Online friends are real friends

On the Today programme on Radio Four on Friday, they had a segment devoted to #GrannyWisdom. One of the women who was sharing her life advice was firm about the need for what she called “real friends”.
“Make real friends,” she said. “Not from screens.”
“Learn from them,” she went on. “Share their sorrows and sadnesses as well as the joys and the fun.”
But she was adamant they had to be “real friends, not you-know-what friends”.
Much as I love the idea of #GrannyWisdom (my own granny had many – often bewildering – words of advice. My faves include not to display red and white flowers together, not to wear opals, and never to eat Wall’s ice cream – but that’s a whole other blog), I think the notion that friends found through a screen aren’t real, is absolute rubbish.
A couple of weeks ago I heard the very sad news that a friend (yes, a friend, even though I’d never met her ‘in real life’) had died suddenly after an operation. I was shocked and sad, and I miss her. She was without a doubt a real friend.
The internet definitely has its downsides (Dan TDM for one) but I think it’s amazing and brilliant for letting you know you’re not alone, whatever you’re celebrating, struggling with, or hoping for. I met a group of friends online when I was pregnant with my first baby and looking for advice about some long-forgotten bit of pregnancy. Those ‘April Mums’ are still important to me, a decade later. And through them I’ve met other people who have supported me, advised me, and made me laugh. We have exchanged career advice, helped set up businesses, lent an ear to those with relationship troubles, or who are going through fertility treatment. We’ve chosen outfits for nights out, dates, weddings and interviews. We’ve helped with toddler tantrums and teenage angst. We listened to worries about mental health issues. We’ve encouraged each other through marathon training, triathlons, and couchto5kms. The friend who passed away was one of those women and those of us who are missing her are now sharing our sorrows and sadness, just as the wise granny advised. It’s not real life, but those friends are real.
It’s not only through parenting where I’ve made friends online. The writers I share a publisher with all joined up in a Facebook group. Some of them I’ve met, some I haven’t. But they’re an unwavering source of helpful hints, cheerleading, grammar lessons, rants, excitement, and hilarity-bordering-on-hysteria as deadlines approach. I’d count them as “real friends”, too.
Age UK research shows that 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely, Esther Rantzen has worked hard to launch Silver Line – aimed at helping combat loneliness, and the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has a similar aim. At a time when older people are seemingly suffering from loneliness more than ever, it seems foolish to write off a whole way of making friends.
So this time, I’d say Granny has definitely got it wrong (I think my granny probably had it wrong about Wall’s ice cream too). It’s friends who are important – not how you make them.

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Love Actually – where are they now ?

So, the moment has arrived – it’s Red Nose Day tomorrow and it’s bringing with it the long-awaited sequel to Love Actually.

I’m fairly sure Richard Curtis has it covered, but on the off-chance that he’s left anyone out, I thought I’d have a go at imagining what all the characters have been up to since we last met…

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Juliet and Peter

After Peter’s best friend Egg-from-This Life/zombie-killer Rick (I do actually know he’s called Mark in Love Actually, but only because I looked it up on IMDB) declared his love for Juliet and ruined her wedding video, she persuaded her gullible hubby Peter to emigrate to Australia. They are now living happily Down Under far, far away from Peter’s creepy best mate, and Juliet manages to avoid all talk of Egg/Rick ever coming to stay. FYI Rick. That thing with the writing on the cards – not romantic. Weird. Very, very weird.

Laura Linney

Laura Linney (she’s called Sarah, apparently. Yes, IMDB) realised long ago that you can be a good sister and have hot sex with hot Karl from the office. About time. That’s her Red Nose Day sorted.

Daniel

On Christmas night, just as the action in the original Love Actually finishes, Daniel was visited by the ghost of his recently deceased wife. She pointed out that she’d only been dead for 10 sodding days so it was a bit soon to be making eyes at Claudia Schiffer. She also mentioned it was icky to be encouraging her son to be chasing after a girl when he was clearly only about eight. What he needed, she said, was a big cuddle, a selection box, and unlimited Minecraft. Luckily Daniel has seen the error of his ways and gone back to looking sad and wearing excellent knitwear. Well done, Daniel.

Aurelia

Aurelia decided she couldn’t marry a man who still used a typewriter and couldn’t be bothered to learn her language even when he wanted to get in her knickers. She and her sister have ditched Colin Firth (JAMIE! He’s called Jamie! I didn’t even have to look that one up) and their fat-shaming dad and have gone off round the world together in search of adventure.

Martine McCutcheon and Hugh Grant

She got really thin for her wedding to Hugh Grant. Now she spends her time being wheeled out at various political events and having to make small talk with identical middle-aged men in suits. She is never asked her opinion on anything. She cries herself to sleep most nights.

Harry and Karen (Let’s ignore lovely Alan Rickman’s untimely demise, and just go with the fiction, right?)

Harry’s wife left him after what he now thinks of as ‘the Joni Mitchell debacle’. He explores dark corners and does dark deeds with a succession of younger women who laugh at him behind his back. Harry’s cold, English ex-wife – Karen – is now Prime Minister. She buys her own necklaces.

The porn couple and Rab C Nesbitt

Just Judy and Martin Freeman (I’ve got to be honest, I’ve given up with names now) are happily married. They both have new jobs that allow them to keep their clothes on. You know who else is happily coupled up? Bill Nighy and Rab C Nesbitt. Am slightly hoping that this whole sequel is based at their wedding where Ant or Dec will be performing the ceremony.

Him from Death in Paradise

That chap from the BT ad went back to America and got lost somewhere in the Rockies. No one misses him.

 

 

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Inside No 9 is writing at its best

Have you been watching InsiScreen Shot 2017-03-21 at 13.30.50de No 9? No? Well you should be. It’s in its third series now (tonight, 10pm, BBC2, is the last episode – don’t miss it), and it’s some of the best television I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. I love it for the pure entertainment value – it’s sometimes scary, occasionally funny, often sad, regularly unsettling and never less than brilliant. And I also love it because the writing is just wonderful. As a lesson in storytelling, I really think Inside No 9 can’t be bettered. At the end of each episode I always find myself wishing I could sit in on the writing sessions shared by its creators Reece Sheersmith and Steve Pemberton – just to see how their minds work.
For those who don’t know, Inside No 9 is an anthology of unconnected stories, each set behind door number nine. There has been an episode that played out via the clues in a cryptic crossword, one that was completely silent, and an episode starring Sheridan Smith that had such a twist in its tail that I find I still think about it months and months after watching. There was one on a sleeper train, one in a karaoke booth, one in call centre… they are varied and original and it’s hard to pick a favourite episode from the three series.Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 13.30.08
I have a hatred of overly long films. I firmly believe that if you can’t tell a story in less than two hours, you shouldn’t tell it at all. I still have nightmares about the months (it was months, right? Or did it just feel that way?) I spent watching Lord of the Rings. Inside No 9 makes me feel like my dislike of waffle has been vindicated. Every single word either moves the story forward, or adds a layer to the plot, or sets up the final twist. And for writers that’s a really important lesson to learn.
Like many writers, I’m sure, I am often guilty of padding; adding extra words to a scene just because. I know how my heroine is wearing her hair in this scene, I find myself thinking, so everyone else should know too. But Inside No 9 has taught me that unless it’s a vital part of the story, then the heroine’s hair isn’t really relevant. Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 13.30.29
Of course not all writing is like this, and sometimes it’s fun to play with language or write glorious descriptions. But in terms of plotting a novel, there’s a lot to learn from Sheersmith and Pemberton.
In the crossword episode – The Riddle of the Sphinx – the characters talked about Chekhov’s gun. That’s the dramatic ‘rule’ that if there is a gun in the first act, then it needs to be fired before the end of the play. It means that everything has to be relevant to the action – otherwise it has no place in the play. Inside No 9 shows this off to perfection – and I’m going to try my very best to remember it when I’m plotting my next story.

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Plot twists and dirty tricks

Something I think is really important in writing – especially when it comes to plot twists – is being honest with your readers. Or, if you’re writing a film or a TV show, being honest with your viewers. Don’t trick them. Play games, of course. Mess with their heads any time you like. But don’t trick them.

Sherlock Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch
Sherlock Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch

I thought about this ‘rule’ when I was watching the first episode of the new series of Sherlock on New Year’s Day, The Six Thatchers. It was an unsatisfying, confusing, meandering episode and the reason – I think – is it was all about Mary Watson. And her whole story tricked the viewers. We weren’t invested in the threats against Mary’s life because we never really believed in her (completely ridiculous, but who am I to judge?) past as a highly trained, top-secret, Ninja-esque, government-hired assassin. We didn’t see it as it happened, it had no bearing on her life as we knew it, so we didn’t care. We met Mary, she and John fell in love and then suddenly, the writers said: “Oh by the way, Mary used to be a highly trained, top-secret, Ninja-esque government-hired assassin.” A more cynical person than me might question why they decided to do that (Mary in the original stories is not a Ninja) – and I think the answer might just be: “Plot device.”

Mary Watson, played by Amanda Abbington
Mary Watson, played by Amanda Abbington

I very firmly feel that if you’re going to drop a huge twist into your story – change a character’s personality entirely, or reveal something massive in their past – you need to have cleverly woven some clues into the narrative before then. So when the reveal comes, your readers can go back and piece it all together in their heads. Think about the end of The Usual Suspects – the whole film unravels but instead of being unsatisfying, it’s brilliant, because it’s honest.
One of the best examples of this, I think, came on EastEnders back in 2009/2010. Stacey Slater was struggling with her bi-polar, while Archie Mitchell was busy on the other side of the Square generally being nasty and tormenting his poor daughter, Ronnie. A few months later, a recovered Stacey admitted Archie had raped her (and she later whacked him over the head with the bust of Queen Victoria and killed him).

C03A2D83-E2F2-43BC-A2E6-55C1B48D10A3When I watched the episode in which Stacey revealed that Archie had raped her, I was dubious. “Really?” I thought. “Why didn’t we see that?” Then somewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of my brain (the part I save just for Enders knowledge), a bell rang. So I re-watched the episode when Stacey was at her lowest, fighting her bi-polar, confused and emotional. And it turned out, she’d told everyone – viewers included – back then what had happened with Archie – we just didn’t believe her at the time. Clever, eh? An unreliable narrator like Rachel in The Girl On The Train who turned out to have been reliable all along. It worked because it was tricksy but it didn’t play tricks. It was all there for us to see – we just chose not to look.
Plot twists are really hard to pull off, but when they work, they’re great. Just don’t play tricks, because they make the narrative unsatisfying.

What are your favourite plot twists and why do you think they work? Let me know @kerrybean73

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Why are female authors ignored?

I’m reading Us by David Nicholls at the moment – I’m about halfway through. It’s a good read, if a bit slow. It’s mildly, wryly funny. It’s quite sweet in parts. In short, it’s okay.
On the front of the edition I’m reading are quotes from its review in The Times, The Sunday Times and The Observer. On the back it proudly proclaims that it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

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All about me!

Last week my husband and I went to Brixton Academy to watch 90s band Ride perform their fabulous album Nowhere (I realise that if you’re not an aged indie kid this will mean nothing to you, but bear with me – I do have a point).

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A Step In Time

My new book, A Step In Time, is released on Monday. I really hope you like Amy Lavender and her unlikely friend, Cora (If you do, you can buy their story right here). And to whet your appetites, here’s a snippet from the very beginning of the book…

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Thank you, Judy Blume!

Picture, if you can, the summer of 1984. Before Live Aid. Before EastEnders. I was 10. I loved Wham and Madonna and spent most of my time worrying about nuclear war and London flooding (thanks to the terrifying Thames Barrier adverts.

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Why equal marriage is good for everyone

 

This week I watched as my Facebook feed filled up with rainbow-tinted profile pictures, and the bars and pubs of Soho waved rainbow bunting and flags. Everyone was celebrating the US finally deciding that equal marriage was a good thing, and marching in Pride, and everything was happily brightly coloured and it was ace. 

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