One month till publication – January

So here it is. Twenty one sleeps until The Ship is published. Twenty one sleeps until I am a published author. And here are some good things that have happened:
The inaugural Curtis Brown Book Group selected The Ship as its first book choice, and tomorrow I get to answer questions in a live online forum, from people who have read it. It’s hard to describe how excited I am by this – it’s right up there with seeing the proofs and hearing the audio book being recorded.
Last week, I hosted the first 40+ Debut Authors’ Lunch. Thirty two authors from all over the country descended upon Covent Garden and talked to each other. Writing is a solitary pursuit by definition, so to meet other writers – particularly other debuts – and realise that we are all in this together, and that we can and will support each other, was a truly uplifting experience. It was particularly special that this lunch arose from nothing more than a passing observation on Twitter – Are there any other 40+ authors publishing debuts out there? – which became a conversation, which became an idea, which became a lunch. If you’d like to join in, let me know – the only criteria is that you published your debut – or have a contract to publish your debut – over the age of 40.
And I’m still glowing because this morning, my six year old asked if he could have a copy of The Ship to give to his teacher.
Three good things that are yet to happen:
Two launches, one in London, just around the corner from my protagonist Lalla’s flat, and the other – on 19th February, launch day itself – in Bristol, a city I greatly fear would be underwater if the events of The Ship came to pass. The Bristol launch, at Foyles Cabot Circus, is a public event open to anyone so please, please come along. Spread the word. There’ll be wine AND cake.
On Tuesday 17th February, I’ll be joining nine other authors who’ll be reading while the audience eats cake and drinks cocktails. The readings will be short and the cocktails will be named after our books. The event is at Drink, Shop and Do (just around the corner from King’s Cross station).
And on the 24th February, I’ll be at Short Stories Aloud, a wonderful evening hosted by Sarah Franklin on the fourth Tuesday of every month. Professional actors read short stories by two guest authors (so I’ll get to meet Lucy Ribchester, too), and the authors take questions, and it’s lighthearted and serious and absorbing and fascinating all at once. Oh, and there’s cake. Lots of cake. I’ve been in the audience and loved it, and can’t wait to be a part of it from the other side.
So, as the months have ticked down into weeks, and the weeks are ticking down into days, it comes down to this: Nothing has changed. I’m still scrabbling about for time and space; my life is still ruled by school uniforms and homework and housework and meal preparation and the ever-present, often unattainable wish to spend at least some of my life with the man I chose to share it with. Sometimes it feels as though James and I are partners in a twenty-four hour enterprise, constantly covering for each other and only pausing for long enough to pass the baton. And yet, everything has changed. I am a writer. I don’t know what’s going to happen to my novel. I don’t know. My fervent hope is that it does well enough to give me the chance to publish another. But – yes, even more than that – what I hope for, as The Ship sets sail, is that my story so far can offer light to anyone else who’s driven to write. Because it was hard. It is hard. Impossible, even. And yet, The Ship is there, in all its primary-coloured cover art glory, actual and real and solid, with printed pages and a dust jacket and everything.
It can happen.

This Morning I am Very Angry

So. Stuart Kerner, a 44 year old teacher, had sex with a 16 year old pupil. He had sex with her at the school and at her home over an 18 month period. This happened in Britain, a civilized, democratic society in which children have rights and are valued. Stuart Kerner’s fate was in the hands of the law. And the law states that a child under the age of 18 cannot consent to sex with a teacher. It’s there to eradicate the grey area (what grey area? What?) about pupil/teacher relationships. It’s about the balance of power and it’s very clear. Stuart Kerner broke the law, and Stuart Kerner came to trial.
The law gave Stuart Kerner an eighteen-month sentence.
The law suspended that sentence.
Now let’s be clear. Kerner has been put on the Sex Offender Register, which precludes him from teaching. And the decision to suspend a sentence is available to a judge, and can be implemented for a wide range of good reasons. So what were those good reasons in this case?
Judge Joanna Greenberg QC’s decision was taken for reasons that should boil the blood of anyone who gives a fuck. The last time I was this angry was when Victoria Coren-Mitchell posted a blog asking for an appreciation of nuance in the Roman Polanski rape case. I don’t think there’s a great deal of nuance in the anal rape of a thirteen year old girl. And I don’t think there’s much nuance here, either. He was a teacher. She was a pupil. He was responsible; she was the victim.
But Greenberg didn’t see a child. She saw a temptation, an emotionally manipulative siren. No matter that the girl, according to Greenberg, ‘was vulnerable and needy and had a troubled home life.’ She was a stalker. Her friends said so. ‘There is no evidence you groomed her,’ Greenberg said to Kerner. ‘If anything, she groomed you.’ The girl had a history of lying; the Guardian reports Greenberg as saying she ‘showed no compunction’ about lying when it suited her.
Stuart Kerner (and this is a 44 year old teacher we’re talking about) was ‘emotionally vulnerable.’ He’d been manipulated. And his wife had had a miscarriage. A probation officer says Kerner considered suicide before the sentence was announced.
So the sentence was suspended because she was at fault. He was the victim. That pesky law, hey, we can’t get round it – but we’ll do what we can to minimize the impact that witch has had on your already troubled life.
But wait. He carried a condom around so that they could have sex at school if she became too ‘irresistible.’ There’s no way that a sixteen year old girl would respond to that by actually trying to be irresistible, is there? There’s no way she’d hang around hoping to see him, hoping he’d notice her and prove, using the language he’s taught her, that she is indeed irresistible? That’s not grooming, is it? And meeting repeatedly? Did she do that on her own?
Presumably there was no way on Earth he could have reported her stalking behaviour (which couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with proving herself irresistible, could it?) to senior management. He couldn’t have avoided being alone with her at school. There was no other course open to him, as the victim of an intelligent, manipulative schoolgirl, than to bring a condom to school, put a chair under the handle of a cupboard and push his penis inside her.
So. What have we learned this morning, readers? We’ve had a good many lessons in recent months. Women – well, we’re already there on not getting drunk, not walking alone in the dark (in fact best be home by sunset), not getting into unlicensed minicabs and not wearing provocative clothing. Oh, and not having too many opinions. And perhaps best to avoid being a lesbian in South Africa. Or a girl in India. But today, thanks to Judge Joanna Greenberg QC, we’ve learned that being a sixteen year old girl with a crush on your teacher is off limits too.
And men. You’re fifty percent of the world’s population and you’ve got so much going for you. You wouldn’t let misogynistic crime dramas (like The Fall – ooh, there was a wicked siren of a teenager in that, too, wasn’t there?) or even an intelligent, experienced QC persuade you that sixteen year old girls are anything other than sixteen year old girls, would you? Not just because you have, or may one day have, daughters, but because you are loved, and our future as a species rests on us seeking to understand each other.
Being a stalker, a liar and emotionally vulnerable proved to be a crime in a young girl, but was Stuart Kerner’s vindication. Like Ched Evans, Stuart Kerner protests his innocence, and like Ched Evans, he seems to think he’s suffered enough.