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Words, Talks and Belly Rubs / 14 April 2016

Penny Pepper on the 'Let's Talk About Sex Baby' panel at WOW 2016

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The sun is shining again as I write this, as it was in chilly January when I wrote my last newsletter.  It actually looks and feels like spring. Hurrah for that.

Life continues in waves of intense writing, frustrating illness, and sudden peaks of activity in which I manage to get outside and meet people. Gasp in shock!

I’ve been in the garret working on First in the World Somewhere, and have completed the first draft. Yippee! It’s meant three months of solid commitment to a schedule, ably supported by my admin worker Beth. Most days we managed 4000 words, and this is possibly why I feel like I’ve had brain melt. Not a single regret though and my publisher Unbound seem very happy. Not firm news of a publication date, but most likely early 2017.

Through this process I’ve cracked the toughest of nuts – writing to dictation. At heart I’m a natural touch typist. I did a year in secretarial studies, way, way back when dinosaurs grazed by the grassy meadows of my Amersham college. My mind was hard-wired early to blitz words to my fingers, to a keyboard, to the page. I took to computers like a robotic duck to cyberspace water.

But my creaky shoulders are not so keen anymore, and since breaking my humerus late last summer, typing has to be kept to a minimum. Voice dictation does not suit creative writing – at least for me. Dictating words like divine fracas – words used a lot in my early journals – involves a long disruptive process of phonetic spelling and too much interruption in the flow of creative juice. Working with a typist is the most productive way forward.  I resisted to begin with because it feels unnatural. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t worked that out. But I got over it, and… have written 65,000 words.

The book is still available as a pre-buy at Unbound, where you can still choose from various extras like a memoir playlist. Everything from The Smiths to Bob Marley, Debussy, Kate Bush, Ian Dury to John Lee Hooker. Every book and extra now goes towards keeping my gluten-free bread on the table and, naturally, is very, very appreciated.

Outside of writing, there was a flurry of activity when I was asked to appear at three events for this year’s Women of the World Festival held at the Royal Festival Hall. The festival feels busier every year and there was certainly a packed audience at all the panels I was on. At the first one, Women in the Creative Industries, I was chuffed to meet best selling novelist Kate Moss, who was also on the panel. I got her to sign a copy of her latest novel, The Taxidermist’s Daughter and she has been very kind and responsive when asked for advice. The next one, Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby was so rammed they were turning people away. I performed Alphabet Sex as my opener and was delighted to share the stage with some powerful, punchy women including the writer Kathy Lette, who was also a great person to meet. Finally, I spoke on the panel about Body Image, again starting with a poem, The Model. I felt very old doing my bit on this one, having wheeled around the block so many times and, while never quite comfortable with all of me,  knowing I’m at a place of acceptance. Helped along in the past by the magnificent Jo King, the absolute grande-dame of all genre British burlesque. I worked with Jo a few times and she taught me to cherish my pot belly, telling me to rub it with love. It was quite a moment to share this with the audience at the Clore Ballroom and to get many delightful tweets of women telling me that they were now belly rubbing with pride. True glow moments.

Having completed this first draft of First in the World Somewhere, I already miss the intense satisfaction of watching a work grow, of the line-by-line process.  I’m poised with loads of new projects – a poetry pamphlet, a novel and a short story collection. I love a short story, and have won a place in a couple of new anthologies. Watch this wordy space!

I’m trying to get an agent through personal recommendation now too, so if anyone out there…

I won’t bore you with too much of my frustrations with health, but the shoulder won’t heal and it is now a matter of pain control.  I’ve had that sore throat thing, a stomach thing. Threatened by the black dog, who howls at my door. A regular visitor but one I work to keep at bay.

Never mind all that. I just want to say, I think there should be a party every week at the resignation of Ian Duncan Smith. Not to mention Dodgy Dave. Although it’s a terrifying thought if we get Boris as replacement.

I can’t end on that so what I will say is if I breathe, I fight – and write.