it’s ok.

Don’t ever stop exploring, my little bear. Don’t ever stop seeking out the truth and trying to make sense of the world, even when it seems completely unintelligible. Especially then.

There is so much about your emerging personality that I hope you hold on to as you grow.

I hope you will continue to try to understand your emotions, and those of other people. When you look up at me with your big blue eyes and say ‘I’m sad’, and together we try to work out why, a part of my heart aches for my inability to protect you from the darker feelings that will inevitably engulf you from time to time. But I’m glad you want to talk about it. Know that I will always be here when you are sad or angry or afraid: my love does not need you always to be happy.

Though of course when you are my heart sings. Your laughter is, hands down, the best sound I have ever heard. I think you like it too. If there’s a lull in conversation you’ve started saying “Let’s laugh! Will you laugh with me?” It is impossible not to agree, and usually I’m giggling before I’ve even had time to answer.

You bring so much joy to my world.

There is nothing sweeter than hearing you say, “Can I give you a toy, mama?”

You say it when we’re in the midst of playing, when I’m distracted by my work, when we’re talking about something you’ve done that’s made me cross. And when I say yes, which I try to always do, you go and pick out one of your favourite cars or creatures or maybe even a train and carefully hand it over with a smile.

I think what you’re saying is “I love you, mama.”

And I love you too. Very much.

All my love for always, Mummy xxx

On words, and perceptions of reality

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I have been thinking a lot lately about how words shape reality.

It is true of course in my writing. As I immerse myself in the third draft of my novel I am increasingly aware of being engaged in a complex choreography of choosing just the right words to draw the reader along with the story I want them to believe.

I can also see it in Arthur’s emerging language – the distinctions and categorisations he is now able to make with his expanding vocabulary. It’s hard to be sure, but it feels like his world is expanding as his words do. There are not just birds any more, but seagulls and pigeons, peacocks and penguins. He is starting to recognise and label emotions too. To articulate happiness, fear and love. And – through those emotions perhaps – he is beginning to make judgements.

As adults, our judgements are inherent in so much of the language we use everyday, from ‘pretty’ girls to ‘naughty’ boys, from well meaning labels that can inadvertently limit someone’s concept of what they might be capable of to jokey insults laden with prejudice that can exclude whole groups of people on a whim.

That really bothers me, that labelling. But that’s a post for another time.

I think what’s unnerving me most at the moment is how words can be used to twist an otherwise secure reality into something else. I have realised that the protagonist in my novel is the victim of narcissistic abuse. Her experience is rooted to an extent in my own, and that of some of my closest friends. If you haven’t (and I hope you haven’t) fallen under the spell of a narcissist, their modus operandus is to make themselves invaluable to a person and then gradually undermine them and chip away at their self-esteem until their victim has no idea what is right or true any more. Almost all of this they do with words.

It is incredible how mere words, used judiciously, can plant seeds of doubt that cause the things you thought you knew to be true to collapse before your eyes. I don’t know if you’ve been watching Broadchurch, but watching Joe Miller’s defence lawyer rewrite history – to the extent that even viewers who had seen what had actually happened began to doubt whether it had – was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen on TV.

An old friend, one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, is going through something akin to this currently. He is at risk of losing access to his children entirely unless he can convince the courts that his words are worth more than those of his estranged wife, that his truth is more valid than hers.

Most of us, I hope, will not be so calculated in the way we use words to manipulate reality. Not unless the reality we are weaving is accepted to be fictional by all concerned. But I wonder how conscious we are about the need to speak the truth – and if we’re not, to be honest about how what we say is clouded by opinion.

It is easy to forget sometimes, whilst simply recounting an event or expressing a point of view, that every single word we choose – consciously or otherwise – will alter the message we are communicating.

As a writer the limitless possibilities are undeniably exciting. But as a human being – and especially as a parent – I find it just a teensy bit scary. The potential for getting it wrong is sometimes almost enough to make me not want to say anything at all.

Almost.

But we most definitely need to choose our words carefully, in what we write and what we say. Who knows whose perception of reality might be depending on it?

 

 

mumturnedmom

Word of the Week: Chatterbox

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Of all the things that continue to amaze me every day about my gorgeous son, his developing language skills are possibly the most exciting. This week in particular he has been chatting away to anyone who will listen – very cute, and fascinating to be getting more of an insight into what’s going on inside that head of his!

I’ve lost count of the number of words he now knows – from octopus to helicopter, from banana to hedgehog. He’s a fantastic mimic, and seems to only need to hear the name for something once before he’ll remember it for next time. What’s particularly interesting at the moment though is how he uses those words, combining them with others to express his wants and needs or explain things to us. He’ll happily engage in conversation about what he’s been up to during the day, making our family dinners when Leigh gets home after a long day’s work increasingly entertaining.

He was being particularly chatty with his London grandparents on Skype the other evening, and it’s lovely to see him beginning to want to share his experiences with them – and to be able to put them into words.

In fact the sociability of his speech is something I’ve noticed increasing day by day. For a while he’d happily chat away to me when it was just us at home during the day, but other people – especially strangers – would comment on how quiet he was. But now he’ll chat to anyone who’ll listen – the man who came to fix our oven on Monday had trouble actually settling down to work as every time my back was turned Arthur had toddled over to tell him about something else he felt he had to share.

It’s not just people Arthur’s chatting to either. I absolutely love catching him having conversations with his toys – whether it’s his dump truck or his penguins. Even better than that are the conversations he’s started enacting between them, another important step in his discovery of imaginative play.

He’s begun to really pick up the less essential nuances of conversation too, which is where things get super cute. He’ll ‘ummm’ and ‘ahhh’ as he’s trying to think of the right thing to say, has started adding on ‘see you in a bit’ to his goodbyes and is even beginning to maybe see the point of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – though I won’t hold my breath on that one.

It is incredible to watch, but I’m under no illusion that Arthur’s special in all this. I know that what I’m witnessing is just the normal development of language that is going on as I type in homes up and down the country, throughout the world. And yet actually that is even more humbling. All these little powerhouses of potential beginning to venture out of themselves into the big wide world of verbal communication, absorbing all the words around them and digesting them and manipulating them to fit the messages they want to put across. Amazing really – I can’t wait to hear what he comes out with next!

 

The Reading Residence

Word of the Week: Bird

Today the word that sums up the week that was is:

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Arthur’s had a bit of a thing for birds for a while now. I think it started with the simple swallow mobile that hangs above his changing table: that’s certainly where I first remember him saying the word ‘bird’ back in February. The seagulls that circle round our town might have something to do with it to: as Arthur’s become more aware of the world around him he’s pointed them out any chance he gets. He looks for them in books and pictures too, and has surprised us by being able to identify even very abstract images as birds, excitedly naming them as he realises what they are.

It turned out that Cyprus was a bit of a bird lover’s haven. There were so many little birds flying around the gardens of the hotel, sitting in the trees and delighting Arthur as they hopped on the ground in front of him or swooshed past him as he toddled around. When we finally made it to the Paphos Archeological Site we learnt why there were so many – Cyprus’s geographical location puts it right in the path of migrating birds travelling between Europe and Africa and the Middle East, with over 390 species of bird having been recorded on the island.

One of Arthur’s cutest bird interactions was at the archeological site: strolling between the ruins and mosaics through tree-lined avenues he spotted a couple scratching around in the grass. He headed straight for them, calling out ‘bird’ in his adorable little voice, and staring and pointing as they made their escape just before he reached them.

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His identification of things as birds has expanded now to cover things that fly – or things with wings at least. So when we passed a jasmine bush awash with butterflies he called those birds, and one night we awoke to the sound of his voice as he lay between us, pointing at a moth on the ceiling and marvelling at the bird that had made its way into our room.

And on our flight home, as he started to begin to compute the experience of air travel, he looked out of the window at the wing of the plane and decided that too was a bird. I’m pretty sure at that point his mind was well and truly blown…

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The Reading Residence