Tagged: writing

Today was a good day

So. Today was a good day. And I wanted to tell you about it. But then I thought, what if they think you’re fine and don’t need any help? What if they think you’re just moaning about stuff? What if they think you’re making it up about all the bad stuff? What if someone from the Department of Work and Pensions sees this and decides you don’t deserve/need to be on benefits? What if when you mention you’re on benefits someone/everyone thinks you’re scum/useless/a drain on society/having a laugh/a faker?

And you may think this is ridiculous and the ramblings of a crazy person, but it is really common for people with invisible, chronic illnesses to feel like this. I feel guilty and judged pretty much all the time. I refrain from posting a lot on social media because the anxiety that comes from feeling judged, or from people thinking that a picture of you outside and smiling means that you are fine and well and this is normal for you (without knowing what it took for you to even get outside or the fact that you haven’t been out the house in weeks), is huge. And because there are very real consequences of people thinking that.

I am unable to get out a lot of the time, to participate in activities, to travel etc. I rely on a lot of help (finanical and otherwise) and understanding – and without that I’d be literally helpless. And homeless. And friendless.

So I want to tell you about my very good day and explain the difficulties I met and how I navigated around them*.

Firstly, the fact that I managed to do anything today, was what made it so ‘good’. Because I have barely left my flat in 12 days, with the exception of two, brief attempts at a walk outside in which I managed to get less than 50 yards away (with my walking stick), before giving up and going back home as I was too weak to mamage more. Each round trip took me about twenty minutes and is quite scary when you are on your own and feel like you are about to collapse. Even in my own home I’ve had trouble walking, needing to hold on to furniture and walls far more than usual. Essential tasks like washing up, cooking, and washing have been beyond me for most of these days and I have relied on help from visitors or just left things to fester. I bathed every other day to save energy and spent most of my time lying down.

So this morning I was fucking desperate to do something and go somewhere and just get outside! And reader, I did! 🙂

Even before I went out (which I always think of as an ‘attempt’, because I never know how I will end up), I managed to do one load of washing! And a bit of washng up! And I had a bath! Glorious! Of course the bath was needed after the washing up, because at that point I was knackered and desperately needed to lie down and rest.

I headed out to the nearest bus stop – which in the past would take me about 60 seconds to walk to, but which now takes nearly ten minutes – and a woman passing asked if I was okay. Yep, I said, not able to engage as I was concentrating on getting to the damn bus stop. It was a four minute wait, which was difficult as there was no seat, but there was a wall I could lean on. At this point I always have to ask myself if it’s sensible to actually get on the bus and go anywhwere. Because if I’m already feeling weak and tired, then it’s only going to get worse as every action will deplete me further. I have to think carefully about where I go – how soon will I be able to sit down? How will I get back again? What if I need the loo** – how far will I need to walk to get to it? How noisy/busy will it be***?

I decide on the Dulwich Picture Gallery because it’s on my bus route, not too far away and the bus stops right outside the entrance. It has lovely tranquil grounds at the front and I can sit in the sunshine or the shade.

When I arrive, I decide to treat myself to a cup of coffee. I don’t have enough energy to walk into the cafe and order and then go find a table, so I head straight for a table in the shade and figure I can order from there instead. There are no free tables close enough (those that are will be too far for me to walk to), so I ask a lone man at the table if I can share with him. It is awkward at first, but soon, using the ever reliable British opening gambit of the weather, we strike up a conversation about art, and cities and finally France and Spain and our respective travels there. He leaves to go to an exhibition and I discover when I ask for my bill that he has paid for my coffee. I am having the loveliest day!

I want to go into the gallery and look at some paintings. Talking about art exhibitions with the man has made me realise how much I miss it. I get up and test how sturdy I am in the moment – the gallery entrance is the same distance from here to the main entrance (about 10 yards). Even if I can’t walk to see any art, I decide to risk it anyway and make my very slow way to the entrance. Because I am on benefits I can see the permanent exhibition for free, which is good as I can’t afford it otherwise. They have wheelchairs in there. I have been using a wheelchair when I have someone to push me, for a little while now (and always in hospitals – those long corridors are way too much for me, even on a good day) but I’ve never wheeled myself in one. Because of the fatigue, having to wheel myself seems counter-productive, but I decide to have a go as it’s such a small gallery and at least I can sit down. The staff here are really helpful and friendly. They put my walking stick behind their desk for me (there’s nowhere to store it on the chair) and off I go. I find I am instantly in people’s way and they in mine. It would be useful to have an old-fashioned bicycle bell to let people know I’m there, as they don’t seem to notice when I can’t get through, but I’m guessing that’s not terribly appropriate here.

I soon get used to steering and turning and go look at the beguiling Girl at a Window by Rembrandt and some exquisite flower paintings by Jan Van Huysum. It is strange, looking up at the paintings from this height, maneuvering around so I can see them without the light obscuring the details, trying not to bump into the furniture (or people). I feel a little proud of myself for being able to steer the chair around so quickly. There is no way I would have been able to walk around this relatively small gallery. Even though I am having to use my arms, just being able to sit and not spend energy on standing and walking is a huge relief.

Nevertheless, I am starting to flag. I make a quick trip to the gift shop, because I am slightly obsessed with museum gift shops. I bump into an old aquaintance who I haven’t seen since before I got sick. I make the usual explanations and she is very sympathetic, but this bit of conversation is wearing me out now and I suddenly can’t stop yawning. Negotiating the tight corners of the small crowded shop is difficult, especially as there is another wheelchair bound person there and we are trying not to engage in a game of dodgems. I keep saying sorry. Everyone keeps saying sorry. I make it out alive. No toes are harmed in the process.

At the gallery entrance, I retrieve my stick and a staff member helps with the wheelchair. My body can barely hold me up anymore. I need the loo, but it is too far to walk and I reckon I will be able to hold it until I get home. The bus stop on the other side is further away for the journey back. I know I’m not going to make it. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes you just have take a taxi or risk a certain crash.

For all that I find Uber’s business model ethically problematic, their app has been an absolute godsend for me. There are times when I get stuck – I simply cannot walk anymore, however near that bus stop seems. Even if I can make it onto the bus, I’ve got to walk those 50 yards at the other end and that can be almost impossible. So cabs for short distances, even though it’s extra expense, have become essential (how else would I get to and from the doctor just down the road?). But with regular minicabs, there are problems: if I am so fatigued that I can’t speak (this happens often) it is very difficult to call and book them; I might not have any cash on me and how am I going to get to a cashpoint (which might be even further away than the very short journey I need to take)?; they can take forever to arrive and I might not have anywhere to sit and wait. Even when they say they will be ten minutes, you never really know how long it’s going to take and if I am on the pint of collapse, those minutes count. But with Uber, I don’t have to deal with any of that, so that’s who I turn to to get home today. If I hadn’t, I would have crashed badly and not been able to eat when I got home.

Which is what I did. Hungry and knowing I would collapse if I didn’t get something in me fast, I spread some peanut butter on a slice of bread and ate it quickly. Then I lay on the sofa to recover. After a while, I felt a bit of energy come back, which was a nice surprise. So I got myself a bit more food, then lay down again, spent. I haven’t moved since. That’s it for me today.

I have had a DAY OUT. Well, a couple of hours. But this is so, so wonderful. I did try to write earlier in the week, but until now my brain just wouldn’t work. This is really common too and I’ll write about the joy that is brain fog another time. To be able to do a couple of household chores, walk to a bus stop and actually go somewhere, talk to a few strangers and look at some art and write about it when I got home – this is a bloody good day and I am so happy. I don’t know when I’ll have another one, so I’m savouring every moment for the time being.

Thank you for reading.

Take care,

Stephanie xxx

*Symptoms and experiences of CFS/ME differ from person to person. I can only tell you how I experience it.

**Needing to go to the toilet can make me far more tired and weak as ‘holding it in’ requires energy and so it is important I go as quickly as possible as I don’t have that energy to spare.

***Noise and busyness depletes my energy, so if I’m already feeling very tired, too much will make me crash.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Unless you have experience of CFS/ME yourself, please don’t comment about things you think/have heard/your Aunty Doris said will help. I know it comes from a place of kindness, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that unless you have experienced this yourself, your opinion isn’t helpful. If this sounds harsh, then please note that it’s been learned the hard way – everyone seems to have an opinion regardless of whether they actually know what it’s like and I just don’t have the energy to deal with or read them all. Thank you for understanding.


In which I disappeared for a year…

So. You haven’t heard from me for a while. There is a reason for that. My life, and I, have been changed irrevocably these last 12 months. One year and one week ago, I came down with a terrible ‘flu. This turned into pneumonia. Bedridden, my parents took me in and took care of me and the doctor demanded to see me twice a week until I recovered. Only I didn’t recover. Not quite.

My lungs, after a couple of months, finally healed, and yet I never got ‘fit’ again. I have finally, after quite a horrific journey, been formally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Did I say ‘changed irrevocably’? It feels more like having my life ripped from me. The pictures you see on this site of a young fiesty woman gallivanting about in sequins and shorts, offering writing tips and workshops, joking about office politics, taking part in film festivals, winning awards (well, award singular 🙂 ) and generally living life with gusto has gone and I’m still grieving, so forgive me if I don’t write about it in full just yet. Just getting these words down now is making me cry and if I take the lid off this can of worms, I’m not sure I can cope with the rest of the day and coping is what I do, every day.

Oh there are good days, of course. I can find joy in the simplest of things, even more so now. When getting outside, reading, writing, doing anything becomes a luxury, then believe me, you enjoy the small things as the beautiful gifts that they are.

That’s all for today. I didn’t know where to start with all that’s happened, but I needed to get this down and writing is my way of making sense of things. I hope it helps you too, in some way.

I know that I haven’t explained yet what CFS (also known as M.E.) actually is – I haven’t got the energy to right now – but this is a good place to start if you’d like to find out.

Take good care of yourself,

Stephanie xxx

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Unless you have experience of CFS/ME yourself, please don’t comment about things you think/have heard/your Aunty Doris said will help. I know it comes from a place of kindness, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that unless you have experienced this yourself, your opinion isn’t helpful. If this sounds harsh, then please note that it’s been learned the hard way – everyone seems to have an opinion regardless of whether they actually know what it’s like and I just don’t have the energy to deal with or read them all. Thank you for understanding.


Cabaret Artist of the Year!

Recently, I’ve been taking a hiatus from busy places both on and off-line.  I’ve been craving quiet and nature. In short, my current fantasy is to hide out in a log cabin in the wilderness, surrounded by trees. No social media, no traffic, no people. Just green and sky and pen and paper. Huge windows in a small room. A wood burner and a decent coffee pot. Time. The sound of the wind through branches. Just being and writing.

But yesterday I found myself all dressed up in a nice frock and heels, a gold evening bag frantically swinging from my shoulder, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I jumped in a cab for the last bit of the journey (because these kind of heels are for looking good in, not for rushing from tube stations in) and arrived at Sway Bar in Holborn to be greeted by Katie and Naomi from Planet London for the Ultimate Planet Community Awards 2014‬. I’d been nominated for Cabaret Artist of the Year – which I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of winning. But also, the club night I compere: Female Masculinity Appreciation Society (FMAS‬) was nominated for the Most Creative Club Night of the Year award, and the Wotever DIY Film Festival, which I was involved with and which is run by the wonderful Theresa Heath-Ellul and Tara Brown was nominated for Film Festival of the Year. In addition, friends and all-round brilliant Wotever World people Ingo Andersson, Positive Change and DJ Jo Gattenberg were also nominated for, respectively, Role Model; Volunteer of the Year; and DJ of the Year. I thought it would be nice to hang out with mates, gawp at hot women and maybe bag a free drink.

There was free drink*. It started at 3pm. And although it didn’t stay free for long, it did not stop flowing. I forgot about the log cabin and embraced the glamour. I met some amazing, inspiring people, including author Karen Campbell. We bonded over the completely cast-iron fact that neither of us could possibly win our respective categories (I think you know where this is going…). I met the inimitable Lady Phyll, who runs UK Black Pride. Not only was she hilarious when she presented some awards, she also let me have some of her wine after mine ‘disappeared’. I screamed and whooped when Kerry Positive Change, Jo Gattenberg, Ingo, FMAS and the Wotever DIY Film Fest all received Honourable Mentions. And then, I, er, won an award myself. It was very surreal, because I just didn’t think that could happen. And so I was quite drunk and hadn’t planned anything to say and just thought ‘What?? What the fucking what??’ and did some embarrassing gushing** and then had to have my photo taken against the ‘media wall’ by one very sexy photographer who said something that I misheard as “are you ready for your bikini shot?” (which was a little disconcerting, as I don’t even own a bikini). And then there was dancing …

Winner – Cabaret Artist of the Year 2014 (Photo by Emma Bailey)

You know when people say “I NEVER WIN ANYTHING!”? Well, *I* never win anything! Only now I have. And that’s rather nice.

So, thank you everyone who voted for me. It was unexpected and appreciated and meant more than I thought it would. Thank you Ingo, who’s given me lots of opportunities to prance around on stage talking stuff and nonsense. And thanks to Katie and Naomi at Planet London for making us visible, creating such a lovely event and bringing so many talented Lesbian, Bi and Queer women together.

Crawling home in the wee hours, then getting up again for work this morning with feeling in only some of my toes*** was a brutal bump back to earth. Am I still craving that log-cabin in the woods? Yep. Thing is, if you wear gold fishnets in a forest, do they make a sound?****

Wotever Family Outing

Wotever Family Outing (Photo by Emma Bailey)

You can read the full list of winners here and see more pics and video from the night here
*and hot women, obvs.
**not *that* kind, you perv.
***feeling in all ten toes has now returned, but it took a while.
****That doesn’t work, does it. I tried to be clever. It didn’t work. Deal with it. You get the gist.


Conversation with myself: I’m Writing

Sick and twisted

I’m writing a story.

~No, you’re updating your blog about writing a story. Not quite the same thing.

Yes, but it’s just so dark!

~Your blog?

No, the story.


I disturb myself sometimes.



~It means you’re getting somewhere. You’ve hit a nerve.


~Look, the things you write about aren’t a literal representation of you. We all have darkness inside us. We all think horrible things. At least you’re not doing them.


~Now, stop pissing about and get back to work.

Thank you.

~You’re very welcome.


As seen on the Good Blog Guide

NWS_WIDGET_72dpi The lovely people at New Writing South have, in their infinite wisdom, included Chez Goldberg on their Good Blog Guide. WooHoo! They’ve given me a little internet badge and everything. Dedicated to “inspiring, nurturing and connecting all kinds of creative writers across the region and beyond”, New Writing South are a brilliant resource for writers. Their workshop ‘Stop fucking about and start writing’ looks particularly good and is the kind of ethos I fully endorse 🙂 Check out all the good writerly stuff they have to offer.


Writers Workshop in South London’s Newest Cinema!

Cinemas are one of my all-time favourite spaces. The feel of plush velvet beneath your fingertips, a dark room filled with anticipation, the whir of long red curtains being drawn back to reveal a giant screen. And then…the music, the flickering lights, the sound and pictures so big, so all-encompassing.

Agata Zielinska-Hryn clearly loves it too, because she’s built one beneath her shop in Forest Hill, South London. Doopo Doopo opened in 2012 and is an independent art gallery, boutique and arts hub. It’s home to the Vortex Cinema Club, creative workshops including film-making, oil painting, guitar classes and life drawing. I’d been in several times before popping the question earlier this summer: Have you ever thought of hosting a writer’s workshop here? Yes! she said, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for! And so The Forest Hill Writers Workshop was born.

Every Thursday night from 7pm – 9pm the newly developed cinema space will be converted into a writers workshop and I’ll be taking writers through their paces in a supportive atmosphere. There will be detailed feedback and inspiring weekly excercises. Writers will write. And laugh. Because laughter is important in these things 🙂

The new workshop begins on 23rd* October and is strictly limited to 12 places. See the Forest Hill Writers Workshop page for more details.


I studied with Stephanie Goldberg for two terms and found her classes dynamic, challenging and hugely enjoyable. The structure of the class was always reliable, allowing time for free writing and shared responses to students work. Her critical feed back was always immensely valuable. My writing grew significantly under her tutelage and I would not hesitate to recommend her classes to writers of all levels.

Denise Stephenson, writer of Pentimento (recently awarded 4 stars by The Stage)



*This post originally stated that the workshop would begin on 9th October. The venue then changed the date and this was updated on 5th October 2014.


The Queen of Procrastination

Aaaaargh!!! Staring at a blank screen, writing something, deleting it, wondering how you ever managed to complete anything before when the drivel that is coming out of you now is so rancid, the prose so decrepid and puerile that you should be taken in front of the Judge of Writing, court martialled and then shot. You are that judge, of course. The nasty little voice saying nasty little things about what you’re getting down on paper, on screen. You are the “Creative devil” laughing at any attempts you make.

You set yourself a challenge last week to write a blog every day for the month of May. Already you have failed. This is no reason not to get back up and carry on anyway. You have learned this, over the years.

This morning you write three lines about a trip to the Rivoli Ballroom on Saturday night, decide it’s crap, look at Facebook, watch every interview of the entire cast of The Crimson Field on the BBC website and then an interview with the scriptwriter, Sarah Phelps, which leads you to procrastinate further on the BBC Writersroom blog, where you find this: Getting through Writer’s Block: Established television writers share their strategies for getting through writer’s block.

Your favourite tip from this video comes from Toby Whithouse, writer of Being Human and No Angels, who says

What you need to do is to book a room above a pub for about two months time, tell all of your friends there is going to be a reading of your script and I guarantee you, you will get that script written. Because sometimes the only way to overcome writer’s block is to literally push through it.


This tip speaks to you because you are driven by deadlines and fear. Specifically the fear of completely humiliating yourself in front of an audience. It’s the reason why writing workshops are so great – just the idea of reading your work out in front of others forces you to work harder on it, to make it less shit. More importantly, to finish what you start.

As the self-proclaimed Queen of Procrastination, you can sniff out every excuse, every trick, every lie people tell themselves in order to get out of what they’re actually supposed to be doing. When you run the Queer Writers Retreat for example, the first thing you do is get the writers to hand in their mobile ‘phones. You all chat and laugh and eat during the breaks, but when they sit back down in the Writing Room, a hush descends and the gentle tapping of keyboards and scratching of pens takes over. They’ve already agreed their goals for the day, they are there for one reason only. There is no distraction, no escape. It works.

There is of course, what you like to call “Productive procrastination”. Would you get any cleaning done if you weren’t putting off doing something else? The scarier the task, the cleaner the home. In fact, most of the boring chores you do seem to be a result of putting off doing something else. Sometimes you write stuff to avoid writing the thing you feel you’re supposed to be writing. And sometimes that avoidance writing turns out to be far more satisfying. This entire blog post, for example, has been an excercise in procrastination (you were supposed to be writing about Saturday night, remember?).

Be stubborn (you were born that way, you might as well utilise it). Force yourself, allow yourself, to write any old shit. As long as you’re getting something down, it is never a waste of time. You can make it good later. Remember the maxim: Don’t get it right, get it written.

Then get it right.



The Goldberg Guide to Writing (in 200 Words)

1. Read. Read a lot. Read everything you can get your grubby little hands on. For years, decades.

2. Live an interesting life. Make terrible decisions. Fall in love with drunken idiots. At crossroads, take the path strewn with fallen trees, pot-holes and gnarled branches clawing at your sleeves.

2a. Alternatively, live a life so excruciatingly dull that you are forced to live in your imagination.

3. Be grateful for your fucked-up family. Emotional blackmail, Olympian feats of denial and traumatic get-togethers are literary gold! Whether you write down everything they do as a coping mechanism or merely revenge, all the raw drama of life is here.  If you ever run out of material, you could do worse than telephone your relatives for a chat about what a disappointment you are.

4. Remember that the blank page is nothing to be scared of.  Remind yourself of this often.  Every day, in fact. One day you might even believe it.

5. Write thousands of words of pretentious bilge. Fill a forest-worth of notebooks with future embarrassment.  Fail again and again. At some point, fail better.

6. Shut the door. Sit. Pick up a pen. Repeat steps 4 and 5. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.


Spilly over with words

Queer Writers Retreat alumnus Em Fleming blogs about her experience here and publishes one of the brilliant poems she worked on at the retreat. See if you recognise yourself in it 😉

Em Fleming

So on Saturday I went on retreat.

You know, I thought I had a terrible attention span but actually I just needed NO PHONE and NO INTERNET. And to be fed and watered all day like a particularly lazy housecat. I didn’t have to think about anything, and because I didn’t have to think about anything my brain kind of unfolded and all the bits that had been hiding or buried under shopping lists and PE kits and appraisal forms and those knickers (I was wondering where they’d gone) – those bits, they reappeared. So I chased them down and now I have some more poetry to show for it. In fact, I finally have enough for that pamphlet I’ve been banging on about for years. Perhaps you will even be able to buy it at some point this year. Certainly I’m planning to go on retreat again. And I…

View original post 311 more words


“It feels more like a salon than a retreat”: In which a playwright on the Queer Writers Retreat explains why it was valuable to him and we learn why a ‘queer’ retreat may be useful after all


queer books, fairy lights

I received this lovely feedback from a guest (playwright) of the Queer Writers Retreat 🙂

…realising I’ve barely touched my work since [attending Queer Writers Retreat] and have started to hanker for an ‘away’ space, I’m really starting to get a sense of the value of the opportunity. I’m not a writer by habit but I’m a writer at heart, and that I think is a big part of my problem!

Having a space dedicated to that work and to have other writers working around me gave rise to a relaxed focus. Working alone I find I lack either one or the other in that equation. Luckily all the other writers were of similar minds. In the intimacy of the workspace, this became quite important. I was wondering about the need for a specifically ‘queer’ workshop and realise that aspect probably had a large role to play in creating that sense of ease. I was worried that a queer writing group might be a bit self conscious and seem unwelcoming to people who don’t identify as LGBTI and also whenever I see ‘queer’ anything I’m always half expecting ‘worthy’ and possibly ‘divisive’. However, the sense of openness was important to the work, it turns out. I can see the value in sticking to the label. I’m also 100% sure you couldn’t be unwelcoming. All fears allayed.

It feels almost more like a salon than a ‘retreat’, considering it now. It was a great day – and now I’m going to transcribe my play…”

I was chuffed to bits that he said it was like a salon! 🙂 That’s what I was aiming for – not just a space to write, but a space to share your work and discuss writing and build a community and eat, drink, laugh and be merry.

The next retreat is on Saturday 11th January and there is an earlybird discount of £10 if you book by Christmas Eve. So if you’re still looking for a Christmas present, or you want to pre-empt your New Year’s Resolution to write more – then click here to book.