Updated: Nov 28, 2019
I’m a classically-trained musician, and for many years played string quartets for weddings, receptions, and suchlike, but these days you’ll more likely find me playing at ear-splitting volume on my electric-blue five-string fiddle with award-nominated Irish folk-rock band, Share the Darkness. During the gig, I won’t be sipping Prosecco, but downing pints of lager, in between songs by The Pogues, The Dropkick Murphys, and Flogging Molly, with lyrics such as, ‘So raise a glass, or kiss my arse’ – which you’re unlikely to find in either Haydn or Beethoven, though you never know with Mozart.
When you’re at school, you don’t want to be known as a brainbox; you want to be the person who can draw horses or is brilliant at sports. I can’t do sports, but I can draw most things, and had already started to specialise in formal portraiture when one day, on Facebook, I saw a call to submit nude self-portraits exploring sexuality and sensuality for a women’s group exhibition called My Sex, My Self. I thought: dammit, why not? My picture was accepted and exhibited at the Ply Gallery in London. Fionn Wilson, who curated that exhibition, then set about creating Dear Christine, which would redress the balance of the vicious treatment Christine Keeler had been subjected to by the media. I had three portraits accepted for this new show, which has already been at the Vane in Newcastle and the Elysium Gallery in Swansea and will be moving in February 2020 to Arthouse 1 in London.
You’re probably starting to see a pattern here. From string quartets to Irish folk-rocker. From traditional portraiture to the exploration of sexuality through art. So, what about my writing?
My first published works were a poetry collection and a novel. My mother read the novel, liked it, but complained it had too much sex in it. I didn’t think there was any, so checked, and yes, we were talking about the same book. There is no explicit sex in any of my novels, but Mother had a point because I tend to write about intimacy and desire, about love in all its guises – but because I’m also a poet who constantly uses metaphor as a tool, the sex in my novels is always oblique.
That was until the call for stories about penises caught my eye on Facebook. I was stumped at first. I looked through my back catalogue of unpublished stories and found an unfinished period piece set in Edwardian London and the Pennines. The London location was the Bayswater Road. It had to be. Anyone who has read Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga will know the resonance of that particular address. For me it set the mood. Old-fashioned. Straight-laced. Hanging onto Victorian values. But the lady who lives there in my story is the sort of person Queen Victoria famously didn’t believe existed. Her maid has similar inclinations, so two people less likely to be interested in penises would be hard to find. The other, Northern location, owed more than a little to Mrs Gaskell, who I’m sure never wrote the word ‘penis’ in her life.
So there I had my challenge: to write something that combined John Galsworthy and Elizabeth Gaskell, but which included male genitalia, despite the proclivities of my heroine. I had terrific fun, but would I have attempted it without my change of direction in music and art? Quite likely. I’m a grandmother now, and that means I can do what the hell I like.
Catherine Edmunds short story 'Wild Ideas' will be in our Stories About Penises anthology, release date 28 November 2019. Orders are now available.
Join us at the Poetry Cafe in London on 4 December. Catherine will be reading from her short story 'Wild Ideas'.