What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?
I got a very mixed message as a young woman. My family were mostly keen that I followed my interests and encouraged me to get involved in creative and artistic activities. My school felt that these things were only useful as hobbies and that ‘the arts’ was not a career that was worth pursuing. My dance teacher and youth theatre director encouraged me to try to get a place on a degree course to study either of these subjects, whilst cautioning me that it was not easy and I would be up against a lot of competition. School careers advice looked at my academic ability and without asking me about my interests told me that I should be a teacher. I hated school and the idea of spending the rest of my life in a school dictating the petty rules to other young people filled me with dread and despair. If I knew one thing it is that I would not be a teacher. I despised school. (Part of my job now is as a teacher and I have spent much of my adult life teaching in different settings).
What did you want to be when you left education?
I wanted to be anything other than a school pupil! First a gymnast and then I wanted to be a dancer until I snapped my hamstring in a contemporary class audition for a dance college. The treatment I received when this happened (I was left in a room alone at 16 years old with an ice pack on my thigh for 4 hours with nobody checking on me, and then sent off across London to make the long journey back to Lancashire without even being offered a phone call home) made me think twice about dance as a career and also knocked my confidence. I actually carried on dancing but didn’t ever formally train. After that I decided I mostly wanted to be an actor.
Did your mother work?
My mother worked in a variety of jobs whilst I was living at home. Until I was 7 my mum mostly looked after us at home along with other children that lived with me and my sisters. We lived on a communal farm that we shared with another family with two young daughters. There was also another couple with a young daughter living in our unconverted chicken shed and a couple without children in a caravan on the land. My mother ended up mostly looking after all of the children as other adults had jobs outside of the home. My dad was the farmer and so out with the animals from before dawn until late at night. The other couple in the farm were a carpenter and a social worker. I’m not sure about the couple in the chicken shed, they seemed to be adventurers who travelled the world.
We left the farm when I was 7 for both my parents to go to teacher training college. My mum wanted to be an art teacher but was unable to pass her math’s O’level and so wasn’t able to train to work in a school. She left college with an English and art degree and became a researcher at a university. She also worked as a waitress in a pizza restaurant (I think only for one shift) and eventually went on to become a writer.
Love & Relationships:
Do you think getting married is important?
I have never had any interest in marriage as an institution. I was briefly engaged after I had my two children, as it would have made the legalities easier around my family if anything happened to me. I had two children with different biological fathers and my partner had a daughter from a previous relationship. We got engaged with the thought that marriage would tidy this up. Within weeks of getting engaged we split up for good. I have never ever considered marriage again. My family doesn’t consider it to have any importance. Although my youngest son has already been engaged once and I think both my children probably see it as a rather romantic idea.
What did you dream your future partner would be like when you were a little girl?
When I was little I think I thought my uncle Chris was my ideal man. He was fun and was young enough to be cool. He was really into Kate Bush in a big way and Suzee Quatro and I used to stay in his bedroom at my nanas house when we visited whilst he was banished to the sofa downstairs. His walls were covered with posters of these two women, even his ceiling was. I once wrote to Jim’ll Fix It asking to have him rescue me from a local tower in the style of Rapunzel. A few years ago at the age of 60 my Uncle Chris finally came out as a gay man.
Is your relationship with your partner the same as your parents’ relationship?
I don’t have a partner and apart from the relationship where I got engaged I haven’t had a relationship that lasted much more than 6 months. My parents separated when I was a young adult and both immediately found happiness with other people who they have remained with. I think I am rather fiercely independent and having been a single parent for all of my adult life I find it hard to imagine sharing everything with another adult. Now that my children are grown up and in their twenties I feel that perhaps I have missed out a bit in this area. I’m not really prepared to do anything about it though and envisage that I will probably not ever have a long term relationship, or at least that it is ok if I don’t.
How like your mother are you?
I am very like her in some ways and very different in others. Our hair is naturally very similar and we are the same height and similar builds. We both had children relatively young – she was 21 and I was 19. She is a writer and the least judgmental parent I have ever met. She is more of an introvert than me – I am prone to gobbiness, and always have been. I think we both feel strongly about inequality and the importance of imagination and art. I think we share the same values by and large. I think we are both fascinated by people and how they live.
What are your hopes for any daughters or young women you know?
That they should be able to think and behave exactly as they feel. That they should be free to express themselves and to follow their dreams and desires. That they should be safe and free from abusive or damaging relationships. That they should speak up for exactly what they need and not be silenced.
Do you bring your son up the same way as your daughter? Do you think boys and girls should be brought up differently?
I have brought my sons up to value women as independent thinkers. To realise that true equality is not simple and that they have a part to play as men, in enabling and ensuring that women receive equal opportunities in life. I have brought them up to love and respect women alongside men. I have brought them up to be proud of coming from a single parent family.
Expectations and Dreams:
Who are your heroines and why?
I don’t really do heroines but in my close circle of friends I have women who are brilliant at many areas of life. The friend who has trained forensic scientists in countries that previously had no forensics service or laboratories; the friend that looks after the medical needs and wellbeing of patients with Parkinsons as well as bringing up two amazing teenagers alone; the friend who started an international charity helping children accused of witchcraft and runs a project bringing literacy to thousands of children across Africa; the friend who decided to retrain from a burlesque dancer to a lawyer in her forties and has carried on despite her dyspraxia and a broken back making her studies an uphill struggle. And these and other women are the friends who have represented me and looked after me when I have been unable to manage alone. Who have stepped in and helped me in times of difficulty and pain. The friends who are always there when you need them. These women are the ones I respect and admire.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Two things – one was changing my mind about having my first son adopted and deciding instead that I would keep him. I was 19. It was the best decision of my life. The second is giving up my job and my home and moving to Oxford where I knew nobody, to study in my 40’s.
What drives you?
Stubbornness. Fear of failure. A desire for things to be better. Creativity. Imagination.
What are your values?
A deep rooted belief in equality for all, community, education, art and humanity.
What is your biggest achievement?
Being the parent of two wonderful adults. Not bad for a single teenage mum.
How old are you?
What has been your favourite age to be and why?
My forties for gaining and seizing amazing opportunities that I never imagined would be possible for me and for having the ability to also share in my children’s and friends successes.
Do you think it’s better to be young now than when you were young? (Or better now than when your parents were young?)
I am glad not to be young now when I think there is a lot of pressure from social and traditional media to conform that I know I would have found very difficult as a young person. I am glad there is not much photographic evidence of my youth. My parents were young in the 50’s/60’s I imagine that many things were hard then and know that they didn’t have particularly happy adolescences. Being young is hard regardless of in which decade and I am glad to be older now.
What are the pros and cons of being a woman?
I love having the ability to multitask which many of my male friends don’t seem to have developed, and having the relative freedom to wear anything from jeans to a mini skirt, docs to stilettos. I love being a mum.
There’s a lot of pressure to look certain ways and to be superwoman with everything perfect, career, kids, house etc. No matter how disengaged we feel with this it still exists and affects us, usually negatively. Women are judged not only on what they achieve but also on how they look whilst they achieve it. Fertility is a real problem. Women spend much of their young adult life being worried about pregnancy – either getting pregnant rather too easily or not managing it at all. There is a relatively short window of fertility and many of my friends in their forties are struggling to conceive, when for men this is not such an issue.
What have been the biggest challenges in your life?
Poverty. Debt (caused by poverty). Having somewhere safe, secure and affordable to live. Walking away from relationships. Learning that it is ok, important even, to be wrong and make mistakes sometimes. A bad back. Always having to be the responsible adult and deal with all the emergencies and difficulties of adult and family life.
Self-image – Body or Looks:
Why do you dress the way that you do?
Because I want to. I’m sure that isn’t strictly the case but I like to feel that it is something that I have some control over. I am much more conservative than when I was younger because of work and age. However I still really enjoy clothes and treat them as a kind of costume. My younger self would be disappointed by the amount of time I spend wearing pajamas and dodgy leisure wear at home these days!
What would be your musical soundtrack?
I hate choosing music, I can never remember titles. At different points in my life it would have included Pretty Little Angel Eyes by Showaddywaddy; Young Guns by Wham; Push It by Salt ‘n’ Peppa; London Calling by The Clash; Rise by Public Image Limited; Wild Horses by Patti Smith; Policeman Skank by Audioweb; Anti Love Song by Betty Davis; I Wanna Be Adored by Stone Roses; Hurt by Jonny Cash; Talk to Me by Peaches; and Feeling Good by Nina Simone.
Do you have a life’s motto?
‘If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’ – Emma Goldman
If in doubt write.