The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 7th January


No-one is owning up to being born on 7th January, so another ‘who knows?’ And because it’s wild weather I thought we’d go for a pirate.

Mary Read, PirateMary Read. Cross-dressing lover of Anne Bonny, and several men, a proper swashbuckler, served in the King’s army, ran a pub and later became a pirate, but no one really knows when she was born, around 1690 is a best guess. She died of a fever in prison in April 1721.

Most of what is written about her is hokum, although she is unquestionably a real person. Since there is so much hokum, you may as well have mine – this is how she appears in my Rotherhithe based short story ‘A Place of Departures’, in Stations – and it’s as true as the next version.

Mary Read dresses as a man, smokes and swears. She used to call herself by her dead brother’s name, used to fight for ‘Kinge and Countrie’ all round Europe.  But peace and boredom intervene, and at last the death of her man nags her into returning to sea.
The relief of britches and a salt wind, she confides to her shipmate, as they rest between battles, no longer on the side of the King.  And the shipmate plants a kiss on her lips, and pulls Mary’s hand within his jerkin to feel the soft curve of a womanly breast. Ann Bonney claims that she had no idea Mary was a woman the first time she kissed her.
My eye, Mary declares, lighting her long clay pipe.
But despite that kiss and fumble and perhaps more that neither will admit to, Mary escapes the hangman’s noose by dying of a child-bed fever before they have a chance to string her up.

So happy un-birthday, Mary, and I’ll raise a glass of rum, if that’s not too predictable.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party January 3rd


Today’s birthday girl is Henry Handel Richardson (don’t you love a male nom-de-plume?) known to her family as Ethel Robertson.

Born 3rd January 1870 HH wrote the lovely and semi-autobiographical coming of age novel The Getting of Wisdom about Laura, a young Australian girl sent away to school where she finds it hard to fit in until she develops a monumental and hopeless crush  for an older girl.

It is extremely funny but honest and kind about Laura’s naive and furious jealousies. So HH gets an invitation to the fantasy tea party, although as it’s a fantasy, it’s Laura I really want to turn up, perhaps with her beloved Evvy in tow.

Inspirations – claustrophobia in the closet


To celebrate HM the Queen’s royal assent on Gay Marriage, some thoughts about what it used to be like when I was first coming out in 1982… when I wrote

Trying to Tell You…

A story about coming out,  not to straight colleagues or family, but to the only Visible Lesbian ( this is my version of the only gay in the village and predated Little Britain by a decade or two). The story is based on my partner’s one time workplace, where she was the Visible Lesbian, meshed with my memories of school. A. and I have a running joke about people who ought to be Lesbians but haven’t worked it out yet. And this is about one of those women, at the moment the penny drops. Who is she going to tell? How? Because the Visible Lesbian is too busy fighting her own battles, and isn’t listening.

Anyway one of the pleasures of republishing Mosaic of Air(out at the end of September), which includes Trying to Tell You … is finding that what I have written is now a period piece.

© Cherry Potts 2013

Writing from a Lesbian Perspective


Its LGBT History Month. Whether you know this may depend on whether you or any of your friends is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. It certainly doesn’t get the kind of coverage Black History month gets. With my Arachne Press hat on, I’m doing a reading tonight at Ealing and on Monday at Deptford, with others, and will be reading one of the first stories I ever wrote – Leaving, which is about leaving a job, not a lover, in case you are wondering. I wrote it around 1986 so it’s practically an historical document itself.

There has been some concern voiced by the Judges of the Polari prize about the dearth of new UK Lesbian writers. I do wonder – is it that lesbians are no longer identifying themselves? No longer writing about Lesbian experience? And do we have to write about lesbian experience to bring that experience to bear? I don’t think so – I remember a long conversation with Rosemary Manning  (a dear friend and a magnificent Lesbian) about how one of her (straight, male) characters were written as  if he were a lesbian, not from the perspective of sexuality, but from the perspective of outsider-ness.

An aside, will being able to get married – if it gets all the way through the legislative process – intrinsically change that outsider status? Time will tell, and frankly there are still places it’s illegal and/ or dangerous to be a Lesbian, so unless we all sit smugly feeling we’re all right where we are, – I bet Weimar Republic Lesbians thought that, briefly – it’s kind of hard to shake.

I use this perspective when I rewrite myths. I’ve never been a fan of Freud’s use of myth to explain his own neuroses but he did keep the (Greek) myths in the forefront of the western mind.

If we lose the assumption that love between the hero and heroine is automatic, inevitable, ordained, there is room to take a look at what other motivation there is for their (re)actions.

So for example, if Helen does not love her husband (a dynastic match, so why should she?), and if she doesn’t love Paris (and how could she?) we can remember that Homeric women are parcelled out like a loaf of bread (or an apple) between hungry feasters, and ask:

What did she think, who, if anyone, did she love? What might it be like to be the catalyst of a ten-year war and the destruction of a dynasty?  And why didn’t Priam chuck her off the walls of Troy at first sight of the black ships?

Once you remove the most basic presumption of sexuality and stop being snared and beguiled by the obvious story of girl meets boy etc, etc, you are free to turn your head away from the glitzy main text and explore the why behind many other ‘obvious’ becauses and champion the minor character, the underdog, or perhaps the slave in the corner: seeing, thinking, feeling, but unseen.

March of the Women


Sandi Toksvig, Sue Perkins, Susan Calman, Marin Alsop… sorry, what? The finest lesbian (or lesbitarian as Calman would have it) comedians of the decade all on stage together and … the world’s leading woman conductor?  OK you got me, I didn’t know what I’d got tickets for, but I’m very glad I was there, for Mirth Control,  the closing event of Women of the World at the Southbank this weekend.

I began to have an inkling of what was actually going to happen when we arrived to find the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall set up for an Orchestra, and a slide show of images from the suffragette movement on a screen above.

“OOh!” I said, “do you think they’ll get us to sing the March of the Women, with the words on-screen and a bouncy ball to tell us where we’ve got to, like they used to have in pantomimes?”

Ms Toksvig, bearing a passing resemblance to a scarab in a green and purple shot satin suit, was witty and informative as she whisked through the history of women’s suffrage and introduced the 88 strong women’s orchestra brought together especially for the show to play the overture to Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, rarely performed and unjustly overlooked IMHO.  Predates and foreshadows Britten’s sea interludes, and something I have a great fondness for as it accompanied the writing of the first section on my epic fantasy novel.  The orchestra attacked with panache, Sue Perkins conducted with precision and gusto.

Although I thought I’d come for an evening of comedy it was the music that held me, and the very happy feeling of hundreds of women sharing this experience, it quite took me back to the 1980’s when I used to do this all the time. 

Quite rightly, Sandi Toksvig took time to thank the Southbank’s artistic director Jude Kelly, for planning the festival and conference, and Helena Kennedy  presented Ms Kelly with a ‘votes for women’ penny as featured in the British Museum’s history of the world in 100 objects.

And I would like to add my thanks, not just for this weekend, but for the way Jude Kelly has made the Southbank so much  more accessible.  Through her efforts to get people involved, I have taken part in choir festivals, day projects and, the toughest thing I’ve ever done, REwind: Cantata by Philip Miller.  Not only did I get to sing on stage at the Royal Festival Hall, but when we were rehearsing (and really struggling, I have to be honest) Jude turned up at Blackheath Halls where we were rehearsing. 

I don’t know whether Paul, our choir master knew she was coming,  but we certainly didn’t, and weren’t all that pleased to be distracted by a strange woman wandering in… we glared with hostility (sorry about that Jude!).  A lot of people had dropped out because it was difficult to sing, more had dropped out because once they’d got to grips with the music and listened to what we were singing, and what it was interlaced with, they found it too distressing  (and it is distressing, it really is), and those of us hanging in there and trusting to it-will-be-all-right-on-the-night, were unbelievably grateful that Jude bothered to come out to Blackheath and tell us we had a right to be on that stage.  I for one needed that.  And it was all right on the night, in fact it was more than all right, it was phenomenal.

As was Sunday’s event.  we did finish with Ethel Smyth’s The March of the Women: a swift lesson from the wonderful Mary King, (“are those your own lungs?” Sandi asked as Mary launched into the very high first line) support from the ‘Women of the World Chorus” drawn from Southbank’s own Voicelab and including our friends Trish and Judith (hi girls) and several hundred women and a handful of men joined in, conducted by Marin Alsop a la Ethel Smyth, with a toothbrush.  I don’t know how many the QEH holds, but it was full and we really went for it.

shoulder to shoulder, and friend to friend.

This is going to be an annual event.  I’m booking the whole weekend out for next year.

copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Five Films in Eight Days


Okay, I admit it, I’m a Cinema Enthusiast, a Film Buff, a Movie Geek … choose your epiphet; I’m one of those people who stay to watch the credits and not just for the Pixar ‘out-takes’.

And if you are wondering why I’m going on about films skip to the final paragraph and find out.

Until recently there’s been a bit of a film famine, nothing I wanted to see, no time to see it, or a lack of energy/determination to get to the cinema- unless we take the car, our nearest cinema is two bus journeys away.

Then we hit on the wheeze of combining our weekly trip to our local farmer’s market  with our cinema fix.  We can park for free, then take a virtuous mile and a bit walk across the heath and Greenwich Park clutching something to eat bought from the market or Handmade Foods, then go to the lunchtime showing at the Picturehouse which is cheap and somehow magnificently decadent, especially on a sunny day.

This worked very well for a few weeks, and then half term rolled up and all these lovely films…

It really takes discipline and planning to see a lot of films in the same week.

1st Sunday Lunchtime: The Social Network *

The True Story of the founding of Facebook.

Oh dear.  When I saw the trailer for this I thought that looks boring, but then I discovered it was scripted by Aaron Sorkin, whose work on West Wing I adore, so we gave it a go.

NO, no, no!  This was more Studio 60 than West Wing and even Mr S. could do very little with the basic premise, or make me care one bit for any of the characters. Possibly the fear of lawsuits stopped them from the flights of fancy this needed to raise it from its yesterday’s-cold-pizza-for-breakfast mentality.  It was at times funny, but I was really resenting not being out in the sun for this one.

Tuesday evening: Mary and Max ***

The True Story of the long-distance friendship between a lonely child and an autistic man.

Give me animation and I’m happy ferret.  M&M is clay-mation in near monochrome and looked lovely, the story was excellent (if a little long winded) and the vocal acting terrific.  I did however find the narration (by Barry Humphries) a little annoying.  It wouldn’t have hurt to have less of it, the pictures were doing fine, although I did enjoy “Max had no desire to kill the mime artist … unlike most other people” the timing was spot on.

Wednesday evening: Africa United ****

A group of children set out to get to the World Cup and end up walking across half of Africa.

This was the highlight of the week.  I have no interest in football, and I don’t like to be harrowed, (I go to the movies for entertainment), so this tale of child soldiers, Aids and sexual exploitation wasn’t  going to be an obvious hit with me.  However, the child actors are charming and engaging without straying into saccharine(and they can ACT, not something you’d hold against every child that ends up on screen) the script is by turns dramatic and hilarious, and the characterisation convincing.  And there was some unexpected animation for fantasy sequences, which sounds as though its weird or trite, but actually held the story together.  It doesn’t get 5 stars because it managed to be short on tension – there was never any question they’d get there – and the would-be twist at the end wasn’t quite convincing.

Thursday evening: Despicable Me ***1/2

Dastardly villain teetering on the brink of being a has-been plans daring heist but is foiled by a group of cute orphans… yes… sounds a bit Scooby-doo doesn’t it?

More animation, happy, happy me.  A close runner for hit of the week.  The visual jokes were wonderful and I really liked the idea of villains behaving like small businesses, going cap in hand to the Bank of Evil “formerly Lehmann Brothers” for a loan to get the equipment to steal… well if you haven’t seen it, I won’t tell you what Grue wants to steal.

The little yellow hench…men? henchies?  are cute, and I deeply enjoyed Grue knowing every single one of them by name, like some earnest boss of an international uber-firm doing his absolute best to be down with the workers.  The way the children foil Grue’s plans is not what I had anticipated from the trailers, but the plot is rather obvious so only 4 stars, and saccharine creeps in, so it loses another half a point there.

Oh, but a big plus was Julie Andrews voicing Grue’s mother, deeply unimpressed by her son’s attempts at skulduggery.  She’s brilliant.

2nd Sunday lunchtime: The Kids are Alright ***

Yea!  A Lesbian Movie!  Julianne Moore and Annette Bening!  Women on screen not wearing makeup!  Hurrah!!

Um, no, I’m afraid not.

Whilst this is a thoughtful study of how a relationship can crumble under the pressure of an interloper; and it did, eventually, claw its way back from being ‘what lesbians need is to be screwed by the right man’, it’s a pity it felt the need to go there in the first place.

Both Moore and Bening are terrific, but Ruffalo’s blurry greeny-come-lately was so abundantly unattractive (oh I know, I would say that) that the idea of Moore’s character getting further than that initial embarrassing kiss (a kiss which was completely plausible) drew loud snorts of derision from me.

So despite the healthy matter-of-fact-ness of a realistic lesbian couple (at last! Although what was all that with the gay male porn?), and a realistic lesbian relationship (although don’t these women have any friends? And any lesbian friends even? Talk about isolated!) – if you haven’t seen it yet, wait for the video, so you can fast forward through the boring hetero-sex: the story loses nothing for missing it out.

Ok, why is there all this stuff about film on a blog that’s meant to be about writing?  Well, as with children, so stories.  It’s the old nature/ nurture thing.  I can’t help but be influenced by what I watch, be it in terms of cinematic editing style, particular visuals that stay with me, or sometimes speech patterns.   I find things surfacing in the oddest way, and I have to stay alert!  I have to check… is this just an influence or is it pastiche, cliché, or worse, plagiarism?  but I can’t write in a vacuum, so what’s next- Ah, Mike Leigh’s Another Year. That’s this week’s fix sorted then.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2010