On reading ‘Slipstream’

I’m currently working on an article for a competition, and that has had me thinking a lot – more than usual – about the process of writing. It may be no coincidence, but I’ve also been reading Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Slipstream. At first I thought it was like reading a boiled down version of the Cazalet series, but as Howard revealed more of her adult-self,  the Cazalet’s were left behind. This isn’t a review of Slipstream, which will come, but I guess my reaction to it… particularly when thinking of myself in parallel to it.

It is comforting that Howard struggled with her identity as a writer, and also with her practice as a writer. It wasn’t until she was in her 50s (I think) that she found herself as a writer. She seemed to struggle to fit in writing with a busy life – something that another published writer told me she struggled with. I sometimes think I get too easily distracted by ‘life’, (sailing, travelling, exercise/fitness), and this fuels the self-critic. If I was wedded to writing, I’d be up in my garret to the expense of everything else. However, I don’t want to stop doing any of the things that I do, so I must be content, and make the most of, the time that remains. I am a part-time writer, at best, and I write something every day. I don’t have months of paralysis, or block. I am always writing something.

That said, it’s been a while since I tackled the mountain that is my project, my manuscript. It was actually two months, because I was busy travelling. I have journals fat with words and several nuggets for stories that serve the writerly me as a result. Also, when I came back to the project, I spent a painful afternoon facing up to the fact that the narrative voice is all wrong. Did the distance help that? It meant that when I started writing, again, I changed it. I have wrestled with the inner critic (still in the Fogou) and resisted the urge to go back to the beginning and fix that – there is more to fix than the narrative voice, and I’ll fix that on the second draft. The first draft is shit, remember!

I was also comforted by Howard, when she wrote of being immobilised by fear. And that was even when the writing was going well – she would worry that she would wake up the next day, and the muse (my expression) would have left her. Kingsley Aimis taught her the disciplines in her writing practice, which, if I’m honest, I still think I have to learn. I am better than I was, but I am still a little wayward in my writing habits.

So, for any writer who wants some comfort, or even inspiration, I recommend Slipstream. It’s no bad thing either writing a composition on the process of writing. However, both eat up manuscript writing time, and that’s also something I shouldn’t shirk. But then, put simply, Writers write, and I know I do just that.

What happens when The Kids Company closes its doors?

Last night there were rumours beginning that The Kids Company was going to close its doors. This made me feel incredibly sad. I’ve long been a fan of the outspoken Camila Batmanghelidjh, and the quest of her work. However, it has always been viewed as work at the fringes of conventional practice, but then, the client base has largely been working with those kids that existed on the margins of society.

I worked for a year in Place2Be in 2005, which is when I first came across her. Camila was one of the original founders, although no one would really talk about her contribution – perhaps unfairly, but I had the feeling that it wasn’t an easy parting. She was viewed as high risk by the professionals I came across then, undoubtedly with some results, but it was viewed as being beyond the place of ethical safe practice. Hell, we weren’t even allowed to touch a child who was in distress in the Place2Be room. If you read Camila’s book, Shattered Lives, a series of letters to the damaged children she has known and worked with, it gives an idea of the strength of her passion, resolve, way of working, and the results.. not always orthodox.

In August 2011 Britain seemed to be on the edge of a revolt and uprising by a movement of disaffected youth. I was intrigued to read what Camila had to say in her headline piece in The Independent. She made some bold statements, but that isn’t uncharacteristic. Camila has often been called on over the years to speak about Britain’s sub-culture of youth, and what causes it. It is always fascinating.

The fact that The Kids Company is about to close has to go beyond the role of one person. It is a registered charity in receipt of public funding. In both cases it has to be accountable, BY ITS BOARD. Perhaps this is why two directors resigned in January. From recent reports in the media storm, this is where the charity has come undone, with the latest reports suggesting that the government bailout, meant for restructuring (on condition that Camila resigns as Chief Executive) has been used to pay staff – a staggering £800,000 payroll bill. It would also seem they did a deal with HMRC. Questions also have been made about the number of children treated in the centres, some 36,000 children. Apparently it includes the ‘whole class’ of any child that was directly treated. It is the bending and stretching of facts and ethics that troubles me.

What is now sad is what will happen to those children (and that won’t be 36,000) who were being supported. Hopefully as the closure will take place in school holidays, the children will have had a managed and ethical exit as the school term closed. It’s how we used to manage it at Place2Be back in the day. Let’s hope that the rise and fall of The Kids Company retains the focus on what happens to these children, and not solely the colourful, and inspirational, Camila Batmanghelidjh.