ABOUT ME

My photo
Morecambe, Lancashire, United Kingdom
In the mornings I’m a Nursery Cook, the rest of the time a Writer. Been writing for decades: short stories, plays, poems, a sitcom and more recently flash fiction, Creative Writing MA at Lancaster Uni and now several novels. Been placed in competitions (Woman’s Own, Greenacre Writers and flashtagmanchester) and shortlisted in others (Fish, Calderdale, Short Fiction Journal). I won the Calderdale Prize 2011, was runner-up in the Ink Tears Flash Fiction Comp & won the Greenacre Writer Short Story Comp 2013. I have stories in Jawbreakers, Eating My Words, Flash Dogs Anthologies 1-3, 100 RPM and the Stories for Homes anthology. My work’s often described as ‘sweet’ but there’s usually something darker and more sinister beneath the sweetness. I love magical realism and a comedy-tragedy combination. My first novel, Queen of the World, is about a woman who believes she can influence the weather. I’m currently working on a 3rd: Priscilla Parker Reluctant Celebrity Chef. Originally from West Midlands, I love living by the sea in Morecambe, swimming, cycling, theatre, books, food, weather, sitcoms and LBBNML … SQUEEZE!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Impossible Thing: Reading, Being an Inspiration and Wanting to Help


Progress Update (aka There’s Something Wrong With These Scales)

Total lost: 80lb (5 stone 10 lb)

Amount left to lose: 50lb (3 stone 8lb)

Percentage of original weight lost: 26.3% (Over a quarter!!)

BMI: 32.1 (moderately obese) Started at 43.6 (morbidly obese)

 
2013

2017


Reading

Over the past year I’ve been reading around the subject of weight loss & obesity in the form of memoirs, factual books & novels with fat/obese characters. With the latter I began with Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother which, in the way it’s written, has something in common with Life of Pi. The main character is hard to care about, as is Michael Kimble’s Big Ray who deserves all he gets. I also read the highly entertaining but sad Butter by Erin Lange & Liz Moore’s Heft, which I found to be beautifully written and had great characters to really care about.

The most recent was Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin, a thriller which explores all the issues connected to obesity & centres around a nurse & a teenager intent on suing the food industry, as well as a serial killer targeting obese victims! He gets his comeuppance of course; shot by bow & arrow at the hands of the sweet fat boy who gets his happy ending. Hurrah!

Weight loss memoirs vary in quality. I read one which was shabbily written but I was still impressed with the man’s story. He goes from forty-one to twenty-five stone, which is still way above most of us, even me. He went to a clinic & was put on a monotonous very low calorie diet for the first year. The theory is it gets a lot of weight off quickly, which is seen as the priority. Not sure I agree with this. His evening meal was ALWAYS chicken, cauliflower & broccoli with nothing added and the rest of his day was protein shakes. I kept wondering why he couldn’t have a carrot and a bit of beetroot for a change. Nothing like normal eating, is it? But his determination with exercise was inspiring. He walked a marathon at thirty stone. Might have been more sensible to start with a half. He began swimming at forty-one stone, which must have been hard. Especially for a man. Belly out, you know. At least women can get a well lycra’d swim dress and be almost glamorous. (I may be deluded here!)

Some of the memoirs cover pasts filled with bullying & the psychological issues of a changing body, the latter particularly harsh for those who choose to lose ten stone in under a year through surgery. Many contain tips. Much contradiction here of course. One written by an Australian comedy performer contained some dreadful self-deprecatory jokes but she still had a core of determination to succeed that was impressive.

I recommend Jeanette Fulda’s Half-Assed. In her twenties she lost very nearly half of her original weight, a total of two hundred pounds, which bearing in mind I’m aiming to lose a hundred & thirty in my early fifties, is astounding. Jeanette explores many aspects of her weight loss & fitness journey & wider issues surrounding it with intelligence & humour.

I read What Have You Got to Lose by Shelley Bovey, a woman who wrote fat acceptance articles in magazines for years. In the 80s & 90s there were magazines called Extra Special & Yes! which were good for finding clothes but I was never completely convinced by the movement. Up to a point acceptance is a good thing but when does it become an excuse? Is it really fine to be so fat if you can’t even buy clothes at Evans or you are struggling to walk?

Shelley Bovey began wondering, at fifty, what was the difference between the 95% who lose and put back on and the 5% who don’t. She uses her journalist skills to find out by interviewing those who had done so and then she went for it, losing seven stone. Her book explores every aspect of weight loss and she does a good job of convincing herself & the reader that losing most of your weight AND fat acceptance can go together. One thing I totally disagree on is her dismissal of exercise as something no one is going to keep up. Not necessarily true.

I recently read Roxane Gay’s Hunger. It made me want to read more by her. She’s good. Also it made me a bit ashamed of my preoccupation with the names I got called by boys when I heard what happened to her. Boys again. But then she put on two hundred & seventy more pounds than I ever did. She’s lost a hundred & fifty over the years & I believe she will one day do the rest. Use your intelligence & determination, that’s what I say.

And I’m now about halfway through Fat is a Feminist Issue. I remain unconvinced about much of this. I’m sure it’s true that we sub-consciously get fat for a reason but I can’t buy into many of the reasons. And where is the very obvious ‘People get fat because food is DELICIOUS.’? Surely there’s as much truth in this fact.

So … Do I want to write a weight loss memoir? Not sure. There’s hundreds out there & do I want to be known for this? On the other hand, maybe I could help others. All I know is if I did this, I’d want to be maintained for a least a year and that the words ‘Impossible’ and ‘Thing’ would feature in the title.

 

Being an Inspiration

Many people have said told me ‘You’re an inspiration’. I’ve had this a few times before but never imagined it would ever be connected to fitness & weight loss. I’m slightly embarrassed by this even though it’s my own fault for going public (which feels great & I don’t feel under pressure in the slightest. Must mean I’m convinced I’m going to do it) & am even more embarrassed by those three people who’ve said they’re jealous. None of them have anywhere near the amount to lose as I had or still have so it seems strange. I’m often jealous of others but would never tell them.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ll really accept this until I’ve done the lot, maintained for some time AND got my head around it. Then, I will accept all the ‘well done’s and even the word awesome if I ever do The Impossible Thing.

 

Wanting to Help Others

For years I almost never saw someone fatter than me. Then I heard there was an obesity crisis and soon I started to spot them. These days I see quite a few of course, especially now I’ve lost some. It makes me notice it more. Very wrong to be asking ‘Is she fatter than me?’ as I walk around town. At least it’s only in my head. Like I said last time, very hard not to become obsessed.

In the eighties there were people who wore badges with the words ‘Lose weight now. Ask me how’ on. But it was apparently part of a scam. Something called Herb-a-life, which still exists. I think I’ll close the door on the research of trying to work that out otherwise it will need its own separate blogpost.

If it is a scam that’s a shame ‘cos I’d sort of like to have a badge like that because recently I’ve seen several folk who are clearly struggling. Twice I’ve recognised that keeping coat/long cardigan on even on a very warm day thing. As if you can cover it. And I’ve seen someone trying to do a delivery job at what looks like getting on for thirty stone.

And I want to say ‘You can do it. If I can you can. There is a way.’ But as my fitness guru extraordinaire says ‘Would you have wanted someone to say that to you?’ The answer’s ‘No WAY’ of course but I keep having this feeling of wanting to help others, which is weird because it’s not something that comes naturally to me.

But ultimately you have to help yourself. It’s about determination and stubbornness, about forgiving yourself for not being perfect but still pushing yourself forward, about doing it your way, keeping your cool, notrushing to get there, adapting as you go, realising this is your life and about never ever giving up.
 
2011


2017
 

Till next time …

Sal

Friday, 21 July 2017

Priscilla's First Reader



A couple of weeks ago my first reader, Stella, sat on my sofa and read the seventy-four thousand words I have of Priscilla Parker Reluctant Celebrity Chef. As she read, she said she really wanted to find out what happened, drank her usual buckets of tea (where does she put it?) and of course, being my friend, proclaimed it good. Thanks for taking the time to read it, Stella!
 
 

I love it when Stella’s finished reading and we talk about the characters and events as if they were real. She pointed out a few things as she went, which I made a note of for later. Where did I put that piece of paper? And she confirmed certain ways of telling the story are working. I’m not sure what a faux-autobiography is supposed to be like but let’s just say me and Priscilla are blagging it together.
We also discussed changing Priscilla’s name due to the name-in-title of a Flash Dog’s self-published novel (You know who you are) being the same. Great minds think of an alliterative title. So it’s now Priscilla Parkin, which is actually a nice quirky food-related name. And I do know a Parkin so it IS a name! Glad she’s still Priscilla though. Priscilla, who doesn’t want to make a show called Priscilla’s Puddings & makes a fool of herself explaining why then ends up making Priscilla Queen of Desserts instead. Priscilla, who hates being recognised and being in the papers and just wants a quiet ordinary life. Priscilla, who nearly drowns then suddenly decides she wants to go swimming.

And Stella even laughed a few times, because it IS supposed to be funny. Not enough though, so I need to work on that aspect, among many others. So hard when you long to be Sue Townsend or Victoria Wood and you’re just Sal Page. Ah well …

So, lots needs sorting but this wet weekend I will be having a big read through and note scribble, which I can do from my bed if necessary.

Onwards …
 
My next #TheImpossibleThing blogpost is coming next week: The Impossible Thing: Reading, Being an Inspiration and Wanting to Help.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Impossible Thing: Ups and Downs/Roller Coaster Effect

 
Lost: 5 stone 3lb (73lb)
Amount still to lose: ONLY 4 stone 1lb (57lb)
Percentage of original weight lost: 24%
Feeling: Pleased, confused, proud, frustrated, delighted and downright paranoid.
 
To be at this stage is weird. I imagine that somewhere there is a woman my age and height seeing herself at the same weight I’m at & being appalled at how fat she’s got. Yet it seems such a low weight to me. A weight I’ve not been for maybe a quarter of a century.
So … I’m sure there’s something wrong with these scales. I can’t possibly have lost that much. Can I?
I’ve had a couple of ‘run ins’ with the Boots scales. I wanted to check whether mine were telling me the truth. If there is such a thing as truth when it comes to scales. I think not. Can I really be three stone more than I thought? Do they ever calibrate these things? My considerably cheaper but new scales have been happily telling me I’ve lost a pound a week for some time now so did I weigh even more when I started? Head totally messed with.
But enough about the scales crisis. There are better ways to judge these things than scales.
You want it to be done but you know it will take time. You want to get there but the thought of getting there is scary because it’s a place you’ve never been before. You want to get there so you can at least find out that you CAN get there. But if ‘there’ is a weight you’ve not been since you were about twelve … Twelve? I’m nearly fifty-two!
I can look at myself one day and be completely unable to see any weight loss. Then another time I think ‘Yes, I can see it!’ Okay, I’ll admit I’m a tad obsessed but I’m coming to the conclusion that you have to be or you’ll never do it.
What follows are examples of, if it isn’t too much of a cliché, or pair of clichés, the ups and downs/roller coaster effect. All in the past few weeks …
Arriving at work to hear a colleague saying she was now 9 stone 3 pound and used to be 11 stone. I immediately compared this to what I’m aiming to lose (new target after discovering I’m 2 inches shorter than I thought), that is 9 stone 4! I responded to this by feeling like seven kinds of freak and I had to give myself a talking to that mainly included the words ‘But you’ve lost five of those stones already, Sal.’ But what it boils down to is, if I do this, I will have lost a whole, admittedly quite small, person. Hmmm … no wonder it messes with your head.
Seeing a reflection of me and Brenda and thinking ‘That’s just a fat woman on a bike not a REALLY fat woman on a bike.’ Bit backhanded but true. Kind of nice. It’s Brenda making me look good, of course. What would I do without her?
 
 
Brenda Posing by the New Sea Wall
 
Getting paranoid feelings that people are looking at me and thinking/saying ‘No WAY has she lost five stone. She looks the same as she always did. She’s lying.’ Lying or deluded. I have no evidence to support this but that doesn’t stop me thinking it.
I recently went out to the cinema and for once didn’t want to rush home scared of people and being out. I was quite happy to be out on my own. Nice handbag and all size 20 clothes (the mix of sizes I wear some days is just silly). On the way through town, I saw my reflection. I love shop windows. I force myself to look and think ‘You ARE smaller.’ Feels like I have to do this over and over and over again. Till I get there. And no doubt beyond too.
Is that really me?
I look the same as I ever did.
What if these scales are wrong and I haven’t lost any weight at all?
Yeah, ridiculous.
And so it goes on. Of course it makes no sense to think like this when I can also see how much different my neck, shoulders, knees and hands, for example, look. And yet still I think I’m no different.
And I can’t quite believe that losing another four stone & a pound will put me at ideal weight. It seems such a small amount to be overweight by. Therefore the scales MUST be telling me the wrong weight. I can’t be …
And so it goes on …
Even though I carry on with my exercise – my swimming feels locked in place as something I will always do & cycling continues to be really enjoyable – I often think I’m eating too much and am one pizza, a tube of Pringles (BBQ) and a Vienetta (Mint) away from going back to my old habits. Sometimes, it feels like every extra bit of eating I do is sabotaging myself, holding myself back from getting any further. But then maybe this is a good thing. If I was better at reducing my food intake I’d have done this faster and it would be even harder to cope with. Because it really is all in the mind. And mine is playing tricks on me. It’s probably laughing at me right now.
But despite the paranoia, body dysmorphia and self-obsession, all I can do is keep going. I’ve come too far to go back. (I HAVE come far. I HAVE. I really HAVE.)
I want to be at five and half stone off for the first week in July, which I always have off for Stella’s visit … like I said last year I’d be at. Then another three pounds and I will ONLY be twice the weight of my fitness guru extraordinaire. Okay, I’m eight inches taller. And under a certain weight – getting into ‘normal’ territory - by the much-looked-forward-to Nick Lowe concert in Glasgow in August.
Thanks for reading, whether you got to this line or not.
Sal
 
Next time … Being an ‘inspiration’, weight loss memoirs and wanting to help others.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Swept Away



Last week on Twitter my brother retweeted this picture posted by You Had One Job, with the words 'Short story inspiration/challenge?' I, of course, accepted the challenge and here it is ...


Swept Away

The river was the high that day. Flood alerts on the local news. The water lifted vehicles out of carparks and from waterside streets the previous evening. They floated downstream to be left on the banks miles further up. Like that old UPS van behind Joe. It washed up from the car museum in town. We saw a Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang car too. It should have flown away when it saw the water levels rising.
Stopping a passing policeman to take our picture was a bit daring but he was too preoccupied with the flood water and washed up vehicles. We'd just come out of the register office, you see. Sixteen and getting married. We’d known each other since we were twelve. We had no family with us. We did it in secret. We knew what we wanted. Why wait?

I asked Joe to hold my bag while I switched to selfie mode to check my hair and redo my lip gloss. My little sister bought me this novelty handbag. I’d have preferred a plain one but she was so pleased it. Sewing’s my job and my hobby. I made my own dress. A very simple white maxi dress with silver sequins at the neck. You’ll see it on the other photos.

Of course I love the photos of the two of us together but this photo does make me laugh. Joe appears to be holding a sewing machine. So random. And look at his cute smile.
Yeah, I still use the bag. I keep Joe’s ashes in it.

The floods were even higher the year after. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He got swept away.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Impossible Thing Gets Even More Impossibler


After a conversation with my Dad about how the scales in Boots measure your height and they'd told me I was just under 5ft11 when I've always thought I was 6ft, he said he would measure me. I'm certain it was quite accurate; a piece of card, a pencil, a wall and a metal tape measure. I was stunned at the result. I'm 5ft10.

5ft10!!!

After a bit of googling I found out that women shrink two inches and men shrink one inch as we go from our thirties, into our forties and fifties. But, I soon realised, the big implication is - more googling required - a lower target weight.

So, I need to lose another ten pounds to get to one pound below the top of the ideal weight range for my height. 130 pounds in total as opposed to 120. The good news is I'm still past halfway. Phew! 67 down, 63 to go.

This new target is a weight I think I've not been since I was about twelve/thirteen years old. See? IMPOSSIBLE.

Sigh.

Am I downhearted? Nah! If that's the weight I have to be to find out what its like not to be fat, then that's where I'm heading. Slowly. Onwards and back-and-forth-in-the-pool-&-on-the-prom-wards and downwards.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Priscilla Parker Reluctant Celebrity Chef & Reading in a Pulp Idol Heat




On Saturday 22nd April, I competed in the Pulp Idol heats in Liverpool. Six trains and out of the flat for ten hours to read for three minutes. Madness!?
Pulp Idol is part of Writing on the Wall Festival. In the heats you read the first three minutes of your first chapter and answer a couple of questions. There were thirteen people in my heat and only two were chosen. Despite not making it into the final I, as usual, really enjoyed reading and think I did well. I answered the judges questions, trying not to waffle.
Then I went back to my seat wishing I HAD waffled. There is so much to say about the story within this novel. It is a comedy so unlikely to be taken seriously. One of the judges said the dialogue was good and she could see it as a stage play. I gave up on writing plays a few years back! Oh well ... onwards and upwards. 
 
 
Priscilla Parker Reluctant Celebrity Chef
 
Fifty Word Synopsis
(Fifty words? That's what they wanted for the application. SO. HARD.)
Priscilla Parker’s accidently become a celebrity chef thanks to her TV producer husband. Her story’s interspersed with 'price of fame’ rants, as Priscilla tells of filming shows about UK food producers, searching for her missing daughter, cooking on camera, meeting a stalker, having 2.7 million Twitter followers & nearly drowning.

First Three Minutes of My First Chapter
 
The Cake that Wasn’t a Cake


‘Action!’

‘Five stunning wedding cakes. Traditional, quirky, themed, naked and – last but by no means least - savoury. Looking forward that one, I can tell you.’

No, I don’t know why I added ‘I can tell you.’ Completely pointless. In the script.

I had to walk along the row of wedding cakes, set up on an elaborate stands in the bunting strewn, flower entwined tent. Each cake was covered with a length of fabric. This first piece to camera was just a taster of what was to come. We had to keep the viewers interested, Aaron always said. This meant endless recapping, pauses and reveals. We were constantly covering the same ground from slightly different angles. Tedious. It meant the programmes were slower than I’d have liked. ‘We have to think about Joe Public’, Aaron would say. Personally I thought Joe Public could cope with something a bit faster, and less repetitive. 

It was never my intention to become one of Britain’s most popular TV chefs. Or to be on television at all. I always said I didn’t want to be on it because I liked watching it. And I was right, having since experienced the horror of falling asleep in front of a nice comedy show only to wake to see a Priscilla from fifteen years ago banging on about dumplings while wearing a weird scarf and with a hairstyle I have no memory of ever having.

It was gorgeous summer day in the grounds of a country house in Hampshire. Intensely blue sky. Lime green lawns. Immaculate flower beds. We were filming the final show of the eight part Priscilla’s Parties. I’d quite enjoyed the others. Halloween was loads of fun and the informal dinner party would no doubt be a huge hit with the viewers. Affordable and achievable for all.

‘Here’s the first one. The traditional.’

            I pulled the pink silk cover off with a flourish. The thin fabric flew up in the air and fell, wrapping itself round my arm as it landed. Couldn’t have done it again if I tried.

‘Cut!’

‘What?’

‘We’ll take that again, Priscilla.’

‘But I could’ve unwound it as I talked about the cake.’

‘No. We’ll go again. This time try and make it land away from you. If you can sort of fling it behind you so it’s out of the way of the reveal. Okay?’

‘Okay.’

The second time it behaved itself and landed delicately on the floor behind me and the cake.

‘Ta-dah!’ I held my arms around the cake, trying to look awed by its beauty.

Yes, ‘Ta-dah!’ is a stupid thing to say. It was in the script. I knew if I left it out I’d have to retake.

‘Very traditional. Snow white. Five tiers. Rich fruit cake soaked in brandy, layer of marzipan, two layers royal icing. Immaculate piping around the edges. Someone must have an extremely steady hand. Tiny impossibly neat sugar flowers in varying shades of pink with such delicate leaves. And finally …’

The word hideous was bouncing around my brain desperately trying to get out.

‘ … the bride and groom in all their glory beneath a white bower. How lovely!’

Really hideous.

Such a smug faced bride and groom. I hated them and I hated the cake. There were pictures in my head of my own wedding cake and indeed my own wedding day. I couldn’t look at Aaron. I glanced across at the little crowd that had gathered. Various people from the house had come out to watch. I’d spotted the gardener weeding a border as soon as I arrived but now I treated him to a little smile. He blushed and bobbed his head down. Late twenties. Maybe a decade or so younger than me; at that time I was thirty-nine. Shy smile. Tall and thin. Nice. Fit, if you like.
I moved on to reveal the second cake. Pulling off the cover went smoothly. What can I say? I’m a professional. Or at least I was doing a bloody good job of pretending, while inwardly seething about my husband’s affair. I deserved an Oscar for my performance that day, up to the part where I flipped.
***
In the event I only got as far as treating the gardener to a little smile before my three minutes were up. Some people carried on but I just stopped. I must have read slightly slower than in my many rehearsals, which pleases me in a way as I means I wasn't babbling fast to get it over with. After hours on tenterhooks your reading opportunity is over in a flash.

Then you think 'never again' and 'why do I DO these things?' and, after a good night's sleep you think 'I might enter again next year' and ...

... 'I think I'll put my name down for that open mic in May.'