Posted by: stelladuffy | August 3, 2016

Festivals Are Not The Only Edinburgh

I’m taking part in a creative-thing-every-day challenge, courtesy of Jo Hunter of 64 Million Artists – some days I manage it, some not, but today’s was particularly relevant, asking us to write a note or letter for a stranger telling them something you’ve learnt. Right now, I’m on a train to Edinburgh for a conference on radical participatory arts practice, taking part as the co-director of Fun Palaces – but it feels weird to be going to Edinburgh at festival time and not going as a writer or director or performer, because that’s how I’ve been so many times before.

And so, here is a letter to someone already at or heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time, as a practitioner (nb, am pretty sure the same applies to Book Festival attendees too – writers, there is life beyond the yurt!) …

Dear Young (or not) Person taking a show to the Edinburgh Festival for the first time…

Yay! I’m so excited for you. It’s going to be amazing. The first time I did that was 1988. It was brilliant. We sold tickets, made some money, had a fine time. And again in 1990 and 1991 and more … after that the making money was less likely, now it’s close to impossible not to lose a load, but it’s not really about the money, is it? It’s about the experience. (Yes, I KNOW the vast majority of people, let alone artists – also people btw – do not have this money to lose, and yet … people do it every year, time after time, so clearly it’s not about the money.)

Being in Edinburgh and staying up until dawn (surprisingly early) and sharing an overcrowded flat and drinking way too much and playing. So much playing.

And the art too, obviously – but you know you’re hugely unlikely to be ‘discovered’ and your show is hugely unlikely to be seen by the people you want to see it, right? You’re not in Edinburgh to further your career. You’re really not. You’re there to be in Edinburgh.

I’ve done impro shows and solo shows as a performer, the book festival as a novelist, theatre stuff as a writer and as a director, I’ve been there as a reviewer for telly. All good, all great, but it was about being in Edinburgh as much, if not more, than the art. It’s not about the art (not a lot is, but that’s another story). It’s about the people, it’s about the place. It’s about the time.

So, here are some things to do and see and feel in Edinburgh that are not about spending half a day leafleting* …

  • The botanic gardens are gorgeous. Go there.
  • Calton Hill has a lovely view, & is way easier than Arthur’s Seat if you have a hangover. (You will have a hangover.)
  • Swim. Portobello is fine. It will do you the world of good to get away from all those people and into the sea. (And if you’re not a sea swimmer, just go for a walk.)
  • Galleries – Edinburgh has really good galleries. Galleries have art too.
  • Arthur’s Seat – I’ve not climbed it. Not yet, and I still want to (possibly even more so since the arthritic knee, post-chemo nerve/spine pain). Do it for me.
  • Go for a lovely long walk around Leith, imagine it when it wasn’t pretty with nice cafes, imagine what else is there still.
  • Go for loads of walks, I know it’s tempting to get a taxi and the drivers are often great to talk to, but it’s so easy to walk around Edinburgh and you can get lost and find lovely things, things that are never on lists, things that are yours because you found them by accident.
  • Have a picnic, in the rain, anyway.
  • Go through to Glasgow for a morning or afternoon or evening. It’s very cool.

And a couple of other suggestions in ‘don’t do as I do, do as I tell you’ fashion

  • Go to bed early, once. Just once.
  • Go for a run, a swim, play golf, do something that isn’t about your show.
  • See some comedy even if you hate comedy.
  • See a play even if you hate theatre.
  • See dance, do dance.
  • See something that you don’t know anyone in, don’t know anything about.
  • Read a book. Write a book. (I edited one once, while doing a show every day, it was a good use of the month.)
  • Call home.
  • Write home, send a postcard like the olden days.
  • Go To Sleep. Sometimes.

*really, don’t leaflet, no-one wants your leaflet, they’re all selling a show too – talk to people instead (to them, not at them) they might be lovely.

You’ll find loads more to do. Loads to do that isn’t about selling or sharing your work. This is a good thing. Locals, if you ask them, will have brilliant suggestions. Ask them – they work in shops, drive buses, wait tables, run galleries. You don’t have to invite them to your show (really you don’t) but they’ll have a great idea of a lovely place to go that you won’t know about otherwise. Add it as a comment here and we can all come find you.

And seriously, go to sleep. Sometimes. It’s even more beautiful when you’re not exhausted.


Posted by: stelladuffy | July 29, 2016

life is a square – after the not-OK

A year ago, more or less, maybe just ten months, I was in a bit of a state.

I was freaked about having had breast cancer for the second time – first in 2000, 2nd diagnosis in 2014 and the last of my surgeries in 2015 – probably dealing with a whole bunch of stuff (fear, body image, fear, pain, fear) that I hadn’t really had time to deal with when I was diagnosed the year before because surgeries and pain tend to (immediately) supercede the emotional stuff and the emotional stuff gets left behind until the pain and physical stuff subsides (or that’s how it works for me, anyway), and Shelley’s father had been really ill and died, and his painful cancer death coinciding with my second cancer was very scary.

I was also working loads on the beginning of the Women’s Equality Party (mostly between 11pm and 2am) – as were dozens (but maybe only dozens) of other people who had stepped up right at the very start, and all of us were doing masses of work to help make a brand new thing happen and all of it in our ‘spare’ time – and many of them doing way more than me.

I was writing a book because I am always writing a book, and the book wasn’t quite right and it needed a load more work before my publisher wanted it (rightly) and so I was rewriting that book, having started it in 2012. And I’d also started another book – because I am always writing a book and sometimes the stories need telling.

And Fun Palaces was taking loads of time. Because it does, because it was ‘just an idea’ that became a passion project that has now become the passion project of thousands of other people and how often do we ever get to have something that cool happen from a dream of making change, and so of course it deserves all the work and all the time.

But I wasn’t OK. I wasn’t sleeping (even worse than usual so that’s pretty bad), I wasn’t eating very well, I was doing too much and doing it all as perfectly as possible and I wasn’t OK. At all.

Now, today, I went off to record a radio in town and I realised I’m feeling kind of OK. It’s taken quite a lot and I don’t think OK is a thing you attain once and stay there (!) so I don’t think it’s done, but because I know we all have times where it is too much and because I know we all think we can’t cope sometimes and because I know what I did to get to feeling a bit more OK than not-OK, I wanted to share it here. Not because my way is right for anyone else at all, but because it took taking action. (Edited to add: what I mean is, it wasn’t enough to just wait until I got over being in pain from surgeries, and/or got over feeling like my future dreams/plans had been rocked – again, and/or got over being freaked about what a cancer coming back meant to my life span and potential mode of death – I had to do something to help myself deal with it. Time passing wasn’t enough.)

I saw a cancer therapist. Someone from a psycho-oncology team who knows about this stuff in a way that I don’t, from a different perspective. And that helped. It was only 8 sessions and so it was tough work, but very useful. There’s some about that here.

I started doing some mindfulness work. It’s slow going for me, and I’m slow at it, but perhaps that is just fine. This kind (MBSR), because it seems to take it seriously and that’s what I wanted. And only from books, I’ve yet to take the leap to go to a course. I will. (Yes I have a Buddhist practice, mine is a chanting out loud practice, which is similar, but not the same, as mindfulness. They work very well together, for me.)

I started a daily yoga practice. I’ve always done yoga, on and off, but never before daily. I’ve been doing some yoga (10 or 30 or 50 or 60 mins a day) since Dec 18th 2015, and it feels vital. Also, Adriene is bloody gorgeous and her spirit and attitude makes it really enjoyable.

I read differently – I’ve read very little fiction this year, but I have been reading some philosophy (all new to me) and some psychology around anxiety and mortality. It’s been useful to read stuff I would usually find hard-going, too academic, too heady. It’s been interesting to push myself as a reader.

I’ve walked more. Fewer buses, more walks.

I am not working any less than I ever have – I LIKE working a lot, I like DOING a lot – but I am also making an effort to have more days off. And this year, for the first time in as long as I can remember, Shelley and I had a week’s holiday and I didn’t do any work at all. I didn’t write, I didn’t edit, I didn’t write a funding application – I did answer a few emails, but only to save the big pile when I got home. It was astonishing. There was so much time just to sit and be, looking at the sea.

I have spent a little more time looking at the sea. And more time in the sea. (Mermaid bodies rejuvenate in water.)

So – it’s Friday evening. I am, as often, at home alone and working. And happy to do so. I have 65 more pages to edit of the book that comes out next year (the rewritten one mentioned above comes out this October – that one took 4.5 years, this one will have taken 19 months). And I’m OK, for now, which is fine.

Life’s a square : my friend Helen once told me her mother Josie said “Life’s a square, you’ll always turn a corner.” I’ve remembered it for years. If you’re in a bad place, you will turn a corner and it will get better. Eventually. That’s just how it is. Nothing remains the same. And from a good place, we will turn a corner and it will get hard. Life’s like that too.

It’s possible the trick is to remember that the good and the bad are all joined up – which is, always, far easier to remember when happy than when depressed.

It’s possible to stare at the sea a bit more.






Posted by: stelladuffy | July 8, 2016

on being unmother & Leadsom

Ah, Andrea Leadsom. The woman who now – along with her other glorious qualifications – thinks being a mother makes you more likely to care for the future of your country.

“Genuinely, I feel that being a mum means you have a stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.”

  1. Being a humane person makes you more likely to care for the future of everyone’s country
  2. Fathers probably care too (also, non-gender binary parents, them too)
  3. Some people have children, some don’t, we all contribute. Hey, I even contribute to other people’s kids’ schooling and healthcare in my taxes. As a chemo-induced-infertile woman, I actually want to, what with believing in, you know, universal healthcare and good & free education for all, whoever’s kids they are – I’m that indiscriminate & not-caring about the future …
  4. Here’s a thing, what if we could be empathetic and generous human beings without having to think it’s about us/our descendants/their descendants? What if we could care for the future of our country, our planet, all people, WITHOUT making it personal? Wouldn’t it actually be quite cool to give a fuck without it being personal? How selfish do you have to be to think you care more because you have kids? To make caring all about you? Can’t you just care because you’re human and we’re good at caring?!
  5. It is possible that those of us who don’t have children have actually thought of all this stuff already, and tried really hard to work out our place in the world, and how we can contribute, what with having children being really pretty commonplace (much as some of us might have wanted it) and not having them being the more unusual.
  6. And also, if having children made you all that worried about the future of the nation/world, how the hell are we in the mess we’re in now?
  7. No, I’m not ‘sad’. I was, it was rubbish having cancer at 36 just when I was trying to get pregnant with our babyfather, and losing five embryos post-cancer, and it was rubbish when my wife (then not even Civil Partner, because laws & homophobia, thanks Mrs Leadsom) miscarried and we realised the already-planned future for every woman of my age & generation (Andrea is my age) wasn’t going to be ours. It was definitely hard, like any grief for a future dream not made. And we moved on. We create, we contribute, we live. We really fucking LIVE. Just like you.
  8. Bet my large family is bigger than yours, Andrea – I’m one of 7, I have 15 nieces & nephews, 25 great nieces and nephews – and that’s only my side. On my wife’s side, Indian/Iraqi Jews (you’d LOVE them, Andrea), the cousins are legion. Loads of family. But so what? I adore my family, big and loud and bonkers though they often are. But SO WHAT? How weird to think that blood really does matter more than (as opposed to as much as) passion, than love. Because, you know, I didn’t marry one of my sisters, and I’m pretty sure Andrea’s husband isn’t her brother. We ALL love wider than blood, wider than family. (Unless you’re a Medici, obv.)
  9. It’s come to a pretty pass when Theresa May looks like the sensible one.
  10. Ah feminism. If only we’d had feminism before we leapt to post-feminism.
  11. I bet you all want to know about my shoes now. BBC News does, they’re still going on about May’s shoes. And Corbyn’s. (No they’re not going on about Corbyn’s shoes. They don’t care about the men’s shoes. Funny that.)





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