WRITING PIGGY MONK SQUARE
Piggy Monk Square is a fictitious area of old derelict buildings in Liverpool, left to rot after being heavily bombed in the Second World War.
In the seventies it became an unofficial children’s playground. A warren of crumbling rooms and stinking cellars – wonderful for kids. It is coincidentally, quite close to the place where I grew up.
I moved to Ireland in the late seventies and first started writing stories about Piggy Monk Square in the late 1980’s.
All my stories were narrated by the same nine-year-old girl, Rebecca, AKA Sparra, and most of the stories were based around Sparra’s encounters with the locals and not so locals in the inner city area of Liverpool where she lived.
THE AGENT WITH NO IDEA HOW TO MARKET
I didn’t try and get any of these stories published at the time. I sent one to an agent (I picked her because her address was funny) and she replied that they were ‘marvelous’ but she had no idea how to market them.
This caused me to lose confidence in the marketability of my work and it stopped me from sending them anywhere for a long time.
DON’T TELL ME NOBODY WANTS TO READ MY STORIES
Strangely it didn’t stop me wanting to write an entire novel based on those early stories and so I did. I can be a bit perverse like that – don’t tell me nobody wants to read my stories.
By the time I started writing the novel I had returned to education and was studying film and television in college. It was a huge mistake for me. I was a single parent and struggling.
I thought this college would be a way out of poverty for me but I hated it and felt creatively strangled every day I was there.
I kept writing the novel though. I mostly wrote on the 90 minute long bus journey I took each day to get to college.
That journey allowed me to spend three hours a day handwriting Piggy Monk Square in spiral bound notebooks.
Since I didn’t have a computer at home I used my ‘computer’ hours in college to type it up.
DISGUSTING AND WEIRD
At the time I used to attend a writers group and I read a short piece of the novel aloud one night. For a few moments there was a horrified silence.
My slice of Liverpool working class life didn’t sit well at all with this nice group of middle class men and women.
One man said it was ‘disgusting and weird’ and following his pronouncement the others unanimously and mercilessly decided to tell me that my novel would never, ever be published.
The timing for this was bad. I was going through very tough times. I had separated from my husband and had severe financial and other problems. I felt humiliated and disrespected by the group and more than a little depressed.
GREAT LITERATURE – NOT
In my opinion, their own output usually consisted of soul-less attempts to produce great literature. Unfortunately, like in many groups a clique had formed and this clique were consistently encouraging to each other, no matter how bad the writing.
I don’t mind constructive criticism. I welcome it – good criticism can help a writer improve and progress – if it is also supportive…but don’t tell me nobody wants to read my stories.
I was back on the bus to college next morning and thankfully the journey was as long and boring as ever – so despite feeling down I continued writing Piggy Monk Square.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Soon I became lost in the writing again and forgot all about the group’s opinion. I just kept going, day after day. I had nothing to lose after all.
However, I got very busy with college projects and after leaving college I focused on making short films and documentaries. This demanding work and paying off debts took over my life.
Some years later, I was attending a documentary festival in the Unity Theatre in Liverpool and picked up a leaflet about the Tindal Street Press publishing company.
Birmingham based Tindal mentioned that they were looking for stories from the UK regions, rather than the more London centered novels that other publishers tended to favor.
MELON-HEAD – THE KERB-CRAWLER
One thing I had no shortage of was stories from the regions. I sent them one of my Liverpool short stories. It was called ‘Melon Head’ and was about Sparra’s encounter with a kerb-crawler.
‘Melon Head’ was drawn from my own real life experience with a kerb-crawler.
The horrible man had approached me while I was a child out playing in the street. He said some vile things which I didn’t fully understand until much later.
Now that I was sending this story away I felt like I was revealing part of my secret self, which in a way I was.
DISGUSTING LITTLE STORY
I had never disclosed this incident to my parents. My late mother used to proofread my stories for me but I had never let her proof this one. It was a total secret until I posted it.
As soon I put it in the post box I started to regret it. The Tindal Editor would surely stamp all over my disgusting little secret story and probably tell me there was no market.
I still kept the secret and fretted constantly about revealing it. I feared my disguising a true story as fiction would not fool anyone.
THE SECRET’S OUT
I was on the point of ringing Tindal and asking them to ignore it because I had sent it by mistake, when I received a letter with a Birmingham postmark.
I was scared to open it and it took many mugs of strong tea and several cigarettes to get the courage. But when I finally did, I discovered that they actually loved the story and they even asked me for more. That gave me a problem, a wonderful problem.
Piggy Monk Square had been sitting on a floppy disk (remember them?) for a few years and I was still skint and still had no computer.
Luckily, I had printed it out before leaving the college and in the intervening years it had become a dusty and slightly mouldy heap of pages in the damp little shed where I did my writing.
I borrowed an electric typewriter with a small memory and began the task of retyping and rewriting.
HOLDING MY BREATH
As soon as it was finished I posted it to Tindal and held my breath and held my breath.
After hearing nothing for six months I stopped holding my breath and accepted it would never be published.
I wished I had never picked up that leaflet as it had just brought me hope then crashing disappointment.
I stopped watching the post and gave up on visiting the library to check emails.
More months passed and I visited the library – I was passing anyway. There was an email. Piggy Monk Square was going to be published – don’t tell me nobody wants to read my stories.
My unpublishable and unmarketable book went on to be optioned for film, was adapted for RTE book of the week, and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth New Writers Prize.
So the lesson for all your writers out there is never, ever give up.
ABOUT PIGGY MONK SQUARE
The first eBook edition of my novel, Piggy Monk Square is now available. The novel was first published by Tindal Street Press in the UK in 2006.
Piggy Monk Square is a dark and humorous novel, informed by my own personal experience of growing up in 1970’s Toxteth in Liverpool. The action takes place shortly before the infamous Toxteth riots.
Although the novel is narrated by a nine-year-old girl it is not a children’s story. Rebecca’s parents are splitting up. Her best friend, Debbie, has a father who is constantly in and out of prison.
Their world is dark, confusing and frequently brutal and the two girls tend to mix reality with fantasy – especially when it comes to coping with what will soon become their terrible secret.
One day, Rebecca and Debbie are playing in the cellar of a derelict house when a policeman warns them to keep away from there. But this is their favourite place to play and when they can’t keep away and are again caught by the very angry policeman.
They ‘leg it’ and he chases them but he falls down a ladder and goes ‘asleep.’ The girls have been taught not to trust the police and are so terrified of getting into trouble that they don’t tell anyone.
The injured policeman is unable to escape the cellar and becomes dependent on the two girls. But their efforts to help him have disastrous consequences for them all.
With thanks to Dot Carter for letting me use her photograph of the Maypole in Sefton Park Liverpool.