@MandaJJennings

I was lucky enough to work with Amanda on a short story competition I ran last year. As a judge for all the entries she was a joy to work. Along with @motherventing we ensured that the decision was fair, honest and not taken lightly. Her emails often had me howling with laughter. Not only this she is a curious, tender and devastating writer with a host of questions to ask. Nearly all of them we often ask ourselves. Here Amanda talks to me about her children, finding creativity and death.  

Amanda Jennings

Amanda Jennings

Is it fair to say that you would be a very different writer (if a writer at all) if you hadn’t become a mother?

I think that’s a very good question. I’d like to say I wouldn’t be any different, but I don’t think I can in all honesty. I rail against women being defined by our children and husbands all the time – it’s one of my pet hates in British media! – but at the same time these children, my three fantastic daughters are in integral part of my life. I had my first daughter at 24, before I started writing. In fact, I began writing because I wanted to be at home with her, so gave up my job at the BBC and to keep myself sane (whether or not I’ve managed this is arguable) I began to write. My first book was all about a family coming to terms with the death of one of their daughters a year earlier. She was sixteen and they discover all sorts of secrets about her that tamper with their recovery process, not to mention raise questions over the circumstances of her death. I couldn’t have – and wouldn’t have thought to have – written this book if I hadn’t been a mother. The emotions, the fears, the love, the shifting from self-centredness to the feeling that you would do anything for this human being who you care about above all others, these are the things that strike you after you’ve had children. This is a very long-winded way of saying: yes, I think I’d have written differently if I wasn’t a mother.

Death appears to have a consistent voice in your writing. Why?

I have been obsessed with the concept of death, and the grief that goes with it, for as long as I can remember. It’s genetic. My father is, my middle daughter is and just recently my youngest daughter, who is eight, asked ‘Mummy, I’m worried about what it will FEEL like when I’m not here any more, when I’m dead.’ My mother, sister, husband and eldest daughter aren’t so afflicted and I’m often jealous of them. My husband merely says: ‘when you’re dead you’re dead, you won’t know any different. Don’t think about it.’ Hmmm…more easily said than done. I am not religious, but I consider myself spiritual and I am prone to over-thinking, I do believe that if I had religion in my life, that if I believed in the afterlife, or some greater purpose, that death wouldn’t fascinate me so much.

What is your favourite part of the day?

Well, I tend not to generalise like that. I’m a big avoider of generalisation. Some mornings are fabulous, some are rubbish. Some evenings can’t come quick enough, some days I never want to end. Sometimes lying my head on the pillow – especially if there are clean sheets on the bed – is the best time of day. Wine o’clock is up there though.

When do you find yourself most creative?

I used to wake up in the middle of the night when I was in my late teens and paint a picture or write a poem. Ha – the thought of that now, in my sleep-deprived, post-40 state? Ridiculous! I tend to think that if I waited for my creative muse to appear I would never get anything done. I’m sure my creative muse is a lazy so-and-so who would probably be asleep under a tree somewhere. I don’t rely on her. I write when I sit down at the computer and make myself do it. Writing is a job and I have to see it like that or else I’d procrastinate continuously. Having said all that, I do a lot of my thinking on my dog walks every morning. The routine and exercise and fresh air are good for thoughts and it works well because I know exactly what I’m going to write that day by the time I get home.

Describe yourself in five words

Five words? Erm, haven’t you gleaned from previous answers that brevity isn’t my strong point. But if you insist: energetic, maternal, fun-loving (is that two words or one? Let’s go for one), hug-loving, smile-giving. (Hyphen-user…)

What was the first thing you did after finishing writing The Judas Scar?

Made a cup of tea.

Amanda’s impressive resume includes publishing two books, the first Sworn Secret (Constable and Robinson, Canvas) featured in Vogue Online as one of their Best Summer Reads of 2012. It reached number 4 in the Kindle Bestseller chart and has been sold to the US, Taiwan and Italy. The Judas Scar (Cutting Edge Press) is her second book published in May 2014. She has three daughters, far too may pets and a husband, living in a cottage in the woods between Henley and Reading. Before she wrote she was a researcher at the BBC. She been known to drink wine and eat chocolate and occasionally go on Twitter… @mandajjennings. Find out more about Amanda at www.amandajennings.co.uk.

 

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Book Chapter Sample: “List of Things to Remember” (when your partner is in labour)

Our daughter was born on December 12th 2011 at 13:47. As I write this I have forgotten her weight and feel a pang of guilt about that. Perhaps I am overthinking it, but now there always seems to be something else to feel guilty about. We visited the hospital upon first feeling contractions. Unfortunately our daughter was only vaguely interested about coming out and, without going into details, was somewhat induced; persuaded; cajoled even. Regardless, we tentatively left the hospital and, within a few hours, were back within the
beeping depths of the maternity unit. At this point the entire world stopped turning. Either it stopped or started spinning at a speed at which the outside world ceased to exist.

List of things to consider and remember as a father when your partner is in labour:

1. You will need patience – lots of it. I sat beside my wife for nearly 24 hours. During the time at her side I was constantly battling my emotions. Time loses all meaning, and you need to be aware of that. Your thoughts get darkly creative at times and you need to keep them to yourself – for her benefit as much as yours.

2. Remember, if you want to leave the room you can. And you should. If you start to hear a voice inside your head saying “You’re really not dealing with this very well are you?” then it’s time to leave the room. Always make sure your partner knows where you’re going and how long you’ll be.

3. Keep an eye on the midwives. Ask questions. Try and understand everything that is happening. Your partner’s mental faculties are vulnerable at best. You need to be a prophet. She needs you more than she perhaps will ever need you.

4. Don’t ever think the worst but be prepared to be brave. Courage is what you need, and what you will always need, as a father and as a parent.

5. Smile at her when she wakes up. Don’t be afraid to touch her. Make eye contact.

6. Remember that you will never understand what she is going through.

This last one is of particular importance. She is about to show you a side of her she has preserved since the day she told you she was pregnant. She most likely has no real comprehension of how much physical, emotional and psychological pain she is about to go through. She’ll be terrified. You’ll be terrified. But you aren’t about to eject a living being out of your body. A living being you’ve been keeping alive inside you for almost a year. That’s the difference. It sounds obvious but it’s easy to forget as we are, as a race, naturally selfish.

Be assured that she is about to amaze, delight and terrify you in equal measures. She will look into your eyes in a way you will never, if ever, see again.

Believe in her. That’s all she needs from you.

This sample chapter is taken from my book Sometimes you have to Bite the Dog published by Soul Rocks Publishing.

Hire me

Desperate times call for desperate measures. In these times we can only fan what feathers we have. Even if we hold them between our teeth.

Hire me. If you have a parenting site and want me to write for you I’ll talk to you. If you want my help with anything I’ll do my utmost to set you on the right course. If you like what I do and feel that there’s a nefarious plan we could hatch together I would be especially interested to hear from you.

I have created personal blogs. I’ve written extensively on my personal experience of parenting, especially during the first year. My blog entries were combined and published. You can find out more about me and my publisher here.

In addition I’ve created and managed company blogs, worked in the publishing industry for over 12 years and made connections with some talented, brilliant people.

I’ll write for you. I’ll write openly about depression. I’ll advise you on motivating and understanding yourself. I’ll read your book and give you an honest review. I’ll endorse your product if it’s made a difference to my life. I’d prefer payment but considering the time I have on my hands I’m going to need to keep busy. Let me know if you are interested.

Hire me. I am a pleasure to work with.

Sample Chapter “Seven Years Ago”

It was a Monday morning. The bus was crowded with people commuting through a bustling, dirty part of a large city. I forget which one. I hated public transport. Life always felt wasted. Shipped in a hot, lonely metal box to our destinations. Only to sit in another hot metal box for nine hours. Life felt repetitive. And we all knew it.

I remember the bus angrily swerving around a cyclist. I saw the cyclist give the bus driver an angry middle finger. I watched as an old lady nearly fell into the lap of some guy at the front of the bus. He jerked away from her in repulsion. I remember her face when she’d seen the look of disgust on his. I was mortified for her.

I used to imagine the bus crashing. A slight miscalculation and the bus swerves into a passing lorry. Whose eyes would I lock onto in my last second? What would pass through my mind as I suddenly just ceased to exist.

Then I saw her. Sat two seats away from me. A cloud of red hair. The morning sun casting elegant shadows across her jawline. I couldn’t look away. I remember she spotted me staring at her. When will men ever learn that staring at the opposite sex is not a compliment. Needless to say she shuffled rather nervously in her seat. It must have been my appearance that morning. Odour as well. I was in a dark place at that time.

Sometimes life shows you the way. I can think of several times in my life when I’ve been suddenly empowered to create or simply make something happen. To listen to nothing else except that sudden roar in your belly. That tightening of your throat that crushed so hard you struggle to breathe.

Then you breath. And a plan starts to form. I glanced up at the old lady from earlier and waved. She looked up.

Would you like my seat?” I squeaked. These were the first words I had spoken that morning. I sounded like my throat had been scoured with sandpaper. She of course struggled to hear me. So I beckoned her over and got out of my seat. By this point I knew the girl was watching me. I started sweating. At this point she also thought I had a very squeaky voice. My plan of social gallantry was turning into a living nightmare.

As the old woman approached me, flailing like a dead tree in a high wind, I felt suddenly powerful. I reached across to grasp her by the hand. To show her she wasn’t repulsive. To offer some kindness.

What was that? I couldn’t hear you.” she said. She smiled and squeezed my hand.

I thought you might like my seat seeing as that very rude gentleman wouldn’t offer you his.” I said.

There were a lot of eyes on me at that point. I wanted to look at the girl but only saw the guy at the front of the bus turn in his seat to look at me.

Oh my grandson? Yes he can be difficult but he’s autistic. So I forgive him. I’m taking him to work.”

Really?” I squeaked again. I don’t remember the rest of that journey. Or perhaps don’t wish to recall it. I got off the bus at the next stop and walked the rest of the way. On that day I learned four lessons.

  1. Always follow your gut instinct

  2. Learn when to keep your mouth shut

  3. Know what you are capable of

  4. Practice talking before talking in public first thing in the morning

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Comics and Memories

Recently (quite some time ago) the good people over at Comics Grid  asked me to review Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library. I went along recently. Only to see what the layout is like. I want to plan ahead for next time. There’s a lot to take in all at once.

As a result I’ve started thinking about my memories of comics. Fungus the Bogeyman. I associate Fungus with secrecy. Stealing it from my brother’s bedroom. Reading it with a torch underneath my blanket. Curling my lip at the dripping, musty, filthy protagonist. Then feeling dreadfully, terribly sorry for him.

Raymond Briggs, Asterix,  The Far Side, Tintin, Carl Giles, Alan Moore, Craig ThompsonOink. Calvin and Hobbes. All of these names and more have shaped my life to some degree. They are attached to my memories. They provide succinct and clear paths to remembering parts of my life. I’ll never forget the afternoon I finished Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth on the tube and burst into tears.

With such vivid connections between my childhood memories and comics it is clear to me that they have taught me something. I believe the resourcefulness and adaptability of comics has an inherent part to play in our educational system.

We are taught from an early age that books with pictures are for children. Children’s books to all intents and purposes are comic books. Pictures and words. If we produce and use these tools to educate our young then why can’t that continue? These tools are designed to engage and develop memory. Why can’t that continue? Why can’t books have artwork in them? Why can’t an artist be creatively inspired by content and want to collaborate? Why can’t we make it easier for people to learn?

Stigma plays its part in this. So I wanted to do an experiment.

I want to hear from you what memories you associate with comics. I want you to talk about how those images and words have imprinted onto your memory. It doesn’t have to be a childhoood memory. My most recent one is reading Wild Children by Ales Kot after an interesting couple of days. As I read it I felt almost part of the comic itself.

Leave a comment below or tweet your memory to me at @dustandlove. When I’ve collected enough I’ll be writing about how comics can help our children to learn on their terms. Who wouldn’t want to be taught long division by Batman? I think I’d remember how to do it if he had done.

I’ve had a great response from Twitter so far and I’ll post examples as they come in. Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to reading your memories.

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Sample chapter: TBC

Time and time again. Every morning. I dearly missed snoring our way into the early afternoon. Idly watching the sunlight snatch its way through the closed curtains. We would plan nothing. Childless. Free. Rested.

Now however, at almost exactly the same time each day, we were jolted awake by shouting, demands and mild threats. Bizarre singing. Our child. The sweet natured baby that had turned into a maniacal control freak. The lazy teenage years were a time we were looking forward to. And dreading for very different reasons.

“Twinkle TWINKLE CHODALAD BAR, how I do dee n da far.”

Crawling from the bed. Stumbling through the piles of clothes. Grunting a semblance of a word. Smiling remotely.

“Mornin’ daddy!” The bright smile. Her curl ridden hair at a length where it has pillow feathers orbiting it. She coughed loudly in my face.

“Mornin’ time!” she shouted.

“Yes. Even though it is still dark outside. See?”

“Mummy, orang yews.”

“Yes we’ll get you some orange juice.”

“NOW daddy.”

“What is the word we’re forgetting?”

“Pease?” Her eyes rolled up towards me. Like a butterfly opening its wings.

“Alright then.”

“Alright daddy.” A satisfied nod of the head. A shuffling heard from the bedroom next door.

“Everyone alright?”

“Yes. It’s a bit smelly in here.” Always a pleasure to start the day with the smell of shit up your nose.

“Hm.”

Silence. The door was gently, but firmly, pushed closed. It’s Saturday morning. I’d made a promise. It was my turn.

“Down the stairs daddy? Oh yeah!”

Down the stairs. Far away from the complexities of the savagery of adult life. Into the mind of a two year old. Which takes up an entire room. And all the other rooms as well.

“Oh YEAH daddy! Ice kisspees!” she shouted in my face. She was getting heavier by the day.

My dad had called, telling me about a journal he’d been writing. I’d understood some of the things he was talking about. The conversation ended with a bowl of cereal being thrown on the floor. Children can be helpful. And far too honest, at times. Helpful nonetheless.

I started to clear up. I remember that I’d been feeling guilt. Guilty for not being at home enough. I’d started to make decisions about my life that I felt needed to be addressed. I was going to tell her all about them that evening. She burst suddenly into the room.

“Mummy’s here! Hooray”

My wife grabbed my arm and pulled me into the kitchen. Something serious. I could see it in her face. Something was dreadfully wrong.

“Everything has been cut off. Look. No lights. No heating. No electricity. Nothing is working.” She was trembling.

“What? What’s happened?”

“It was on the radio. He was shouting about it before he cut off. ”

“Seriously? Shouting about what?”

“Don’t you hear how quiet it is?”. She flipped the light switch. Nothing. She ran the hot tap. She opened the fridge. She ran her fingers through her hair then started to chew them.

“What else did he say?” my voice sounded strangled. I could feel a hole beginning to open up beside my foot. Some other reality thumping its way in.

“To be safe. And to get out of the city.”

“What the fuck? But that can’t be right. I was talking to dad earlier. We made breakfast.”

“I know but this has just happened. Like JUST happened.” I can hear my wife’s brain clicking into place. A soft whirr. Coiled and as prepared as I would never be. But I could see that she was scared. Petrified.

Shouting outside. Neighbours shrieking at each other. A sudden hard smacking of flesh. Crashing furniture.

“Whas that noise mummy?”

“Don’t worry hun. Its’ alright” I say to her. Her face scrunches into a little smile as she says “What the fuck”.

We both jolt in our reaction to her first swear word. I can’t help but smile. The smile feels painful, almost animated on my face.

“Jacob I don’t think it is alright. I think we need to pack bags. Quickly.”

The neighbours had single glazing in their windows. The noise as the girl smashed through them was deafening.

“Lock the doors.”

“Use a KEEYY mummy. Daddy. DADDY”

Then, everything changed.

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Human Content

About six months ago I was trying to find a copy of a compendium of comic strips called Brainstorm by Bryan Talbot, one of the comic scene’s most influential writers and illustrators. Being published in 1970, and with a small initial print run, it was proving a hard book to find.

I had discovered Brainstorm after realising that a member of the iconic UK hip hop outfit Taskforce had taken the moniker of “Chester P. Hackenbush” after the main protagonist in Brainstorm.  Stay with me.

After calling several bookstores across Europe I eventually found out that the original publisher, a chap called Lee Harris, was selling copies over the desk at his shop in Portabello Road. I raced down to buy a copy immediately and, after meeting Lee, discovered that he and Bryan Talbot had been friends for many years. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking comics, publishing, counter culture and the sixties (Lee has published an anthology of his written work Echoes of the Underground: A Footsoldier’s Tales).

So. The initial lead towards the content came from a musical source. The next content level was relevant and automatically enriching (personally finding the source, meeting the publisher then buying two books). The next stage of this human content development becomes more complicated…

After our initial meeting myself and Lee became friends. I reviewed his book for him, spread the word about where to easily buy Brainstorm and sent new customers his way. All of this led to Lee quoting my review on the back cover of his new book and, more importantly, staying in touch with me.

After my adventures with Lee Harris I made contact with Chester P Hackenbush on Facebook. Immediately (!) he got back to me and was keen to know more about potentially meeting Bryan Talbot. In the space of two months I had found a rare comic book, met a counter culture icon and made contact with a musical pioneer. All of this came from the power of the content in Brainstorm.

A couple of months ago, Lee called me to invite me along to a private showing of the Art of Bryan Talbot on the 19th March. He casually asked if Chester P. would like to come along to meet Bryan. Chester replied almost instantly saying he’d be honoured. I was about to meet two individuals who have had a distinct creative influence on my life. Everything started to fall into place. It felt almost cosmic. As if these three artists were meant to come together.

What’s interesting about this situation is the power of Brainstorm’s content. For a comic published over thirty years ago to bring three very different individuals together is a seminal achievement. To some it may seem like a small drop in the content ocean but to me the process has been incredibly exciting and has quite enriched my life. The strategy behind the content has been organic, human, natural and incredibly powerful.

The most fascinating part of the process is that each individual has worked individually and unknowingly collaboratively. Such is the power of content to press strangers together. To build action behind an idea and to rejoice in their creativity. The metadata is word of mouth. New strangers. Filled with possibilities.

There’s a link here about Bryan’s exhibition with a great photo of all three of them.

Have a look through these to find a picture of me at Lee’s book launch looking quite drunk.

Thanks for reading..

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The Future

Sometimes I just want to rip the world off it’s hinges. To throttle mankind by it’s own teeth and shriek, into a thousand year shadow, of how putrid and pointless we have become. And so proud of us we are.

There is a hot white glow in the corner of my vision. I cannot ignore the reality of how small a lifetime is. Thirty years. A lot can change. Yet here we are. The future for my children is random enough to be exciting, yet foul mouthed and greedy all at the same time.

I like to think I know where happiness grows. Where true love is. And how time has no purpose in the spreading of love. With the harmony of it. Once it’s there, inside you it grows happily.

And the world is not interested. Our pitiless leaders show little favour to the welfare of our expectations. Or existence. I cannot understand why making the world more complicated, when we are just beginning to learn about each other, is such a commodity.

Or perhaps I can.

I fear for the future. More so because my children will spend more time in it than me.

100 Little Words via @charlieplunkett

Spring. Growth. Nurture. New beginnings. A fresh start. Breeding. All of these things make me think about Mother’s Day.

My friend, the delightful Charlie Plunkett, is celebrating all aspects of parenthood by sharing details of a book she’s compiled, along with around 100 fabulous mums, dads, grandparents and experts. People like me. 100 Little Words on Parenthood is a beautiful collection of anecdotes, poems, words of wisdom and humour on all aspects of parenthood. From the miracle of birth and those early days of sleep deprivation, breastfeeding and teething each childhood milestone is charted. First steps, funny things children say, toddlers, tantrums, teenagers and grandchildren are all celebrated in this book that will appeal to new parents, experienced parents, grandparents and those considering becoming parents.

From 26th February until 4th March 100 Little Words on Parenthood will be available on Kindle Countdown to download for just 99p. For an extra special gift order the paperback version as a gift for £9.99.

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What parents are saying about…

100 Little Words on Parenthood

‘Gorgeous book, love it. Great little anecdotes and laugh out loud moments. Amazing how just 100 words can also make you cry the minute after you were just laughing…’

‘What a marvellous little book about parenthood … heart-warming, wonderful and happy … well observed and really a lovely collection …’

‘100 little words is a little treasure, perfectly complemented by the little truisms and quotations interspersed between each contributor’s special memory. A joy to read, a delightful gift.’

‘I feel this could be great for new parents for a fun and intriguing read to see the enjoyment others have experienced. Yes; put away those guide books and get this!’

‘A beautiful collection of thoughts and anecdotes that makes you smile, laugh and shed a tear. Very well collated and a joy to read….’

‘When I was pregnant I read everything I could about pregnancy and parenting. Most books went into great detail. But 100 Little Words on Parenthood gives you all the best bits cut down into 100 word snippets. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, but most of all as a parent it makes you realise your not alone!’

‘A really nice collection of poems, anecdotes, true stories and helpful tips about babies, kids and parenting. Touching, informative and amusing too.’

‘A beautiful, poignant and funny collection. Thank you Charlie for creating such a magical little book.’

‘100 Little Words is an insightful collection of accounts of parenthood from the front line. Covering every aspect from birth to becoming a grandparent Charlie has managed to pull together a rich variety of writers to contribute to this masterful collection of parental reflections. It’s genuinely funny, often heart-breaking and always honest. Any parent would be wise to purchase this to gain insight into the often bewildering world of parenthood.’

Book Review “Sex, Drugs and Techno” by Paul Eldridge

Personal journeys are hard to write about. So often it can be felt that there’s a frustration behind each word. A pulling at the thread of their own tangible experience, unable to weave the tapestry of their own meaning.

In “Sex, Drugs and Techno” Paul Eldridge tells the story of his experiences with a variety of drugs, his life as dictated by them and his emergence into a drug free existence. The writing overall is strong, especially the recounting of his early years as a DJ. Anyone with an understanding and experience of any clubbing scene will see familiar patterns here. In his story Paul guides you through the smoke ridden, sweat stained  crowds and invites you to see the part of you that he himself is all too familiar with. In any case, drugs or not, this is a story of the self.

The questions that arise from Eldridge’s hedonistic, self destructive lifestyle are questions I often ask myself. Who am I? Why do I do that? What is the point? Why do I keep doing this to myself? Ultimately the question is always “why?” We search for meaning everywhere. We define ourselves to ourselves as soon as we wake. We all seek the eternal truth. Eldridge’s descriptions of the clubbing scene fizz by and use a host of cleverly used metaphors. The surroundings transforming from a joyful, collective union into a macabre, horror filled nightmare is painfully and clearly written. At this breaking point Eldridge is brought to his physical and psychological knees. It is here we see him then begin to transform as he unfolds the story of his path to healing. 

The story of the Balinese folklore is an intriguing one. The experiences Eldridge recounts in Bali of his convalescence are far more inspiring and powerful than his earlier drug fueled life. It is here that the writing becomes clarified and condensed to a point. Eldridge has experienced much in his life and the unmasking of his own ego is a highlight of the story.

There are times when the author’s passion for his new path are over embellished. There are instances of repetition but these can be excused. To share a first hand experience is a challenging task. No words can quite describe the inner journey when felt so personally. Eldridge has managed to distill a lifetimes worth of inner turmoil and self transformation into a furious, beauty filled novel. The passion for his journey is evident as much as his desire to share his experiences with those who choose to listen.

“Sex, Drugs and Techno” is published by Soul Rocks books.

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