Creativity Magazine

Grumpy With Friends: Bird

By Lee Bemrose @LeeBemrose
Grumpy With Friends: BirdGrumpy With Sarah Bird Lewis-Hammond
I’ve kind of always been on ‘the writing journey’ but not necessarily always been writing. I have an incredibly prolific internal narrator who has spent the last thirty squillion years turning my everyday life into some kind of pseudo-noir half-arsed semiotic analysis of sitting on a bus and going to the shop.”
My friendship with Sarah – or Bird as she is known to her friends – came out of the blue when I was an editor of dance music mag 3D World. Hers was one of the many submissions I received asking to contribute to the magazine. Her first Acid Tongue column was, from memory, well written and came from a very personal place. I emailed to say yeah sure, I like it, but do you want to tone it down at all. I would find out that Bird is an all or nothing person.
The emails continued. A friendship was brewing. Quite a special one. I clearly remember the day the editor sitting across the desk from me asked what I was laughing about this time, and I said “It's this Bird person. I have to meet her.”

We met after countless, rambling, hilarious emails. Turned out I'd been walking past her twice a day; she worked in a pub just around the corner from my office. We went out. We got slaughtered. We laughed a lot. She moved in with The Dreaded One and me for a while. Eventually she continued her travels and went back to the UK and the rest of her life.
Ten years have gone by since that first random email. We've had our ups and downs, had our misunderstandings, have enjoyed a laugh or two. Much has changed in that time. What has remained constant is the essence of Bird. She is an impressive character and a wonderful human being.

You're a busy person, Sarah Bird Lewis-Hammond. What is this interview interrupting right now?You are interrupting the following: Tweeting for the UK Crowdfunding Association; looking at an initial plan for my second novel; wondering why I’m not working on my first novel; drinking a glass of red wine (something Italian, can’t remember the grape but also not about to get up to check. Oh but my glass is empty. Hang on. Nero D’Avola Frappato.); swooning after a mental few days with an ill and clingy 15 month old; complaining that my tongue hurts; eating a chocolate chip cookie; trying to figure out when to write the renewable energy investment newsletter that needs to be sent to the editor tomorrow when it’s already 10:30pm. Also thinking about knitting an R2D2 outfit for my daughter.
What do you tell people you do when they ask you what you do?It depends who it is. At the moment I tend to mumble a few things and hope they lose interest. The mumble goes something like this: I was a journalist specialising in environmental issues, then I did an MA in creative writing and then I had a baby. At the moment I’m half-stay-at-home mumming, half-writing for a company that does work around renewable energy investment, and half-finishing my first novel. But I also do stuff like run writing workshops in Brighton and look for a girlfriend for my brother. It’s all a little shambolic right now.
What do people think you do?Fuck around on Facebook.
What do you actually do?Fuck around on Facebook and Twitter.
You didn't study journalism or writing in your university years, did you? What did you study?Non. My undergrad was in maths and I got a well-deserved third. I was shit at it from the beginning so I think I should get an award for sticking it out
Before embarking on this writing journey (does that sound wanky? Writing journey?), where was your career headed? And how happy with your work/life were you at that stage?After I graduated I got a job building websites and I proper hated it. I was miserable, my career was heading nowhere and I reached a point of near meltdown. Most days were spent in a dissociative state of fury and angst. It took me a while but I realised it was all a little daft and completely avoidable so I jumped on a plane and drunk some buckets on the Koh San Road with other over-privileged whities, sat on some beaches and on top of some mountains and did some Serious Thinking and realised that in my fantasy best future I hung around writing cool stuff and reading cool stuff and talking about both the writing and the reading. Actually making a living out of being a fiction writer seemed completely impractical so I hit upon journalism as an idea. I continued my cliché of a Grand Tour and headed to Sydney, whereupon I stumbled across your sorry arse and you foolishly started paying me to write shit. It transpired that I’m not that great at journalism and making a living out of reading and writing and talking fiction might not be quite so crazy after all so after the world’s most circuitous route I’m gradually heading over that way.
How happy are you now compared to then?Immeasurably. It’s like different lives. Things are gradually slotting into place and although stuff doesn’t always work out, and the choices I make means things are sometimes tough, I can look back on how miserable I was and know why I can’t compromise on what is most important to me.
For someone with a non-journalistic background, you've had some pretty impressive achievements. Tell us a bit about those achievements and what they have meant to you. Errr, I dunno if they are impressive to be honest. More luck, good timing and steam-rolling into things without thinking. I started a magazine on a whim because my ex-boss had pissed me off and I saw a gap in the market left by my ex-ex-boss. It was a financial disaster but was bought up at the last minute by the local rag. That gave me the opportunity to do some pretty cool stuff. I started an environment section in that local rag, which at the time was one of the first of its kind and I won an award for that. I didn’t win it because I was a great journalist, I won it because I was the only person doing that particular thing at the time. In subsequent years, when others started picking up on how big green news was getting, I wasn’t even shortlisted. I also started a local award scheme for grassroots environmental achievement, which was wicked fun and really valuable but, again, a financial disaster so it couldn’t carry on which I still think is a real shame. Then I applied for the creative writing MA on a whim because I had a conversation with someone during which we both whinged about how we weren’t writing as much as we want and I thought that was pretty pathetic and wanted to change it. I applied because I wanted to be able to say at least I had tried. It was a surprise that I not only got on the course but won a bursary from a literary agency, so that was all pretty excellent.
In terms of what it’s meant to me, I’m a little on the insecure side and need constant validation, so winning things is like yay! I can carry on! And then not winning things is like no! I need to hide under a duvet and cry! The MA thing has been both the biggest confidence boost and crusher ever. It’s very competitive so getting on it was all yay! I’m actually pretty good at this! But then I was surrounded by these phenomenally talented people which made me all no! I’m really shite at this!
How long have you been an environmentalist?I wouldn’t really call myself an environmentalist. It’s a default state for anyone who lives on the planet and quite likes it. You wouldn’t call someone who likes breathing and wants to carry on breathing a breathalist, you’d just call them a person. It’s the same thing. I like the environment and want to carry on living in it thanksverymuch.
Having said that, it was probably around 2003 – 2004 when I started thinking about ‘the environment’ in less abstract terms. I had seen a lot of human impact in otherwise wild places and also started writing for a local hippie magazine. I wrote an article about carbon offsetting and although it’s not really a practical solution the lateral thinking really caught my attention. It built from there and I got a bit hooked on the science of the solutions. Human imagination at its best. It kind of goes in phases to be honest. Right now I’m not so interested in doing my recycling and I’ve just got a new car which I love so I’m not exactly the model greenie, but I’m really into the potential of renewable energy and next-gen finance to drive it forward. I’m also really interested in the way we represent climate change in media and literature and the way our written culture impacts on the social and political discourse.
Among my friends I have a couple who absolutely deny that humanity is having any significant impact on climate change. What would you say to those people?Nothing. I’ve got more interesting conversations to have with more interesting people.
I’m not a campaigner but if I was I would direct my campaign to where the most impact can be made, and that certainly isn’t wasting energy shouting at people who aren’t going to change their minds.
What shape do you think humanity is in right now. Any hope for us?Things are a little wobbly around the edges, and some days it certainly seems as though we’re heading straight towards some kind of epic implosion but it’s also a very interesting time. Human imagination is genuinely awe-inspiring. At the moment, I spend a lot of time researching the expansion of renewable energy capacity and output. There is a lot of positivity that isn’t reported because We’re All Going To Die is a much better headline. Unsubsidised solar and wind power are now cheaper than subsidised gas and coal in some parts of the world. That’s big news. I mean, that is proper massive. While there are plenty of other serious issues, I think cracking clean, cheap, renewable energy is the key so I’m in an optimistic phase right now. If nothing else, we’ll beat it by sheer force of numbers. I mean, wiping out 10 billion of us fuckers is gonna be a tough job.
How long have you written fiction? Did you dream of being a fiction writer as a kid?My turn to wank! No wait. My turn to sound wanky. I’ve kind of always been on ‘the writing journey’ but not necessarily always been writing. I have an incredibly prolific internal narrator who has spent the last thirty squillion years turning my everyday life into some kind of pseudo-noir half-arsed semiotic analysis of sitting on a bus and going to the shop. It’s only really been in the last ten years that I started seriously putting it down in pixels.
Somewhere I’ve got a few stories I wrote as a teenager, there are a few diaries and notebooks kicking around. As a kid I think I wanted to be a research chemist and then a waitress and then a computer programmer and then a dinosaur. I didn’t dream of being a fiction writer but I was a big reader and remember getting to the end of books and thinking ‘I’m totally going to do one of those one day’.
So when did you start taking fiction writing seriously?I think it was about 2002 or 2003 when I finally sat down and wrote a story that I didn’t think was awful. Before then I knew what it was I wanted to do but really struggled to put a shape to it, if that made any sense, so I spent a lot of time writing very long and wistful emails to people that somehow sated the hunger but without providing any actual nutrition. I kept all the emails in the same way I’ve got all my dairies and notebooks but stupid Yahoo deleted them a couple of years ago. It was devastating.
And where are you at now with fiction? Frustrated. I feel like I’ve been working on this novel forever and I just want to get it finished and published and have a couple of people read it and tell me what they think and then move on to the next thing. But also elated, it’s now part of my life in a way that really was only a dream a few years ago.
Can you tell us anything about the novel?It’s the story of a young woman whose terminally ill, estranged step-father asks for her help getting to a suicide clinic in Europe. There’s some shit about bridges and flowers too.
You're furthering your education, aren't you. Or doing something university-ie? Something to do with something I'll never have anything to do with. (I don't even know how to spell PHD). What's happening there?Ummm nowt at the moment. I want to study the way climate change is represented in contemporary fiction and the way that feeds back into the popular culture on the subject, and whether our rampant anthropocentrism is actually the key to behavior change. But there are many complexities involved in going back to uni at this particular juncture.
Why do that when you can just, you know, write?Two reasons: Firstly, because I can’t just write. I have to make a living as well. Realistically, I’m not going to make a living out of writing fiction, but I could make a living out of writing fiction and lecturing about fiction and writing the occasional overwrought academic paper.
Secondly, because it’s really all part of the same thing. The more I know about stuff the better writer I am.
Tell us about family life and what impact it is having on your writing endeavours. Being a mom is pretty much the best thing ever but I am fucking knackered from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed. In one respect having a kid has been very positive for my writing because it’s forced me into a strict routine and made me focus on my goals, but in another respect it’s been a bit crap as I’m fucking knackered all the time. It’s also very motivating in that I want my daughter to think I’m awesome, which means I have to make myself awesome.
What's your favorite Edie moment so far?It’s all been pretty cool (mostly). Just watching someone start from scratch and figure stuff out is incredibly compelling. If I had to pick one thing it would probably be a few weeks before Christmas when she had just learn to walk. We went to a cafe by the ice rink with some friends and Edie was running around grinning at random people, squealing at the little penguins that kids use to hold them up on the ice. It was all very festive and lovely but that wasn’t what was so great, it was the first time she wasn’t a little baby anymore and while that was sad in its own way it also felt full of a glorious potential.
Your favorite Toby moment?It’s all been pretty cool (mostly). There’s so many times he’s made me laugh till I thought I was going to die. And just being a family is great. Also he made me a cup of tea the other day that was particularly delish.
Writing-wise, what are your goals for the next 12 months, five years, 10 years? I’ve only got one goal at the moment and that’s to finish my novel by September of this year. Nothing else really exists at the moment.
How confident are you in achieving that goal?Meh. I am riddled with insecurity but with a completely idealistic undercurrent of absolute certainty that everything will fall into place. So, you know, it will either happen or not, and either way I’ll be right.
You must have times of doubt. What keeps you going through those times?If I’m writing and I’ve spent more than thirty minutes thinking I’m writing a big pile of shit I’ll walk away and come back to it later. If I still think it’s shit a few days later it gets sent to the great Word document in the sky. I once asked Ali Smith (who I totally adore) the same question and she shrugged and said “You just have to ignore it”. It seemed so clear cut for her, and for some reason that really enabled me to be better at ignoring the doubt. You have to be stubborn otherwise nothing ever gets done, and you have to think about it as a job. No other occupation would allow you to swoon at your laptop for three weeks. There are deadlines and they have to be met.
Toby is also fantastic when I’m full of drama about how terrible it all is. He’s a creative type too so he really gets the necessity of the occasional flap and always has the right thing to say.
You'll probably hate this question, but creatively, who are some of your biggest inspirations?I hate this question. The minute anyone asks me I suddenly forget EVERYTHING. I guess my main source of cultural input is text-based: books, articles, blogs, etc. I’m not a huge consumer of music or visual arts because I think I’m probably dead on the inside. At the moment I’m really into magical realism in a Salman Rushdie kind of way, and also realism that seems very magical in a Colum McCann kind of way. In terms of storylines I get a lot of ideas from real life, things people tell me, situations that arise. I’m a chronic asker of “what if?” and a perpetual creator of drama, although I try to keep that mostly to my fiction these days. In general I have quite visual ideas of how I want things to sound when they’re read and how I want them to make people feel, which I guess doesn’t really make a huge amount of sense.
What advice would you give to a younger you? You pick the age.Stop being a twat. Age < 30
What was the last thing that made you LOL?Someone I know posted some conspiracy thing on Facebook about why the Pope resigned, and it stated as a well known fact that the Queen regularly makes human sacrifices at Balmoral.
Now that you have finished these questions, what are you about to do?Go to bed. Cold sheets are the best.

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