Writing as an extreme sport

I’ve been on holiday. I debated with myself for a while about bringing the laptop. With a deadline looming it was the only way forward. But what about the distraction of the internet whilst I was supposed to be on holiday? Would I be tempted to Facebook and tweet every second of my long awaited break?In the end it was immaterial as the minute we were within five miles of our destination all mobile phone service and wi-fi became extinct. After about an hour of pacing panic someone told me that ‘if you stand on the nearby pub car park you might get a phone signal’.

So, a week in the Cotswolds with no internet. What did I do? Write, write and write. Oh, and walk. There was no TV in our cottage so I got a full week to incubate my thoughts. We had a few things on the agenda, such as going to the Rivers Severn, Avon and Wye as well as visiting the Rollright Stones and Belas Knap. I decided to combine this with writing, and found myself perched on the edge of Symonds Yat with teeny tiny laptop. I also balanced on the banks of the Severn and edited for all I was worth.

I had several doses of perspective whilst I was away. Most of them were personal, but one question that raised its head was why I feel the need to write. I heavily edited my identity book whilst on holiday and it gave me a chance to really see its value. My ‘big ambition’ was to write theory development, and my dream came true: I’m about to publish a book about identity construction and introduce a new model.

It all started several years ago when I wrote a book proposal for a domestic violence book. I sent it off to a publisher and got a letter back that informed me that, as I had no formal qualifications, just experience, I would never get this or any other work published. Not wanting to be defeatist, I went ahead and completed a BSc and PhD and joined the management board of Oldham Family Crisis Group to gain insight. I did this whilst holding down a full time job in which I eventually elevated to CEO. During this time it seemed I shifted from someone with no qualification to expert status.

Part of my work involves standpoint theory. This is to do with marginalised groups and how they often have a privileged insight because they can be upwardly mobile; it is much further down to look from the top when one has not endured the upward struggle but originated there. I guess it is fair to say that I started off my quest in what could be described as the ‘underclass’, my experiences in the Madchester years of the ’90’s holding me under in the shallow puddle of unenlightened drama. Even so, I had a vague idea, through my aspirations before the birth of my first two children whilst I was in my teens, what it would be like to ‘be something’. Through the hazy mist I could see that there were some people, increasingly myself, who really did not have a voice.

To be even more fair, I’ve always been a mouthy mare, not loud but quick to jump in with my view. As my professional circle widened, the thing that always held me back was my Manchester accent. In a world where a silver spoon in the mouth was a requisite loudspeaker, my accent never failed to draw attention. They just didn’t hear the words, only the accent. For example, one day, in a lecture, the lecturer was describing a study location a on sink estate and quoting from the underclass residents there. Her accent went from almost received English to a thick Manchester drawl, exactly the same as my own. Ironically the lecture was about equality and stereotyping.

On reflection, as my knowledge grew, I preferred to write. For me, writing doesn’t have an accent. On reading a book it is almost impossible (unless it’s intentional) to know what the accent of the author is. It’s a way to break through the blinkered world of class politics that rely so heavily on stereotypical jusgement. So, through a quirk of unenlightened fate, I found out what I was best at.

Years later I wrote another book proposal and sent it to the publishers. It wasn’t too unlike the first one, except this time I had written into it a model of identity construction which, if the methodology is repeated, gives marginalised groups and individuals a chance to get their voices heard above the white noise of academia and industry. A way for identity to be interrogated and reframed. A way to look up and down the standpoint axis and see identity construction for what it really is. This time they snapped it up.

Yet I’m the same person. I’m the girl with the curly red hair, the teenage mum, the barmaid, the victim and survivor, the Friday night dancer, the one who can’t drive, the garage attendant, the CEO, the Chartered Psychologist, the PhD, the theory developer, the lover, the pastry cook, the circle-chaser. My point? In order to give a voice to those who don’t have one I first had to raise myself up to the level of those who deny the voice in the first place. Without PhD or CEO on my business card I’m still that gobby single parent who thought she could write. I never gave up those ‘underclass’ qualities that make me who I am. I was devastated this morning when I heard Oasis had split up. This afternoon I finished a paper on critical realism in women’s health; my identity has not changed but swollen from a trickling stream that would dry up in a drought to a raging torrent of a river, fluid and flowing.

By fighting through the jungle of professional extremities it is possible to reach a standpoint of knowing what the top and the bottom is at the same time. As I sat by the River Severn on my nice, middle-class holiday in the country, I wrote innovative theory and remembered splashing through the puddles of my former years stamping out the frustration of the publisher’s rejection. Writing is important to me, it’s my voice and I intend to use it!