I was privileged to do a slot for the launch of Hastings Women’s Labour Forum and Kay has written a smashing review. Thank you! Chuffed to share to my blog.
activist, author, disability rights, disabled actors, girlpower, inclusion, internationalwomensday, Leicester, on tour, ontheroad, pennypepper, performance poet, poems, poet, thenakedpunk, woman writer, women, WordLesta, writer, writing, Writing workshop
Happy New Year!
I know I’m a bit late, but then I’ve been immersed – in writing and in edits. Edits are usually not a writers’ favourite job, but it’s where you see the magic and – with blood and tears – you fall in love with your work again. As I did with my novel in progress, Fancy Nancy. She’s like no one you can imagine, but I hope you’ll take her to your hearts – soon.
I did do a piece for The Guardian G2 a few weeks ago about disabled actors and the resistance to employing them, while non-disabled actors get given the roles instead. There’s an endless whine of reasoning about why disabled actors can’t do it. Let me unpick them…
Not experienced enough!
This is not a situation exclusive to disabled actors, but the main challenge is the extreme lack of access to training and audition venues. If you don’t get to try, and fail, and try again, how the hell do you get to have this experience, which they crow you don’t have?!
Disabled people can’t take the strain of the punishing schedules!
Some bright sparks on Twitter lectured me about this. I never really respond to downright self-righteous stupidity – wastes my energy. I am certain these commentators don’t know any disabled actors, and probably not many disabled people. One was fixated on spinal-injured actors putting schedules six weeks behind. Dearie me. Why six and not five? Or eight? I also mused that this idea wipes out the capabilities of a whole lot of international, highly buff, intensely trained Paralympians. But there is one name to conclude this argument: Liz Carr. Clarissa Mullery in BBC’s Silent Witness. I’ve never once heard Liz say, ‘poor me, the schedules’.
Besides, the film industry are used to managing all manner of rescheduling and anyone who’s read stuff on Hollywood and beyond, will know this can be as simple as a star not having the right mineral water, or yoga mat…
There aren’t enough disabled actors!
And old and mouldy chestnut my dears. Fuck off with this nonsense. There are hundreds in the UK. Ask the actors union, Equity. As Graeae Theatre Company who has trained generations. Including me in 2005/06, a time I remember with happy memory, gaining skills I use to this day in my spoken word gigs.
It’s a silly idea. Actors are actors – this is PC nonsense! And who really cares?
The hardest view to unravel because it is unreasoned. Thankfully we no longer accept “blacking up” and we should not accept “cripping up”. There will and should be fluidity around this – but let’s get some genuine equality into this argument first. Such statements come from a sense of superiority and privilege, not experience and genuine knowledge of a disabled life. Other flabby comments suggested it was a slippery slope where no one, could play any one unless the demographic matched. No, simply get diversity into the mix first, and stop with this puerile reductionism.
There will be another rant in a similar vein – about opportunities for writers who want to share the disability experience further. Not around ISSUES. And it is always a block caps thing, these ISSUES. Disabled people are mothers, fathers, criminals, lovers, workers, artists. Writers. But you’d hardly know it from the creative industry.
I don’t carry a chip on my shoulder, I carry a damn bag of ISSUES I never asked to carry! – Penny Pepper says…
Must briefly mention my upcoming visit to Leicester and the Attenborough Arts Centre. The Naked Punk Project gets underway on 28th February and if you’re local, do come and join in. Words and wordage, spoken and said, I’m bringing the Penny way to you with other great talent on the bill. I’m excited, yes I am,and look forward to seeing loads of you there. From Leicester, all the way back to Newham in East London, for 7th March… but that’s for the next time!
Four stanzas. That’s posh for verses.
Iambic pentameter. Sonnet. Triple posh.
The working-class girl who was given a book of Edward Lear poems aged 6 1/4 as a get-well present and never recovered. Actually, never regretted.
I love me Shakespeare too and I love a structure because then, I know how to break it, kick it, reinvent it and go free, free flow. Tip for today.
In the photo you can see a sonnet I did earlier. Sonnet for Blues and Rain.
anarchist, author, barriers, disability, feminist, firebomb, Frustration, inequality, labels, Morning Star, obstacles, Othering, poet, pussycat, second class citizen, socialist, stereotyping, storyteller, writer
The swifts stay high and the sparrows still chatter by my seaside home.
Yet this week The Naked Punk wants a riot of her own. Not in the sense of fun and riotous pleasure, but in the sense of approaching the level of firebombing. On each little Molotov cocktail there will be the word FRUSTRATION. What has set off my rarely seen streak of aggro?
The fact that today, again, in 2018, the 21st century, I was forced to use a stinky back entrance to access services.
This was after being told at the front of the building that not only was the platform lift broken, but pointy man gesticulated and exclaimed “that thing” (i.e. my wheelchair) couldn’t go on the lift anyway. Naturally this was said over my head, aimed in the general direction of my PA. Add to this the journey to the rear entrance was bumpy and unpleasant, smelly overflowing commercial sized bins crammed up along the path hindering access further.
This all screams SPECIAL NEEDS. It all screams medical model. It all screams inequality.
That’s my experience earlier of an environmental barrier, which quite frankly in this day and age should not exist.
Meanwhile, just a little reminder that I work for a living as a writer. I know I’ve worked hard and I’m proud of my achievements. But still I am patronised, still I am shoved into categories I don’t like and I don’t choose.
Every day as a creative I face vast inequality and it is overwhelmingly rooted in prejudiced and hypocritical attitudes.
I love and thank those that have had faith in me and my work, who have seen beyond the stereotyping, who understand I am a storyteller with a lot to say.
Yet love and understanding on its own may not remove a barrier and I am tired, as I fly fast through my 50s, of this very long battle that is never ending. But we can never allow ourselves, those of use defined as the Other, to slip back and accept our status as second class citizens, those who must “accept reality”, “be pragmatic”, accept our labels as “common sense”.
The next time a venue tells me it has no accessible space for me to perform in, I will not be indulgent.
And the next magazine to claim no one is interested in these stories I tell will be shamed with full throttle Pepper retaliation.
But hey, you know I’m a pussy cat really – although even we will show our claws when me must. You have been warned. Miaow.
Now on the south coast, the evenings often long and sunny, the swifts are back and fly over my house as dusk falls. They are so regular it’s spooky. I dash out to see them soar and shriek at speeds that seem impossible. Their presence is undeniable and brings a welcome shift of focus in my life. As do the sparrows chattering away in the small trees along my street.
Naturally there are gulls, mostly herring gulls, who get in on the act, although not as much as might be imagined.
Last weekend I was invited to the Derby Book Festival to do a reading and signing of First in the World Somewhere. Yes, The Naked Punk went on the road. The fun bits are meeting people, finding out about them and what triggered interested in your book. There’s no point in second guessing this as I always get it wrong. The most unusual reason was because the person buying the book, caught onto the fact that I once had a cat called Heathcliffe – just like they did. Never mind the bollocks, never mind my rage against Thatcher. As usual it’s all down to cats. Ably interviewed by the lovely Bea Udeh, poet, producer and mentor (@BeaUdeh),
I even enjoyed the moment when an old childhood friend remembered me doing an impression of Ted Heath when I was about 12 years old.
These happy experiences often come in counterpoint, because there remains a great big weight of stereotype over my head. To some, I can only be “the disabled” and this means a variety of things. Sometimes that I have no voice of my own, sometimes that I am merely “the cared for”.
And sometimes that I have no choice. As often happens to those of us defined as The Other.
Thankfully reading from the book and signing a few pages lessens these isolating experiences and reminds me of what has to be done. And very soon The Naked Punk is on the road again to do just that.
author, compassion, disabled woman, diversity, East Sussex, England, feminism, feminist, inclusion, journalist, Naked, new stories, performer, poet, pride, privilege, punk, social justice, spoken word, storytelling, subvert, woman writer, women, writer
Why am I The Naked Punk?
Punk is my raw beginning. It saw my writing find a raging home in early fanzines. It fired a freedom in me to start accepting myself, that I was OK as a human being, as a woman, as a creative, who could challenge the categories imposed upon me. It is the energy that triggered my activism, and my passion for social justice and equality.
I’m Naked because I strive to be open in my writing, to show what needs to be shown.
Stories that strip away stereotype and expectation, stories that you’ve not heard before, because we’ve been barred from that privileged club for so long.
My stories subvert and maybe challenge, in the same way I provoke when I’ve posed naked – literally – for artists and photographers, and when I’ve performed burlesque. To draw an audience into a nakedness, to share the fun and the message: accept yourself, accept a new story.
Sometimes it’s good to know when I’m too naked. When the challenges we all face conspire to make us vulnerable and forgetful of protecting ourselves. I don’t want to be in this space. No one should, and we can find compassion for ourselves and each other to not let this happen. Naked is always a choice.
As The Naked Punk, I’ll always be on this bumpy journey.
I don’t have answers and it’s not easy – but through my work I’ll enjoy sharing punky naked questions along the way.
29 December 2017
Counting the hours till 2018. Not wishing time on exactly, but restless now for new beginnings even if the battles are old.
Lots happened this last year. My book First in the World Somewhere was published by Unbound/Penguin and it’s out there in the bookshops. I’ll be visiting many in 2018. It was a privilege to launch it at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre in London – with super lovely comedian and writer Francesca Martinez as compère for the event.
I secured a contract with Burning Eye Books and my first ever poetry collection, Come Home Alive, will come out in 2018
Good things, achievements I’m delighted with and thankful for.
Beautiful and enjoyable times with dear friends. I love my friends. Treasures everyone. Thank you all so much.
But. Of course there’s a but.
I was ill a fair bit. Got better. Got ill again. And so on. The main reason for no blog, including increased work commitments.
And another BUT is from the continuing and devastating attacks on disabled people. Including myself. Social care threatened. Benefits threatened. Demonisation of anyone not within the monied elite. Condemned for being poor. Believe me, this is the worst of Victorian thinking. It’s your fault for being born in the wrong family. It’s your fault for acquiring an impairment, it’s your fault for getting old…
We have to decide what we want. What sort of world. How we relate to each other within the human family. Look outside this monstrous over-fed capitalism and its control of the media. See that we are kind and open to talk and share when we can look beyond their attempts to brainwash us.
I’ve got my pen ready, metaphorically speaking. I’ll poke back wherever I can. Rely on it.
Happy New Year.
Here be spoilers…
I liked Rogue One but it was a bit of a struggle. My fault for going 3D. My eyes are too wobbly for it these days. Yes, things loom out at me but often I can’t work out who the hell they are, as the action unfolds in a sort of grey murk.
What did loom out early on was a few CRIP characters. Not crip actors, you understand, don’t be ridiculous. When Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) stomps forth on steampunky metal limbs, sucking at an oxygen mask, I turned to my friend and hissed “Crippled baddie alert?” But I was wrong! Saw – who I imagined was called Sore till I read up on the characters – was one of the heroes. As was Donnie Yen’s blind Chirrut Îmwe, in a slick Force themed take on the Blind Martial Arts hero legends, sending endless stormtroopers to their doom. Our lead hero GIRL, Jyn Erso (Beau Gadson), is appealing and believably gutsy, not remotely doe-eyed, even when she gets a snog near the end.
The story is a side-plot set somewhere in the faraway galaxy, months before the one which unfurls in the very first Stars Wars with the Death Star stuff. Which I went to see as a teenager, never guessing we’d still be lapping up these new adventures.
Darth Vader is in RO, and a horrible CGI creation of Peter Cushion, who I have much affection for, being a child weaned on prime Hammer. No. Wrong.
There’s a lot of shooting and explosions, in decimated desert landscapes, aliens and humanoids alike, scuttling – and screaming – through ancient temples, dressed in vaguely Arabic style garb and face coverings. Hmm.
As the tension builds – there’s information to find for the rebels, and baddies to avoid – RO becomes loud and exciting in its grip. There’s a gargantuan battle. Several. My mouth was dropping and I couldn’t imagine the outcome. Surprisingly, most people die. Including an entertaining sarky robot called K, who like a number of the cast, is very British, which I found obscurely funny.
In a closing scene, fittingly, if sadly, Princess Leia played by the late Carrie Fisher lights up the screen with a young luminous smile.
May the Force be with us all.
No 1: housing
I’m an even-tempered person. I don’t get hot angry very often, but I do know cold angry, of course. I burn with righteousness to fight the social injustice concerning the many ills in our world.
Sometimes I sigh, weary but beady with a determination to expose some shit. Today’s stereotype is that around housing.
I’ve always lived in social housing – council and housing association – for 31 years. Before that I lived with my mum and in long-term medical institutions until I was 24.
I’m urged to write this blog today because I’m making my first tentative steps to buy my own house and also because their really isn’t equality in housing. Disabled people know this, but non-disabled people may not.
So, we do not get housing on a plate, we don’t get palaces, and when we don’t really need it. We don’t get priority over everyone and we often live in worst conditions because we have to make do.
For a start, there is a very limited stock of suitable housing, especially if you need access for a mobility impairment or steps are not possible because of a long term health condition – which incidentally, may not be visible. (Another stereotype for another blog – “she doesn’t look disabled!”). You can wait and wait and wait. I’ve heard of one friend waiting fifteen years on a housing list. I fought for 4 years to get into council housing in the 80s. In my early 20s, I still had to get permission from social services.
Then there’s often draconian rules about how many properties you can be offered before you’re left with nothing – creating awful dilemmas non-disabled are not likely to face. For example, do you take a property away from family with more appropriate space? Or something not so good where you may struggle, but have family to hand.
Shall I delve into the Bedroom tax? That most abominable attack on many living in poverty, and certainly a bullseye in attacking disabled tenants. It exacerbates a situation that’s already horrible.
I am a soft-centreed anarchist; I don’t really believe in owning my own home. But in social housing a disabled person is limited and stuck, more than most. I have no literal mobility in terms of moving to where I might wish to live. I have no right to buy my flat – the purpose built accessible stock is so low, and morally I agree it shouldn’t be sold for profit. But it highlights an inequality. In truth, more accessible properties should be built.
I hate that people Out There do assume it’s all easy. I’m about to embark on the journey to move to Hastings. Hold my hand! Next, to understand about mortgages – to see if I can get one – as a self-employed freelance writer it will be tough. Let alone before we bring in my disability. Can a mortgage company discriminate against me in terms of my medical condition? I’m getting on a bit now – and still it’s a fight and a struggle. Not giving up though, that’s not the Penny way…
Tell me your stories, your experiences. Another blog soon, on another stereotype.
1979, activist, Afghanistan, CND, disability, disabled, disabled people, Jeremy Corbyn, London, Marc Bolan, memoir, politicians, politics, sex, Socialism, socialist, Thatcher, Trident, USSR, wheelchair, woman, World War Three, writer, writing
I’m glad the sun is out, the sky impossibly blue for central London, though meaning there’s pollution probably.
I don’t care. We’re creatures entwined with the rhythms of the natural world, if we allow ourselves to remember that. The sunlight is a blessing. So there!
I’m picking through my journals for the writing of my memoir First in the World Somewhere, which starts in earnest very soon. And you can pre-buy it through that link. Please!
Begun in 1979, what do I see in these journals? I’m a teenager, naive, assuming hilarious worldliness, yet layered with anxieties from years in institutional settings. I’m afraid that World War Three is starting. The USSR invaded Afghanistan on December 24th 1979. In a physio rehab hospital, I talked with friends in scared tones of nuclear threat and where we want to be when The End comes. The staff tell us off, insist we’re being silly little girls. I reckon they were scared too, the prats.
This experience and hatred of nuclear weapons stayed with me. Thatcher might have been elected in May that year – I joined CND, I donated to the Greenham Common Women. I wrote an anti-nuclear song called Four Tonnes – about the amount of nuclear weaponry per capita. And I support Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Trident now. MAD is…mad.
Of course, the journals also contain embarrassing comical outbursts of my teeny yearnings. I wrote a novel that year The Isis Promise (now lost) believing I would be an international literary star immediately. Haha, still yearning for that one!
And I ached to bonk Lewis Collins from the Professionals, Marc Bolan and a cute porter who worked at the hospital – a committed socialist. I think he fancied me, but I was too much the shy punky little crip, too damaged to believe it possible.
Other stories for other times.