Publishing and the Working Class

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This week the UK’s Bookseller invited the book trade to complete a class survey. The survey hopes to map how class acts as a barrier to entry into writing and publishing. This survey is important, and something everyone in the trade should fill out, across all classes/income groups.

My own background: low-income working class, rural Ireland (supportive, encouraging, warm, but definitely working-class, very little money) – and it’s been a hell of a pull. I’ve seen a couple of threads on Twitter acknowledging and defining the privilege that comes from being middle-class in this industry, so I though I’d join the conversation from the other perspective.

Working class, especially if coming from outside the UK, means knowing no one, and having zero access points that aren’t self-made. My own journey: I did a publishing MA. To fund the fees, I worked 3 jobs for a whole year in Ireland so I could pay for the course in advance/have a bit extra to tide me over for a month or so until I got a job in London to pay my living costs

Then it meant doing the MA, which I did really value, and having to work full-time restaurant hours around lectures and placements to pay the bills/be able to eat. I would work 9-5 in a placement, for free, and then go straight to a gruelling 7pm to close shift in a restaurant in Islington. Work 7 days a week, every week.

It’s finally getting a job, and having no fallback – it’s pay cheque-to-pay cheque living, with no buffer, while so many of the other juniors around you have holidays etc, paid for by family, living in flats where their rent is covered/free (their salary covering bills and entertainment), their mortgage deposit paid, or the property straight-out bought for them. I got an entry-level publishing job in 2006 and had just over £900 (net) to live on every month, in London, including rent and bills, working full-time. That was it – no extra, as there was no extra from anywhere.

At this time I was living in a £250pcm single room in a shared house on the Andover Estate in Finsbury Park, which was featured on ITV’s ‘Ann Widdecombe v The Hoodies’ at the time. It was the only rent I could afford when looking. (To be fair, there was a lot of drug dealing etc, but my neighbours were all really nice people.)

It was being made to feel crass and not ‘genteel’ when bringing up salary in appraisals, and the issue of it not increasing in line with workload, and being made to feel that conversation was unreasonable. It was being expected to act like having the job is a privilege but not being allowed to express that you’re barely surviving in order to do that job.

It’s not having a support network behind you who understand the lines on the map and can give you advice in advance as to how to navigate these kinds of conversations… how to stand up for yourself etc. It’s being too poor to push too much, as you’re too poor to lose that job.

It’s not always having the same literary or cultural reference points, but occasionally feeling looked down on because of this. It’s being an editor and people being shocked and aghast that you’ve lived your life having not yet read X, Y or Z. In my case my childhood house didn’t have many books, aside from an encyclopedia collection (which I know my parents worked hard to pay for in installments, and which I read/made great use of) and required school reading. All my reading was self-selected from the local library (Irish village of 80 people, so, as you can imagine, small; now sadly gone). I didn’t have anyone telling me what classics to read; I read what looked interesting.

It’s working alongside people who are privileged enough to be able to say they are more keen on having a title-only promotion, and forgoing the money, than the opposite. To me that was unfathomable. “How can people afford to think that way?” And then it happened to me – a promotion, but told there was no budget to give me a corresponding salary increase – and it made my soul die a little, realising the company had effectively closed that money conversation for at least another year if not two.

Class privilege is so engrained though… The most obvious and simplest place for change to happen is for internships to be paid, and entry-level positions to have realistic salaries attached. @thebookseller says: “There have been repeated calls to help make the sector more inclusive to all backgrounds, regardless of financial situation or class, but publishing remains a predominantly wealthy industry.” People need to be PAID to be able to afford to do these jobs.

Those who read don’t only made up from one class group, and we need more people around the table that represent readers across the board, and publish content to which they can connect and relate that’s relevant. And the reality is that people from working-class backgrounds who are trying to get into publishing, despite all the barriers, are being so utterly propelled by their love of books/reading, that that’s something to be celebrated, and embraced.

To take part in the research, please click here https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/6RCJ5P9, by 12 noon on Tuesday 19th February.

Heat, heat, go away…

I’ve been waiting for the heatwave to go – week after week after week – before getting back to running… Did I mention I LOATHE the heat??!

I took a couple of weeks off after the end-of-May Moonwalk, and it started heating up then. But it’s not stopping, and my waistline is expanding (erm, may still be eating as if I’m London Marathon training!), and I have no regular mindful release point for stress, so I sucked it up today, put the trainers on, and got out there there. Looks like the heat is here for longer so I have to just get over it.

Gosh, was it painful though! Roasting in London at 8am, with the sun beating down. But I did it. And I instantly feel less stressed. And I have to keep getting out there! I had to take a few walking breaks (and bumped into a neighbour for a few minutes, and forgot to stop my watch!) – slow and steady over shorter distances will be my approach for a while.

Committing here and now, for accountability reasons. Will have to build the fitness back up again over the next few weeks; it’s crazy how fast it goes, but then how it can be brought back again relatively quickly. Autumn looms – my favourite time for running – when my twins begin school, and I’ll have much more time for running in and around them and my work, so want to be going into the season ready to go!

#nomoreexcuses #run #running #cantstandtheheat #lloydpark #runningmum #london

Thank you, NHS

Thank you, NHS, for not charging me €50 every time I need the GP, like Ireland does. This meant that when I was a student here, living on the peanuts earned from my part-time waitressing job, my health was looked after.

Thank you, NHS; there have been times my health has needed you to step in and you have. Overworked doctors and nurses who, day after day, give and give and give – who have paced the corridors with my sick child during hospital stays just to give me an hour’s sleep, enough to keep going – you have more worth than you know or I can say.

Thank you, NHS. You navigated me through a pregnancy which, from 20 weeks, was fraught, tense, anxious – your calm at one of the worst times of my life helped me stay calm.

Thank you, NHS. You are why my son – a hair’s breath from not making it – did. He is here in all his sweet 4-year-old amazingness because of your work, your knowledge, your care, your speed.

Thank you, NHS. Your support of ME – always checking I’m OK – allows me to be the mum I need to be with the daily challenges and stresses I face parenting a chronically ill child.

Thank you, NHS, for allowing me to focus on that child, rather than what in other countries would be the sum of his worth: a bill, to be fretted over.

Thank you, NHS, for your medical advances. 30 years ago children didn’t have kidney transplants, and now the parents of today have a hope those before us tragically never had.

Thank you, NHS; for each time my other child has needed you. Your care of both of my kids – regardless of the seriousness or complexity of their situation – has been measured and so professional every time.

Thank you.

Kids’ A&E – does it really need to be said? “Don’t abuse the staff”

A shout-out to my local hospital’s Paediatric A&E staff, who really seem in the trenches at the moment.

I was there yesterday/last night with a child for 11 hours, and it was especially busy – lots of kids with sports-/playing-related injuries to the norm – so the waiting time reflected that.

Numerous times I heard parents kicking off massively at the staff – who were being absolute superstars and keeping calm despite the rush and the treatment they were giving – screaming at them because their kid was still waiting to be seen by a doctor 2/3 hours after arrival (even though there was a sign stating that would be the case).

Staff had to repeatedly explain about their system – after kids are triaged they’re seen in order of severity (eg my son’s condition is severe but the issue not time-sensitive so we waited 6 hours before bloods were even taken as there were more urgent cases).

I was so shocked; the doctors and nurses who are helping our kids shouldn’t have to deal with that when clearly totally up with walls with a packed waiting room. When I was leaving the doctor actually thanked me for how I treated them, ie basic empathy.

All the drama also wasted crucial time that could have been spent better elsewhere, and made stress levels for all more heightened.

For any of us unfortunate enough to have to visit this department, it’s a stressful scenario for sure as I know well, especially for the kids themselves, but let’s try to show the staff the compassion and respect we expect to be shown back.

The land of the free

I dropped my twins to nursery this morning, and my daughter (almost 4) had a small wobble when I was heading off, and needed to be hugged and comforted by one of her teachers, and reassured I’d be back in a few hours.

I walked away, my heart breaking, thinking of all the kids in the US right now being taken from their parents, when even in a safe, trusted environment small kids are so fragile and vulnerable, needing comfort about even the smallest planned separation from their parent.

And the parents… broken from getting their kids, despite all the danger, to what they think will be a place where things might be better in comparison to the violence of where they’ve left… to be told their kids are being taken for baths, and then realising they’ve actually been separated.

The similarities with Nazi Germany are chilling. Being a Jew was made illegal, and this then used to dehumanize Jewish people and justify their treatment. The constant hammering on about these people’s ‘illegal’ status by Trump and the Republicans, and that being used to justify what is totally inhumane at every level, is history repeating itself.

To apply for asylum you have to enter a country, apply for asylum immediately and then you’re not ‘illegal’; the US is stopping people from applying for asylum, and taking their kids before they have a chance to do this, which is a violation of US and international law. When I try to imagine the hopelessness of people who can’t go back or forwards, it crushes me. And the terror the kids must feel… unimaginable.

It’s reprehensible what’s happening. Families coming to seek asylum, being arrested before they have the ability to do so – kids stripped from them and put in cages. And the US government and a portion of the population condoning this. Dark, dark times.

London Moonwalk 2018: we walked the walk, and limped the limp!

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As 2018 approached, I decided to pull a bit of time back for myself to concentrate on health, slow and steady weightloss and overall wellbeing, after 3 years of feeling like I’d given everything possible – and then some – to my three-year-old twins, my career and all the other demands.

One of the potential personal challenges that caught my eye was the London MoonWalk – I’ve seen reports about it before, and it’s always been a bit of a bucket list item for me… walking a marathon in London past loads of sights, through the night, in a bra, to raise awareness for breast cancer, and support for grant-making charity Walk the Walk….what’s not to love?!

This year was its 20th year running, so myself and friends Heather and Mark decided to sign up, and take on what is known to be a pretty fierce challenge! Here are inspiring words from Heather about her own motivation behind doing this challenge:

“This year I will have made it to ten years living with stage IV breast cancer in my liver and bones, which is a small miracle given that I had a roughly 15% chance of making it to this point. When my friend Donna suggested doing the London Moonwalk it seemed like a brilliant way to mark this moment so I couldn’t say no and roped my husband Mark into it too. 

Cancer will always loom over my future, but I learned to accept this by understanding that a life isn’t valued by its length, but its depth of experience. Nearly ten years ago I promised myself that having cancer wouldn’t reduce my world. I have travelled to new places (in the photo that’s me in Swedish Lapland :)), forged new friendships and deepened old ones, learned new skills and taken on new challenges. This seems like a good tradition to continue, so on 12th May, Donna, Mark and I will walk 26.2 miles at night through London for the Moonwalk – my toughest physical challenge since bring diagnosed with breast cancer!

Walk the Walk is a grant making breast cancer charity that gives funds to charities big and small that are involved with breast cancer in order to make a difference to the lives of as many people as possible affected by the disease. This is where you come in! If my story has made you smile or stop and think for a moment, please consider sponsoring me and the team just a few quid so that everyone affected by breast cancer can be given the support they need and are offered treatments that give them the chance to live their lives. Please donate so that there can be many more positive stories like mine.”

So signed up we were, and the next thing to think about was training. I was already in training for the London Marathon, happing the month before, so that had me covered, and Mark and Heather covered some epic walked distances during their own training.

We received pre-walk packs with useful training info, as well as the famous white Wonderbra – ready for decorating – and a rather fetching pink cowboy hat, this year’s theme being Wild Wild West.

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So it was feathers and hot glue at the ready, to get me decorated for the big day!

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One of the elements that makes the challenge such a challenge – distance aside – is the fact that it’s overnight. In my own case there was zero rest beforehand; my husband was away the day of the event so I had my 3-year-old twins for 11 hours – i.e. NOT a restful situation – and then a quick handover when my husband returned, before I grabbed my bag and headed off, already feeling wrecked, thinking… how am I going to walk a marathon now?! But as I got closer to Clapham Common the number of people wearing pink, and all sorts of other random bright sparkly clothing, increased, as did the buzz, and I thought, LET’S DO THIS!

There was a fab pre-race atmosphere at the starting area, with a huge tent where we were all given some food, and there was even a bit of line dancing for those with energy to burn! I met Mark and Heather there, and we were all impressed with the bra efforts! Some people had gone to serious effort – was amazing to see everyone’s talk on the Wild Wild West theme.

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A bit of food, and a bit of caffeine, and before we knew it we were off!!

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There were men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes. We heard the oldest woman doing it was in her eighties – amazing!!

This was the course map – click here to see the Relive animation of the route we took.

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As I’d trained for and completed the London Marathon, which I’d run the month before, I was feeling fit and ready, thinking… A walked marathon… this will be tiring but manageable. And the reality? This was gruuuuueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeling!!

Bet we did it! And like all epic challenges, getting that medal – and being able to stop said challenge – was a very very sweet feeling!!

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I feel so happy to have ticked this off the list, and when I look at this medal I’ll feel incredibly proud – it sure wasn’t easily won! Will I walk another marathon? To be honest, I’d sooner run one – more training needed, but you’re finished a lot faster and the recovery – for me anyway – was substantially quicker!

The London Marathon took me 5:55, and to walk the MoonWalk walk it took us 9:17, so 3 hours 22 mins longer on my feet… and boy did my legs protest towards the end, especially my ankles! I’d say about an hour of that time was for loo breaks – we stopped 3 times, but had to queue about 20 mins each time. It was a long time to be walking/standing, and the end was more of a zombie march than power walk!

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It was a rewarding challenge to undertake, and crucially we (well, mostly Heather!) raised over £1000 for Walk the Walk, which organises the world-famous midnight MoonWalk challenge and takes teams of women and men all over the world raising money for vital breast cancer causes: https://moonwalklondon2018.everydayhero.com/uk/we-are-mammary

The Sisterhood

Something happened yesterday to remind me how motherhood, as soon as you enter the trenches, goes from concept to sisterhood: suddenly you are tapped into a network of other women who are dealing – or have have had to deal – with much of the same hopes, fears, anxieties, challenges etc.

But where is the line between personal experience and empathy for those having a different, sometimes more challenging, journey? Should those experiencing the latter, with additional challenges, ‘man up’, or should the former make more effort to don the other’s shoes and have empathy? Or both?

The incident in question that got me mulling on this was small, but it did get me thinking: someone in a local group shared an amusing picture of a toddler mistaking a mannequin for a real woman, and latching on. The caption was ‘real mamas are best’.

A lot read it as a cute/funny/a joke – can absolutely understand how – but others immediately reacted differently, seeing how the phrasing used could be problematic when considering those who are struggling right now to breastfeed, don’t feel like a ‘proper’ mum, or – as my experience goes – have people around them commenting negatively on the fact they’re formula feeding.

Being affected by others’ comments was never an issue for me personally, I’m relieved to say, though I’ve seen people really hit hard by others’ words. With twins in different locations for a month, and one tube fed who projectile vomited from extreme reflux up to 30 times a day until he was 14 months, breastfeeding would have been, 100%, a logistical impossibility for me. We had a complex pregnancy and knew formula feeding was likely to be our road, and had done the relevant research. Interestingly when I asked in my NCT course for info about up-to-date guidelines I was told, no, we don’t give info like that as we only actively promote breastfeeding. Okaaaaay… not very helpful. What happens when that woman, determined to breastfeed, can’t but has no info and a screaming, hungry child? This approach by them is hugely problematic in my opinion, especially as to formula feed properly there is a really specific method, and – having been trained by Great Ormond Street Hospital about best practice – I so often see parents out and about, mixing up bottles in such a way that won’t kill the bacteria in the formula powder, which can be incredibly dangerous for little ones.

But my own body made that final call anyway: the trauma of my son nearly dying on day 5 meant I lost my letdown, and even though I’d been breastfeeding his healthy sister successfully to that point with mix feeding, as I wasn’t producing enough for her – not to mind feeding a second newborn also who wouldn’t latch so was getting his milk through hand expressing – it just wouldn’t physically come out anymore. It was the least of my worries at that time, though.

For so many, the way you’re treated when you formula feed can be incredibly affecting, and I know some who’ve had postnatal depression triggered by the fact that – despite doing all the research – breastfeeding didn’t work, added to that the fact people feel they can be quite judgemental. If I had a penny for every time someone saw me feeding and decided to tell me about someone with twins who successfully breastfed them… “isn’t that amazing?” Erm, to be honest, right now I’m just about able to keep these two and myself alive, but round of applause to your mate. I’ve even been called lazy when NG-tube feeding my son – maybe 2/3 months old at the time – in public.

What surprised me a little in the online conversation was, despite others having a similar reaction to me, so many came back to say, well, I formula fed and I personally don’t see this post that way, so there’s no problem.

To that I say: does that mean people who feel a bit jolted by this have to, therefore, just “get over” their issue? Is your experience the barometer here?

Or is it not possible to understand people will have different reactions to yourself, and that the best thing all round is to have a bit of empathy and sensitivity.

We’re all on this crazy train together, and need to support each other, and build each other up, and not push down. When I see women not having empathy with others who might be having a difficult time, or feeling a bit smug because things are going more smoothly for them versus the women around them for whatever reason – baby instantly took to the boob… everything just slots into line – it does make me sad. While this parenting journey is one of the best possible, it can be lonely and isolating, and I know I personally feel at my strongest surrounded by people who try to build me up and help. So my pact is to continue as much as I can to do this, and I urge you to do the same!