A Woman Builds A Man

Transcript from opening remarks by our keynote speaker, Professor Juniper Thrust

And now the question will always be – where to start – you see, you see? Never easy is it.  Like sponge cakes, homemade aphrodisiacs and garden furniture, it looks a doddle. 

But let’s take garden furniture.  Where would you start? No, nothing in front of you. No blueprint, no manual.  You’d know you’d need to arrive at a table and chairs but the proportions and dimensions and the joints and the adhesives don’t come quick, do they?  No, what I mean is the difference with garden furniture and homemade aphrodisiacs and whatever else I said, was it an egg sandwich? No with these things, you start with the base materials and a recipe, or an idea of a recipe at the very least to get you where you are going.

But man is the double bluff.  We think we know everything but we start with nothing.  And we know nothing.  So really, the process is about how we deal with the experience of nothing or the realisation at the start of knowing nothing when we thought we knew everything.  And that is what proves the undoing of an erstwhile creative force.  It overwhelms.  Belittles.  Taunts. Denies.

We’re not in egg sandwich territory anymore!

It was Tribbet who made a first attempt to delineate all the qualities of a man and the concomitant methodology for his creation.

I see you have your Tribbet with you.  Nice and new.  An unbent spine.  Good!  An unbent spine is how it should be with Tribbet.  Do not read.  Tribbet makes a valiant attempt to control and objectify what we are doing here but we, we are straddling the line between art and science and we will not be textbooked!

So I’m sorry if you got it for the course.  The Tribbet.  Do you have the receipt still? 

Please do not buy the textbooks.  For there is no methodology when making a man, there is only instinct and trust and perseverance.  Write that down instead, if you must.

While Tribbet arguably excelled at proportion and mental dimension (the garden furniture again), she utterly failed in the consideration and inclusion of the one of the principles of my pedagogy – you must have quirks in the organic material.

Show of hands – does your man have blue eyes?  Dark brown hair, a Celtic brogue – a good 12 of you, fans of a certain Irish Romance Writer, I presume.  Lovely stuff.  But how about wrinkles?  Acne scars? Triangulated moles? A birthmark that comes out in the sun?  I implore you to think beyond the obvious, the perfect in your incantations.  Perfection is bland.

Quirks in the organic material.  The last time I made a man, I gave him three fingers on one hand and we had a wild time coming up with the reason why, he and me together.

Which brings me to synchronicity. The first time I made a man was when I found a driver’s licence in the back garden of my little crofter’s cottage in Devon.  My son immediately assumed it was an intruder – how else could it be there – and demanded that I call the police.  I nodded, promised to do as he suggested and scurried that little card away from his purview into my private place, a turn of the century jewellery box that I’d hidden beneath the floorboards. 

The man in question –   and I shall protect his identity for he is now a mixologist of some note in the province of Bolton – rather the licence of the man in question was a provisional licence.  Immediately a brain honed in book clubs and writer’s groups sprang into action.  A man – from the photo in his forties – intense and expressive with a side cocked nose and one continuous eyebrow – why would he only have a provisional license?  I grew up in a nuclear family which went well, nuclear – but I hold onto a lot of those conditioned beliefs. The woman cooks.  The man drives.  So what caused the anomaly here?

New to this country?  Perhaps in reality an accomplished motorist at home but thwarted by his provisionality here – or riches to rags? Always previously had a driver? I would spend hours, speculating on this with the peonies, or in bed, my fat feet in the air and my throat in my ears just singing of him.

Never once did I think of investigating his whereabouts.  Yes, I have the internet, but no.  To jump into my imagination felt like diving into a deep blue infinity pool, untarnished by the turds and tourists of fact and obligation.

Regarding the licence my son asked but once, and then muttered and shuttered himself in his bedroom with the bluelight; just so I began to sequester myself.  Regarding my sanity, he commented but once that I had ‘lost my mind’.  Work had called about my absence and he didn’t see why he had to make excuses.  ‘After all’ he said. ‘I’m not dad, am I?’.  Thank god I thought to myself. ‘Thank God’ I said aloud and he shuttered and muttered himself into the blue light again.

I first noticed the milk – his milk – curdled in the fridge, untouched.  No note. 

And it was while I was looking at the curdled milk in the fridge that I began to think about turning and changing and about the man on the driver’s licence and how to make him mine or real or both.  I looked around my kitchen – the large oak table, the aga, the pantry that I kept stocked with all the chemicals and biological components specific to my profession.  And I thought – now is the time to make him, the man on the licence, mine and real and both.

Ad this is where synchronicity led me – the discovery of the driver’s licence when I was at what my sister called my ‘lowest ebb’, my general malaise with the industry’s refusal to embrace my views on the potential of science, art and witchcraft, plus the abandonment of my adult son, these conditions gave up the terrain and desire for my experimentation.

Does that sound callous about my son?  Well you’re here and you wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t made the choice to be societally a ‘terrible mother’.  So how do you feel about yourself now?

Right.  So we have quirks in the organic material, synchronicity and lastly and briefly, mystery.  As you will know, there is a fairly sizeable chunk in all of my collected works which is just blank pages.  Deliberate – you need to accept the unknowable.  Granted, you need to have a very clear backstory for your man as gaps are terribly embarrassing later when you are attempting to pass at a party.  Please ladies – decide in advance if he understands Scrabble!  But beyond that – I cannot teach you – you have to trust in the alchemy, be of university standard across all three academic sciences and have an openness to the fourth science, a woman’s wisdom.

And access to fresh meat.  Lots of it.  More than you think.  Befriend your butcher.

I thank you for your time and interest and open the floor to questions.

Moment carpet

I’m so behind I’m so behind I’m so behind.  If I were one of my students, I’d bollock me right now.  Oh look, I am bollocking me right now! Below is a response to a daily challenge from about a month ago, which I’ve only just got round to reconsidering.  I found it quite cathartic, if a little self-indulgent (the best kind of blogging in my opinion).  Let me know what you think.


I have a lousy memory.  If there is a food based trigger, I’ll be fine; I’ll remember everything single detail of a meal from 1994, but ask me who or where I was, then, forget it (literally).  So thinking about memories and moments that have changed the game is quite tricky.  They have a habit of collapsing in on each other like dominoes.  I find epiphanies genuinely difficult to isolate.  For me, however, there is one moment which stands out when the synapses cleared and all those little patches of half thought and self doubt wove together to create one long carpet of moment.  Carpet of moment is a good name for an easy listening album, as well.  Double win!

Anyhow, here’s my moment carpet.


I’m about 25 and I live in London.  I’m an actress – I went to drama school and have an agent and everything – but it’s not quite working as I’d hoped it would.


I was terrific at drama school and university and I have some great reviews under my belt.  But lately, I’ve become embarrassed to mention what I do at parties and such because of the way that the conversation inevitably turns out.


“What do you do?”

“I’m an actress. I act”

“Aaahhhh (slight pause here, because they don’t want to appear nosey).  What have you been in?  Anything I’ve seen?”

“Mostly theatre.  Which is great, because it’s what I want to do”

“Anything on telly?  Been in anything good?”

“No, not really.  Some student films, shorts, but ….”


And we settle into a shared moment carpet, woven from their disappointment and my own feelings of inadequacy and hatred for this pleb imbecile that doesn’t have the social skills to make me feel better about not getting a part in Eastenders.


You’d be amazed at how many times I sat on that bitter rug.


So I’ve felt like this for quite a long time by 25, but I don’t give up.  I say it’s because I’m not a quitter and ‘it’s my dream’ like people on X factor do, but really it’s because I’m too scared and lazy to think of anything else to do.


Today, this day, is a big day.  I have an audition for a two line part on a TV series that I have never seen and didn’t bother to watch in preparation.  It’s a big deal.  I have the script in my hand in an envelope and I’ve been told: “It’s a big deal.”


I have done some prep.  I’ve been told that it’s for the part of a ‘rough chick’, so I don’t wash my hair and wear an old adidas tracksuit top.  I’m secretly annoyed because I’ve lost an entire day’s pay at the call centre for two crappy lines in a series I don’t even watch.  My brain compensates by telling me that my bad mood will make me extra spiky for the part and I protest against being here by not reading the script.  Somehow I manage to reconcile these two polarised mindsets.  For this, my friend, is what auditions do.  They make you clinically insane.


I go in to the holding bay and it’s immediately obvious that I have never watched the series.  “Rough chick” means footballer’s girlfriend in a biker jacket.  Every other candidate looks better than I do on a night out.  The room is full of leather jeans, stillettos and glossy heads, bent over their two line mantras, rehearsing with complete focus.


They all look like me.  Better groomed but just like me; short, smiley, brunette, blue eyes.  It’s like walking into a room of half-animated clone robots, lips twitching, eyes inwards.  At first, I sense puke rising up my gullet and then the familiar fear that they’re all better than me.


And then something else.  I look at the script in the envelope which I haven’t even opened yet and just looking at it makes me feel totally different.


The envelope is sealed.  I don’t care about this job.

I don’t care about this job because I don’t care about acting anymore.

I don’t care about acting anymore because I don’t like how it makes me feel.


Boom!  The moment carpet; the million disappointing auditions, unread letters, earnest headshots, fatuous courses, half baked fringe projects, rude directors of limited talent, fluffed accents, straightfaced bullshitting, just to get through the door.  I don’t like it!  I don’t have to like it!  I go in for the audition.  I don’t get the job.  The next day, I quit my agent and do something else.


Years later with no regrets.  Life is truly more creative now then when I was working as a ‘creative’ and is 100 times more fulfilling.


That TV series is still running, though, but I still haven’t watched it.