Longlisted Times / Chicken House Children’s Fiction Award 2018
Longlisted Bath Flash Fiction Award 2015
Winner Ad Hoc Fiction 2015
Winner (Aug 2015) and runner-up (June 2015) Faber & Faber QuickFic flash fiction competition
One day I’ll write you a very short bio here, but I’m too lazy, so here’s a long one.
Oh hi. I’m Jo. It’s OK, I always nearly look like I’m not smiling. This is my quite happy face.
There are a few occasions on which I’ve tried to sit down and draw up a list of What Really Matters. Have you ever done that? It’s hard, isn’t it. This task can be ameliorated by a glass or three of
Pinot Gris fizzy water and a hunk of fantastically smelly goat’s cheese, but there’s no escaping the fact that drawing up your version of The Roolz is tricky. Aside from that, I wonder what would happen if you sat up and drew down a list. I mean, lists go downwards, generally. And I tend to think sideways. You can see how this can quickly become problematic.
Sometimes these tasks are best attempted from a reclining position. And we wonder why some days it seems hard to get out of bed.
It changes. The list, I mean. When I was ten, I was obsessed with Fido Dido, Roald Dahl and swimming endlessly up and down chlorine-blue pools. I was definitely going to be a potter or an actress (even though I was so shy I’d pee my pants rather than asking to be excused).
When I was thirteen I was a pole vaulter and a gobbler up of art, science, mathematics and language. When I was sixteen I gave up my study of art to be a scientist, pondering subnuclear atomic structure, heading for a degree in physics until the day I realised, mid-university-entrance interview, that I didn’t give as much of a shit as I’d thought about what would happen if two trains moving towards each other at different velocities should meet.
Although it would be interesting if they were carrying, say, jelly beans and milk.* And what about the poor drivers and their families?
*I have since found out that jelly bean milkshake is A Thing.
It feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it? Life. I mean, when you’re little and life is delightfully in the moment and time stretches out yonder like your granny’s ball of navy blue wool, all wiggly and bobbly and full of surprises until…
It. Suddenly. Gets. Complicated. And that pullover that granny knitted you itches like hell, and starts to feel like barbed wire.
You caper off into the sweet sunrise of your adulthood, armed with fierce idealism, energizer bunny stamina and a moral compass that sticks sometimes. You find out mind-shattering things like the North Pole is really magnetic South, and that Rolf Harris was a paedophile and suddenly the line between Good and Not Good blurs into a peculiar shimmering grey. Like the essayist Montaigne, you cannot help but come to the conclusion that the more you learn, the more you know you don’t know.
While you’re busy filling your brain with things you don’t know you know, and things you know you don’t know, you’re simultaneously sanding down all the delightful edges, jaggy bits and curious dimples of your inner life until, before you know it, you Have Become Normal And Scared.
Shit. Hello, ten-year-old self? Helloooo? Hellooo?
When I was at university in London, I spent three years hurtling between papers in seven different faculties, like an undergraduate game of Hungry Hippos. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t take French with Java programming, or marketing with philosophy of science. I had no flipping idea what I wanted to do when I was grown up, but when a series of ‘career’ opportunities came along, I simply knew that I didn’t want them.
Programming job in London or winemaking adventure [erm, OK, bumming around] in France?
Corporate software job or forklift driver?
Journalist or ‘pack up the house, we’re moving across the world with a tiny baby’?
Settling into sales in my hometown or buying a crumbly old mud brick cottage in a country whose language I didn’t speak?
See, it turns out that I do have my own version of What Matters. The Roolz. Whatever you want to call it. I’ve made huge, scary decisions based on a hunch, on a conversation with my ten-year old self. Hey dudette. Long time no see. How’s Fido Dido? Cool with this? Draw me a picture, then. Sometimes I’ve even talked with my ex-husband about it, and once we actually made a list. I know, wild.
What matters to me is …
The same things that mattered to me when I was ten. But I’m no revolutionary. I’m lucky enough to be able to work from wherever I am in the world, but I’m not location independent because I get cheap thrills packing the forty three items which make up my sorry existence into a minimalist rucksack and instagramming soy lattes in hipster cafes. I’m ‘location independent’ because I want to be able to eat a breakfast of home grown eggs and strawberries in my nightie in my garden at eleven o clock in the morning. With my kids. On plates that have travelled around the world, accompanied by a favourite red bowl, an old comfy blanket and hairy pits if I want. Isn’t this internet contraption flipping marvellous? I mean, isn’t it blooming wonderful?
So why does it make us so sad?
I’m no rebel, no wildster, no hipster. I’m really quite boring. I’m completely surrounded by books. You know, I don’t even think that anyone can truly be location independent. Places grow on you, in the end. You grow on places and their people, in the end. Chickweed and Fat Hen and dandelions grow abundantly in the end. It feels nice to belong. To matter. In the end.
What I’m figuring out, slowly, is that the internet and evidence of other people’s lives makes us a bit crazy sad because it brings up a kind of cognitive dissonance. That the way we feel about the way we live, and the way we actually live aren’t happy bedfellows. A buzzy, hummy, not-nice feeling that we don’t matter in the ways we thought we might when we were little. That we might be letting that little person down.
Or flatulence. Sometimes, it’s just flatulence, pure and simple. But still.
Now I’ve been self employed for over a decade. I draw pictures for a living. I write words and sometimes shopping lists, but rarely recipes (don’t get me wrong, I love to cook, but I’m more of a feel it-taste it-eat it girl). Sometimes I draw pictures live in front of whole rooms of people wearing expensive suits, and my ten-year old Fidi Dido dudette is well impressed. ‘Specially when I spell long words like sustainability correctly in one go.
Other times, like you, I struggle to get out of bed in the morning.
What does get me out of bed, apart from the promise of toast and coffee, and little people stomping on my pandiculating head, is that just maybe today’s going to be the day that I get to talk about boa constrictors with you.
In my favouritest ever quote from The Little Prince, the narrator says this:
“ In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.
Whenever I met one of them who seemed to me at all clear-sighted, I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I would try to find out, so, if this was a person of true understanding. But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say:
“That is a hat.”
Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.”
What I was wondering was whether you wanted to talk about primeval forests, and stars, and boa constrictors. Either the grown up you or the you when you were a little girl/boy/narwhal/beastie. Goodoh. Make sure you scroll down and put your name on my mailing list then.