I don’t like January. Who does? I have an extra reason to dislike it however because my birthday falls on the 3rd. It’s a grim point in the year when no one is in the mood to celebrate, least of all me.
Still, my children are still at an age where they feel birthdays must be marked and as they were not yet back at school, I took Pierre, Raphi and Celeste to Frinton beach. I couldn’t stay morose for long – not with our dogs skittering about on the sand, the smell of sea in my nostrils and the thought of some battered whitebait on our way home.
I’m glad it’s late enough in the month that people have stopped talking about resolutions. They make me feel guilty – all these driven individuals changing their lives and setting goals for the year. I can’t entirely sign up to the optimism because (and perhaps this is getting older, or perhaps bitter experience) I know only too well how despite your plans, life has a nasty way of ramming you where it hurts when you don’t expect it. My resolution would be ‘to exercise a little more control over my circumstances.’ No, it doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, does it?
Most people will know that the word ‘January’ derives from the name of the Roman god, Janus. In images of him, he has one face looking forward while the other looks wistfully back. Saying goodbye to last year and facing up to the one ahead is what I feel this month. Janus was the god associated with an ending of old ways, of doorways and of new ventures. Janus presides over my life right now.
Last year was my best year for some time. On January 5th 2012 I made my first visit to a local prison, clutching my crazy notion to teach creative writing to prisoners. For the first few sessions I was terrified yet when I started to get a response, my spirit soared. I wrote a blog post about this here. It has been and continues to be an incredible experience working with these men.
However as my mother is fond of saying, ‘when one door closes, another opens.’ A door closed with a metallic clang when I learned last week that another local prison where I have been paid to cover classes (not creative writing) is one of the seven prisons that are to close. I have been teaching English, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and somewhat absurdly given my skills, Maths. As a complement to working with the badder boys on their poetry, I loved it.
With a fresh pool of experienced and qualified teachers now looking for new positions, it’s going to be even harder to pick up a similar gig elsewhere, but it has made me think about why I have enjoyed it so much. I think it is, bizarre as it might sound, that I love working with people you might find near the end of the spectrum of ‘difficulty.’ Perhaps I’m naive but the tougher the men appear the more I see damaged little boys. When you realise their appearance and manner is a front, you can’t be frightened by it. They are locked up physically but more importantly, they have walled up their emotions. When I break through even a chink and we achieve something – a story written, or a piece of exam work completed, it gives me the biggest buzz. They aren’t all like this, of course. Some are well-educated, charming and urbane, but in my experience so far they are the exception.
Last week I was talking with a friend about the prison closing, and she came up with some new ideas of the sort of teaching I could aim towards. I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about it, but perhaps this is the new door that will open?
The main thing I want to achieve in 2013 is to finish my book, Watching Petals Fall and for people to read it. I have had the privilege over the past couple of months to work with a wonderful editor, John Hudspith, who you can find here. He is a magician. Like lots of writers, I am often so caught up in the craft I can forget it is the reader who is the most important part of the relationship. John has been brilliant in making me focus on this, and has helped in countless other ways too.
Some of the lovely people who followed my old blog, as well as my new followers here may have read all or part of Watching Petals Fall. If you would like to read the new first chapter, you can find it by clicking on the tab at the top of this page. I would love to hear what you think.