Julia’s Diary

A few more thoughts


Take a look at Jane Eagland’s poem The Knitted Woman on this site. I really like it. It’s funny how knitting has connected me with a whole community of wool sellers, pattern studiers, women who know the vocabulary of needles. My mum even told me about a dying friend of hers whose last request was that she should be allowed to knit whilst gasping her last breath! When you trip into another world like this, you wonder what else there is going on out there. For instance, cake making, or pressing flowers, or painting eggs…who knows what goes on in these quiet creative worlds?

I am on Women’s Hour on Thursday, talking to Jenni Murray. I am a bit nervous, but I do love the programme, and she is such an experienced interviewer that one is steered through any choppy waters. Also some of this blog is being published in The Times Weekend mag on Saturday. The editor has picked some interesting bits over the time I have been writing it, full of ups and downs, trips to Rio, symptoms, achievements and miseries.

Otherwise my face is still hurting. Doesn’t anyone know what to do about neuralgic pain? The NHS says I have tried all the drugs available. Most of them send me to sleep. I am sure there is something out there. Hot wheat bags, acupuncture, neurofen, facials, hypnotherapy all help a bit, but nothing gets rid of it. If anyone knows of anything let me know. I have chased off many symptoms, but this one is stubborn and mysterious. But the fact that it comes and goes makes me believe I can shift it!

Perhaps the hot sun of Umbria will melt it away, but that’s not until May.

Saturday Night with my mum


We have just been listening to the cd of Appointments — the radio plays that are on next week. I really like the way they have been produced, and the Sue Roberts has done some great effects. The whole cast is doing things like playing football in the studio. I am playing receptionists and small parts. The end is really joyous too. Anyway, my mum likes them and that’s the main thing. It’s very different listening to something with the rest of the world..very jittery…like sitting in the audience when a stage play is on. I am doing a thing on Women’s Hour on Thursday, talking to Jenni M about the plays.

I am ok. The good news is that my blood count is getting better and better all by itself. But my liver is a bit swollen that makes me feel very portly, like I have eaten too much pudding and my face is still driving me nuts. I wake up in the night and wander the house. Someimes I clean out cupboards. Custard powder and vanilla essence from the late nineties are the main hangers on. People tell me my face doesn’t show, but it feels so weird, like a faulty circuit or something.

Knitting is going very well. I am feeling more ambitious. Damn it, I could knit myself a friend, or a house!

Otherwise, I am busy doing all kinds of things. On Sunday night I read at the packed Blue Room at the Bridge Hotel, along with some great new writers….I love the room. It’s a pub built right up against the railway and the trains shunt by. I must have been born to the sound of shunting trains..it’s a sound that makes me happy. On Wednesday I gave a talk in a village called Wylam to a group of elderly, intelllectual men. I don’t know why I agree to do these things, but I genuinely enjoy them when I get there. We had a debate about line breaks in poetry, and some of the audience weren’t keen on modern fashions in poems. One man told me he had written two hundred sonnets for one woman! Imagine that! They were courteous and sweet anyway. I have also been editing my plays for a book that will be published this year. This is really good news, as many plays don’t see the light of day after a first production. Plays like Eating The Elephant, that I wrote after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, will be in it, as well as the Last Post, and most of my radio work.

The university has been busy too, and I want to run a course about using poetry as a cure if I can maintain the energy.

Happily, I have got a retreat coming up in Umbria, so I can concentrate on finishing the novel then. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate in this whirl, with an achey face and a puffy liver. I am going to the cinema now..to see Sideways. Back soon.

The Last Day of January 2005


Here I am again. Sorry I have been a bit quiet. I hope no one has been worried. It’s entirely due to my latest obsession with knitting which has absorbed me for weeks. I have knitted three things now ( a baby’s scarf, a teenager’s scarf, and a shawl ) and although they are holey and incompetent I think my state of mind is much calmer. I have also spent much time in wool departments, smelling and touching lovely wools, and saying words like alpaca and fair isle. I want to make a strange blanket next. I think I might be more of an arty knitter than a crafty one. At least, I’m not very good with patterns. My attitude is very similar to my feelings about writing actually.

Last week I had my first injection of the new drug, faslodex) in my poor bottom! The nurse said the hypodermic was terrifying , and I got myself into a right lather worrying about it in advance, but it didn’t hurt at all thanks to Emla cream. And now I am feeling much, much better, although that could be coincidence as it’s very early days. I’m also having a course of hypnotherapy on the NHS that I am enjoying very much. I have never been very good at relaxing, but what with my affirmative tapes and knitting I feel like a sponge pudding of peace.

I’m getting very excited about The Manifesto For A new City that I have been working on with Northern Stage. This is opening at the end of March, and it’s a night of songs and opinion about my city and how it has developed. It’s a rant against property developers and capitalism really. Predictably, I want everyone to take up knitting and eat porridge and ride a bike. I want us to do more than consume coffees in expensive bars. But that doesn’t mean I don’t approve of the lovely Sage Building (did I tell you I have joined a choir), or the Baltic, or the elegant bridge. I just feel that my world has gone out of control when planning permission can be obtained to build a glass tower of luxury flats that blocks the council tenant’s in the Byker Wall’s view of the River Tyne. I know that I am not the only one who thinks this…there are lots of people opposing all kinds of things, but the manifesto is my own personal utopian rant. I shall put up dates on this site soon.

Last week I went to Cambridge for a Royal Literary Fund day, as I have become a mentor for an emerging novelist, and all mentors and mentees met for a day. I am proud to be a mentor, though I still don’t really know how to write a novel myself. There is no easy formula. Still, I hope that I won’t do any harm, and I always found that being allowed to talk about writing to a listener made me feel excited and positive, so I shall do my best. The main thing is I love my mentees work, and long for the next episode.

On the way back from Cambridge I got on a scuddy little train with the poet Gillian Allnut who is also a mentor, and guess what? The queen was on the train too! It was the most silly, unlikely thing. So we travelled with her Maj to Ely, when we got off. I mean she had her own carriage and police and everything. Fancy! What shall I do with this strange experience?

If you live in the North East, I am reading at the Blue Room in the Bridge Hotel this Sunday at 8.00 p.m. It’s a good night, and there’s some other brilliant writers on …Paula Cunningham, Helen Burke, Tess Hudson, and musician Steve Jinski and his band. I shall probably read my new instructions poems, which are pouring out of me like volcanic lava!

I am about to read Small Island..the book that has won two prizes. I am nervous about starting it. It must be so very, very good!

Otherwise, I am listening to Nina Simone, growing narcissi on the mantelpiece, and trying to work out how to write, or type onto bandage type material as I want to make some ‘poetry bandages.’

I hope you are all well out there! Didn’t we manage January well? Ha Ha hypotherma and cold bones..you can’t get me!

Just Feb to go and then nothing can stop us!

Faslodex, Knitting and Sweet Dreams


Today I am going to record the story for Saturday’s The Verb on Radio Three. I’m doing it down the line from Newcastle, which is a shame because it’s always nice to meet people face to face, but the journey is so long and impractical. The other guests are Tom Paulin and Tony Harrison, and I have a feeling that my piece about knitting will seem rather fluffy!

My health is still good, with fantastic deep velvetty sleeps, although the face ache comes back sometimes. I’m less interested in baths, because my bones have warmed up, and generally more energetic. On Friday, I start the new drug, Faslodex. I’m a bit nervous, as it means saying goodbye to my dear friend Tamoxifen. You have to believe and trust in drugs for them to work, I think, and Faslodex is a new aquaintance. Still, it will be great if it does work. They give you an injection once a month, so it’s not too gruelling. Side effects are minimal too. It works hormonally, stopping cancer cells from being able to grow by sort of starving them. I love the thought of them gathering around feeding troughs to find nothing there. Ha Ha.

So that’s all good.

This January I am feeling very decisive. I am going to finish my Brazilian novel this year. I’ve been offered a retreat in an Umbrian Castle in early summer and I think it will be a really good opportunity to work on the book. It sems to have taken ages, but actually, I think I needed to distance myself from the trip to Brazil before I could write about it. Things have to grow in an imaginary way before you can make them into fiction and Brazil felt too real. Now it’s a vague memory and I am free to make stuff up.

Here in Newcastle I am rather busy….running workshops and doing readings and cooking soups and knitting things. In the frosty garden all kinds of things are beginning to sprout. I am working on a first aid kit for the mind…a box of poems and images and spells and recipes, with the artist Emma Holliday. We’re going to produce a limited number of boxes that people can use to get through crisis situations!

I’m just writing a critique of poems written in response to the Guardian Online Poetry workshop. I love them. They are all in the form of instructions. Do go to the site and read them if you get a chance.

My best bath stuff is Dr Hoeky something (in clear botles/ looks very clinical)…sage bath….written in german though as SAGE BAD. Costs a fortune, but smells amazing.

Best colour, shady turquoise.

Best soup…mediterranean bean and rosemary.

Favourite poetry collection: The Tree House by Kathleen Jamie.

I thought people got worse in January!


I am in a really good mood. My blood count is going up, and my face has stopped hurting, and the old woman who haunts my bones has gone on holiday. But the question is, why? What has happened in the last week to trigger such a marked improvement? Well, it could be that I have taken up knitting and that it has helped me to relax. I have spent several evenings knitting shapeless squares. Or it could be something else entirely. I wish I knew. It’s a lovely feeling, this warm boned, light weight sensation. I am really bouncy. And I’m not even taking any drugs in particular.

Perhaps it was Manchester. I spent three days in a very odd hotel next to the BBC called the Palace. It’s the colour of melancholy, old grey tiled and ragged carpets, creaking lifts, heavy chandeliers. The tune ‘Ain’t nobody’s business if I do,’ played constantly. My room was right next to the railway line, which I enjoyed. I love the sound of trains chunting past. I had a vast, wooden floored bathroom, with strange plants in tall vases standing on a small table. At nights I couldn’t sleep at all as my face hurt, so I ambled around knitting in my nightdress, providing a surreal image for anyone passing on a late train.

During the day we recorded Appointments at the BBC. The producer Sue Roberts, is just fantastic. She makes everything and everyone work seamlessly. The actors all gave their best, and in two days the plays transferred from my muddled brain to radio. They are being broadcast on the week beginning 21st Feb. For lunch we all ate things like rice pudding and mashed potato in the BBC canteen, which serves a high proportion of comfort food. I expected to be exhausted after Manchester, but actually I felt rather rejuvenated.

Tomorrow I am meeting my consultant to discuss the new drug he wants to give me. I feel like saying ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine, ‘ but then I might not be tomorrow. I am writing a piece about waiting for Radio Three’s The Verb. I know an awful lot about waiting, maybe too much. I shall take my knitting with me to the waiting room tomorrow anyway. Maybe knitting is the new chemo!