Killing the Mockingbird

“Monday 11th December 1995

Didn’t go to school today. I felt awful. Really bad period pains. Read To Kill A Mockingbird. It is so brilliant! And so sad! I want to give Boo Radley a big cuddle! What a lovely book!”

And that’s all I wrote.

It pains me now, far more than my girl bits pained me on that day of self-piteous bunking, to read what an ineloquent wang I was after I had just devoured what quickly became, and has stayed, my favourite book. How brief and moronic and exclamation-mark-y I was about the book that has stayed with me the longest, so vividly – the book I clasp tightly to my chest if a friend plucks it from my shelves, the book I have recommended hundreds of time with a deep sigh and an imploring hand on a customer’s arm throughout my years as a bookseller. Would it become my favourite if I had only just read it now as a thirty-four year old woman? Possibly not. But the time that we choose and read our books is sometimes just as important as the books themselves, and when are our sensibilities more porous than when we are teenagers; dawdling in the brink-land; becoming the people we will be?

How funny that as I wrote my diary that night, after chomping up all those lovely words in a single day with a luxurious voracity that makes me envious of my fifteen year old self, I simply had no words. Harper Lee had already said all the ones I wanted to. I just wrote the basics for my own posterity and went to sleep. But the book was now inside me.

1995 was also the year the Boo Radleys had their hit song Wake Up Boo, which was one of the most iconic songs of my teens. I still bellow along to it when I hear it playing, even now.
Was that song the reason I bought the book? That I let it sit on the pile of books I kept by the side of my bed to be plucked out and read by soft peach light until Mum knocked on the door and reminded me I had school in the morning? I don’t remember that being the link, but perhaps it was how I found it. Maybe that’s how thousands of us found it.

I’ve been fascinated with Harper Lee ever since. How could someone who had written such a book – that had never been out of print, that elicits such a strong emotional reaction in so many people – not have written another book? It seemed like lunacy, as bizarre to me then with nascent dreams of writing as now, with a very real ambition for writing to be my life. It seemed so mysterious; as shadowlike as Boo, as silence-full as the Radley house. Why were there no more words, Harper?

As I grew older, and I found myself reading Harper Lee’s childhood friend and inspiration for her character Dill – Truman Capote – I became even more intrigued. Here were these two writers, friends from childhood summers in Alabama, casually hanging out being brilliant together. What are the chances? Harper Lee never spoke out, agreed to no interviews post 1964, and there were scant attempts to biographise her. She hid. Like Boo. There were even delicious whispers that she hadn’t written To Kill A Mockingbird at all – that the preening literary giant Capote had written it and in an uncharacteristic sashay away from his own ego, credited her; that it was all a massive literary hoax.

Now to hear that Harper Lee’s original novel – Go Set A Watchman – has been found in a ‘safe location’, that Harper Lee has given her elusive consent to it being published, and that we could be holding one in our hands by the end of July, is an amazing firecracker in my heart. But they are mixed feelings. How uncanny is it that only three months after her sister and staunch protector’s death an old manuscript is found and readily sanctioned for publication by a publicity-shy (and seemingly writing-shy) Lee? How is she being ‘handled’ now at the feebler end of her wits? How on earth will the world be satisfied by a sequel to a book more popular than the bible? What is Harper Lee – now 88, blind, deaf and wheelchair-bound – setting herself up for?
I hope, because I love her, that at this stage in her life it won’t be like making her – making Boo – dance out in a light she is not conditioned for.



Big Man Sticks

Is it just me or is everything a bit ‘womanny’ at the mo? Apart from all the uncovering of paedophiles, weird racists gaining electoral ground and other world stuff, it seems like there’s a lot of wotnot about us birds going on in the mix. I wrote my cute little rant about Page 3 last week, didn’t I (bless me), and read a lot of stuff about women and Page 3 and FGM and inequality in pay and famous women being patronised and pitied for not getting married and sprogged up. I thought about all that, and I thought about all this female energy like an electrical charge in the air, and I swelled with love for all my male friends who are as outspoken on these issues as women, and I swelled with love for my former female students who I see out in the world, being brilliant.

Then I did something I would have once thought unconscionable. I cut a person from my life on a gut-instinctive whim. A chap I know had posted a picture of Yasmine Bleeth the Baywatch actress, who had been seen out in public for the first time in years, “back on the beach, but this time in baggy sweats” (the audacity of it), supporting her husband who had just done something fitness-based in the ocean. The chap was aghast at how she now looked, and said that men everywhere had had their fantasies ruined. Then another droll little chum of his chimed in saying that Yasmine and her partner in swimsuited life-saving Pamela Anderson were now ghoulish shadows of their former selves and that he was really annoyed about it. They then swapped smutty inferences about how they reckoned they could make Yasmine lose the weight and get her back to her former glory. Presumably they thought they could fling her about like a kama sutric ragdoll leaving her cardio-vascularly astounded by their artful manfulness until she emerged once more like a sexy butterfly from a chrysalis of podge and woe. Perhaps, less creatively, they thought they could piston-fuck her with their big man sticks of joy and virility til all her fat literally fell off from the force of it or something. I don’t know what these dicksplats thought they could do to a woman who’s probably had more satisfying coitus than they’ve had cups of tea, but I know what I saw in her pictures. SHE’S 46, MARRIED TO SOMEONE SHE LOVES, DOESN’T WANT TO GET HER WHAMMERS OUT, AND HAS FINALLY LOST THE COCAINE ADDICTION THAT WAS THREATENING TO MAKE HER NOSE GO A BIT DANIELLA WESTBROOK. SHE IS HAPPY, YOU FETID RECTUM SWAMPS.

And I got riled and I blocked him. I think the only person I’ve blocked before was a paedophile. I even felt mean doing that. But sometimes you have just got to strap one on and do the do, don’t you?

After I’d huffed about being cross for a bit, I got to wondering about what is fad and what is not. Humans don’t seem able to keep things up for very long. Pop culture enthusiasm, diets, political issues, peace. We seldom sustain. We can’t keep all our balls up in the air, all of the time. Women themselves are fads. One minute hot in red bikinis, the next – O V E R.

Then I worried that this sort of new feminist spirit we are enjoying at the moment might also be a fad. That us gals will turn around in a few months time and realise that our ‘little efforts’ are now the sociological version of the tamagotchi or the budweiser frog. So Ova. Perhaps that is what will happen with this wave of popular feminism that is whirling around like a gust of crisp packets. We’ll have this burst, then it will die down a bit, and there’ll be something else that whips up our fancy, and there will be a select hardcore of people who remain, who keep doing what they always do, but people will listen slightly less and it will all just have that strange suspended hush around it; that non-sound you get after snow. Maybe not. Maybe actual change is happening and what we have afterwards will be the clarified disbelief at an old way that is now as criminally inexplicable as stealing entire nations into slavery, sending nine year olds down mines, or not letting people with vaginas have a say in who is Prime Minister. Perhaps these things do come in waves. Some lap quietly at the shore, others rolling in like giants; the small waves just as crucial as the big ones to keep the oceans moving.

I hope what we are left with will be an inbuilt strength in our individual responses. Like finding you are no longer the kind of woman who worries herself into insomnia about being ‘mean’ when telling a douchebag to fuck himself off out of her awareness, who can wipe the stain and move on.
Maybe that’s the real result of this new feminism, or maybe it’s just me growing up.