About Me

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London, United Kingdom
Holly Searle is a writer and an artist who was made in Soho and thereafter born in the heart of London. She has been blessed with two quite remarkable children and grandchildren whom she adores. She enjoys the company of her friends and the circus that is life, has a degree in Film and Television, and has exhibited her artwork in several exhibition.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Life in the Slipstream By Holly Searle

I have been writing a steady stream of consciousness in this tiny part of cyberspace for the last five years. The only relevance its conception ever had, was to serve as a platform on which I could stand and open my mouth.

Its deliverance was derived from a dark period in my life, when I suddenly realised (all be it later, rather than never at all), that I had always been disavowed.

Whether this was self-inflicted, or due to the actions of others, didn’t really matter. I just concluded that it was about time that I opened up. I never dreamt that anyone would actually read anything that I produced. It was a devoid space (mental and physical), where I could explore. Where I could pull a few rabbits out of the hat. In the process, the person I most surprised was myself.

This epiphany bore a tunnel into my soul and the repressed thoughts and ideas took a sharp intake of breath as I gave birth to them when they landed on the page.

With every key I pressed, with every word I wrote, and with every sentence I constructed: my mind palace began to feel a sense of relief and justification for all of those years when I felt that I was unable to open my mouth and have my say.

Soon I was hooked like a fish on a line.

It was an egotistical treat.

For all of us that write, would surely be liars if we admitted that the process and result in itself was enough. Or is that just me?

I doubt it.

Personally I like it when someone pats me on the back, shares a piece that I have crafted, or reacts to it. These chapters in my life, these moments of being, they are like my other children. The process in creating them is pure magic. The satisfaction gained in their production, is a massive high that no drug can emulate.

But they also required an immense amount of dedication during their creation.

Like Victor Frankenstein, I become momentarily insane when I write. Don’t bother trying to speak to me whilst I am in the zone. I can’t hear or see you. You’re dinner maybe later than usual, or you can just call for a takeaway. I honestly am beyond caring. PLEASE, CAN YOU JUST SORT YOURSELF OUT AND LEAVE ME ALONE. For each piece has to be better than the last. It must deliver the goods, and have something of significance to say. It has to be perfect.

And I have to bring it to life.

When I have finished creating a new piece, I rarely return to the scene of the crime. The entire process is so exhausting (like childbirth), that I need to rest, and get some peace and quiet, until the next idea starts to form in my head

However, revisiting some of them reveals how much better I have become at honing my skills. Whilst mapping the histrionics of my life; past lovers, the haste and rush of life, the distain with humanity, the social comments, the impracticality of it all, and the beauties that have breathed life into my bones. I can see improvement.

Some I cannot read again. They make me wince. For all of their cringed worthiness’, they have to remain accessible, because without them, the jigsaw isn’t complete. Some I reread and am astounded by their content. I can’t quite believe that a shy child once ridiculed in class in front of her contemporaries by her English teacher for failing a spelling test when she obviously had a word blindness, wrote something like that.


This tells me that all endeavours, however perilous, that have been tarred and feathered by others, will succeed. There is no romanticism attached to that image or statement. It is just pure stubbornness on my part. I wanted to write it, so I did.

Feck you Miss Jones et al. Truth will out, as they say up North.

As this year concludes, the one that follows it, will feature new and more exciting adventures. The story arc for which will be less available here, but more tangible and bound in the reality of formed creative partnerships outside of this tiny static screen. These partnerships will deliver something new and visual. Something exciting.

A natural evolution of creativity that would have made Darwin smile.

I can only blog for so long. I have written thousands of words here. I may still dip my toe in from time to time. But now it is time to focus of other creative enterprises with likeminded souls. These people harbour rich veins of untapped talent and like me, they are ready to be mined.

And more importantly, like Charles Foster Kane, they are passionate about their long term goals. To succeed is everything. To be or not to be isn’t even a viable question. Their adventure is now mine, and mine theirs.

And together we can build a stronger platform from which to speak.

And like me, they all remember their Rosebud. It’s the love they have for what they do. Never lost, never forgotten and never neglected.

Stand by for action.

It’s going to be great.

The slipstream is calling.

Monday, 9 November 2015

How and Why: Life Before The Interweb By Holly Searle

Prior to a life online, those of us of a certain generation sourced our information from a series of books that presented a world of illustrated gems, full of facts, that we knew existed beyond our front doors, but knew nothing of in the reality of our daily lives.

They were a collection of 74 unique titles of shiny A4 paperbacks produced during the 60's and 70's called The How and Why Wonder books.

The collection was established to introduce children to the world of science and history, and included a vast variety of topics.

Each book was produced in the same format presented with the words The How and Why Wonder Book of, followed by the individual topic of that edition.

On the back of each title, there was a pictorial listing of all of the other titles that were also available in the series.

They were marvellous magical things.

I can't recall how many of these delightful wondrous books we amassed between us, but I can remember how excited my brother and I were when we both received a new one.

The surprise was always in the not knowing which new title we would be presented with. And when we had received our individual new copies, we would spend many indulgent childhood hours, feasting on their contents and scrutinising all the facts and images that had now become part of our lives.

As there were two of us, the delight was doubled as we would share them between us.

And when we had read them from cover to cover, we would turn to the back page and endlessly discuss the ones we had, and lust over the ones we wanted next. Then the pain of waiting would become unbearable, until the new additions arrived.

In today's world, it's as easy as the press of a button to source any information that you are looking for. I can't decide if this is a good or bad modern attribute: and if those born within its existence, appreciate how incredibly educational Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web can be.

Personally, I like to imagine that he himself once pondered a How and Why Wonder Book here and there, which in turn influenced his mind-blowing, globally connective invention.

How great would that be?

Hand on heart, I can honestly say that I owe my own fascination with subjective detail to this series of books.

A few years ago when Child Two showed a keen interest in Dinosaurs, I came across a copy of the How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs in a charity shop.

I was beyond excited engulfed with nostalgia.

I purchased it and returned home, where I sat down and flicked through its well worn pages. On doing so I was amazed by just how naive its contents were. So much so, that I correctly assumed that a child of the techno savvy 21 Century would not find this book of interest.

I was partially right.

To me however, it still held its value, which of course, still is, and always will be priceless.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

My Iced Buns and Me by Holly Searle

When I was a little kid, I never thought of myself in terms of being a girl, I was just a genderless shy and sensitive child knocking about in the world. And when I think about it now, I wasn't defined by society as one either. I was just me.

I don’t recall ever being made to feel special for having been born a girl, or dressed up in buttons and bows or in pink. Maybe this was a very modernistic approach on my parent’s behalf, although I tend to think it was more to do with their lack of Joie de vivre in relation to their income that rendered them (and me) without that option.

It was more of a calamity than Calamity Jane.

We were painfully poor. It was the sort of poverty that enabled us to survive rather than affording such lavish choices like acquiring new clothes.

In our house, my dad would cut out the shape of a shilling (that's five pence in today's money) from the top of a tin can, and push it into the to the electricity/gas meter to keep our supply going. I can remember how we would all have to hide, and pretend that we weren't in when the utility man came to empty the meter. And how my dad would have to cough up the money, when the man eventually did gain access to ours after pay day. The shame was palatable as he unlock the little draw in the meter, and poured out all of those faux tin shillings.

Still, at least we had access to these utilities and were taught the important lesson of how necessity was the mother of invention.

I spent the first few years of my life in those unattractive black slip on PE plimsolls. I always thought they were quite cool and to this day if I even get a whiff of that rubber smell, I am immediately transported back to my days wearing those unsupported and unattractive canvas poor excuse for footwear.

I can only remember going to buy one pair of shoes as a child, and my overriding memory of that, was why I couldn’t have the red shiny ones instead of the ones I had bought for me. Now I can buy my own shoes, I am, as you can imagine, very particular. But alas, my feet are a problem due to these early Start-rite lacking years.

I can’t ever remember buying clothes off the peg. To be fair, and fashion accurate, in the 70's there weren't any specialist girls clothing stores, there were just departments for them within department stores. But I can remember my mum making me clothes that were all constructed in a particular style to cover my apparent girth. My nan was a pretty good seamstress, as well as being a sterling knitter. And my mum had inherited these amazing long forgotten skills.

By modern standards, I was not an obese child by any means, but for some reason I was dressed in these tent like dresses that she made to covered me up.

There I was, a concealed child, who also happened to be female. What sort of unconscious message did that send to me I wonder? Probably the one that was just as effective as the comment that I nan made to my mum during a family holiday in Devon one year when I must have been eight or nine. “Holly is very fat.” I heard her say to my mum. I was completely dissolved and devastation by that comment for years. I felt like a freak and hated myself. It consumed me and I felt socially unworthy because of it for many years afterwards, and hid my post-adolescent slim body under mountains of oversized clothes.

The comment and the tent dresses were like two scarlet letters which I wore with shame throughout those last two years of primary school, and beyond. Being a child had been okay, but realising I was becoming a girl was harsh.

When I started secondary school I wore a uniform just like everyone else. I found tremendous comfort in that as I was no longer singled out and could take cover and disappear into a crowd of other people who were all dressed just liked me.

But at this moment, the one in which I had at last found some sanctuary, my body decided it was time to evolve.

This evolutionary process decided that it was time for me to have breasts. Girl bits grew where they had not been before and I was so mortified by their appearance that tried to flatten beneath my school blouse with an ugly tight waistcoat. I was horrified by these changes that were defining my gender. In the shadow of recovery were I was able to hide after being the fat freak, I was now going to have to become a proper girl. I hated my breasts. I was so embarrassed. How dare they do that to me? How dare they appear and ruin everything in such an obvious and apparent way.

My femininity was never cherished or presented to society in the correct débutante way. On the contrary, something somewhere had been wholly unsuccessful in my coming out. And my breasts suffered because of that the most.

Their existence also seemed to me marred by other people’s perception of them. And that perception, stigmatised my own enjoyment of them. Where I should have been celebrating these changes, I was ashamed by them.

Later after I had stopped trying to restrain them with that waistcoat and had got a well fitted bra, I had to visit the doctor due to illness. As I was still too young to see the doctor alone, my mother was with me. The doctor (a woman) asked me to remove my top so that she could examine me. When I did, she gasped at my breasts. This response was not due to their magnificence, but rather due to the fact that she had known me as a child without them. Their presentation startled her and her audible recognition of them, was yet another set back.

Their presence eventually grew on me, and I accepted them as I started to grow into the woman I was becoming. Then one day a friend’s mother informed me in front of a captured audience that she didn’t really think I needed to wear a bra as she thought my breasts were quite small. “Mother!” I heard my friend cry out in despair. What is it with women and other women’s breasts I wonder?

Maybe Jean Paul Gaultier should have made me a conical bra outfit instead of Madonna. Now that would have been something to comment on for its sheer audacity.

That observation hurt. And in that moment, I was ordained with the same freakish mantel as I had been all of those years ago by the comment that my nan had made about my weight.

It was all turning in to a game of Snakes and Ladders this girl stuff. I had enough ladders to climb as it was without those that shared my gender forcing me to slide down patriarchal snakes before I needed to.

They were my breast for the love of Mary! And the more attention they drew, the more protective I became for their well-being.

Were they small? Or were they just my size? Who gets to decide what is small and what is big? Where does this obsession come from?

Less is more according to a poem by Robert Browning. Maybe it was his fault that people paid so much attention to my breasts, and felt the need to comment.

When I became pregnant, my breasts and I were given the gift of foresight. If, I had wanted bigger breasts, this was the perfect opportunity to consider this option as nature increased their size naturally for me.

After I had had my baby, I can recall going to the loo which was situated on the maternity ward and whilst washing my hands in the sink, I suddenly noticed the size of my breasts in the mirror that hung above it. There they were reflected back at me in the mirror this huge pair of breasts heavy with new motherhood. I was delighted and amazed with them. But that didn’t last long.

It was great having those around for a while. They were certainly cheaper and less painful than surgery. They were natural. But they soon lost their appeal and I was glad when they were reduced to their initial size.

Then one day I found a small lump in the left one. I was beyond scared. I was a new single mother with a baby. I went to my GP as fast as I could because that is what we women are told to do. As I opened the door to his room, and before he gave me the opportunity to sit down, my GP gestured for me to lift up my top for him to feel them. He then informed me that there was nothing there and I was just being silly.

Six weeks later I was in hospital having the lump, a milk cysts removed. I knew he was wrong. The one thing nature teaches about your body after you have had a baby, is that you know your body better than anyone else. And I knew my breasts.

Then I went through a phase where I lost a ridiculous amount of weight. This just so happen to coincide with the fact that I was on the first run of starting a new relationship with a particular man. The night we did it for the first time, I removed my top exposing my breasts to which he exclaimed “Oh my God you’re a boy!” It was horrific for my ego, and for our fledgling relationship, that died a tragic and mournful (for him) death soon after.

They grew again when I had my second child and have in the aftermath of his arrival, just reverted back to being my breasts.

I love them. They are mine and no one else’s’.

I have shared them quite successfully with each of my children. That after all was their raison d'être.

They have been admired, fondled and loved. Most of all by me and a few others over the years.

Recently they were relentlessly squashed during my routine age appropriate mammogram examination.

I didn’t enjoy that at all. But I enjoyed the negative result.

I often admire them. For although they are smallish, they remain my second most favourite part of my body.

It’s been a long and emotional love story between my breasts and I. They are part of me and I am lucky to have them. Not all love stories end so well or continue to grow so successfully.

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Write Kind of Beauty By Holly Searle

The first time I ever visited Kew Gardens I paid one old penny to get in. I can still feel the turnstile against my body as I dropped that penny into the slot and pushed against its cold mechanical resistance. It creaked and then cranked, and then suddenly stopped with a sharp thud that granted me entrance.

As I broke free from its constraints, I realised I wasn’t in Kansas any more. What lay before me, was the safe freedom of its lush green wide open spaces and I ran and ran. Sprinklers swirled delicate soft umbrellas of water in the heat of the afternoon, and I laughed manically as I tried to dodge them all.

I had never paid to go into a garden before. The only garden I was familiar with, was my Nan's in Mitcham. And although her garden had always seemed huge to me, she had dedicated beds for her roses, which interrupted any possible access to a free run.

Kew’s gardens were immense allowing me to be able to run quite a distance without ever encountering a single rose bush. It was pure unadulterated bliss, full of warm earthy smells and small forests of tactile trees of every description, with the odd shaped sculptural buildings thrown in for good measure.

It was a complete joy to and for me. Who knew that on the outskirts of the city such a place existed?

I didn't have a garden growing up. I still don’t. I have never lived in a house with access to one. It’s the one thing I intend to rectify before I die. So over the years, Kew has become my foster garden. It is my own personal bastion of tranquillity in the over subscribe hectic crazy city I live in.

I paid one old penny that first visit, and continued to do so until it rocketed up to the hefty sum of ten pence. Then I didn't visit for many years. My life and other less salubrious activities somehow got in the way.

That was until a sad pause for thought in life presented itself, and I was advised that the best place to grieve was within Kew's gardens.

And so I did.

I returned and found the sanctuary I needed, and since then, I have never looked back.

And I was delighted to see that the turnstile was still there. And even if they no longer rotate excited small children with old pennies into their gardens, you can, if you so wish, rotate yourself out of Kew for old times’ sake. And of course, being me, I always do.

In the years since rekindling our relationship, I have fallen in love with the place all over again. Each time I go there, an immense feeling of calm engulfs me. I am safe and free to wonder and think and just be.

I can’t think of another place that I have ever spent time in, where I felt so secure. In the intervening years since my return, I have spent days there in all types of whether accept when it has snowed (as they close it for safety reasons). I would love to be able to experience it in the magical silence that only snow brings.

I have been there in the morning, during the day, and late in the evening. I have spent New Year’s Eve there, hosted birthday picnics amongst Henry Moore bonzes, watched winter become spring and spring become summer, and summer turn into autumn.

I have thrown coins at the foot of the Japanese Gateway with wishes attached to them. I have travelled on the minibus and listened to the tour guide retelling the antics of its previous royal tenants.

I have considered climbing up the Pagoda, but have to confess I never have. I have marvelled at all the history that has taken place throughout the life cycle of the Cycad that resides in the (Day of the Triffids) Palm House, and has been around since 1770. Remarkable. Imagine that?

I have comforted friends within its grounds, been comforted by friends, gone on dates there. Then gone there to recover from those dates. Met up with old friends, read to my son. Written. Laid peacefully in pools of silent sunshine during the plane strike. Ran into friends I haven’t seen for years there, discussed lovers. Avoided lovers. Walked and walked in rotations to improve my fitness levels.

Drank tea, drank coffee and have eaten lots of cake.

I have laughed. Read. Thought. Pondered. Sat on benches dedicated to people who like me love the gardens, but of whom I know absolutely nothing. Taken numerous on a whim sunny day picnics there. Been amazed by the giant redwood trees. Visited the bluebell woods in the spring. And, felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up one afternoon in the palace. It is endless the discoveries and experiences one place can offer you if you engage with it.

There is always something new to learn, see or do in my garden.

So when Kew decided to host their first literary festival, it was my idea of paradise. There between its beautifully manicured boarders, exotic plants, and elderly trees, writers, authors and journalists would descend and take root for the last week in September.

The variety of subjects that they would be discussing were vast. And if I could have, I would have attended each and every talk and lecture. For me, to be able to hear artists talk about their work and their lives, is a wonderful thing. I was invited to attend, and thereafter became Charlie Bucket with a golden ticket on her way to the chocolate factory.

As I was fortunate enough to be able to attend several talks during the final two days of the festival, I had decided that I would chose a balance between science, fiction and poetry and children’s literature as the subject matter of the hour long talks I would like to attend. I also thought about the person that I wanted to hear, and based this upon how much I knew about them in advance of the event. With my tickets secured, off I went.

The weather was glorious on both days. Perfect for visiting Kew. The sun was shining and the gardens were full. I made my way to my first talk, situated in the Jodrell Lecture Theatre to hear the doctor and writer, Gavin Francis discuss his book Adventures in Human Being.

This seemed like an appropriate talk to start my two day attendance with, as in his book Gavin maps a route from head to toe of not only the human body, but of the way in which different parts of it are represented within our various cultures. I sat there lapping it all up, intrigued by how he had managed to research and deliver so much.

Within his hour long lecture, I was most captivated by his chapter relating to all of the faces he had dissected during his training. Here he discussed how it was possible to differentiate between those who had spent their lives laughing, and those who has spent their lives frowning, simply due to the tone of the muscles in their post mortem faces.

Some he told us, had well formed cheek muscles, and had obviously spent more time smiling and laughing, as opposed to others who had more well formed muscles in their foreheads that had been built up from years of frowning. It was both insightful and telling, and a good lesson of how in death, there are those who will be able to identify what kind of person we were: one that laughed or one that didn't. The literal mask of comedy or tragedy as seen through the eyes of those in the medical profession. It was fascinating stuff that was certainly food for thought.

I then went off to a Novel Literary Lunch hosted by Mel Giedroyc. Mel's guests were ex-editor of The Lady and sister to Boris, and now novelist Rachel Johnson and John Mullan, a professor of English at UCL and Jane Austen aficionado. We the audience were introduced to Mel and her guests Individually, each who then proceeded to present us with their own home-made trays of cakes. I think mine was a Mullan creation. I shouldn't be eating cakes, I pondered, but then again when it was handed to me on a plate, how could I say no. Then Mel informed us that the purpose of the lunch was to give each of the trio the opportunity to present a starter, main and pudding in the form of their favourite choice of books.

Again, this was a real treat as it presented us with their three personal choices and their reasons why they had choosen those particular books. My favourite was Mel's The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies by Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud . If you have ever needed a book to read as a cure to an issue in your life, then this book does just that. Need a cure for a broken heart, writer's block, or a myriad of other aliments, then you can simply look up your issue, and this book will recommend what to read to cure it. Genius. My copy is on order. And if you are wondering what to buy that reader in your life for Christmas, there's your answer.

The guests choices included; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, the C.J. Sansom Shardlake series of books and All I Ever Wrote: The Complete Works of Ronnie Barker.

All of this was mental food for thought and a clever, witty and revelatory insight into what and why certain books appealed, or resonated with each of the speakers.

It was late in the afternoon when the talk ended and the sun was still high in the clear sky and I left my day one wishing I had accessed more.

My second day was only a sleep away I mused on arriving home, and what treats it held.

10:45 the next morning and I was rushing as I was late. How could I do this to the woman I was about to see? She is 92 and has had the most extraordinary life. If you haven't seen the BBC Imagine documentary about her, I would suggest that you do so. For Judith Kerr has had quite a remarkable life.

I arrived to find a lengthy queue leading into the Sir Joseph Banks Building. The chatty security guard informs me that Judith is running late so not to panic. I say at her age I think she is allowed. The guard agrees.

I am slightly annoyed at my lateness though as it means that I will have to sit nearer the back and my eyesight isn't as bionic as it used to be. Still, I am there and eventually so is Judith.

Judith is really an illustrator. Judith is Jewish. She lived with her family in Germany. At the age of nine it was brought to her father's attention that they were about to receive a visit from the Nazi party. As such, her mother packed what they needed, and left all of what they had, and escaped. Remarkably she packed some of Judith early childhood drawings. These intricate colourful drawings are now housed in the Jewish Museum London.

Their escape from Germany is an incredible story in itself. She came to London and worked as a textile designer and then after her first child was born, found herself at home with time on her hands within which she began to create stories.

Her most well known story is The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

What became apparent during her talk, was that Judith is a funny, imaginative, creative person, who despite all of the horrors that took place in her and her family's wake, finds beauty in life. Her new children's book Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, tells the tale of one inspired by her father's real life efforts to save a baby seal that he rescued from certain death. She amused the audience when asked how she had researched what the fishermen had worn and the how the seal should look for her drawings “I Googled them” she said.

She also admitted that she felt relatively new to this role having had her first book published at the age of 45.

It was a charming and gentle interview. When asked about those who weren't so lucky to have escaped the Nazis, she said that she didn't like to look back, but preferred to live in the present. She said that was amazed on a daily basis at all the beauty that the world has to offer and preferred to focus on that.

How wise.

The talk ended and I queued for coffee thinking on her positivity. It was a beautiful morning and I was free and able. The cloudless sky was blue. God is in the detail I thought to myself.

I made my way back to the same building for the next talk on my agenda.

I was early this time and nabbed a better seat for the benefit of my eyes.

I sat down and waited for Sandi Toksvig. I always remember seeing her and her family in Chiswick High Road years ago. I can't put a date on this memory. But I remember thinking at the time about her and her life. She is a vivacious character, and one that I admire as she uses her time wisely to do as much as she can. Be that as a writer hell bent on educating people about facts that are crying out to be remembered. Or as an exponent of equal rights. Sandi Toksvig is colouring in every page of her colouring book with as many colours as she can.

Her persona couldn't be more opposite to my previous talkee Judith Kerr. Sandi is absolutely passionate about all of her projects because she knows from her own experiences how important it is to be a living sandwich board of information and detail.

She was simply magnificent in her deliverance of the information that she wanted to share with us, and incredibly generous with all of her stories about her life. She is an open book, and I recognised in her someone like myself who speaks up, because it is important to have a voice and to be heard.

My heart pumped with this realisation as I was handed the microphone to tell her what an inspiration she is, and to asked her how she found the support to keep going?

She was very gracious and honest in her response and shared with us her experience of coming out as gay and the ramifications that this had on her family. Recounting her story of numerous death threats and having to flee her home with her family under police guard, brought a tear to my eye. Here was a woman brave enough to be honest about her sexuality in the latter part of the twentieth century, years after Judith Kerr and her family had left Germany, being persecuted for another equally abhorrent reason.

I honestly believe that these collective experiences amongst writers, afford them the courage to be who they are. They are positive creations of their experiences and not in spite of them.

Sandi was there to promote her new children's book called A Slice of The Moon. A story that is based on a young heroine who leaves Ireland as a result of the potato famine for a new life in America.

Sandi is a arduous researcher and her attention to detail is what defines her books and who she is.

I left there inspired. I did feel a little guilty that my question had rubbed salt in an old wound. But then again, she was happy to share that memory and it's one that shouldn't be forgotten.

I had a while before my next talk. It was with a man, who when I think of, I just picture Daniel Day-Lewis with dyed hair sitting on a washing machine in a launderette.

I sat in the sunshine and ate a sandwich logging all that I had seen and heard so far. The gardens were busy with people travelling to and from various lectures. The creativity was palatable. I smiled and made my way to The Jodrell Lecture Theatre once again, to hear Hanif Kureishi talk about his book Love + Hate: Stories and Essays.

Like my two previous writers, Hanif Kureishi had turned to writing as a platform to speak up about a social injustice. For him it was the racism he had both witnessed and been on the receiving end of.

I looked out of the window and thought I am fucked.” He began as he told us about the options open to him as a young Asian in Britain. In a heartbeat, after he had had that thought, he decided to become a writer. His premise being that there was no one like him writing about the things he had experienced.

Hanif is funny. He has a dry sense of humour that you could quite easily use to sand down a rough piece of wood. I laughed so much, that if Gavin Francis had been there at that moment to dissect my face, he would have found physical evidence of this.

Love + Hate: Stories and Essays is a series of essays and stories that deal with both of those emotions. Hanif amused us all with his well documented experience with an accountant who stole not only his money (£120,000) but also the money of many other lesser known individuals. He recounted his first meeting with the accountant Adam Woricker whom he believed to be a trustworthy person as an amiable man who had a passion for collecting James Bond memorabilia.

Hanif's main thematic was that even though this man had broken his trust by stealing his money, he became obsessed with him and what motivated Adam to do such a thing, given that he was in the main a likeable person.

Is there a thin line between love and hate, or is that just a Pretenders song? Absolutely there is. We have all at one time or another in our lives become intrigued by people who are likeable, but who do something to us that we cannot quite accept or understand. Ex-lovers for example. Hanif talked about how these incidents break our trust in people, but how we cannot let their behaviour colour our perception of trusting others. For if we do that, if we have no trust in the people we know or or yet to encounter, what hope is there for us?

He was incredibly engaging, witty and ardent raconteur. My face hurt by the end of his talk from laughing excessively. My only regret was that I was time rich but money poor (the irony) to purchase a signed copy of his book.

I was verging on being emotionally drained as I left the lecture theatre. I had so far attended talks that dealt with the holocaust, homophobia and racism. What next?

I made my way over to Cambridge Cottage (which is surrounded by my favourite garden within Kew) to hear Howard Jacobson talk about his rewriting of Shakespeare’s Shylock.

This was what I would call the intellectual heavyweight session of my weekend at Kew's Write on Festival. I have to admit I am not familiar with Howard, so I sat there and felt a little out of my comfort zone as to what to expect.

In walked Howard accompanied by Alan Yentob. They took their seats on the small platform and started discussing how Howard had arrived at his latest project.

It was an enjoyable and informative insight into the representation of being Jewish, and how the character of Shylock and been constructed and how that in turn had informed the perception of Jews. Was he a caricature or a valid construct? And if either, how did this inform and educate all of those that had read or seen the play when it had first been written and since?

Alan and Howard talk at great lengths about this and then Howard read from the manuscript of his as yet unpublished book. We were also treated to an rough edit of the BBC's opener of the forthcoming Imagine series which features Howard's journey with the play and his interpretation of it.

I warmed to Howard. He was incredibly intelligent and passionate about his work as all of the writers I had heard during the weekend were.

As a nearby clock tower struck six o'clock, the session was wrapped-up and those who wanted to queue for a signed copy of his book J were invited too do so, while the rest of us existed via the front door and found ourselves on Kew green.

I was out of the wardrobe and back in the real world.

I made my way home with my head full of information and new memories of a weekend spent in my garden with some incredible people who had shared their work and their passion for life with me and many others.

And it was bliss. If you like words and the way people string them together to amaze, delight, insight, captivate, and inform you. Then you would have been happy in my head as I lay in bed that night mulling over in my mind the two days I had spent at Kew. I could have attended an entire week of talks and lectures that were held there, I pondered, and for me it still wouldn't have been enough.

The pleasure was immense and fulfilling. Boy George was once cited for saying that he would rather have a cup of tea than sex. That might be pushing it a bit far for me. But I would say that the experience tapped into a part of my brain that finds an equal pleasure in both. Hearing people talk about their passions may well be just as fulfilling for me as sex. It's all about what stimulates your senses and leaves you wanting more of the same.

And I will be there next year, and who knows maybe someone will one day be listening to me talk about my work and my passion for it.

If anything, I hope that this piece has inspired you to read some of the books I have mentioned and to visit Kew's beautiful gardens.

And next year treat yourself and your literary senses and attend the next Write On Festival.

If you do any of those things, please let me know.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Art of Genius - We go to the gallery By Holly Searle

I love observational comedy. It’s my absolute favourite. To see or hear someone else's humorous take on a relatively ordinary situation, to which laughter is the only possible response, is just the most glorious thing.

I can still recall how much my face hurt from laughing so much after seeing a stand-up comedian a few years ago. I felt sure that I was going to either break my jaw, or worse lock-it, and have to go to hospital. At one point I did wonder, if, after laughing so raucously for over two hours, if it was actually possible to die from laughing.

Thankfully I didn’t.

So when I read Miriam Elia’s We go to the gallery and ended up crying with laughter. I just knew that the little book that I was holding in my hands was pure comedy gold.

I looked at it again. Really examined it. And what I was actually holding was an incredibly intelligent and beautifully produce work of art.

Elia, both an artist and a gifted comedian, has managed to produced something that is not only clever, but also an homage to the artist and illustrator Harry Wingfield.

Here is a perfect pastiche of an original Peter and Jane learn to read Ladybird book, that features the same key words and phrases model, that has been illustrated in a similar vain, depicting the two children’s visit to a modern art gallery with their mother.

The concept is exquisitely (re)produced.

Anyone who learnt to read with the Peter and Jane series will find this book hilarious. The juxtaposition of the style with the subject matter, is pure genius.

But it’s the slow build up of the text and the sudden realisation of what you are reading, that pays the greatest dividends for this tiny treasure.

The premise is that Peter and Jane and their mother visit a modern art gallery. There they encounter capitalism, sexual confusion, and the perverse conceptual Chapmanesque world of art in full medical textbook glory. Plus, there is the additional revelation of their mother’s latent unhappiness. The further you venture into this book, the more you notice its ingenuity mixed with its sublime deadpan comedic use of linguistics, and then their appearance as the selected key words at the bottom of each page.

It is just stunning.

Like I said, I cried with laughter.

If you like laughing, comedy, art and are impressed by ingenuity, treat yourself to a copy.

Book, genius, buy, laugh, keep.

We go to the gallery the commercial hardback edition was published on the 21/09/15 by Dung Beetle Books for £8.99 and is available from all good stockist. Or you can order from www.wegotothegallery.com The Kindle and iPad version will be available to download in October 2015.

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Way We Were by Holly Searle

Most nights before I drift off to sleep, my mind eases itself into this unconscious state of being by telling a itself a story or two.

As I lie there relaxed and waiting for sleep to arrive, these little stories will suddenly start to materialise in my consciousness. And as they swirl around manically, they appear to feature a series of interconnected vignettes that merge easily into each other, but that end-up as an unintelligible irrational set of thoughts, that make no sense whatsoever.

On the odd occasions that I have caught myself going through this sequence and have managed to examined the contents, I have wondered what the hell it is I am thinking about and why.

The conclusion I drew, was that it was better not to do this, as it disrupted the ebb and flow of what my mind was in the process of doing in order to enable it to sleep.

It had a purpose I concluded. And that purpose needed to be observed in order to unlock the door to its nightly sleeping chamber.

The mind is a funny space that houses all sorts of items covered in dust sheets and precious memories and artefacts that have been stored away from their relevance to our everyday present life.

Although they exist, we only access them when we are reminded by someone else of their existence. They are building blocks to our individual and precious history.

Major life events often flood our minds with clarity and uncover memories that we hadn't thought of in years.

As I head towards my birthday it is not uncommon for me to undertake a mental stock check. And as I have been thinking about the past a lot recently, it was only to be expected that the other night whilst drifting off to sleep, those swirling pieces all attempted to connect. And as they did, I stopped them and paused the process and started to think about a particular time in my own history and how it had connected me to the present.

As I lay there I imagined all of the pieces as they had occurred in the time frame like pieces of a puzzle. I then attempted to piece them together in some order. But this wasn't easy, as some of them wouldn't fit. Either the setting was incorrect, or the time I thought that it had occurred in was.

After a while I gave up trying to do this as it was proving too difficult. I needed a prompt, I concluded, to set me straight. But as it was just me and my interpretation of my histrionics, I had no one to rely upon for guidance but myself.

So I gave up.

But the one recurring element that was clear throughout these thoughts, were the people.

Family, friends and lovers.

The people were all there. At various times and settings (in whatever order they did or did not occur) they were all participants. And there were so many of them. I had recalled this particular period of my life as being quite uneventful and full of loneliness, but in retrospect, it was full of people and social situations that shaped my life and made me who I am today.

Some of these memories made me cry. I wished I hadn't allowed some of the people I had encountered to mistreat me the way that they had. And I also wished that I hadn't let go of some of the people I cared about so easily.

But, I hasten too add that I was a bit of an idiot at times. One that made some rash decisions that my youth seemed to allow me to do without the fear of consequence.

Then, as I lay there, the following question entered my head:Did I have any regrets?

And my answer to that question would have to be, that whilst I have no regrets, I wish that I had been more able to react in a more appropriate way. And I wish that I had possessed more foresight, and had not been duped by so many untrustworthy types.

That I had said no rather than yes. And yes rather than no.

And if I had the chance to do it all again.

Would I?

No, I bloody well wouldn't.

You can remove that sentimentalised version of my past off the play list right now.

The truth is, I don’t even recognise that person any more (do any of us?)

I am happy being who I am today. How she got here, now seems irrelevant. More importantly, more than anything else, I am proud of my children and their children and of all I have been through with them and survive as a lone parent.

What an incredible journey it had been so far.

And whilst an array of memories may occasionally light the corners of my mind, I intend to keep making new ones for all of those pre-sleep moments still up ahead.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Impractically Perfect in Every Way By Holly Searle

Winds in the east / Mist coming in / Like something is brewing / About to begin / Can't put me finger / On what lies in store / But I feel what's to happen / All happened before.

That little poem always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It plants within me an uncertain seed of expectation that something unanticipated and unwelcome is about to arrive.

Maybe that's actually excitement.

This thing, whatever it may be, will kick up some dust and cause a storm, and present an altogether disquieting ambience.

Actually, maybe it isn't excitement.

The ground will feel uneven, and in order to navigate it successfully, I will have to find something steadfast and reliable to hold onto, as I precariously journey through it.

Okay, maybe I am over playing the effect that poem has on me. In actual fact it just reminds me of Bert the over optimistic, over talented, and obviously sixth sense gifted chimney sweep from Disney's 1964 film Mary Poppins. When I think about Bert, and any Disney film, I feel quite sad.

For me watching a Disney film has never been a happy experience. For they all seem to contained some horrific incident that makes me cry almost as much as I did at the end of Terms of Endearment. Either that, or the main focus of their plot sees some socially unacceptable character that has been alienated by the rest of society having to learn how to shut up and catch up, or fail to make the grade. In the end, when they inevitably do, they are welcomed back and forgiven for all of their crimes and misdemeanours.

To illustrate my point, imagine having a physical disfigurement that others mock you for. You aren't really upset by this as your mother is there to love and protect you, so you feel safe and secure. That is of course until she is locked-up in jail and labelled mad and dangerous, because one person too many mocked you and she defended you. And now you are devastated because she is incarcerated and there is no one to protect you, plus everyone is still laughing at you. You're vulnerable and alone, with only a mouse for company.

What are your options? Give up or use your most obvious apparent failure to create your biggest success? Bingo everyone is amazed by your ingenuity. You're a star and now everyone wants to be your friend.

And no one mocks you any more.

Isn't that taking the idea of tough love to the extreme? It seems more like a plot line from a House of Cards episode that Francis Underwood would be the main protagonist in, rather than a film intended for children.

I hated Dumbo. I still can't watch the scene where his mother cradles him in the nook of her trunk through the bars of her bolted trailer and gently rocks him, while he cries big wet tears. This scene is made worse by the fact that it depicts all of the other mothers cuddling their offspring. It's just heartbreaking.

So what was Disney doing? At the end of all of his movies, the wronged live what we are lead to perceive of as a happy life with a happy ever after ending. But it's a rough ride for those characters to enable them to achieve it.

And there is always one character who features in the story lines of these films who is so tiny and insignificant to everyone else, apart from small children. These characters are there so that they have someone they can relate to on screen. These characters always advise the main character of what to do. Tinkerbell, Jiminy Cricket and Timothy Mouse all act as on screen guides for those little ones captured by the hideous plot.

The manipulation of the audience's emotions is unforgivable. The pay off is always a formulaic unspoken contract between the viewed and the viewer that in the end it will all be okay. Is this acceptable? For what Disney did was to create spaces where we witness cruelty against those who can't defend themselves with the additional implied notion, that in fairy tales it always end well, so long as you are handsome, beautiful or wealthy.

And I have always wondered why people flock to Disney's lands and worlds to meet all of the characters that feature in all of his movies. For me spending time in a Disney resort would be like spending time in a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from.

Disney's ideology represents for me, everything that is wrong with the world. So when I saw that Banksy had opened up Dismaland, I smiled. If there is one person who can turn the Disney glitter that blinds so many, back into sawdust, and remould it into something more meaningful, it's Banksy.

Disney may have been a genius. But the necessity for his lands and worlds now more than ever, may just act as smokescreens for all of the horrific realities of the world. Maybe they do have a reason for existing after all. For as long as there are people who wish to forget about all of the evils in the world, there will always be a place for them at a Disney resort.

Isn't that the point of Disney? Or didn't he activity create unobtainable illusions and needless bouts of sadness, that in turn have created generations of unhappy clappers?

Banksy has certainly excelled this time by cleverly taking the idea of the theme park, and has reconstructed it as a polemic against all that Disney did and stood for, by blatantly focusing on the horrifying and the macabre, with no happy ending.

Because in the end life is more like that, than it is in a Disney film.

It's pure genius. And I hope I get to see it, as it will help me find closure for Dumbo.

Now I feel excited.

Cue the poem.

Winds in the east / Mist coming in / Like something is brewing / About to begin / Can't put me finger / On what lies in store / But I feel what's to happen / All happened before.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Sweet Charity By Holly Searle

One of my favourite past times is pottering about in charity shops. I adore it. The treasures I have acquired over the years make-up the Heath Robinson décor of my home.

This is a love I have had since I first felt the rattle of loose change in my pocket. I spent much of my youth in Oxfam shops looking for clothes that I couldn't find on the then less than accommodating high street. Kensington market and Flip in Covent Garden were both regular haunts of mine. There I could find original vintage clothing from the 1950's that I lusted after. The styles, prints, and availability were stunning. To find something that no one else had was heaven on earth for me.

Then Kensington market and Flip both closed. It was the end of an era. The high street was taken over by mass produced preppy styled clothing, and to counter balance my disdain for this, I remained a true advocate of jumble sales and charity shops. It was the only way to feed my wonderlust for originality. And whilst there were other less mainstream stores where items could be found, for me, the pleasure was always in the pursuit of finding something different.

The same can be said for all of the items that furnish my home. Apart from a few items, everything else is second hand. I find these items much more interesting than buying something new. To me they are simply beautiful things that give me great pleasure.

On a trip to Ireland many years ago, I went along to a local barn sale. Most of the items they had for sale I had no use for. I wandered about aimlessly until I found myself in an old disused cow shed. There sitting all alone was the most wonderful odd looking chair I had ever seen. I asked the seller how much he wanted for it. four punts he replied. I mentally squealed. That was only two pounds. I paid him quickly and carried the chair away. I was delighted. There followed much discussion about the chair, and the conclusion was drawn that it was probably made by an apprentice from some sort of fruit tree wood. A friend kindly transported it back to London for me, and it now sits in my living room, and always will.

A few years ago, I volunteered in a charity shop. The items that people disguard are truly amazing. Unwanted gifts, designer clothing, it's endless. Charity shops are the salvation of modern society as they house all of the items that people no longer need, and then re-home them with people like me who are not able to purchase them at the beginning of their life cycle.

In my local area there are three charity shops. One specialises in furniture and clothing, and one has books and general household items, and the last one is less friendly.

My passion and solidarity lies with the first two. They are run by Kathy and Chris. Over the years from Kathy's shop I have sourced clothes for Child Two, especially jeans for four pounds a pair, that would retail for over thirty. Picture frames, a gorgeous bespoke kitchen dresser, a stunningly pretty chair, and most recently a chair that left me breathless it is so beautiful.

But I like spending time in the shop that Chris oversees most of all because Chris runs it. And she, not unlike all of the items that I have found in shops like hers over the years, is priceless and original. But most of all, beacuse she is my friend.

I can't remember how our friendship began, but it did. I must have sensed she was like me, and it just developed from there. She is witty, wise and like me enjoys a chat. We have a catch up most weeks about life, love and all other pursuits.

Last week we discussed the merits of Jon Ronson's writing. I informed her that I had received a tweet from the man himself, to which Chris responded "Get out of town!!!" She said "You mean I actually know someone who has been tweeted by Jon Ronson!"

We laughed.

I get all of my books from her shop. Less than a pound for current titles that have been read by locals in the South Ealing area, and then kindly donated to this emporium of wonder.

I visited both Kathy and Chris today. I spent less than twenty pounds and walked away with two shirts, a pair of jeans, a Richard Dawkins' book, a glass heart shaped wasp catcher, a rather nice mug, and a DVD of The Clockwork Orange.


The pleasure for me will always be in the possible discovery of such wonderful treasures and because in charity shops, you can form friendships with remarkable women like Chris. That for me, is the cherry on the cake, and a rather priceless and rare find.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Lying Game By Holly Searle

If there is one thing that I find abhorrent, it's lying. I can't do it as it doesn't sit well with me. Oh okay there was that time on the bus (please see Please Forgive Me, I just couldn't Help Myself) when I told that awful woman that I was sitting in the seat set aside for those less able to stand due to the fact that I had a prosthetic leg. But that's another story, and a lie I told to illustrate her ignorance of the situation and therefore on balance an acceptable lie. A social imperative and an educational lie, that sprang to life out of necessity.

But lying on a daily basis, is not something I adhere too. If anything, I would say I am far too honest for my own good. And as a consequence this often backfires on me by giving others the impression that I am quite gullible when in fact I am not. This assumption of me, makes me feel both sad and angry in equal measure.

I can't win.

It's a no win situation.

Recently I repressed a smouldering foot stamping arms crossed pouting stance with my other half via the rather unnerving, but never the less free app that is FaceTime. Whilst he has been based in India for the past few months on a business trip, and I have been in London, we have kept in contact via this method based upon the availability of and access to a free wifi connection.

One day I was out of range and thus situated between where I had been tuned in and ready, to where I was heading to be tuned in and ready for our daily catch-up, when my phone began to ring in an out of reach pocket of my backpack. I was queuing at the time, in of all the romantic places a Tesco. Initially I let the phone ring out, as one I couldn't reach it. And two I wasn't in a free wifi area. I was happy to do this, until the man standing behind me started to mimic my ring tone. I laughed, and retrieved my phone instantly from the hard to reach pocket and answered the call. There he was my man all tiny on the screen, four and half hours ahead, but never the less, very much present in a queue in Tesco with me and the ring tone mimic standing behind me. I am out and about I say. I will call you in an hour when I arrive home, safe and economically sound in the free wifi of my home.

Okay he says. Ten four rubber duck (he didn't say that last bit).

I pay the cashier and return the phone to the hard to reach pocket. Leave Tesco and carry on towards the Holy Grail that is free domestic wifi.

I don't lie. I am a truth speaker. I get home, spring the phone from confides of the hard to reach pocket, and call my true love. There is no answer. I frown. I work out what time it now is in India and draw the conclusion that he must be sleeping. He works so hard, that I am not surprised by the possibility of this. So whilst I am sad, I think that this must be the reason. So I go for a bath and plan my evening ahead. There is always tomorrow.

But then a few hours later he calls. I am NOT in a glamorous repose. I have washed my hair whilst in the bath and it has remained wrapped in a towel on the top of my head. I am fresh and clean and make up free and having a wee when the call sounds. Child Two picks it up, and departs this information to my lover.

I appear fresh from my wee, looking hot in the crumpled damp towel that is resting on the top of my head with skin scrubbed clear of any smoke and mirror tricks that I have grown used to making me look presentable.

Oh how attractive he says on seeing my image appear as I relieve Child Two of the mobile.

I am instantly defensive, embarrassed and quite frankly stripped of any remaining Jane Austen sensibilities.

Once I have recovered from my momentary image panic attack (bloody ego), we chat.

He questions me as to why I haven't called him. I inform him that I did. No he says, you didn't. I did I say. Well I have no missed calls on my phone he replies. Well, I say, what can I tell you, as I did.

The mood of this conversation has been tainted. I did call, but he is claiming that I didn't. As I do not lie, my heckles are up. As I can't think of a good reason why I wouldn't call, and start to wonder if I have in fact called someone else instead. No, my brain yells, that is impossible as the callee is fixed in a position on my phone, which means that I cannot mistaken the action I have carried out. Plus, like I said, I don't lie.

The conversation is blighted like a potato. It ends.

I then receive a text from my friend. Do I fancy a chat? I always do with him. He is bright, witty and wise. And a story teller supreme. And considering this last telephonic exchange, a welcomed interlude of solace.

This friend has a husband who travels the world, and as I am still hung up on the accusation of not calling (when I had), I ask him if he ever had encountered similar issues with his other half when they are globally separated. Yes he says, lots of times. Phew I think. I have sought absolution, and have been given it.

I am so relieved to hear this, that I email this information to my lover. Then bingo, I look at the call history and see quite clearly that I did. My i-Phone, like George Washington cannot tell a lie. So I screen shot the image and email that as well.

I get no response to my heartfelt discovery, and a rather tepid attempt at humour in respect of the photographic evidence I have submitted.

I am disappointed that there is no recourse other than this. What a let down. I am an innocent women I tell you. But obviously this is old news. Get over it and move on.

So I do.

Although if I am honest, and as that is the main point of this, it has left a nasty trail of mistrust in its wake.

And let's face it, trust is right up there with lying in my book. If that goes, what have you got?

Then just last week, I found myself having make use of a made up persona in order to obtain some covert information. I was doing this over the phone. I lured the person I was talking to into a false sense of security. I feel terrible. When I end the call, a colleague says to me "Wow. I didn't know you could lie so smoothly." I laugh in a hesitant way, and began to develop an instant paranoia that the rest of my co workers will now start to develop a mistrust of me as I am obviously such an accomplished liar.

I feel sick, so I go to make a cup of tea and think to myself that I only have myself to blame for lying to that old lady on the bus that day about my leg. My Verbal Kint fiasco is finally redressing the imbalance in my karmer.

Still, that was funny. And in my defence, I was provoked into it.

Je né regrette rien.

A week or so later having defaulted back to my initial truthfulness. My other half is again unreachable on the phone. I have called twice. I am disappointed but look forward to the following day when I shall no doubt be informed of why he didn't answer.

However, on the following day, I am confounded by the lack of free wifi and therefore unavailable to speak to him. The day after will be same. I inform him of this via email. My rationale being that some communication is better than none. He is not happy about this current but temporary break down in communicae. I have no idea why this causes so much upset. But it does like the distant rumblings of an expected storm. Then like a dormant UXB, it all explodes and I am shocked by the voracity of the fallout which in turn ends the relationship.

Maybe, I think, I should have walked with another Kint limp. But then I realise how much lighter I feel without having to do so. And in all honesty, that feels much better.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Absent Without Leave By Holly Searle

I was quite moved yesterday by all of the posts on social media to mark Father's Day. All of them positive mentions of dads that are very much present, and sadden by those relating to many that have long since passed.

Oddly enough, for me, as it was my mother's birthday, that wasn't my main focus. And rightly so, for she raised four children, regardless of why, pretty much on her own.

I later went on to do the same raising two alone. And let me tell you this, it is not an easy thing to do.

It's a crying shame to be placed in a position like that, as it can affect so many aspects of your children's lives when they have one parent as opposed to two.

Having one parent can create an incredible strain and vulnerability on the parent that remains as you have to provide all of their emotional, social and economical support, without any for yourself. Plus being a lone parent can often mean that your needs are over looked for the sake of your children's, resulting in a whole host of frustrations that inevitably become the norm.

Lone parenting is a hard graft. It is not for the meek, as you have to cover all of the bases where another person should clearly be positioned in the traditional sense of the expected family ideal.

I was never privy to the constant presence of two parents from the age of 12 and the legacy of this produced many insecurities in me as I grew into adulthood. It's hard to explain to people who have been raised by two parents what it is actually like to be so reliant on one parent, rather than two.

Your expectations are less as is your social affordability. It's all of those silly take for granted things that children from a two parent family just have access to, but you do not, that affect you most of all.

I can remember watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie when I was a kid. They were two of my favourite shows. When I think about them now, I realise that they both dealt with two families that featured a mother and a father and their on going lives, and those of their children. Two complete romanticised versions of what family life was like and how they functioned. It's odd when I think about that now. But that was probably why I lapped up the day to day lives of the Ingalls and Walton clans so vicariously like reading a Haynes manual for family life.

I was one of a few kids in my class at school who became the child of a single parent. In the late 70's that was rare. When I became one in the late 80's, there was a dreadful social sigma attached to this moniker. So much so that at times I felt like I should have been wearing a scarlet letter and holding my head in shame at every opportunity. But I didn't.

I did the best I could in the given circumstance, and Child One was always warm, fed, and most importantly loved beyond measure. Yes I struggled with it all. Being homeless with a small child is no mean feat, but it strengthens the reserves that you never thought you had access too, and that can't be a bad thing.

Then I did it all again with Child Two.

For whatever reason they had/have to remain absent without leave, both of the fathers of both of my children have missed out on all their offspring's daily lives. They have not been there to bare witness to the evolution of two of the most remarkable human beings I know. Their day to day progression as they have grown, and become the solid steadfast incredible individuals that they are.

So when I consider all of the angst and worries I have endured to keep us three afloat throughout my years of being their parent, I realise that even though it has at times been difficult and unsupported, I am the parent that has gained the most exceptionally fulfilling experience by being the parent that remained and did it all.

Sometimes, for what ever reason, there is only one choice when it comes to what is best for a child even if it does mean that they may miss out somewhere along the line.

But I have to say that both Child One and Child Two appear to have turned into two incredible human beings regardless. And for that, I am immensely proud of them both.

I know many wonderful fathers, too many to name here. They are engaged and present and that is what a parent should be regardless of whether they are the mother or the father.

So to my mum and all of the fathers, lone parents and parents out there, you're all brilliant. And remember, as long as your presence is felt and your children are loved, they will thrive, and so will you.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) By Holly Searle

And in the news today, death, destruction, misery and a large portion of general finger pointing.

That's pretty much what the news delivers to you and yours on a daily basis via which ever media channel you subscribe to.

I don't know about you, but I have grown incredibly despondent in recent times in my efforts to sign up to any type of media reporting, as it is never happy news. On the contrary, it is always just death, destruction and like I said, general hoodwinking and slight of hand to deliver to you and yours a daily dose of mind blogging reports about events and situations that are in the extreme, negative and non productive, and in reality, just contrived to make you feel angry.

Yes these media whores and paddlers of generic frustration and despair, have blind sided us all. So much so, that in these modern times we inhabit, we are all in a constant anger induced state of flux, resulting in us all just wanting to head for the castle and kill the monster.

After each bulletin, we have all lit our torches, found our pitch forks, and are all togged up and ready to go.

And it is both exhausting and non productive for all our our gentle minds to be constantly bombarded with all of this News. As it leaves us, for the best part, socially and morally impotent, as there is no monster in a castle, but instead at its core, a biased narrative construct, rather than the actual cause of the issues.

Ask yourself these questions?

How many interpretations of events have you witnessed either orally or audibly via media channels that have left you feeling angry, sad, confused, and with your mind reeling as if it had been inhabited by poisoned worms?

Many I should imagine. And if you are anything like me, you have probably reacted in the first instance, by being quite shocked and upset that such horrifying incidents take place in this glorious world that we all live in.

It's draining isn't it?

The proof of the pudding is clearly reflected in the way in which social media reacts to these reports. That's us. Having put down our pitch folks and distinguished our flaming torches. We take off our shoes and coat and sit down and vent our worries and concerns via which ever account we subscribe too.

And at this point there is a clear distinction between who is affected and in what way and why.

It brings out the worst in some, whilst others just rise above it and continue to post videos of animals being cute. And whilst some may find those irritating, I say carry on, for it's better for your mental health in the long run to side step the crap that apparently happens by replacing it with something friendly and fluffy.

The point is, I can't absorb it all any more. It's too much for me as I can't continued to be manipulated by something that has been constructed to make me feel unhappy.

And for me those sweet little videos have a place in placating all of the nasty stuff. And if there is a steady stream of cheerfulness being created, well then get this, there must be good events occurring everyday on this planet. And if that is true, and I believe it is, then why can't we have that channelled in equal measure?

In the news today, the sun shone, the birds sang, and we all took time out to be lovely towards one another. Several thousand healthy humans joined our global community by simply being born. Wild game hunters gave up killing endangered animals and started conservation projects. And we all had a global street party and celebrated our differences. Everyone went home happy, healthy and fed. Tomorrow, there will be more of the same.

The point is, happy positive incidents take place as well. So why are we all privy to such negativity? And more importantly generating misery and negativity without addressing the root cause of its occurrence, is not really news is it? To me it just seems like a process that ends up causing more causalities, rather than thinking of a way in which we can make it better.

Wouldn't that be more productive?

Human beings are fragile creatures, and whilst some are more capable of responding in a more resistant manner to these fear factor induced reports, some are not. It festers in them and creates real life scary monsters and super creeps. And that is my point.

In an ironic way, News, whilst reporting on the evils in the world, irresponsibly creates it's own monsters.

And that is the real issue.

I tend to peer over the fence these days to see what is happening in the world. And when I I do, I find myself becoming angered quite quickly and start looking for my pitch folk. But before I light my torch and head for the castle to kill the monster, I switch over (or off), and replace my reactive mood with something positive and truthful (and possibly fluffy). It makes me smile, and I find that is best.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Default Setting review and Interview with Will Green: When Mister or Misses Hyde Takes Over By Holly Searle

Good grief, modernity is a hard place to exist within isn't it?

Isn't it?

It absolutely is my friends.

Everything is so fast and full on and furious, with endless necessities that we don't actually need being forced upon us on a daily basis, coupled with a myriad of demands that we can't hope to forged a healthy relationship with, in addition to a photographic hail storm of images of ideals that we cannot realistically emulate. That it is no wonder that one in four of us ends up with some form of psychological baggage or mental health issue, that has us all seeking out some form of sensual or physical obliteration via self harm, drugs or alcohol in order to enable us to formulate coping mechanisms to block it all out.

Yes modern life can be pretty tough on those who are more sensitive to its expectations, or ill equipped to deal with it all than those who are more robust.

It's hard to know why some of us are more sensitive and inclined to climb into a little box and lock ourselves away from it all when Mister or Misses Hyde takes over.

Is it nature? Or is it nurture? Or is it just both?

Maybe some of us are just better equipped to cope with life whilst some of us possess mental tectonic plates that are prone to shift and create a minor internal quake when life rubs them the wrong way.

For some of us, when we are propelled into an alternative state, usually due to a trigger. This trigger creates an imbalance that changes all that we know and our lives begin to rapidly spiral out of control, until we either become aware of what is happening and ask for help, or we are fortunate enough to be given it.

In his exceptional account of the immediate downfall and the cause and effect of his character Edward Staten's loss of his reality as he is plunged into the darkness of his own mental illness and ensuing breakdown, Will Green's comprehensive book Default Setting: A Nervous Breakdown, examines the grim but honest internal reality of the experience of suffering encountered by those of us who are more at risk from mental illness.

It's a roller coaster ride from the opening sentence until the last, that carries the reader along at a breakneck speed wincing all the way as Edward descends from a fully functioning human into life's gutter via a succession of events that although he is aware of, he has no control over.

It is both heartbreaking, intense and well observed. And offers the reader an insight into the vulnerability of those who are more sensitive and therefore more likely to access the dark-side of life and why.

For those who may wish to understand how this is possible, or for those who may have had first hand experience with a partner, family member or a friend who may have encountered mental health issues, I would urge you to access this book.

The book left me reeling with questions for Will which he was gracious enough to answer.

Interview for Pandora’s Box with Will Green, author of Default Setting: A Nervous Breakdown

Was the book based on your own experiences? Is it an autobiographical account?

Default Setting was based on my own experiences but I would stop short of calling it an autobiographical account. It is a fictionalised version of a very dark period of my life. I mean every emotion in Default Setting is real. I felt all the pain, hurt, self-loathing and depression that is documented within it on a daily basis, and I did have the problems with alcohol, drugs, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. So, from that point of view it is a pretty accurate account. In my opinion, in would be a monumental task to write credibly from a first person perspective about the internal workings of such a mind without having experienced it personally.
Story-wise, I have taken the liberty of altering certain aspects in a bid to make it flow better and be more readable, although, I hasten to add that the overwhelming majority of events were true, or at least based on truth.

Did you find writing it a cathartic experience or an uncomfortable one?

I found writing to be cathartic. In fact, it was suggested to me as a form of therapy by a psychiatrist I was seeing. It became something I did to help process what I was feeling. It helped me detach myself from what I was experiencing. To me, there was a real sense that if I could actually make something good out of what happened it would make sense of all of it.
The uncomfortable experience of the writing process was letting people read it. Making it available on-line at Amazon, Kobe, Google Play and i-tunes was a huge step for me. It felt like I was coming out, but I have to say the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far.

Do you think we all struggle with our demons?

I was very much aware of the statistic that 1 in 4 people suffer from some form of mental health problem but since releasing Default Setting I have had people writing to me to say they can relate to my writing and what I was saying with their own experiences. These are people that come across as being successful, confident and content. It showed me that mental health touches so many lives. It was naivety on my part to think I was separate and alone with this. So I think, to some extent, almost all people struggle with their own demons. How they manifest themselves, and how we react to them and deal with them is obviously personal to that individual but I do believe it is a common problem which is why I am so pleased that celebrities are speaking out about it and #TimeToTalk recently was trending on Twitter. I believe the first steps to providing adequate support to those with such issues is to de-stigmatise mental illness which will encourage more people to seek help.

Is mental health a direct result of the pressures that society places on us or we place on ourselves in society?

Based on my own personal experiences, there are certainly societal contributory factors, but it is more complicated than one or the other. I think the two are intrinsically linked. It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation. I believe that some people are more naturally susceptible to mental health problems than others and this can be exacerbated by external pressures. I mean, you just need to look at the issue of body image and what the media portray as beauty. That has a massive effect on what people deem as acceptable and what they “should” look like. For certain individuals, this perceived failure and lack of adequate coping techniques can lead to low self-esteem, self-loathing and a downward spiral into depression. However, it is by no means clear that it is the definitive root cause of mental health issues as there are certain biological influences at work.

Did you consider making Jess more vocal in the story to flesh out Edward’s history or was it always to be about him and his ongoing addictions?

Default Setting started life as a notebook for me to simply write as a way to express what I was feeling. There was really no plan to make a novel of it until a lot later on. I literally wrote about what was going on with me during a period of my life following a particularly messy and painful break-up. There was no reason for me to write about her as she was no longer in my life. All the experiences of the Jess character (except for one phone call) are in Edward’s head. They were him trying to make sense of everything that was happening, get through and cope. It is written in a stream-of-consciousness style. It wasn’t an active decision to write that way it was just what worked for me at that particular time and that approach left little need for her to feature much. I guess I could have made her more vocal but the simple fact was that, in real life, she wasn’t. She was just gone.

About the Author

Will Green lives in London, which is the backdrop for his début novel Default Setting. With 1 in 4 people suffering from some kind of mental health problem and suicide remaining the biggest killer of men under 50, this work of contemporary fiction, based on his own experiences, is both relevant and topical. It is available through a distribution deal with Help For Writers as a download for £2.99 on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Kobo. Will has committed to making a donation to a mental health charity from some of the profits made on the sale of the book. You can follow Will on Twitter @WillGreenAuthor

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Undoubtedly The Most Beautifully Crafted Love Song Ever Written By Holly Searle

How wonderfully refreshing it is the be overwhelmingly delighted by three minutes and nineteen seconds of pure joy.

It's a rare gift, and one I have to thank a dear friend of mine for sharing with me recently whilst I was busy helping her sort out some filing.

Do you like Jake Thackray? She asked as I sorted through a pile of paperwork.

It was a fine and clear day. Spring had finally arrived. All was good in the world, but it was about to get better as a familiar vocal and tune began to waft its way from the room in which my friend had posed the initial question.

I know this I thought. It sounds familiar?

Who did you say this was? I asked my friend.

Jake Thackray she said.

I know this I thought.

And so I sat, and I soaked him in. I absorbed his wondrous dulcet tones and filed him under further investigation required at a later date.

And then I completely forgot his name.

A few days pass and even though I cannot recall his name, the melody of that song is still playing in my head like a mental juke box with a play list featuring only him.

And then it starts to drive me crazy as I want to actually hear him/it again, but I can't Google him as I do not know his name.

I reach out to my friend for the key to the lock that will finally release me from my increasing mental anguish.

I ask her what's the name of that man who we were listening to the other day who was singing that song with the line I love you very much?

Jake Thackray she tells me. And the song is called Lah-Di-Dah.

I am finally released armed with this knowledge. And I download his album featuring this song straight away.

The relief, I can tell you is exceedingly sweetened by being able to hear it again.

And so it begins.

Now we're agreed that we're in love
We'll have to face the lah-di-dah

But wait, as I listen, something truly magical transpires. Not only is the melody oh so captivating, but his voice caresses my hearing like vocal velvet. And his enunciation, and choice of words is pure genius as it accentuates the intimacy of the love he feels towards his intended despite all of those she is related to.

I'll try love, I'll bill and coo
With your gruesome Auntie Susan
I'll stay calm, I'll play it cool;
I'll let your tetchy uncles
Get me back up, cross my heart.
And I shan't get shirty when they say I look peculiar.

The more I hear, the more I fall deeply in love with this song.

It is pure unadulterated joy underscoring the discourse that is undertaken when we become interlocked with not just the object of our affection, but all of those that reside in the queue behind them that also become part of the equation.

It is beyond exceptional and incredibly astute to be able to capture so much within three minutes and nineteen seconds.

And more than anything else, it is truly a bewitching three minutes and nineteen seconds I would encourage everyone to listen too.

But there is more to Jake Thackray than this song. His song book is an master class of songsmithing, that features tiny portals of life with a myriad of characters and situations that will entrance you and make you smile.

And the more you listen, the more you realise that Jake Thackray created a platform for the likes of Neil Hannon's Divine Comedy to exist upon.

But their cheeky and sometimes darkly dystopian wood shed curtain twitching tales are nothing in comparison to Jake Thackray's gentle beguiling honestly observed sweetness.

And Lah-Di-Dah, well it's just the most beautifully crafted love song ever written.

Now go and treat your ears and listen to it.

(I love you very much.)