Don’t wait for Creative Inspiration to Get Work Done

Glowing brain

Inspiration – it’s a fickle beast. We all know that. Sometimes I’m inspired, sometimes I’m not. Still have a deadline though, still need to get paid. One of my big priorities and motivators though is also to enjoy the experience as much as clients will (hopefully) enjoy the music I’ll compose for their film or play. Though it’s quite a nice bonus, that feeling of creative inspiration, of having ideas spring into mind as if from outside of us, isn’t really a prerequisite to said enjoyment.

Enjoying your work comes from autonomy, mastery and purpose says Daniel Pink in Drive; I know for me this is so so true – they were all factors I found intensely important for my work and life, even before I read his book. However, autonomy, mastery and purpose all take work to make happen, in and of themselves.

Autonomy asks that you structure your own time and/or way of working and requires discipline. Resistance and procrastination are ever present threats.

Mastery requires years of focussed, deliberate practise, experimentation and learning from your mistakes. It takes grit, determination and a somewhat obsessive drive. Or just… discipline.

Purpose requires thought, introspection and interrogation. The why of what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s obvious; often it’s not, and needs work in itself to get really clear on. What is your reason for doing the work? Be honest…

  • is it for the money (that’s ok, it’s high on my list, I gotta eat)?
  • is it in service of a joint venture to create something bigger and more awesome than you could do on your own (ooh a big juicy yes)?
  • is it to make your clients happy – and maybe get some much-needed ego validation (maybe the basis of the entire media industry)?
  • is it to work with people that you like hanging out with (guilty as charged)?

I call this ‘finding my in’… which I just realised might be a subconscious abbreviation of inspiration, hmm. As in, an alternative to this ephemeral, unpredictable feeling. A replacement inspiration strategy, something more reliable and practical and less dependant on forces outside of my control. Ooh interesting…

But back to the point – when starting work, inspiration is irrelevant. It’s a nice feeling though! And lovely when it does happen, no argument here.

However, I’m wary of it, and this is why: I experience anxiety on a fairly regular basis. I think my amygdala is a bit over reactive and sees or looks for threats where really there are none. My lizard brain is just tying to keep me safe, so I’m not annoyed with it. I’m thankful that such a trait kept my ancestors alive long enough to have spawned me.

However, said anxiety is so not helpful most of the time, so I acknowledge it, compartmentalise it and do my best to ignore it. Because it’s low level and semi-constant it’s easy to consign it to all the other background noise of life.

But sometimes it goes away and – this is the awesome bit – I’m left with a feeling of complete and delightful euphoria. It’s hard to describe. It’s as if I’m on holiday, the sun is shining and warm, I’m in a state of flow and everything I have to do just seems so easy. My thoughts are clear, my logic is sound, and I feel such a sense of connection to the world. But it’s fleeting. This too shall (and does) pass etc etc.

The euphoria, as delicious as it is, is so similar to that feeling of creative inspiration. It comes, it goes, but the work still has to (and does, mostly) happen. Experiencing random bouts of euphoria has led me to view such related feelings as just as random and unreliable.

Ironically, getting down to work when I’m just not in the mood can trigger feelings of inspiration. You may have already discovered this – is it old news to you? If so, bloody well done. Took me years to work it out. Back in 2009 I thought it was essential, oops.

I know for me, the creative impulse, that feeling of inspiration, isn’t a reliable instigator of action. Inspiration has become a reward for putting in the work. Just like it did for my ancestors – an evolutionary, cosy little way of signalling I’m probably on the right path.

Note to self: Dont wait for inspiration. Just do the work.

Image: Flickr



CLARITY IS KEY. You can’t get what you want if you don’t know what it is that you want in the first place.

Handwritten music manuscript

What story do you want to tell? How do you want to feel?

I made a really useful little pdf, a guide to helping directors get really clear when they brief* their music composers.

Subscribe to email updates and you can download it for freeeee.

It includes all the practical, useful, simple questions I always try to get answers to from any brief I receive, for any kind of media – film, theatre, television, animation, games, library music…

I work with the same people a lot (Red Star, Third Angel, Slung Low), which is pretty awesome mostly because they’re all groups of brilliant, creative, interesting people to work with. Part of the brilliance and awesomeness is that we’ve developed a shorthand for talking about music and the briefing process has become sooo much easier, simpler and quicker over the years.

I really want to make the briefing process this easy, simple and quick for people who’ve never done it before because, sometimes, with new directors for example, it can feel a bit… awkward. It’s not fair and completely unnecessary for media-makers to feel this way.

Here’s the problem: How do you describe music when you have no knowledge of musical terms and descriptions?

There’s always that moment where the director actually apologises for not knowing musical terms, and I have to reassure them that (a) there’s no need for apologies and (b) there’s really absolutely no reason to feel bad about it. I have to repress a certain Northern turn of phrase: “don’t be daft,” (most commonly used in these parts by my Dad) as I’ve found it not to be the most… sympathetic. But the point still stands. It’s nice for you if you know some music stuff, music is the best thing ever, obvs… but you don’t need to know any technical terms to get the right music for the job.

This fear of having to brief a composer when you think (erroneously) you don’t know what you’re talking about might cause a lot of you media-makers to shy away from the whole process of working with a composer in the first place – and obviously that’s the last thing I want. In fact, you do know what you’re talking about. We all do. Music is primarily an emotional language; the best way to describe it is obvious…

Here’s the solution: You describe music in terms of story. Emotion, tone, purpose, journey. How do you want to feel?

By the time you get to hiring a composer these ideas will (or should) be crystal clear to you. Clear as day. Clear as a bell (ding!).

This is as true for people with some musical training as well as those with none – in fact, more so for the former. Musical terms can be ambiguous. When you think you’re hearing pizzicato it might actually be staccato (I know, right, the horror). Then you’re mired in the mud of technicalities and misunderstanding rather than the actual job of telling and selling the story.

‘Build to a crescendo’ is another fun phrase I see sometimes (a ‘crescendo’ is a build – read: build to a build). But I won’t be facetious – I know what the people who say this actually mean, so no harm, no foul. Understanding another’s turn of phrase comes from working regularly with a person; my guidelines will leapfrog that early learning phase and get to a clear and precise brief, first time, every time.

I’m coming at this briefing process from a really selfish position: I want the process of getting music onto the film or the play or the game to be thoroughly enjoyable, for everyone concerned (tbh mostly it’s all about me having fun but, hey, if everyone else has fun too then it’s win-win! Yay!). Yes, it can be tres hard work; yes it can be challenging. If anything, it should be – that’s, ironically, often where the joy comes from. It does for me anyway.

See a problem, think deep, work hard, experiment widely (and wildly!), persist, find a solution, dopamine hit. Whammo.

The long and short: follow these trusted guidelines, and any frustration that might pop up is completely avoidable. If there’s any uncertainty in the brief, it needs to be teased out and a decision made to fall one way or another.

A single, clear vision

Furthermore, this process is even more important when there’s more than one decision-maker inputting their opinions on the music. Execs, funders, producers… all have a valid interest in the project and want it to be the best it can be. Nonetheless, the director or editor is usually the single point of contact for me, and it’s their responsibility to collate all the other input into a clear opening brief, and then do the same with subsequent feedback. If I find that other people want to feedback to me directly, I’ll still take all points raised back to my line manager – director, editor, or whoever – embracing these same principles. Clarity and consensus on these first and next steps is key.

If the director is really struggling for an answer and can’t decide, I’ll say which option I’ll work on first (usually the one I think tells the story most effectively as I understand it) and get agreement before I go ahead.

Of course, there’s always room for changing your mind if something isn’t working for you. Human beings are magnificently fallable and born experimenters (that’s half the fun), and the best creative ideas can come from trying out a brand new angle. But when something doesn’t gel as hoped, you must be absolutely crystal clear on what wasn’t working before and what new direction you’re now going to head off in.

I cannot overstate how important this procedure is. It always comes back to these same core questions:

What story do you want to tell? How do you want to feel?

Click here download my guide How To Brief A Composer. I also want to hear your experiences with briefing composers or anyone else in these arty/media industries – I’d LOVE to hear it from the other side. What can composers and other creatives do to make you commissioner-clients happier with the process? Please go ahead and email me here.

I’m soon to embark on a long (and ridiculously exciting, but I’m trying to reign it in ’til I’ve signed on the dotted line, you know how it is, fat lady and everything) project and will have limited time to work on other projects, however it’s far more likely I’ll be able to judge whether I can reasonably fit it in if you’ve considered all the questions in the guide!

*if you’ve got this far you’ve probably worked out what a brief is if you didn’t already know – it’s a document that outlines what one person expects another person to make or do in the course of their work. ‘To brief’ is to deliver that message, in written or spoken form.

My charity track The Key has raised £38 so far! You can still buy this mp3, from the Third Angel show The Department of Distractions and donate money to two brilliant charities that help homeless people – Crisis and Emmaus.

Photo: Flickr

Music for The Homeless: ‘The Key’ from The Department of Distractions

Update 6th March 2018:  ‘The Key’ raised a grand total of £61 for Crisis and Emmaus charities for homeless people. The track isn’t on Bandcamp any more, but if you want to donate directly to these or any other homelessness charities, please do!

The Department of Distractions was joyous fun to work on; the walks between digs and the theatre were quite saddening.

There’s a man sleeping rough in an underpass on the way, so for a week I passed him twice a day. He sleeps on concrete slabs, next to a busy dual carriageway, sandwiched between two concrete pillars and surrounded by pigeon droppings.

This track is called ‘The Key‘. All profits from its sale will go to charities Crisis and Emmaus who help homeless people in Newcastle (the city where I was working) and Sheffield (where I live), respectively.

Download ‘The Key’ from ‘The Department of Distractions’ here.

The Department of Distractions is about a secretive organisation who ply the public with (secret’s in the name) distractions. Why do they do this? To keep us happy (and, possibly, well-behaved), of course.

Working from home, and being a big old highly sensitive introvert, I’m less out-and-about in the world. Especially in the winter when it is cold (people from Yorkshire and further afield describe this fear of the cold as ‘nesh‘. That’s me to a tee). Like a lot of us, my distractions are online and onscreen and in print.

However, when I venture out into a real environment I’m often struck (and still surprised, distracted as I am by said media) by the increase in homeless people and people begging on the streets in recent years, and how incredibly impotent I feel when considering what I can do to help.

So maybe this is something I can do:

  • Pay what you like for the track, minimum £1; it’s a toe-tappingly good tune and features all of the musical themes heard in the play.
  • Give money to worthwhile charities, both with awesomely excellent and effective track records in helping people in dire circumstances.
  • Get a feel-good rush of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin as well! 

Win-win. Please give what you can. Thank you.

The Department of Distractions was written by Alexander Kelly, and made and first performed by Third Angel at Northern Stage, Newcastle in February 2018.

Image: Rick Harris

The Department of Distractions

“A single glove in the street,

A pair of shoes hanging from a telephone wire,

A torn up love letter in a Metro carriage,

A phone box that rings as you walk past…”

Are you distracted?

This month I’m working on The Department of Distractions, written by Alex Kelly and made by Third Angel.

The Department of Distractions is…

“an organisation so clandestine you won’t have heard of them. They say their job is to plant stories in the world “to make life more interesting.” Others would argue that their job is as much to stop us looking in certain directions. But things are starting to unravel, a story they started has got out of hand, they’ve lost control of it and now they’re in danger of being exposed. How far will they go to maintain their anonymity? How much are you willing to believe?”

It’s a wonderfully written, fun and quirky show with some rather dark undertones. The score oscillates between pristine, minimalist synths and raw, layered, folky violins.


Third Angel have been cataloguing The Department’s handy work for some time. See the files on Instagram

The Department of Distractions is on at Northern Stage, 2nd-10th February 2018. Book tickets here.

Image: Rick Harris

Music for Science Fiction – An Odyssey in Words

NASA Image of UFO Galaxy

So here’s something rather fun – I’m a Kickstarter stretch goal incentive for 2001: An Odyssey in Words!

Hah! Or rather, some of my tunes are. I’ve composed three pieces inspired by Clarke’s famous three laws, and, as an added bonus, a special, ‘ceremony mix’ of them that includes some exclusive additional material to make an 11-minute epic journey through the stars and beyond. This ceremony mix track has only ever been heard at the Clarke Award annual ceremony. And my studio obvs. But nowhere else!

These big, splashy, lush, sci-fi tunes are yours when you back 2001: An Odyssey in Words, a new anthology of original fiction by an awesome pantheon of science fiction and fantasy authors. The Kickstarter has only to reach its stretch goal of £10,000. Easy Peasy.

Pledge here.

Image: NASA oh my gosh how pretty is that?

2017 – The Year of Getting Out Of My Comfort Zone

Golf Course In The Fog Simon Harrod Flickr

It’s the last Friday of 2017. It snowed last night and this morning, and I’m fully ensconced in the cosiest comfort zone here, sipping piping hot rooibos tea in the studio. I’ve just checked over some audio files I delivered last week on a mighty tight deadline – you know, just to make sure, peace of mind and all that – and having a think about the mountain of work and life stuff I’ve somehow managed to plough through in the year just gone.

I think my theme for 2017 might have been ‘getting out of my comfort zone’. I said YES to bunch of opportunities I perhaps wouldn’t normally have gone for. Sometimes it worked really well for me, sometimes it… didn’t quite turn out as I’d hoped. I learned a LOT about how, why and when to ‘get out’ of said ‘comfort zone’ for maximum value…

HOW to get out of the comfort zone

… when I’m properly recharged, when I’ve researched and prepared, when I’ve had sufficient thinking time to weigh pros and cons in order to prioritise the events or projects I’m considering. A nibble at a time, not every opportunity all at once. With ‘buffer’ time scheduled in afterwards to decompress, analyse the experience and extract the juicy educational matter, mmm…

WHY to get out of the comfort zone

… when the return on investment potential is high and the journey is also a reward in itself; when it cements or encourages a pre-existing business or personal relationship (love your tribe, etc); when there’s valuable information to be learned or it encourages personal or professional growth or a less fearful way of being in the world.

Not because someone else, or society at large, said I should.

WHEN to get out of the comfort zone

… when there isn’t an imminent deadline. Leaving the comfort zone is a learning opportunity, a time for exploration, for taking risks with the potential for failure, not a time for added ‘fight or flight’ stress. The former leads to unexpected inspiration and creative insight; the latter leads to anxiety and panic attacks (which is a new and unexpected development for me! Yay. Jeez).

WHAT IS my idea of a comfort zone anyway?

I’ve banged on about it enough now – what do I mean by comfort zone? Time to get specific.

It’s both physical and mental, work or home related. It’s everywhere and every person with whom I feel safe, supported, and secure. It’s where my energy reserves aren’t depleted but rather replenished. It is a gift – a place to recharge and come out fighting for the next great adventure into uncertainty.

It might be a duvet day; a breakfast date with John; a project that’s well within my abilities and fits in comfortably around other work and life commitments; working in a warm studio at home; working on my own or with people I’ve worked with many times before; reading a good book; food I like; emailing instead of phoning, wrapping up in a blanket in front of Star Trek TNG. I’m talking ease. 

I recommend making your own comfort zone list. I feel rather cosy and calm after typing that out. It’s quite lovely.

I also learned to LOVE the comfort zone…

For some reason, I can’t possibly think why (hellooooo, catholic upbringing and media industry culture!), up ’til now I’ve felt guilty about being in the comfort zone.

I’d get all comfort-zoney, and enjoy the heck out of it, but I’d feel like I’d have to be secretive about it. I’m pretty sure I could unpack a ton of catholic guilt out of this if I was so inclined, but that’s not fair on you. Instead, let’s just say the guilt was three-fold (ooh religious connotations?):

  1. I didn’t want to be seen to be bragging about how much I was loving the ease of it.
  2. I didn’t feel I’d earned it (I hadn’t worked hard enough to justify it).
  3. It wasn’t valuable – I wasn’t stretching myself, I wasn’t being ambitious enough, I wasn’t suffering enough for my art etc etc.

BUT when I ‘do’ Comfort Zoning™  right…

After a while, I naturally want to push on and poke through that bubble edge into riskier territory. My resilience is buoyed and my battery stats are full – with these resources I can withstand any unpredictability. In fact, I’ll actively seek out novelty, variety and challenge for the sake of it. I’m open, motivated and inspired rather than cagey, distrustful and judgemental (moi? oui, it me). Especially if I know there’s another comfort zone at the other end.

Typical Introvert.

Lesson learned: Don’t be ashamed of the comfort zone. It is my friend. It is essential.

Happy New Year everyone xxx

Image: Simon Harrod

The Themes of Flood

Set from Flood Part 2 (Malcolm Johnson Photography)

Flood, a show of four parts, had four main themes.

This wasn’t deliberate, honest. It just evolved that way.

Inventing and developing themes is massively rewarding fun that you only really get to do on long projects – for example, on multi-part theatre, or feature films. It’s all about exploration and trying to push the boundaries of these tiny motifs in melody, rhythm and sound design.

An audience member may notice thematic development, or they may not. They may hear it only subconsciously, a sense of familiarity creating a feeling of significance.

But never mind the audience – working with themes is both really useful and really fun (but don’t tell them that!).

At one end of the practicality scale, developing themes in the way I’ve done in Flood enables you to make a coherent score – it feels like part of a whole, it feels deliberate, it’s a signal that all parts of the show – performance, set design, lights, pyrotechnics – are held together in this sonic net.

At the other end of this ‘practicality scale’ (where practicality isn’t even the vaguest consideration), developing themes from tiny motifs is deeply satisfying and the challenge of putting all these little mathematical moments together into something that feels gloriously musical and maybe even deeply moving is what it’s all about. It’s about trying to find the point at which form, function and aesthetic become inseparable.

If that makes any sense at all?

Theme 1: Gloriana’s theme

Gloriana’s theme was tripartite, a trinity of musical elements, which seems appropriate – she’s some sort of Holy/magical being after all, according to most of the other characters…

Part 1 – a melody:
Gloriana's melody

This is a cryptogram of Gloriana’s name using the ‘French’ method.

Part 2 – a rhythm based on morse code:

Gloriana's Theme - a rhythm based on morse code

This was Alan Lane’s idea, can’t take credit for it. The rhythm isn’t quite precisely morse code – I made it more rhythmically regular. It feels more musical by having a sense of a steady pulse.

Part 3 – an ambient sound design for when she uses her powers:


(There’s also a recorded sound montage of voices and city sounds for when Gloriana is listening to the thoughts and ambience of the city and its inhabitants made by Matt Angove, Slung Low’s sound designer and engineer.)

Theme 2: Look Across The Ocean – a love song

Listen to the whole song on iTunes etc.

Theme 3: The Fisher Man

Super simple, and derived from a moment in the original string quartet accompaniment to the Love Song (the one I sketched up before I got it properly recorded with real musicians). Just a little, subtle something to underline any mention of this character in Flood part 2, it evolved into big tunes in parts 3 and 4.

Theme 4: The Little Boats

In parts 2 and 3, this was a theme for boats, refugees and anything to do with things that happen at sea. This evolved into a handy underscore in part 4 to describe the relationship between the Captain (the ‘Fisher Man’) and his son.

i.e. dark and stormy and not going well at all.

Most of the material in all four shows comes from these four themes.

Orchestration, the instruments or sounds that are used to perform each of the themes, plays an equally significant part in how the themes are voiced. Originally I limited it to a pallete of mainly string quartet with string ensemble support, harp and piano.

For example, here’s the opening titles to Flood part 1, the Prologue (featuring Gloriana’s melodic theme):

The orchestral palette then evolved to string orchestra with electronic bass rhythms in Flood part 2, with chorals (from Sheffield Chamber Choir), electric viola (at one point I thought the Captain was represented by the viola, but changed my mind as it got too restrictive), and solo singer. Here’s the moment the Wave approaches the City by the Sea :

Did you spot Gloriana’s rhythm in the bass and the first 5 notes of her melody in the strings a bit later?

I used a lot more sound design and electronic synths in part 3, bringing in the occasional french horn or brass moment.

Then, finally, in part 4, I used a full orchestra alongside big chorals and a more extensive percussion section. By then, the show needed a really big and varied sound and a larger palette made it much easier to show a clear definition between the three islands. James and I put together another song for the 3 Islands and I ended up with three more melodies to represent each island which were intertwined through the show with these four overarching musical themes.

I can sometimes go a bit overboard with the thematic machinations, but, hey, I enjoy it, and it means I’ll probably never run out of ideas. Touch wood.

You may not have seen some or all of Flood…

Part 1, From The Sea, is a short film, a prologue or introduction to the series. It shows how Gloriana came to be brought up for the ocean depths by a fisherman and his son on a trawler out in the North Sea. Watch it here.

Part 2, Abundance, was a play performed to a live audience. It was set on a floating stage in a dock in Hull, showing life before the Flood, the coming storm, and the way that it destroyed England as we know it. Part 2 was audio-recorded and became a 5-part podcast featuring interviews with cast and crew.

Part 3, To The Sea, is a play like part 2, instead filmed for broadcast on BBC2. It shows what life was like immediately after the wave struck, bookended by moments on an island set six months after that.

Part 4, New World, was a play performed to a live audience again. It started at a point six months after the Flood, when England has become three islands with wildly differing philosophies. Holy Island worships Gloriana; Renaissance Island looks only forward whilst ironically believing the only way forward is to build the world back as a ‘new and improved’ version of what it was before. Albion Island is a harsh, cruel place where it’s treason even to speak Gloriana’s name.

#MeToo: Some Sexism This Way Came

black and white image of vintage condenser microphone for voice

Emma Bright wrote this rather excellent post, Girl On The Platform Smile, about her experiences with sexism.

Inspired by her article, and in the spirit of solidarity, here are a few of my experiences with sexism that some may consider easily walked away from, ignored; as unimportant. Not worth making a fuss about.

Sometimes I did make a fuss; sometimes I didn’t.

Age 9

In year 5, a boy in my class told me I should perm my hair. It would, “make you prettier.” I don’t know why this has always stuck with me.

Age 11

In year 7, during lunch break, a boy made obscene jokes about me and a particular vegetable. He went on for about half an hour, all the other kids laughing and joking, oh my – it was hilarious. I stayed with the group because my friends (at the time, not for much longer after, thankfully) were there and I felt as though I had nowhere else to go.

The bell went for end of lunchtime. On the walk back from the field to the school building, I punched him hard in the face. Apparently he had to put ice on it and afterward everyone laughed about that too. I was so nervous I was shaking the rest of the afternoon. However, he never made lewd jokes or bullied me again.

Age 14

I wrote a story in year 10 English about GM brain/body swapping and politics. The (male) teacher said it was unusual that a girl would write such a serious science-fiction. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this as my life to this point had been steeped in sci-fi, books and film, both serious and humorous, for as long as I could remember. He wasn’t to know this, of course, but it does not excuse the sexism. So I smiled and agreed. Yes, wasn’t it unusual.

This was from one of my best teachers too, one whom I respected, whom I actually learned useful English-y things from.

He was not one of those wretched excuses for a teacher, one who would ‘go for a drink’ at lunchtime and then tell a friend in an afternoon class that she needed ‘holes in her trouser pockets so she could play with herself’.

There was an investigation; the friend in question had witnesses; he still teaches there 20 years later, last I heard.

Age 21

Whilst at university in 2001, I was at a club and a man grabbed my arse. I slapped him really hard; he didn’t expect that. The shock on his poor, little, pathetic face… I do not advocate violence on the whole; nevertheless I’d consider this a proportional response. And if felt really fucking good.

Age 24

I was working for a company in the early 2000s that made films with young people who were at risk – those who were excluded from school, or homeless, or refugees. I was a production assistant and sound op.

On one occasion when we’d taken the group of mainly male young people to lunch at a cafe, we got onto the subject of having children (I say ‘we’. I would sit and listen to their inane chatter as I’m really rather introverted and small groups of people whom I don’t know well make me less than comfortable). Upon being asked the usual questions, answering no, I didn’t have children, and no, I didn’t want them, I was offered help to have them by the head of the film company, sitting to my right. I laughed it off.

I was furious. By that time, somehow, I’d had the notion to fight back socialised out of me, or perhaps I wanted to keep my job so I didn’t hit him. I berated myself for not pointing out how inappropriate and offensive it was. He was in his 40s. What a brilliant example to the at-risk youths in our care.

Age 37

I fell off my bike early this year (2017) near a pub where there was a big group of men standing outside, pints in hand. Oh, the laughter (to be fair, it probably was pretty comedy from afar)! Then a couple of guys came over to help whilst I popped the chain back on, which was nice of them: faith restored in humanity.

Then, as I cycled past the pub, one of them yelled, “Get ‘em out!”. God how I wish I’d had the courage to go back and give him a gobful but I was not brave and it would only have served to give them more comedy fodder, I’m sure. So I cycled on. It was easier. It was safer.

At the time, I blamed myself for choosing to cycle through an area that I didn’t know very well and, though it’s a recommended cycle route, wouldn’t be somewhere I’d like to be caught alone at night. The best way I could describe it is a bit dodgy. I’d learned my lesson not to cycle past there again, even if it was one of the more useful cycle routes into town.

Age 38

On the train recently returning home from work in Hull, I had to sit with my bike in the vestibule rather than leave it there to go sit in the adjacent carriage. There were already two bikes there (there’s only officially room for two bikes on Northern trains) so I was making sure mine didn’t fall or get in anyone’s way.

I was there on my own, reading a book, when a man, clearly drunk, came and sat in the opposite chair and started talking to me. I smiled and went back to my book. He offered me a brownie. No thanks, I’m fine. He bumbled on for 5 mins or so, drinking his Stella. I gave up trying to read (just like Emma in her articleand stared out of the window, offering a smile whenever it was clear he was waiting for a response. I just had to keep him quiet till he got bored with me and went away.

He offered me a brownie a few more times. Really, that’s very kind but no thank you. I’m really not hungry. I’ve just eaten. I DON’T TAKE FOOD FROM STRANGE MEN.

He asked me what my name was, where I was going. Alarm bells. I lied. Helen; Doncaster, I said. I went back to my book and desperately hoped he wouldn’t sit with me for the entire journey.

He eventually got bored (tf for that) and stumbled off. I heard his raised voice with the train guard in the next carriage. They put him off at the next stop.

I blamed myself for getting a busier, later train at rush hour. I could have got through work faster that day, I could have been more efficient, I could have even started work earlier, I could have chatted less with the friends I was working with on site.

The blame game

This is nowhere near everything, but it’s pretty representative.

What’s become clear to me in recent years is for some reason I think it’s my responsibility for being in the way of any misogyny directed towards me. That, if and when it happens, it’s something I’ve invited somehow – never deliberately, but by being naive and not expecting it, or by being too trusting. This leads me to think I must be more ready, more prepared, so I don’t ever find myself giving that opportunity to someone.

The inverse is that I’m wary of any man I don’t know merely making conversation, as polite people sometimes do, when, for example, the weather is poor and you’re waiting at a bus stop for a bus that’s running late. He was just being nice, but it was dark, and I’m hypervigilant… which, it’s becoming increasingly clear from writing this, seems unsurprising.

It is hard, individually, for women to fight against the constant, pelting, daily sexist hail; often it is safer to just ‘laugh it off’. Until we live in a society where women don’t feel like their jobs or lives are on the line for standing up for themselves, it will be nigh impossible to make any progress.

That’s why the Weinstein and Stafford-Clark cases and the #MeToo hashtag are so important: to make it known that we are not alone in our experiences, it is important, fixing this sorry state of affairs benefits both women and men , and it is not the fault of the person targeted by sexism, in all its forms: outright barbaric, insidious and everyday. It is never benign; it is always toxic.

It is never fucking ok.

Flood is over, and other news.

handwritten musical score with pencil


And now I’m on with scoring a couple of new animations for Red Star.

I’ve plans to release the Flood soundtrack Album (did you know you can still buy/stream ‘Look Across The Ocean’ in most online music stores?). There’s a series of posts I’m currently writing about the musical themes of Flood and how they all interconnect.

Also, I quit Twitter. It’s weird that it’s even a thing to mention. 

However, if you want to get in touch, here are the deets.

Social Media is screwing with my ability to focus so I’m probably going to quit it. Maybe. At some point.

A woman holds a note that says 'focus'

Focus is sometimes… challenging, isn’t it? I sometimes think I used to be better at it. Then I read an article that said I’m probably right:

“In fact, paying attention involves two separate functions: ‘enhancement’ (our ability to focus on things that matter) and ‘suppression’ (our ability to ignore the things that don’t). Interestingly, enhancement and suppression are not opposites, they are distinct processes in the brain. The latter becomes less reliable as you get older.” [my emphasis]

Continue reading “Social Media is screwing with my ability to focus so I’m probably going to quit it. Maybe. At some point.”