Butterflies and books

I had a vision last week. No, not Rebekah Brooks’ face appearing in a slice of toast, sadly. It happened during a Health Kinesiology session with my wonderful friend E, who is training to be a practitioner. I’m one of her guinea pigs, which is more than fine with me – I’ve used HK on and off for many years and she’s already one of the best, most intuitive practitioners I’ve worked with.

Kinesiology is one of those complementary therapies that divides people. There’s absolutely no scientific evidence that it works. It’s properly holistic: either you ‘get’ the premise that your body has infinite wisdom and a skilled practitioner can interpret its weaknesses, blocks, and imbalances, and then help to resolve physical, emotional and spiritual issues, or you don’t. I’m very into all branches of ‘energy medicine’, which includes acupuncture, so HK has been, for me, a crucial aspect of my treatment since the day of my breast cancer diagnosis. It helps that E knows me extremely well, and sometimes one of the ‘things’ that comes up, that my body and soul is urgently requesting, is as simple as a big belly laugh or a massive squeezy hug.

Anyway, after balancing all my energy points last week, the ‘thing’ that came up, bizarrely, (an HK session is frequently an open-minded adventure into the unknown, even if you think you know what you’re there for) was the apparently random word ‘ridding’. E held various points on my head, while I had to focus on the word ‘ridding’ and let the context of what it meant just sort of come to me.

I concentrated on ridding. Ridding ridding ridding. The first thing that came to mind, obviously, was being rid of f*cking caancer. Then ridding myself of cancer treatment. Focusing on these two things, I felt hot tears streaming down my cheeks as I felt very deeply all over again the full horror of having cancer and going through all the treatment. Then, after a few minutes, something weird happened. The tears stopped. In my head there was a pause, a moment of immense, bottomless calm. And then I had the vision.

It was me, or rather, The New Me. Pinchy, version two point zero. Like a butterfly stepping out of its chrysalis, I saw myself, in technicolour, striding forward, with cancer and its treatment fully behind me in the monochrome distance. I had a huge smile on my face. My hair was long, red and glossy again. I walked tall, my head high (I was also very slim, wearing tight white jeans and looked a bit like Elle McPherson on the school run, but hey, it’s MY VISION, OK?).

Pinchy on the school run. Liderally in my dreams.

It wasn’t just cancer behind me – it was all the old aspects of myself that no longer serve me: anxiety, depression, fear, that extra stone of weight, anger, lack, guilt, a desperate need for love and approval – all the crap stuff that has been my own personal albatross around my neck almost since I was a child.

And what was I moving forward to? Quite spontaneously, in the vision it was utterly normal, and inevitable, that I was a successful novelist. I am cringing slightly writing this, because it sounds a bit arrogant. Also, my loved ones have listened to me saying for practically decades that what I have always really, really wanted to do is write fiction, and then watched me do precisely bugger all about it. Writing novels – good, intelligent, funny, best-selling, award-winning ones, naturally – is what I have always thought of as simultaneously my purpose on this planet, and waaaay too scary to even start. I have a couple of dusty first chapters tucked away, but I’ve never embarked on a serious attempt to crack out my first literary baby. I’ve always been too scared. But there’s something about cancer that makes you laugh in the face of the things you once feared. Because the really scary thing happened, and I got through it.

So that simple, slightly clunky word, ‘ridding’, was exactly right. Focusing on it and watching the subsequent slideshow in my head was an intense experience. After the session had ended, I felt quite drained, but full of quiet, nameless purpose. I didn’t really go into detail with E, or DH, or anyone else about what I had seen. I didn’t analyse it. I needed to let my subconscious chew it over for a few days. Then this week, during a coaching session with the pretty darn brilliant Amanda Alexander, I spilled the beans. As always, Amanda’s sessions are a ‘safe’ place to articulate things you haven’t really said, to yourself or anyone else, and then suddenly you’ve taken the first step from turning a dream into reality. Started to put some flesh on those bones. Telling her about my vision brought it more fully to life. It was extraordinary, like I’d actually seen the future.

Even more interestingly (to me, anyway, I am well aware there are fewer things duller than hearing other people’s dreams, but bear with me), I don’t feel any sense of rush or urgency to get started. I know what I need to do right now, now I’ve put this picture out into the universe, is to just wait patiently until the right idea for my first novel comes to me. I have a sense that writing it will be effortless, like channelling the story, rather than grinding it out. I’ve never suffered from writer’s block, professionally, but I do tend to end up sailing quite close to deadlines because I’m waiting for my muse to land on my shoulder. I say it jokingly, but that’s exactly what happens. When the time is right to write, and my head is in the right space, the writing just happens, in perfect flow, with no force required.

In the meantime, I could read a few more books about the novel form, get stuck into Julia Cameron’s ‘Artist’s Way’ again (stream-of-consciousness writing every morning, as an exercise in disciplined creativity), and maybe find myself some sort of mentor in this area. But there’s plenty of time.

So now I’ve said it, out loud. I really am going to write a novel, quite soon. And you can hold me to that. Let’s just get the remaining 11 radio ga ga sessions out of the way first.

*Thanks so much to everyone who has voted for me in the Loved By Parents Blogger of the Year awards! The deadline for votes is now 5 August, so if you haven’t done so yet, please please please go to the website and put a tick next to Pinchypants. I thank you, my lovely comrades.


Snow White and the seven ‘warves’…

Don’t you just love those old Ladybird books? One of DD’s grandmas lent her the original Ladybird version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves last week. I was really looking forward to reading it to her as I remembered it so clearly from my own childhood. Or thought I did. As I sat my three and a half year old little treasure on my capacious lap and started to read, I became more and more uncomfortable with the story and the language.

After all, imagine a budding children’s author today pitching an idea for a story for pre-schoolers: ‘Yeah, it’s about this young girl who lives with seven short middle aged men and it includes multiple mentions of death, evil, attempted murder, poison and Poe-esque coffin entrapment’. Imagine publisher booting writer out of plush Bloomsbury offices and calling The Authorities.

Needless to say, DD survived the reading of Snow White and the seven ‘warves’, as she calls them. (No, I don’t know what a warf is). I asked two trusty mummy friends what they thought, and they were unfazed: didn’t do us any harm, it’s parents rather than kids who get all uptight about scary tales, small children take things at face value rather than attach emotion to them, look at how much kids have always loved the Brothers Grimm and Roald Dahl. And let’s not even talk about the backstories of children’s writers/books like Alice Through the Looking Glass and the Narnia stories.

OK, I get this, but I still wondered if there were any modern books telling the story of Snow White that are a little less graphic and a little more humorous, that might fit better into a household addicted to all things Julia Donaldson (who features her fair share of ‘mild peril’, it has to be said). 

A longish chat and look round with the lovely girl in Waterstones confirmed that all three or four recently published versions essentially tell the same story with just as many mentions of death, poison, evil etc etc. (DD set eyes on the Disney version in book form so we had to leave pronto before I sold another piece of my pink princess’s soul to Walt), and I have concluded that we may as well keep on reading the classic Ladybird book.

No nightmares so far, unlike after every reading of Zagazoo (when he turns into the hairy creature, Quentin Blake’s pictures terrify even me, reminding me of the cloud men in the early editions of James and the Giant Peach).

So what do you think? Have any children’s books made you squirm a bit? Have your little ones ever been upset by a story? Or does it all just wash over them?

Soren Lorensen and other Maginary Friends

Around the time that DS arrived in the world, DD, then two, started talking about someone called Emma. A girl called Emma had just started at nursery, so I assumed it was her. Then it became clear that Emma was her brand new imaginary friend. She knows perfectly well that Emma isn’t real – last winter my mum was quizzing her about what Emma looked like and DD said, with some exasperation, ‘Grandma, Emma isn’t real, she’s my Maginary Friend!’.

More than a year later, Emma is more or less constantly with us, and at some point along the way she got herself a new baby brother, called Pang (I have absolutely no idea where this name comes from), who, coincidentally, is the same age as DD’s real baby brother and does what he is doing. Except Pang is usually asleep and you couldn’t say that about DS.

This morning I was told I couldn’t follow right behind DD on the stairs because ‘you will step on Emma’. She joins us for meals, and playtime, and trips in the car and into town, and even comes on playdates. Emma (or Pang) has also started taking the blame for suspicious ‘pop-pop’ smells emanating from DD’s rear, pushing DS over, breaking things, and making mess.

I think this is very sweet, and completely normal, and probably useful. As far as I can see, Emma is not only a companion and confidante, but the relationship between Emma and Pang might be helping DD deal with her usurped place as sole child, and her status as a big sister. DH worries that Emma ‘exists’ because DD is lonely – he had his own imaginary friend when he was little – but I don’t think she is. Sometimes when she wants to see a particular real friend who isn’t around, she says stuff like ‘I’m pushing Maginary xx on the swings’. Lola and her imaginary friend Soren Lorensen, named after Lauren Child's godson, apparently.

DD does have a few special friends, but she’s not yet at the age where her real friendships have much depth, because the language and emotional intelligence isn’t quite there, so maybe Emma is someone who completely understands her, without having to try and explain. I didn’t have an imaginary friend but we did have a big old cat called Bluey who I used to say was my best friend, and I do remember telling her things.

I expect one day Emma and Pang will just fade away as real friendships evolve and deepen, although Emma might actually help DD through things like starting school, as Soren Lorenson helped Lola in ‘I Am Absolutely Too Small for School’. In the meantime, I’ll have to put up with their pop-pops as well as DH’s.