Thursday, 26 November 2009

BBC Competition: My Story

I can't believe I did it: I entered a story competition. The BBC is inviting people from all over the country to send in their extraordinary real-life stories, and I've been reading them over the last few days. The range of themes is huge; some are happy, celebratory tales, and others are absolutely tragic. There are a surprising number of stories concerning the death of a child - so mine is not unusual at all, and there is little chance of winning. But I do believe in signs, and the closing date was the same day as Maia's birthday, so it seemed right for me to enter. The prize involves participation in a BBC series, which is scary. However, the other part of the prize, which would be a dream come true, is the publication of your story in paperback. I bet you couldn't buy the sort of publicity a TV series would provide...

The organisers firmly state that is not a "writer's" competition: they want everybody to have a chance, and presumably they've got ghost writers lined up for the winners. I wouldn't like that too much; I'd much rather write my own story, but I like the open nature of the competition all the same. People could enter who normally wouldn't even try, because they are reassured that grammar and spelling and writing skills play no part in the judging criteria. Despite that, there are lots of tips, videos and links for would-be writers, so it's quite a good writer's resource. At any rate, it has got me thinking about how my own book could be any more interesting or inspiring than anyone else's, when there are so many stories out there.

Today my story made it on to the BBC website, so even if this is as far as it goes, I'm pleased. It feels good that somebody else read my work and posted it up for others to read - that my work exists in cyberspace somewhere other than my own blog.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Parenting the HSM Way

I have to admit it: High School Musical fascinates me. My children have watched all three movies about 600 times apiece, so I can claim a certain amount of expertise here. It's in the background as I write, on a continuous loop. Lola loves it so much, I find it hard to deny her. The core audience for this movie appears younger than the originators could possibly have imagined: three-year old Lola is cutting and sticking opposite me, but her face lights up when the first scene begins. "I kall moosikawl!" she trills. Here we go again. I am moderately comfortable with the values HSM is instilling in her. Teamwork, Be True To Yourself; you know, the usual. It’s often nauseating, but Ashley Tisdale helps. She’s funny. I don’t like the Be Heterosexual And Find Your Life Partner At School message, but I can mitigate that by talking about lesbianism and experimentation later.

Each film has the same structure, although with its phenomenal success as a global brand and increasing budget, each movie is more glorious than the last. By the third one, it’s become the cultural equivalent of Grease, Chicago and Meet Me in St Louis all rolled into one. It's full of archetypal characters, spectacular dance numbers and toe-tapping tunes, a heady mix of dreadful lines and fantastic ones (the lines are blurred actually; I’ve started to enjoy the worst of them.)

The thing is, the Disney powerhouse is actually teaching me something as well as my kids. All of us are getting something out of it. My children are American after all; they are immersing themselves in their heritage and I don’t mind that. And as for me, well, it shows the value of structure, proves that the formula of the hero's journey simply never tires, even if it is only choosing what university he should go to. It allows me to enjoy something together with my children, albeit for different reasons. As long as we’re all aware of its manipulative nature, it’s hugely entertaining. The best thing about it is when Lola starts singing “I bubbly found” instead of “I’ve finally found” in the back of the car. Then, we all join in.