TURNING TIMES a guest blog from Margaret Crompton

Margaret wrote this for us during the second lockdown. My fault that it hasn’t seen the light until now, but as Margaret cant join us for the Q&A part of hte festival, here are her thoughts on writing for the Solstice.

A young girl is standing on tiptoe, gazing into the little mirror on the wall-mounted bathroom-cabinet. She is glaring, frowning, pushing her chin down into her neck, clenching her lips, flaring her nostrils. Is this how she will look when – if – she is 60?

When she is 20, she is contemplating the pattern of her future life, rather than her face. She expects to complete her degree and post-graduate courses, then to work in her chosen profession. To conform with her peers, she must get engaged, then married, and have her first child by the time she is 25. All these are essential to her status as a woman. She should work for at least two years, then stay at home to care for the children. In due course, she should seek re-employment in her profession, accepting that she has missed the chance of promotion.  By the time she is 60, her main use will be as a grandmother (when, by some miracle, she should have learnt to knit).

Her five years at University will have been financed by grants, which she will not have to repay. Gratitude for her superb education will be expressed through work, as it has been throughout her life. For of course, I’m writing about myself.

My life – and face – have not followed the expected pattern, and I’ve had many challenges and opportunities which I could never have anticipated. Achievements and disappointments, losses and gains. Times have gone by turns, and continue so to do. I am not who I thought I would be, and I’m still learning, changing, exploring. (But I have still not learnt to knit).

The Solstice Shorts poem [Tymes goe by Turnes by Robert Southwell] spoke to my condition. My recent writing has focused on ideas about identity and change. Spidergirl [Published in Arachne eighth anniversary anthology, No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book] avoids identifying time, place and skin colour. The challenge was to evoke two physical bodies through one first-person narrative voice.

Turner’s World of Twirls [published in Tymes goe by Turnes, the Solstice Shorts 2020 anthology, and read on 21st December at the online festival] was spun out of my self-challenge to explore more aspects of identity-fluidity, including attribution of gender. Playing with the word ‘turner,’ I enjoyed finding a range of possible lives for the narrator who must, at the end of each decade, change both occupation and gender-identity.

Although I have never been anything but solidly heterosexual female, I have ‘failed’ in the role which, when I was young, was identified as essentially ‘female,’ and a necessary attribute of successful womanhood. I have, in other words, not borne children. But I have been employed in situations of equality with men.  Most of the changes in my own life have been from choice, for my qualifications and profession provided a variety of opportunities for rewarding employment. (Social worker, lecturer, playwright, cook…) I’m proud of what I regard as my ‘ramshackle’ career.

When I wrote Turner’s World of Twirls, first lockdown was in full force. It was difficult to find energy to fuel imagination, but imagination created its own energy and I loved twirling in Turner’s world. Writing this now, in the middle of second lockdown, I discern a darker shadow in the story. Daily, I hear of people who have lost their employment and, with that, not only their living but also their sense of identity. For example, a young actress who had just been cast in the part of her dreams, and a retired teacher who had run out of conversation with her husband. After many rejected job applications, the actress is happily working as a classroom assistant, while maintaining her hope that she will, before long, return to the stage. The retired teacher leaves the house for a few hours a day to work, (I think) as a cleaner, which gives her something new to talk about, instead of bickering with her husband. But there are many stories of anxiety, and privation.

Turner’s transformations result from the desire for change. Mine derived from response to necessity and ability to take advantage of opportunity. Even when the change was necessary rather than voluntary, like Turner, I’ve always been fortunate in turning the new situation to good effect. Although Turner makes a demonic deal, there is hope. When I wrote the story, I had no idea how much hope would be needed by this year’s Solstice.

Nothing I write could be straightforward. After many polishing and tweakings, I submitted the story. Cherry, meticulous as ever, queried one of my core statements, which depended on Medieval table legs being turned. Until then, I had assumed that turners, carpenters and joiners were all the same. I plunged into the enthralling world of woodworkers and learnt not only the error of my ignorance, but the pleasure of new knowledge. Although there were Medieval turners, they were unlikely to have been turning table legs. To discover how I pirouetted out of trouble, please read the story.

Margaret Crompton

25th November 2020

If you order a copy of the book BEFORE publication date (this thursday 17th December, you get a free ticket ot the festival.)

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