Truth 4: I have fallen behind on my truths because mental health is more important. Inspired by Charlotte Josephine

In Week 1 of my tour I got a lovely text from one of my favourite women in theatre, Charlotte Josephine. The text was a totally unprompted act of support, a tiny moment of ‘I see you and I got you’ which I needed more than I had realized. In the text, Charlie said she’d been thinking about how we don’t talk enough about our mental health. Even though I needed that text (I’d just had a difficult show at the beginning of what was to become the most difficult run of my life to date), that particular thought didn’t resonate with me, until now.

 

I have wanted to write this blog and – trust me – come hell of high water I am going to finish it! (Obviously that will happen once the tour is over now but, hey, I never committed to a deadline…) Last week I had one week in one place, the only point at which that has happened during this run, and the perfect catch-up opportunity for the blog. Instead I found myself in some very dark headspaces, convinced at points that I should not just walk away from the show, but also from my career full-stop. I had emotional outpouring after emotional outpouring, clinging to my wife and saying I didn’t want to go out there again, sobbing down the phone to family members desperate to make these bleak feelings stop. I never talk about this stuff publicly, even though I’m sure other artists feel the same sometimes, experiencing crippling levels of self-doubt, fear, anxiety and emotional instability. I never talk about it, because I don’t want to seen as courting pity, over-sharing, not checking my privilege, not appreciating the wealth of gifts I have in my life that allow me to do this as a career. That old chestnut, fear of judgment, strikes again. Last week, I couldn’t write a blog, or anything for that matter, I struggled talking to anyone I didn’t know well, I struggled to do my job – every cell screaming at me to turn around and run.  

 

My relationship to this show is unique. I am choosing (as my sister frankly pointed out during one of my many meltdowns) to stand on stage and relive the most horrific experience of my life to date. And I am choosing to do this over and over and over again. Last week, I had reached a point where I was too raw, too emotionally unbalanced to keep doing it and my body began to protest, I think. I wasn’t allowing myself to connect emotionally because it was too much, and so my shows were becoming a bit ‘meh’ and that is what created the self-doubt.

 

I don’t doubt myself for no reason. I doubt myself when I know I am not fully in my work. The solution is to be fully into my work, but when that’s the scariest place to be, it’s fucking hard.

 

However much I try to think about this piece of work as an acting piece, of this Katie Bonna as a character, I can’t escape that this is my dad, my mum, my wife that I am talking about. Everything in the show is true, pretty much. But last week got me thinking that actually it doesn’t matter how real the situations you are creating on stage are, if you are connecting to them emotionally, leaning into them and making them truthful, your body is going through a version of them and it is doing that night after night after night. When I was at Soho, this was easy enough to deal with. I got to go home to my wife every day, I got to see friends and go to my yoga studio – all the stuff that keeps me balanced. But on the road, all those constant dissolve into a myriad of variables. This week I am sleeping in a converted attic room in a house in the suburbs that couldn’t feel further from home. The people who live there are lovely, but it isn’t a place I can really relax and escape from anything in. That’s just the reality of this work.

 

All of that brought me right back to Charlie’s Week 1 text – a weirdly omniscient harbinger of what was to come over the next few weeks. Why don’t we talk about this more? I can’t remember one conversation, during my training, which touched on mental health and emotional well-being. Can anyone else? It was never even hinted at that we would have to work to maintain ourselves in this way and that the work could actively attack our ability to do that. But isn’t that the story across society? We, as a nation, shy away from the mental health conversation because we still don’t really know how to talk about it. We still feel weak admitting it’s a struggle. We still don’t have the answers for a friend who reaches out with a despairing question. I do not buy into the stereotype of the tortured artist and I deeply resent people who try to tar me with that brush. And people do try to, often. I do not need to be in a state of despair to create, but sometimes creation brings about a state of despair. And that’s part of our job and we need to be equipped to deal with it. And we would be better equipped if we talked about it more, sharing our methods and experiences to create more support for each other.

 

For what it’s worth, these are some of the main ways in which I have been managing my mental health over the last few weeks. A lot of them are obvious and I am really not interested in posturing as a mental health guru – this is just an offering, a sharing from one artist to others, with love.

 

·      Remember why you are doing this. I made a list last week (thanks to my sister for telling me to do it) of why I started this project in the first place and it really helped me. Mostly because I remembered who I’m doing it for and that helped me shift my focus back to the most important place (for my show), the audience.

·      Don’t feel guilty. I feel guilty about pretty much everything, so I have to make myself shelve the guilt and take the time I need for myself. You don’t ‘need’ to talk to your digs hosts about their cat’s second prize in the best pedigree puss category, you need to be grateful and polite and then take space for yourself. Also, I have to make myself not feel guilty for doing very little in the day-time. The show is the most important thing I’m doing that day, if all I do is prepare for that, it’s ok.

·      Exercise. I practice yoga in the morning and then again before the show. I need to be in my body, not my head, and this is the best way for me to do it. I’m currently spending between 1.5 – 3 hours doing yoga a day (including meditation), that is potentially more than I need, but it’s working. I have found two really good free online yoga teachers: Yoga With Adrienne (her practice is quite gentle, but she has such a fun spirit and energy) and Five Parks Yoga (good workout – and great range of classes). I also try and find a studio wherever I am because it is invariable a better, more holistic experience.

·      Don’t give a fuck. I once heard that ‘Fuck it’ is the best mantra an actor can have. It’s a quick and often affective fix.

·      Lean into the white. In Exeter, a woman I met outside a yoga class told me about the fried egg theory. This thing called ‘Devon time’ meant that we waited half an hour for a teacher who never appeared... The idea is that in the yolk of a fried egg you are in your comfort zone, in the white you are in your growth zone and – necessarily – you are also uncomfortable, because it is hotter in the white. The closer you get to the edge of the white, the hotter you get as you inch closer to the frying-pan AKA the panic zone. I have started saying to myself before I go on stage ‘Be in the white.’ Leaning into the discomfort and knowing that it’s growth has really helped me curb the panic.

·      Eat well. Like, really well. Avoid sugar if possible.

·      Don’t drink. Seriously. It makes you feel sad the next day.

·      Sleep, as much as you need and don’t feel bad for taking naps. I never took naps before this tour, I have discovered that I sometimes need them.

·      Do one thing a day to shift your perspective. I don’t mean, like, standing on your head or going sky-diving, I mean walking down a new street or going into a bookshop or chatting to someone you wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. Those small, but rich moments of discovery.

·      Give thanks, for anything and everything you are thankful for. I have been told to do this a lot by yoga teachers. Making a list doesn’t work for me, but stopping to appreciate a good feeling, a beautiful tree, a message from my wife – really soaking the good shit up - does.

·      Stay hydrated. I have hydration sachets with me now and I need them. I know I should just drink more water – I try…

·      Have an eye mask. Not everyone believes in blackout blinds.

·      Treat yourself.

·      Turn your phone off and limit social media. My rule has been I can only go on social media when I am travelling on travel days and when I am out (away from the theatre or digs) otherwise. I break it constantly, but when I’m feeling bad it really helps to enforce it. I turn my phone off 2/3 hours before the show.

·      Pack slippers. A mobile home for your feet.

·      Talk about it. If you can’t talk, try and write.

Truth 2: Why being the only living female playwright in the West End is not a good thing.

As I tour thirteen venues across the UK, I am sharing thirteen truths that I would not usually share. I’m not very good at confronting things that make me uncomfortable. Just yesterday I was out for a walk when a woman ahead of me, who had been feeding crows from a plastic bag of breadcrumbs (am I odd for finding that odd?), dropped the emptied bag on the ground and walked away. As I approached her discarded litter I found myself with a choice. I could use the old ‘Excuse me – I think you dropped something…’ or the more direct ‘I think this is yours?’ plus a raised eyebrow, but instead I just picked the bag up and continued to walk behind her – like a passive aggressive litter-conscious version of the demon in It Follows.

I recently read the brilliant article that Camilla Whitehill wrote in The Stage about the problems faced by female playwrights. She is direct, clear and bang on point. Wandering around with that flaccid freezer bag in my hand, I got to thinking that it encapsulated my relationship with the female playwright question. The question being: ‘Is it harder for female playwrights to build a career?’; the answer being ‘Yes’ and my way of dealing with it being to grumble privately, but never confront the people perpetuating the problem. I have tended instead to wander after them, hoping that they’ll notice my work and want to get involved. Like I was yesterday, with that bloody bag.

At the beginning of this year, Dirty Great Love Story (which I co-wrote with Richard Marsh) had a nine-week run at The Arts Theatre. The PR team worked out early on that, during its run, I was the only living female playwright in the West-End. Yup. Agatha Christie is no longer banging out the hits and J.K.Rowling wrote the story not the book, so that left just me.

We felt very conflicted about using it for PR. Apart from anything else, this was a show written by two people - one of whom is not a woman. Ultimately, it wasn’t included in the PR copy, but close to the end of the run, on International Women’s Day, the information was released. I had hoped that it would open up a wider conversation about the lack of gender parity in theatre.  In reality, I was astounded by the number of people who congratulated me for holding this title. There were some who straight up applauded me with seemingly no recognition of the explicit issue illustrated by the mere existence of the moniker. Others would congratulate me, then acknowledge that yeah – it is a bit shit, but it’s good for me isn’t it? And then, and this was the most baffling to me, there were the ones who seemed to think that ownership of this title meant that I was clearly ‘way ahead of other female playwrights’ and ‘really fucking good’ at what I do.

And so, to honesty.

Firstly, I am good at what I do. It’s my job and I work hard at it. Secondly, holding that title in for nine weeks in no way makes me better than any other female playwright out there. It makes me a sad slip of litmus paper testifying to the inequalities of this industry. I feel slightly sickened to even use the term ‘female playwright’, as Camilla so astutely points out in her Stage article, male playwrights are never referred to as such. Thirdly, can we stop using gender inequality to pit women against each other? As a woman in this industry, I often feel like I am being either set against my peers or mindlessly compared to them. As if we’re a graduating year of debutantes, all with exactly the same thing to offer, hoping to be selected from the pack. I do not believe that I have been to one meeting with television developers over the last few years when my work hasn’t been compared to Lena Dunham or (more recently) Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Don’t get me wrong, both of those writers are incredible, but I am not like either of them. When development people say things like this, they might as well be saying – oh who’s the most famous funny vagina right now? You’re a bit funny, yours must be just like that one.

Camilla writes in her article (as if I haven’t ruined it enough for you already) that the men at the top need to change what they are doing, who they are choosing, how they are programming and she is right. We all need to keep making noise and drawing attention until they are forced to take notice and responsibility. In an effort not to walk behind her with a flaccid plastic bag in my hand, though, I offer this in addition. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a lot of contact from fellow women in theatre citing words of support. Some in response to the article about GSA that I wrote last week, some just to say ‘I think you’re great’ and fuck me if it doesn’t make a difference. The more we can support each other – whether that be unsought emotional support, showing up at each other’s shows, bigging up each other’s work, recommending or sharing awards or bursaries, mentoring young women in theatre etc – the more we support each other’s individuality and worth.

So here is a short (and I am painfully aware of it’s brevity) list of UK women who write for theatre and screen who I think fucking rock. This is the tip of a vast iceberg, but I am sitting in a Waitrose café eating luke warm chickpeas, about to head to a tech and it’s all my strained head can manage right now. Please add, share, support:

Camilla Whitehill

Charlotte Josephine

Annie Siddons

Molly Naylor

Gemma Arrowsmith

Bola Agbaje

Stacey Gregg

Isley Lynn

Elinor Cook

Sara Hirsch

Theresa Ikoko

Sarah Dickenson

Jemima Foxtrot

The Eggs Collective (Sara Cocker, Lowri Evans, Leonie Higgins)

Jessica Swale

Caroline Horton

Clara Brennan

Sabrina Mahfouz

Hannah Jane Walker

Milly Thomas

Rash Dash (Helen Goalen, Becky Wilkie, Abbi Greenland)

Vicky Jones

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Anna Jordan

Penelope Skinner

Katherine Soper

Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Laura Wade

Sam Holcroft

Alice Birch

Ella Hickson

Lucy Prebble

Lucy Kirkwood

13 Tall Truths. Truth 1: What is the point of drama school?

For the next five weeks I am going to be on tour. My previous experience of touring mostly involves a full company of actors, a lot of gin and a notable lack of responsibility. When I made a one woman show about the often paralysing complexities of my relationship with my estranged father, I clearly didn't think about how it would affect my tour-life. Namely, no other actors, no gin and masses of responsibility.


In response to my inevitable lack of hangovers, in-jokes and green room microwave queues (a sad and singular bonus) I've decided to write a blog. And because my show is about lies, the blog will be about truths. Thirteen truths to be exact. In each of the thirteen places I'm visiting I will tell one truth that I wouldn't usually tell. It might be small - prepare yourself for an inevitable story about a returned Flat White that is 'clearly a latte' - or big. Number one, that's this one, is big. 


For five years I have worked as an acting tutor on the Foundation course at Guildford School Of Acting. I love GSA. I trained there and a fair amount of that training was truly excellent.


I started teaching at the school when the Foundation course began, in 2011. The course was designed to give a one year foundational training to students who either felt they weren’t ready for a BA course or who hadn’t succeeded in gaining a place on one. By this point, the school had changed a lot from my old stomping ground. Absorbed into a university, with a custom-designed building, it was tinged with a corporate, academic feel. A good friend and fellow alumni of mine pointed out that at this stage they got rid of our much beloved Cathy's Cafe (cling-film wrapped egg roll for £1.10? Yes please!) for a Starbucks. This encapsulates how that move felt to most ex-students and, I'm sure, some teachers. Despite my unease with the university/drama school juxtaposition, I felt that it was the same school. With the same heart. And the Foundation course epitomised that. Sitting slightly outside of university parameters (we did not have to fulfil set criteria in the way that the BA courses did), we responded to the students' needs. It became clear early on that none of us were interested in treating the course as a way to merely get students into drama school. How could any of us morally work like that? Taking students' money and giving no training, no craft, in return? Offering only the empty promise of a drama school place? It seemed ludicrous and against our beliefs as teachers. So we taught acting. Detail. Listening. Playing. Craft. And it worked.

Most of our students went on to prestigious drama schools - the statistics are incredible, actually. I won’t get into that here, especially as I’ve already said it was never our primary focus. Perhaps ex-students will comment with their feelings about the course below, but I can say I have seen young people truly become themselves during this training. I have seen some riddled with anxiety and insecurity grow strong and playful; some, who believed themselves to be the greatest thing since Tom Hardy, develop humility and an ability to listen. In short, I’ve seen the most positive changes in young people that I’ve ever witnessed take place, because of this course.

We knew that each of the individuals we met was passionate about the work and we believed that something was stopping them from stepping into it wholeheartedly. The Foundation course we created allowed them the space, support and challenges needed to discover what was blocking them, engage with it and move on. We didn’t shy away from conversations around emotional connection, attitude and work ethic – we ran headlong into them - and that is why our students achieved what they achieved.
The reason I am writing this, and if you're still with me you must be wondering by now, is that I have just found out that I will not be returning to teach on the Foundation course this year. Neither will some of my extremely gifted colleagues. There really is no need to go into the ins and outs of my or their employment here, suffice to say the course is being changed dramatically and that is beyond our control.

I cannot speak for GSA, but I hear they plan to cut back contact hours dramatically, by one third in fact. I hear that soon they will be reducing the entire course to only one term of study. Most notably, I hear that the focus of the course moving forward is singular: to get students onto a BA drama school course. And, with my experience of this work, I know that it will be impossible to provide the same level of training and personal development once those changes are in place.

When asking the question of what a Foundation course should be, I have to confront the bigger question of what drama school training is at present in the UK.


I don’t believe drama schools are the be all and end all – far from it. Increasingly, I long for the day when they have become totally benign and purposeless, the day when RADA doesn’t equal work. The day when the cream truly rises to the top and we are all judged on our work, not where we did spinal rolls for three years. But they do exist and they have the potential to play an even more significant role in our industry. The people they train and the manner in which they train them is the primary source by which the shape, diversity and processes of work within the industry can be affected. Gone are the days when we should blindly be teaching students to carry a portfolio of monologues around with them, get an agent and sit dutifully by a phone, we know that. The provocations given over recent years by industry professionals - Sean Holmes and Secret Theatre being a prime example - are an opportunity for us all to challenge the way we engage with our work at a time when funding and support is at an all time low. UK drama school training has to evolve if UK theatre is going to evolve. And I’m not convinced that the increased involvement of universities will allow that. The involvement universities now often have is a natural and necessary response to a decrease in government support. What does not appear to be happening in conjunction with that, though, is a true understanding of how drama school training differs from university education.

I have already watched my students become more white and more privileged over the last five years, thanks to government cuts. Recently, I have spent days marking written work, being forced to mark students down who are disciplined, joyful actors, but don’t have the skills to write an essay. Now, to watch a tiny corner of passion, power and creativity be squeezed out of what feels like an increasingly corporate environment, is heart-breaking. 


So, I'm speaking about this honestly, which is a thing I would never normally do. I cannot presume to know why these decisions are being made. I can and will only assume that these decisions are being made with the belief they will benefit the students, with their best interests at heart. I just cannot see how taking away something so good, can ever be anything but bad. And it was good. And I'm proud to have been part of it. GSA Foundation course 2012-2017, I salute you. 

THANK YOU from me and a lot of women in need

A huge and heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who gave so generously to Women's Aid during our run of All The Things I Lied About at Soho Theatre.

A number of recent cases, not least of all that of Shana Grice who tragically died at the hands of her ex-boyfriend earlier this year, have kept the importance of these issues at the forefront of a our minds. For me, the most disturbing aspect of the Shana Grice case was that she did approach the Police, she did report her ex's threatening behaviour, and - because she was in an on/off relationship with him - she was turned away and charged with wasting Police time. We do not yet have a system that supports women properly, the law might aspire to but the gatekeepers to justice show again and again that women are suspected and judged as much as they are listened to. If not more.

Women's Aid does offer shelter to women and children who are suffering an immediate and present threat of violence or trying desperately to rebuild lives that have been shattered by someone else's controlling and dangerous behaviour, but they also campaign - constantly - to improve the highly flawed system. So thank you for helping them do that. Thank you for everyone who dropped a coin or a note in my sandcastle bucket. We raised £1604.18 this time round and they can do a lot of good with that.

You can find more information about them here

The spoils

In six days time it will officially be one month since I performed my last show in Edinburgh and rented a well fancy Air BnB to celebrate. I think it’s fair to say that I now need to stop calling my lie-ins and work avoidance ‘recovery’ and admit that I’m being lazy. All in all, I’m over the moon with how All The Things I Lied About was received. I’ve put a round up of reviews at the end of this – spending hours sticking stars on flyers is dull but a happy-making thing to do when the stars are like this. Thank you to everyone who came to watch. The most wonderful thing about the month was the exchanges with audience members after the show. It’s been amazing to hear other people’s stories and how they connected to this piece. Over the month, I collected money for Women’s Aid - a charity that I chose to support because of the incredible work they did to bring about the law change regarding domestic abuse last year. The use of coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate relationship is now punishable by up to five years imprisonment. We still have a long way to go to enforce this law change – to learn the best ways to gather and expose evidence – but it’s the first big step in protecting and saving these victims. I am overwhelmed by the amount the audiences donated overall – a staggering £1748.57! They will be using the money wherever it is needed most urgently, but some examples of their work include: ·      The Survivor’s Forum – a safe non-judgmental and understanding arena where women can anonymously discuss their experiences of domestic abuse and gain support from trained moderators and a network of other survivors. ·      Their national training centre – providing expert training for professionals, including the police, working to support women and children affected by domestic abuse. ·      Their education and awareness programmes – including ‘Safer Futures’ where advocates go into schools to help teachers deliver lessons on domestic abuse and healthy relationships. ·      Campaigning to ensure the sustainability of local services and refuges across England – including, most recently, their tireless and ultimately successful campaign to keep refuges exempt from housing benefit changes that would have seen two thirds of them close down. I am truly inspired by their work and so happy to be able to give them this support so THANK YOU FOR YOUR KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY, it will save women and children’s lives. The plan now is to take the show on tour and give it a run in London – I will let you know as soon as we have all that confirmed! In the mean time, here are the spoils of my month in the rain and beer soaked city of dreams…… ‘Riveting, funny and honest….a beautifully structured piece of writing’ ★★★★★ Evening Standard ‘Unparalleled’ ★★★★★ The Upcoming ‘revelatory and ultimately life-affirming’ ★★★★★ Edinburgh Reporter ★★★★★ TV Bomb ★★★★★Funny Women ★★★★1/2 Auditorium Magazine ‘Moving, potent and personal’ ★★★★ The Stage ‘Outstanding’ ★★★★ The List ★★★★ The Herald ‘a thoroughly engaging and thought provoking piece of theatre’ ★★★★ Scots Gay ‘By turns poignant and funny, courageous and bracing.’ ★★★★ Broadway Baby ★★★★ Reviews Hub ★★★★ Theatre Smart ★★★★ Across The Arts ★★★★ Peg Review Top Theatre Picks Sunday Times Pick Of The Fringe The Stage

In six days time it will officially be one month since I performed my last show in Edinburgh and rented a well fancy Air BnB to celebrate. I think it’s fair to say that I now need to stop calling my lie-ins and work avoidance ‘recovery’ and admit that I’m being lazy.

All in all, I’m over the moon with how All The Things I Lied About was received. I’ve put a round up of reviews at the end of this – spending hours sticking stars on flyers is dull but a happy-making thing to do when the stars are like this. Thank you to everyone who came to watch. The most wonderful thing about the month was the exchanges with audience members after the show. It’s been amazing to hear other people’s stories and how they connected to this piece.

Over the month, I collected money for Women’s Aid - a charity that I chose to support because of the incredible work they did to bring about the law change regarding domestic abuse last year. The use of coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate relationship is now punishable by up to five years imprisonment. We still have a long way to go to enforce this law change – to learn the best ways to gather and expose evidence – but it’s the first big step in protecting and saving these victims.

I am overwhelmed by the amount the audiences donated overall – a staggering £1748.57! They will be using the money wherever it is needed most urgently, but some examples of their work include:

·      The Survivor’s Forum – a safe non-judgmental and understanding arena where women can anonymously discuss their experiences of domestic abuse and gain support from trained moderators and a network of other survivors.

·      Their national training centre – providing expert training for professionals, including the police, working to support women and children affected by domestic abuse.

·      Their education and awareness programmes – including ‘Safer Futures’ where advocates go into schools to help teachers deliver lessons on domestic abuse and healthy relationships.

·      Campaigning to ensure the sustainability of local services and refuges across England – including, most recently, their tireless and ultimately successful campaign to keep refuges exempt from housing benefit changes that would have seen two thirds of them close down.

I am truly inspired by their work and so happy to be able to give them this support so THANK YOU FOR YOUR KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY, it will save women and children’s lives.

The plan now is to take the show on tour and give it a run in London – I will let you know as soon as we have all that confirmed!

In the mean time, here are the spoils of my month in the rain and beer soaked city of dreams……

Riveting, funny and honest….a beautifully structured piece of writing’ ★★★★★ Evening Standard

‘Unparalleled’ ★★★★★ The Upcoming

‘revelatory and ultimately life-affirming’ ★★★★★ Edinburgh Reporter

★★★★★ TV Bomb

★★★★★Funny Women

★★★★1/2 Auditorium Magazine

‘Moving, potent and personal’ ★★★★ The Stage

‘Outstanding’ ★★★★ The List

★★★★ The Herald

‘a thoroughly engaging and thought provoking piece of theatre’ ★★★★ Scots Gay

‘By turns poignant and funny, courageous and bracing.’ ★★★★ Broadway Baby

★★★★ Reviews Hub

★★★★ Theatre Smart

★★★★ Across The Arts

★★★★ Peg Review

Top Theatre Picks Sunday Times

Pick Of The Fringe The Stage

ATTILA wants to WAF with you

I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing things. I’m not a writer who just can’t stop writing wherever they are in the world. I’m very much about separating my ‘writing time’ from my ‘desperately trying to finish this 1000 piece jigsaw’ time. Oh yes, I do jigsaws. Increasingly, I don’t see this as a skill, but as a hindrance. I read once that Lena Dunham ‘never stops writing’ and, you know, she is pretty awesome.

Despite my lack of workaholic tendencies, I have devoted the last few months – or more accurately two years – to one bit of writing specifically. My new solo show All The Things I Lied About (the acronym of which is ATTILA – which is most pleasing to the whole team) is heading up to Edinburgh on Monday.

I'm scared about it. It’s an honest show about dishonesty and it’s telling a very personal story – one that I’ve been trying to tell in every poem I’ve written over the last eight years.

At the heart of the story is domestic abuse. As any good compartmentalizer knows it’s useful to label things in life that scare or disturb you. Domestic abuse has been taped up inside a box clearly labeled ‘Physical Violence’ since I was young. I was very fortunate not to experience any form of it whilst growing up in my family or any of the families around me.

The problem with compartmentalizing, though, is that inevitably you will eventually have to open the box and what’s inside won’t look the way you expected it to, because you never tried to understand it in the first place.

When I was doing my GCSEs, I slacked off revision one afternoon and watched TV. An old black and white film was on – Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton. I’d been in a play of his and watching it made me feel all warm and sentimental about that. Until it didn’t. If you aren’t familiar with the film, a musician called Gregory marries a beautiful singer called Paula and urges her to move back to her family home in London with him. Once they are back he begins to manipulate her – convincing her slowly but surely that she is losing her mind – by playing with the gaslights in the house along with other daily deceptions. Gregory is a wanton jewel thief, when he sees the crown jewels early in the film an atmospheric twinkle appears in his eye, and he knows there are some pricey gems hidden in his wife’s house. His deceptions work well on Paula. At the climactic point of the film she is ready to be taken to the asylum, unable to fight her madness any more, despite being perfectly sane. The film stuck with me. In part because it was so believable (maybe not the twinkling eye of a jewel thief, but the little lies that lead to a woman’s total meltdown) and in part because, at the time, I was watching the exact thing happen to my mother.

My father hid a six-year-long affair from us and dealt with mum’s suspicions about it by telling her that she was crazy to have them. If you tell someone that they are unstable enough times – guess what? They will believe you. Then it will become true. 

When I watched the film it had a creeping sense of familiarity, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. We were still a few years away from discovering the truth and mum was going to get a whole lot less well in that time. Domestic abuse was so neatly taped inside that ‘Physical Violence’ box that I just couldn’t recognise it as that. No one ever spoke to us at school about psychological abuse in relationships, of the damage it can do, of how over time it can leave a person destroyed both physically and mentally. I learned that by watching the affect of it on my mum and I am still ashamed to say that I believed my father’s lies over her truth. I thought she was crazy, a nightmare, obsessive – all the things he suggested she was.

In December last year a pretty massive law change happened. The use of coercive and controlling behaviour in relationships became punishable by up to five years imprisonment. Psychological abuse is now officially recognized by law as a criminal act. As important as this law change is – and as overdue – we now have a long way to go to fully enforce it. Gaslighting (as this particular form of abuse is known – named after the film) is incredibly difficult to prove in court. What evidence are you going to give? You can share text messages and emails but what about the little comments, putdowns and late night arguments that go undocumented? The most challenging part of all is that the victim is slowly being broken down and is often unable to accept what is happening to them. They are a victim of abuse and their abuser controls them. It takes a lot of guts to start taping and logging conversations, let alone to even believe your situation warrants it.

I’ve thought a lot about what we can do. My strongest thought so far comes back to that box. I compartmentalized my mum’s abuse into invisibility. I couldn’t recognize it because I didn’t understand that abuse existed in that form. As with most things, I think this comes down to opening up a dialogue. Schools are beginning to teach students about the dangers of psychological abuse in relationships, a key to future generations addressing the problem at source and curbing the damage. I know that I personally need to be braver in opening up conversations with people I know and love when I see evidence of manipulation in their relationships. To be really clear – the abuser does not have to be a demonic jewel thief! Gaslighting begins often unconsciously as an act of protection or love towards the victim – it can just snowball from there very quickly into something much more insidious.

Whilst in Edinburgh, I’m going to be raising money for Women’s Aid – an incredible charity who offer support and rehabilitation for victims of domestic abuse. They lobbied steadfastly for this law change until it came to pass. They are doing phenomenal work and I encourage you – if you’re still reading this (thank you so much if you are!) – to look at their online case studies showing the effect of their work. If you can join me and WAF (Women's Aid Fundraising) by dropping a few pennies in the bucket after the show or making a donation please do.

There’s a long way to go still, but strong moves are being made and I am really heartened by that. One thing we can do immediately, though, is rip the tape off those boxes, take a good look inside and give them a new, more comprehensive label.

Three Booming Good Things

1) I'm a bit obsessed with Tig Notaro at the moment. Do you know Tig Notaro? As an avid This American Life listener Tig Notaro has been the one contributor who has made me laugh out loud every time she's been on - and not, like, "Ha! Very clever!" laughter, but the kind that creeps up on you hours later and makes you laugh all over again for seemingly no reason whilst you're waiting for your Piccino to arrive at the business end of the Starbucks counter. I hate that I just referenced Starbucks - damn it I did it again! - but we have one IN the school where I teach. I know. It is impossible to ignore and they now make this little tiny drink (officially Piccino, but surely we will all call it Picachu?) which is not not delicious. But they are corporate fiends and officially I hate them. Anyway TIG: she's amazing. In 2012, she was diagnosed with cancer just after her mum died, which happened just after she was diagnosed with a bacterial inflammation which was literally eating her insides. So she got on stage and did stand up about it - and it was incredible. That set was very much of its time, but everything she does has a dry brilliance to it. Listening to her work recently has been very inspiring. She trusts her audience completely, playing with pacing and pause - knowing that we're with her and drawing more laughter out of us in the suspension between words. I can't recommend her enough. You probably already know loads about her and are sat there in front of your Tig poster, wearing your Tig tshirt, like "Yeah Katie - OLD NEWS".

2) THANK YOU to everyone who came to watch All The Things I Lied About at the Vaults Festival. It was overwhelming how many people were there and how many people came to speak to me afterwards or got in touch. I know how important the subject matter of the piece is and how much it resonates with some people, I'm working hard now to do it justice. Thank you for your feedback, those who took their time to give it, for your laughter which lifted me beyond what I expected and your tears which grounded me in what this piece is for. More news on it soon. 

3) I had a really lovely time at Boomerang Club recently - what a warm and varied night it is - well worth a trek to the wild backwaters of Hammersmith! It is run by the lovely and talented Joel Auterson, Jake Wild-Hall and Tyrone Lewis - they're all heart and soul those lads and their night is too. Here's a film of a poem I performed there called Lanes. It's quite an old piece but it's never been filmed, so it makes me happy to have it in existence now beyond the memories of those that might have caught it in some field or stuffy room somewhere over the years..... 

Have a booming good day now x

Tell me sweet little lies....

SO excited for tonight's debut sharing of All The Things I Lied About. I mean, I say excited, but basically I feel sick and can't get Fleetwood Mac out of my head, which is kind of the same thing. We've been very lucky getting a mention from Lyn Gardner in her Top Tickets and in The Stage recommendations of the week too. All a bit overwhelming when you're still writing the show - but very lovely nonetheless. See you there liars!

 

Fifteen

I've been thinking a lot about being fifteen recently. Partly because I'm writing a show about my relationship with my dad at that age - histrionic and full of Dire Straits singalongs - and partly because it's nearly summer. This time of year will never not remind me of  sandwich bag pencil cases, chronic wrist ache and anxious Marlboro Lights smoked too quickly. It will always conjure the smell of the school hall. The white board simply reading START: and END:. It will also remind me of laughing so much I couldn't form words because Emma burped a ball of smoke when three of us were locked in the bathroom of a house party.  It was a time of extremis - I either felt totally connected or entirely bereft, rarely anything in-between. It was painful and brutal and gorgeous. 

Last year, I was working with some fifteen year old students as part of a local poetry festival. I performed a piece about my brother and our distant relationship and how it was deeply affected by my dad, who was having an affair throughout our teenage years unbeknownst to us. It's not the most comic poem I've ever written, but it isn't the most depressing either. It's ultimately positive and about love and the power and emptiness of family obligation. It's also just about this time when my brother got pissed off and hit the paddling pool really hard so it split and we floated down the garden on the wave of water that spilled out of it. Jokes. 

Anyway, I performed this poem and a student was affected by it.  She cried. The teacher told us afterwards that her father had left her mother recently, these were fresh wounds that I'd made contact with. I saw it as a positive response, though: I spoke to her afterwards and she was smiling, she held eye contact with me throughout - she was with me. The person I was employed by didn't agree with me, though, and banned me from performing all my family poetry from thereon in - because it was too 'upsetting'.

I was not very happy about that. I didn't agree with that decision. I wrote this.

Fifteen

I’m fifteen

Sitting opposite a boy

Who means nothing to me

We are smoking,

Me Marlboro Lights

Him B&H –

We have assumed the clearly defined

Nicotine gender roles

Of the 90s.

We have just had sex,

Two of us in my single bed

Unable to lie next to each other easily,

So there hasn’t been

Much cuddling.

I’m pretending it’s a thing I’ve done before

So is he

We pretend we liked it, at least.

He is saying

“I love a cigarette after sex”

I nod. Emphatically.

I am happy,

Finally – I think –

I can tell the girls at school I’m not a hymen hoarder anymore.

 

She is fifteen,

Sitting opposite me,

I mean nothing to her

And in that moment

She doesn’t need me to be

Anything other than what I am –

A name in her school’s

Visitor diary,

A face she’s unlikely to run into in Sainsbury’s,

An afternoon off Maths.

 

Her eyes hold my eyes

As I describe a father

Leaving behind a fractured family.

I can see

She knows the feeling

Of a lone palm patting a daughter’s knee

Whilst fingers cross behind a back,

That she knows what wading through a house flooded with

A mother’s lost sleep feels like

In the morning,

She knows the emptiness of breakfast,

And the pointlessness of socks.

 

Her arms are marked,

Human silver birch bark,

Tiny lines

Joint to wrist

She wears her sleeves rolled up

To display it

Her temporary tattoos of grief

And here,

Her eyes holding mine

She cries.

Maybe this is the first time she’s shown anything beneath the pork crackling sliced skin to friends.

 

We all pretend not to tense.

 

But you,

Blundering overseer,

Grand high worrier,

Drape your anxiety around her like a pink feather boa

You make her seem ridiculous

Draw attention to the fancy dress that no one else has worn.

You huff shuffle behind me

As if she’s taken out a razor

And is hovering over skin.

But her eyes are on mine.

And she’s smiling.

 

Fifteen.

When I gave my virginity away so that I wouldn’t feel different

And pretended I had a post-coital ritual in mum’s kitchen.

When I lived fist in throat

But scared of fighting,

Behind thick sheets of two way mirror

Observing accentuated perfection

In Emma’s eyelashes or Jo’s rack

And only had an Italian nose

And thighs that could suffocate puppies reflected back.

When my fingers knew the contours of my throat as well as my walk home from school

When I was always catching-up

And never leading,

When all I wanted was to lead

And I didn’t understand how powerful standing still could be.

Fifteen.

 

Later you tell me I can’t talk about these things to these young people because they’re upsetting.

Because it’s too much.

 

I remember every song lyric

I ever wanted to brand into my flesh

Because someone

Somewhere was admitting to the mess that everyone else was pretending wasn’t there.

 

You, scared of rocking the school portacabin,

Of raising choppy sea swell on this island we’re visiting

Scared it won’t be ‘fun’ or ‘nice’ if they cry

Of anything students write which isn’t about friendship or football or sunshine

Terrified of feelings sewn inside words

Don’t expect the same from her.

For her they could be Sudocreme

Or Burneze

Might bring a little comfort to the scabs she isn’t letting us see

And they might just as easily drop unwanted onto

Performing Art block carpet

But if even three of them land

A kiss of comfort on her cheek

I’m happy.

Me who never valued myself at fifteen

She is braver than me.

At least she’s saying:

‘This is hard –

This is not how I wanted it to be’

And you, 

So scared of losing next year’s slot

You’ve forgotten

Where you come from.

Towns and cities aside

We all rise from youth

Into maturity

We shouldn’t be scared of where we’ve been

And if we feel fear let’s look back and learn from them

Because they are in the midst of battling

They are at the crossroads of burial or growth

They are our spirit guides in passion and experimentation.

We

Numbed cowards,

Full of fear,

We know almost nothing.

OB/NB = OLD BLOG/NEW BLOG.

Good day!

As I'm launching this new website and blog, I thought I'd kick off with some entries from my old blog and the old site. A while back I decided to research a box of memories which I found in my old wardrobe - Valentine's cards that were sent and received before Valentine's Day became an ironic bad taste competition, notebooks from Thailand full of desperate but empty I love yous and endless drawings of Justin Frischman and the lead singer of Echobelly, whatever her name is (she is excellent). I decided to follow these starting points and see if they could morph into real people. They did. Here are a couple of entries from around that time, each labelled with OB/NB - where the old blog has been entered into the new blog. Natch.

Kx

OB/NB: 6TH FEBRUARY 2014.

Flesh and Buns. There’s a place to meet an ex. Flesh. And. Buns.

 

It was his suggestion and the menu looked so delicious and his emailed enthusiasm for its trendy status was so digitally infectious and it’s called Flesh And Buns, for God’s sake - who was I to say no?

 

I am a bit nervous. I am meeting my first love for the first time in a long time. In the name of research. I have a list of questions and events, a pile of diaries marked up heavily with Post It notes and a photo of us aged 17 in my aging Puma bag.

 

Tim, said first love, was never a boyfriend. He never received the whiskey fuelled grilling from my father or had to hastily jump in the wardrobe when Mom came upstairs. He was never the boyfriend, no, but he was the first boy I loved.

 

Aged 15, and having just discovered pubs that would serve us alcohol (‘They think we’re 18 - genuinely!’ - God we were idiots) we thought we ruled the world as soon as we had Malibu and lemonades and half a bottle of backwash and vodka inside us. Scrap that, we DID rule the fucking world. When we first met, in April 1995 according to my diary, I thought Tim was ‘sad’ (even though, as Tim hastily pointed out, the word had replaced an initial draft suggestion, which has been scrawled out violently). Two days later, I met Tim’s ‘tres belle’ (it was all about French substitutions in 1995) best mate, Tom. He was very beautiful indeed. I proceeded to obsess over Tom for three weeks (aaaaaaaaages) before meeting the next few crushes (on average, two a month). No one ever fancied me, though, so I wasn’t holding out hope with any of them. Over the next year, Tim and I ended up in the same place enough for us to chat a bit, get drunk a bit and, I guess, get on a bit. It was widely known that he had an excellent chest too, a fact that even the most ardent ‘Tim’s sad’ believers couldn’t dispute. I guess that, by April 1996, I thought he was ok. Cool even.

 

According to my super detailed diary, I started going out with the ‘tres belle’ Tom almost exactly a year later. We were at a party where a huge amount of drama unravelled. I was going out with TOM. Come on guys, seriously, TOM? HELLO? So what if one of my best mates was, like, in love with him? That shit can be fixed with pancakes and sweet little sorry notes. So what if Tim was going to ask me out that very night but chickened out at the last minute - hang on - what?

 

So now we’re in Flesh and Buns, and I’m asking a highly entertaining waiter what has wheat in it and neither of us can remember that happening. I find it weird that he was going to ask me out, but I’m pretty sure my 15 year old self didn’t make shit like that up. It seems extraordinary as, over the years that followed, there were large periods of time where I would have leapt on Tim if he’d even hinted at asking me out. But that never happened.

 

Suffice to say, what happened after I started going out with Tim’s best mate, isn’t something I’m desperately proud of. Tim’s admission that evening obviously stirred up something. After a conflicted few days of not being brave enough to kiss Tom (“I’ve only kissed seven boys and I didn’t even know their names” - class) save for one kiss in front of Louisa Jones (“who blabbed to everyone”), we all got drunk and I kissed Tim on a sofa in an allotment. Or he kissed me. Or we kissed each other (most likely).

 

I can safely say that kissing him was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. It was also the first massive fuck up I ever made with a boyfriend. It was not cool to kiss Tim. It was not cool at all (but it also...was...cool.....?).

 

So here we are, remembering blurred snatches of what followed (We talked about going out? We kissed whilst you were with your girlfriend? We made an arrangement to sleep together in 1997?) very clear memories of how it began. We both remember the night of the allotment clearly. We both remember which direction we were walking in, how we got down there, what the sofa looked like, how it felt. I reminded Tim about us kissing at a ball (a mass pissandkiss-up masquerading as something classier, I drank an entire bottle of Blue Nun at one of them and wore a silver dress that made me look like a pole dancer) underneath a table. He remembers nothing about it. I assured him it was cool.

 

And here we be. Two hours and two bottles of sake down. A hot stone bowl of egg, seaweed and rice that goes crunchy as it twice cooks almost emptied between us. Oi. Some bits of our relationship we remember the same. Some bits we remember slightly differently. There are a few moments when I just feel like I remember more than him full-stop. I’ve handed over my diaries and over the two years of emotional vomiting scrawled inside them, I talk about him consistently. Mostly in a pining (sometimes whining) always adoring way. Apart from that first ever reference to him where I call him categorically SAD. He’s now read pretty much all off that. All of the times I wrote his name out repeatedly, purposefully, drunkenly and usually surrounded by swear words through the sheer frustration of it all.

 

32 year old Tim’s off to a party with his long-term girlfriend and is going to buy a new coat on his way there. I haven’t bought a new coat since the one I got on the cheap (half off - so what if LOADS of other women have exactly the same one - shh!) two years ago and am headed for a night in with my long-term boyfriend and our baby, Netflix.

 

I leave feeling like I’m suffering a bit of emotional travel sickness. Some part of me possibly never felt quite good enough for Tim. Maybe because, after all those years of wanting him, we never quite made it work. He never ‘chose’ me, but sod that, I never ‘chose’ him either. So it’s a conflicted thing I feel. And weirdly, even though he has been nothing but lovely and a pleasure to see again, I leave this Flesh & Buns and inner turmoil spilling experience, where sake has fast become my new best friend, feeling a little like a dejected 16 year old. Maybe it’s because he read all that shit. Maybe it’s because I remember more specifics than him. Maybe it’s the sake. Who can say.

 

I walk home clutching my paper history, the six CDs I bought beforehand so I wouldn’t arrive early to meet him and notice that my coat must be due for a dry clean.

 

OB/NB: 21ST NOVEMBER 2013. DRESS OPTIONAL.

The dog has her period. She is the only dog I know who feels sorry for herself when she has her period and guys - I’ve known a few dogs, yeah? She’s lying next to me as I type, every so often angling her head up, ears down, whites of her deep brown eyes peeping out. What. A. Dick.

 

Sadly, she’s not the only one feeling sorry for herself in this here house. Mom’s alright. Some of the light bulbs under her kitchen units need replacing and they’re right tricky buggers to get out, but she’ll get over it. It’s me - ME who’s all self-pity and wallowing!

 

The reason for this is twofold:

1)  I am becoming increasingly convinced that one of my ex-boyfriends hates me.

2)  I am becoming increasingly concerned by the moral minefield that is this show.

 

When I decided to make this piece about memories, meeting up with friends and first loves and sharing the warping of our inarguably now grown up minds over time, I thought it’d be a laugh. A bit up and down inevitably, but pretty much just brilliant fun. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it IS. Even though when I do meet up with people I have to steer the conversation, pull out the old Voice Memo function and make sure that my criteria have been hit before we can start boozing or genuinely enjoying each other’s company, it’s still.....fun. But I have, well, concerns.

 

I won’t talk too much about the ex boyfriend who possibly hates me. Suffice to say so far he has not been back in touch and I have come to realise that I have very little (no) recollection of how we broke up. None whatsoever. If I’m really, really honest, I’m more worried about discovering something shitty I did to a really lovely human being and forgot about than anything else. Everyone has a right to their privacy and, Christ, it is a bit weird to be asked out of the blue to meet up and talk memories with your ex girlfriend who you haven’t spoken to in eleven years.

 

This is where I’m really becoming unstuck. I’m trying to be as respectful, understanding and careful as possible in terms of how I approach people in this process. I genuinely want people to know that I will respect their right to not participate and I have absolutely no interest in slagging people off or mocking them in any way. But where do you draw the line? In writing about myself I am writing about other people, their lives and memories and - as an old school friend remarked to me today in an email - it feels like a whole different life now. I’m dragging up a part of their lives they may have absolutely no desire to think about. And I’m doing it to make a piece of theatre. Is there something horrible selfish in this? Or self-indulgent?

 

Essentially, this post is a little bit like me staring up at you as the dog’s still staring up at me. White’s flashing. Pity-me ears flattened to head. What. A. Dick.

 

Basically, just because I want to metaphorically get naked in public, it doesn’t mean other people want to get their kit off too. I reckon all I can do is tread softly and carry a big notebook. Right? Maybe grow an extra layer of skin. For when I get naked. And accept that when that happens it might just be me doing it and that that will be A-Ok. I have now talked so much about getting naked that I’m having images of performing this show naked, but I should say - publicly - that’s almost definitely not going to happen. So.

 

I’m back off to London tomorrow, my boyfriend’s mum is getting married and, in the search for a card in the infamous Card Drawer, me and Mom found an invitation written by an old school friend. It has a hand drawn flower on the front, coloured with purple and green pencils. on the inside, written very neatly in blue fountain pen, it reads:

 

You are cordially invited to an Old Time Music Hall,

6.30-7.30pm

June 20th

Dress optional

R.S.V.P.

 

Maybe that’s what I should add to my emails. To my missives of hopeful reconnection. Dress optional.

 

OB/NB: 25TH OCTOBER 2013

I’m on the train. Rather than choosing to find my booked seat (facing direction of travel, plug, quiet carriage) I gave up one carriage early and am sitting facing the wrong direction with a child four seats down shouting “No - Jeffery!” repeatedly. I mean, he’s about one year old. He probably isn’t shouting about Jeffrey. But that’s what it sounds like. I have a G&T and a fierce ambition for solitude. I’ll survive.

 

I’m off home, which is ordinarily a journey I hate to be honest. Going home is like a sickening reminder of everything I find tricky in life and never find the guts to deal with. I haven’t spoken to my father for almost four years, despite his contact with the rest of my family, and I still haven’t unpacked since we moved houses a year and a half ago. A couple of different types of baggage going on there. Also, I always catch the dog drinking pond water and, even though I know it makes her sick I never stop her. Seeing the dog is a definite plus, though. On my last day in the house, she follows me around, pretending to be my shadow, hoping I’ll let her tag along on the train. Oh. So. Quiet. When I first arrive she’ll bounce up as high as my face which, for a creature with 2 inch legs is pretty darn impressive. She’s a peach, I tell you. A peach.

 

The reason I’m heading back on this late nigh train, is to commence research on my new show, working title I Love You 44%. I have been working with brilliant director Joe Murphy, bouncing a few ideas around about being a teenager. I’m a bit obsessed with being a teenager because - well - it was pretty intense, wasn’t it? Pretty intense and incredible and horrible. It’s was horribly brilliant. Horribrill.

 

We’ve settled on an investigation into memory which, without giving too much away, involves me doing a lot of visiting the past. Tomorrow I am going to my old school. Even my G&T isn’t stopping me from feeling sicky about that. My old school. These are the places I am going to aim for first:

1)  where we used to smoke behind the Art Block

2)  where we held a seance in the supposedly haunted Music School

3)  where I once snuck into school at night to have sex on the hockey pitch

4)  the Cadbury’s machine (this was pretty central to my experience, I remember them fitting it well - we were all, like, ‘Woah!’)

5)  my old Geography room (possibly the only one I remember)

6)  the door where Jo sliced her wrist open during a Coke fight

7)  the place where Jo used to smoke on the hockey pitch (her ploy was smoking in PAIN SIGHT, it was stupidly brilliant)

I think the marketing manager is keen to show me some alternative sights, which will probably be super interesting as well. I’m also going to meet up with the girl I had joint birthday parties with until I was 11 years old, who lives in Shrewsbury now. And then I’m going to make a sort of map of the town as I remember it, which is a lot smaller and full of hiding places than it really is in real life.

 

I’m intending to keep blogging while I’m writing, partly because that will make me feel less lonely even if no one reads it and partly because I will need to make sense of what will essentially be quite a strange process. I discovered an old biscuit tin which I’d decorated with pictures of Eternal, Blur, Justine Frischman, Leonardo - you name a 90s icon and they  are probably in there somewhere. Inside it are a series of letters, cards, drawings, all sorts. The plan is to follow each of these starting points back to a person I shared a memory with and borrow their memory from them for the show. Yeah, I’m strapping in.