Enjoy that winning feeling

I started to go through the papers and books and folders and bags of stuff kept in corners and in piles and on chairs and behind the doors. I want to move house so I’m cleaning house. I found things out about my past. I found how much I was paid in my first career-type job, which was surprising because in my memory I’d been paid more than that. I found what I was paid for the next three jobs. The evidence was the faded printed payslips. My pay was reducing with each job. Which was weird.

I remembered something about how I was just going for jobs that sounded interesting, and were trying to do good things for people, and that I wanted to do, even if they would eventually end (at least one) in a tearful meeting with my boss, saying I can’t afford to do this, I need to pay rent and eat and pay for transport to get here. And another one ended with fewer tears at leaving, but more with rage at local authority corruption.

I’ve been lucky because I haven’t had to be homeless (technically) from leaving jobs, I mean, I’ve had periods of not really living anywhere, but I haven’t ever had to sleep on the street. That’s definitely more lucky than a lot of people. And I’ve been able to choose my jobs, sort of. I mean, I’ve been knocked back a lot, but I was raised with my mam always telling me this story, that I hated, about some sparrow who managed to survive winter because it didn’t feel sorry for itself. I was raised within racist communities. I went to a secondary school where everyone was richer than me but only some of them cleverer than me. I had a father who’s now estranged.

A Yoruba female hairdresser dressing the hair of a woman. Halftone after a photograph by A.W. Gelston.

Credit: Wellcome Collection, Free to use with attribution

I’ve been an outsider most of the time, so it doesn’t hurt me that much to get rejected for jobs. I didn’t ever think that much of people who knocked me back for that kind of thing. I hate to get rejected for my writing as that comes from something more soft-bellied than my working class instinct for work, and my Hull-upbringing instinct for dour expectation of class, gender and race based discrimination in the workplace.

On the other hand, some of that belligerence still comes through when my writing’s rejected: something about the potential of hob-nobbing in the literature world were I to become some kind of published person makes me nauseous. I don’t really want to mix in with the circles that I’m told form the literati. I tell myself that I just want to write small things that I like.


nothing changes on its own.

I see that in my work-self’s context. The poor old archives world, with so many good intentions pinned to its lapel but at heart lethargic towards change, is being slowly brought to the point where its local shop for local people will be filled with strangers touching their precious things. So I mustn’t let a squeamishness seeping of the last parts of my kidhood shyness stop me getting in to the literati glitterati by the window, back door, cat flap, mousehole, or mud-clung to the sole of a shoe.

One day you’ll come down to your stone flagged kitchen to have a blue china cup of tea at the kitchen island, your toes warmed in fleece lined slippers, and you’ll have my book tucked under your arm.

I might have a chip on my shoulder but I am from Hull, so the chip’s dusted with American chip spice. On the other shoulder there’s a pattie buttie. And as I’m from Nigeria too why not add an akara necklace, and moin moin for boots? I’ll stop now. Hungry.

I saw a friend post some kind of twitter meme where you noted five books that weren’t necessarily your favourites, but on seeing the list a stranger would know who you were (or something like that). Here are mine, at this moment in January 2018.
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I didn’t know someone else could write about my childhood, I mean, the facts were all different).
Number 9 Dream, David Mitchell
The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig
Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

I didn’t really make new year’s resolutions, but I did download a checklist app so that I can see whether what I think I will be up to this year (and what I think would be a good idea for me to get up to) actually happens. My to-do lists at work got very complex by the last month of the year. For such a simple sounding job – more focussed in principle than other jobs I’ve had – it’s turned out to need the most brain wattage of my work life. I’m kind of into that though. It’s interesting trying to get untangley. I think by the end of December I had two notebook to do lists, a post it note sub-list, an excel spreadsheet, email flagging system and a kanban board all on the go. I was full of winter lurgy, [pre]menstrual hormones and painkiller though, so I might have hallucinated some of that.

In January you shouldn’t talk about the dead year at all. So sorry, I don’t mean to. The three theatre things that changed my life and perspective in 2017 were The Ferryman (Jez Butterworth), Salt (Selina Thompson), Barbershop Chronicles (Inua Ellams).


Hey ho, let’s go.

A Japanese style monkey wearing a black hat and red shirt while holding a fan and a flower.

Credit: Wellcome Collection

The maker of miniatures

I went to see the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. I don’t have anything clever to say about it. It made me think again about identity and who we think we are, or might be, or become. It seems to me that Basquiat was between more worlds than only being the black artist in the white scene, homeless to famous, private school to sleeping on a bench, between languages, between forms of expression.

Maybe the most punk rock thing to do is something that you think is a good idea and probably everyone else will hate. Has anyone read the Stephen Millhauser story, In the Reign of Harald IV? What do you think is going on at the end of it?

Here are some more discarded words from the old version of the book.

My head thuds. ‘Set me off again?’ I ad-lib, ‘That was a long time ago.’ I hold my breath. Don’t push too far. Let it come. What more there is, let it come.
‘Yeah I suppose so. I mean everyone’s a bit nuts when they’re kids. I’ve done my share of wild things,’ Debbie says. Her attention is somewhere inside her head. She laughs.
I laugh too, clipping it, trying to cover up clipping it. Act natural. I have my hands shoved into my jeans pockets and I feel your hand grow inside my fist. A tiny baby hand becoming fleshy. I jerk my hand out of my pocket. Debbie doesn’t notice. I flex my fingers, find a glove in my jacket pocket and put it on.

Nice pipes Tamika

The book I’m writing (very slowly as it is becoming quite personal) now has snuck its way into the first person plural. I loved Eugenides’ Virgin Suicides written in the ‘we’ and ‘us’ voice but I dunno if I’ll be able to pull it off.

My work practice is sneaking into my writing too. I’m writing and talking a lot about movement, memory, the performed and the moment of disappearance in the live. D and I made a kind of comic book ages ago together: kind of to try out the Cage/Cunningham model of creating something in different but related art-forms without the art-forms being subject to one another… so for Cage/Cunningham the choreography and the music were on equal ground. Neither one were in the ascendant to the other. So with the book/pamphlet/artist leaflet that D and I made. It’s since turned into something a little more concrete now tho. Stars Dots and the New Junk contributed a CD to go with it and it’ll be sold in Orbital comic book shop in Soho, London til the limited run we made is all gone. I shan’t tell you what it’s called though, as my involvement was always supposed to be a mute form of writing seen from the corner of your eye. The original object was meant to be anonymous and left around to be picked up by strangers, so if possible maybe it can still have some of that despite its 15 minutes of fame this evening at the music launch.

cool poster

Let me know if you think the first person plural is going to be a really bad idea.

If you’re going to be up North, then go to this exhibition. I had something to do with it. Despite that, it is very good.

Writing seems to be urgent now. What else can I do but document.


Time seems to move so slowly on Sundays, and at the same time it has that urgency, that sense that Monday is about to happen and that this laziness will not stand. So when you’re hungover, like I am now, with a work-writing and self-writing to do list as long as it ever is that’s when the self recrimination really sticks in your ribs. Coulda woulda shoulda.


I know I’ll get it all done, eventually, but it’ll be painful. The new book is in omniscient third person, with four characters followed in focus and connective tissue of their interactions with each other. So that’s five narratives to write, sort of. I’ve done one and a half. The half is part of the connective tissue narrative. The next one I’m writing is actually a first person voice via her blog. You can read it on Medium if you want to.

I wrote an academic article, that needs a lot of revision, gak.

I’m writing an online exhibition, gak.

And some other stuff needs editing. I am going to overhaul Patience and Bridget’s story – mainly P’s part.

Rolls up sleeves.

Goes back to bed.


You know that feeling when you have worked on a story so much that it is now lifeless, and you think, ‘Did it ever live?’. It’s like, it’s like, it’s like when a fisherman pulls an octopus out of the crystal Mediterranean and takes it to shore and beats it on a rock until it’s dead and what was jewel-like in the water is now jelly on land and what was beauty is now death and what had potential is just wet and slimy flesh grey on grey rock.

But maybe it can be salvaged.

It doesn’t have to be dead.


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Blackstar, star star.

He was our Pierrot. So that we could be brave, and look into the sky at night and be in love with its immensity. We could love the moon and be in ourselves artists of any sort, and be free to be made fun of, and not to be scared to show ourselves as we are inside, full of yearning and colour and sadness and love.

To be close to something beautiful that we can’t explain. To have a place in the world, or the universe, or the fabric of things from the muck as much to the air.

To have grown up listening for the intake of breath on the track as the needle hits the vinyl.

To have had that.

The knowledge that there are others, that it might be possible.

The bravery of the maker of miniatures, who ‘understood that he had travelled a long way from the early days, that he still had far to go, and that, from now on, his life would be difficult and without forgiveness’ and who still carried on because creation what he wanted to do and it was worth it.

To leave with dignity and to leave us with the invitation that he’d given us from the start, you must create (if you want).

February: Rocking out with my big sister

Dancing to Hole’s album with the sea coming to our feet, I became friends with my sister again. With the night stars pinning the sky up above us, we danced off the sharp tequila that had shaken us. We shared headphones and one cassette tape in a cheap walkman. We were still kids then, sort of. We were old enough to drink tequila, but young enough that we didn’t have anyone counting on us. It makes you selfish, being young. It makes you be inside yourself as the centre of your world. It makes looking back from an older age have this filter of wonder, of the strangeness of yourself, of your younger self.

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January: Two people

Two people, at not quite their first meeting but coming together out of boredom and as a result of the deliberate steeping of their own hearts in salt, in a squat-style nightclub in East London at the beginning of Spring, will medicate each other’s wounds only partially successfully and, kiss.

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September: Remember (guest post)

I’m still working on my dissertation and creative project story fans (as of writing only 2000 words and lots of edits to go). Next month normal service resumes but until then please enjoy this guest post by the very talented Sue Oke. She blogs over at susanmayoke.com. Pop over and say hello!

North to South

It’s the voice I hear first, a baritone with the unmistakable soft edges of a Yoruba accent. We turn at the same time, tentative smiles of recognition blossoming as our eyes meet. And then he’s grinning, wrapping me in bear hug, his enthusiasm temporarily infectious.

‘How are you? How are the children?’

I grab a breath, the rote , ‘We’re fine,’ slips out of my mouth.

He barrels on, ‘And what of Oga?’

Oga… chief… boss… master… he’s using a title to refer to the man who, twenty years ago, used to be my husband.

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August: Renew

In July, August and September I have to write a lot to finish my course. Instead of writing new things for my blog I’m going to tart up some old things. An early version of this story appeared in Words With Jam magazine in 2011. Let me know what you think.

We’re Chained

The ice cubes in Ali’s glass made tiny twitches as the vodka melted them. ‘This means something,’ she said, her voice hoarse.

‘I’m sorry?’ I said. My chest ached with the sadness that bore down on my ribs. I wanted to drink, and talk, and not think about the way each second, or gesture or even thought, was a second, gesture and thought further from where you and I had been.

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