I am a mother of two neurodivergent children, 6 and 11, and the founder and director of an international movement for creative mothers and carers called M/Others who Make. I am an associate director of Improbable, a world-renowned company of theatre makers, conversation facilitators and improvisers.
how I came to write
When I was little, I wanted to be a writer – the Wordsworth-ian kind, filled with powerful emotions that would overflow onto a page. I come from a family of Oxford academics, which both helped and hindered these writerly dreams. Our house was propped up with books as well as bricks. Words held tremendous weight. But they didn’t flow. They couldn’t – they meant too much. They mattered too much. I used to climb up the yew tree, onto the slate roof of the little outbuilding in our garden, and crouch there, looking across to the study in which my father sat, head bowed, over his historical texts.
I went to university and studied English Literature but afterwards I didn’t pursue my wild, romantic childhood dream. I needed to get away from words – or at least I thought I did. So I ran away to join the circus. I had a head for heights, after all. I trained and worked as an aerialist, up a rope. I performed in tents, on outdoor rigs, in tiny venues as well as big, including at the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Glyndebourne. I made three solos – Lifeline, Dead Point and Night Plane, commissioned by the London International Mime Festival and the Royal Opera House.
But all this time, I was, in a way, still working with words, still looking down, across the garden at my father in his study, yew needles under my feet. My stated artistic aim at the time was,
“To explore circus skills as a means of physicalizing many of the metaphors through which we describe our daily dramas: the flying and falling, the balancing and supporting, the juggling of our lives…. to make work that explores not only life, but how we tell about life. That operates on as many different levels of meaning as it does of space.”
So I wasn’t really running away from words – it was, instead, an attempt to embody them, to become a figure of speech. To find a way to flow with them, to feel their weight inside me, and yet still be able to move.
It took me ten years of being in the air to understand this. And when I did, I also understood that I would, finally, have to find the courage to come down and take up the far more dangerous act of writing, on the ground.
Now, back on earth, as I write, I notice I am still drawn to the process of filling out metaphors, to circus-sized, larger-than-life images, and this informs my attraction to myth and the fantastical metamorphoses that can take place within them. We are facing unprecedented challenges in the world today and I believe we need big, generous stories of change that recognise the magnitude of the moment and yet remain human and hopeful. No Season but the Summer is my attempt to write such a story.
My writing life is not segregated from everything else I do – it’s intimately connected. I don’t see how it can be any other way. I write with my children climbing on top of me, and they make their way into my writing, and my words, in turn, make their way into them, and become theirs. I write at the kitchen table, crouched on the bedroom floor. I write blogs, odd pieces of prose, books, shows, letters, scraps and scribbles.
And all the while I am making it up as I go along. It’s an improvisation – the core practice of Improbable, the theatre company with whom I work. Researching the wonder and impossibility of the flow, for which I longed, but which eluded me as a child, is at the heart of what I do. It still eludes me, but it feels worthwhile to spend my life playing with that elusiveness, because I think it holds the key to what will save us. To that end, some of the writers, thinkers and makers that have inspired me are: Natalie Goldberg; Lynda Barry; Keith Johnstone; John Holt; Arnold Mindell; Harrison Owen; Ursula Le Guin; Italo Calvino; David Almond.
There’s one thing I have learnt, which is different to what I thought as a child. ‘The flow’ doesn’t issue from me, like a wound, like some mysterious, powerful outpouring. It doesn’t come from me at all. It’s always relational. Wordsworth and his mates, even if his mates are a host of daffodils. Writing is never a solitary activity. How can it be, when the very stuff with which I am writing – language – was made up between us, and only has meaning when we collectively agree on it? Or agree, close enough. And that close enough, but not-quite-the same-ness is where it gets interesting. Reading and writing are collaborative activities. I hope we can get close enough, be far apart enough, to make something extraordinary together.