It was 1966 and I was a carefree teenager with a boyfriend, a job in an art gallery, long hair and short skirts. I’d taken a good few steps into the world of politics and culture, all of them fun and enjoyable (the swinging ‘sixties made sure of that) and art and pleasure and the overturning of society seemed to be a unity then – because we – youth – were changing the world just by being. (Actually we were changing the world just by being serious economic contributors towards it… but I don’t think we thought of ourselves as useful tools of capitalism with our open purses then). And of course, along with my crowd of friends, I knew everything.
But then came those BBC wonderful, shocking Wednesday plays (1964-1970) which showed the darker, less pretty side of our Brave New World of Youth. And out of those plays, along came the trio of Jeremy Sandford, Ken Loach and Tony Garnett who took them to a new level – backed by the independent and brave BBC. Cathy Come Home changed my world forever. It frightened me, it shocked me, it made me realise how close I had become in my own life to being a child in care. No wonder my mother worked her socks off in a filing systems factory to keep paying the rent, no wonder she put up with her demanding mother moving in with her so that her daughters had childcare, and no wonder she was unhappy and died poor and far too young – the chill of the social meant she was on a treadmill and could never get off. I remember very clearly how stunned my boyfriend (who would one day be my husband) and I were at the end of the Sandford/Loach/Garnett play. He said it made him see our vulnerability in the world – especially mine – I just saw what I had always taken as the ultimate goal – marriage and babies – as being something other than glistering gold. Things could go wrong – circumstances could topple your world – Cathy’s story might be fiction but it happened to people every day.
I’ve been talking to lots of brilliant bookish minds about Dog Days – read on.
Monday – The Writes of Woman
Tuesday – The Bookshop Around The Corner
Wednesday – Debra’s Book Cafe
Thursday – Annabel’s House of Books
Friday – Nut Press
The only drawback to e-books is that – unlike print books – an author cannot sit opposite a reader of one of her books, recognise it from the cover and watch the reader’s every facial tick, smile, head shake, stony stillness, ear twitch. So, I tend to sit on the tube and imagine that any reader with an e-book who appears to be enjoying themselves is reading one of mine. It’s not an entirely convincing leap of imagination but it gets you through the Piccadilly Line.
Would, for instance, the handsome young man with his earring and his designer trainers sitting in the seat opposite really be reading M.Cheek’s finest? Well – why not? I was once teaching an Arvon course and one of the participants was a tough looking youngster in his early ‘twenties – leather jacket, hair shaved at the sides, quite a lot of tattoos, reflective shades and a four day growth… He had been fairly silent in the workshop so far. I was talking about the art of combining emotion with autobiographical detail while keeping control of the text – and – looking the young man straight in the sunglasses – I took a deep breath and quoted one of my all-time favourite books – J G Ballard’s gentle, perfect hymn to the women he had loved and had been loved by – ‘The Kindness of Women’ – of which there is nothing of the Elmore Leonard or Irvine Welsh – and, given the softness of the title, expected a curled lip from my hip young student. Instead he removed his sunglasses and said ‘It’s one of my favourite books – it’s just so beautiful and so touching…’ Lesson learned, Mrs Cheek. And it’s legacy is that I can imagine whomsoever I like reading a novel of mine – the more unlikely, the better.
I’d like to send you a short story, for free – you just need to tell me where to send it