INTERVIEW: Amelia Fergusson – the teetotal London writer bares all to help women see the power in their flaws

By age 13, Amelia Fergusson was a seasoned liar who tricked her Caribbean school friends into thinking this London rude gyal was having lots of sex.

In actual fact, as an insecure young girl, she just sought comfort in humour, and was terrified of intimacy. As a 32-year-old mother, she still is.

Back in London, by her early twenties she was comatose under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine, and depressed. She had survived domestic violence and was on a downwards spiral only fate could have determined would not end in death.

At 24, she launched a high class escorting agency, spending all her profits on booze and had conned people out of thousands of pounds. These are just a few in a series of fuck-ups catalogued in Pretty Girls Can’t Write – an autobiography of comedic drama, candid FYI’s and retrospection.

“I just wanted to get everything off my chest. Some of the things I’d forgotten about and you also forget why you act a certain way later on in life. It’s through writing it down I realised I hadn’t yet processed that information,” she explained.

Although the book took a month to pen down, the copy was abandoned in a box with scriptwriter Amelia’s other drafts – “I purged and felt much better. I wasn’t ready to publish it and then began worrying about other people, and what if a guy I’m dating reads it!”

Fast-forward more than a year later, Amelia was ready to have others learn from her catastrophic mistakes, mentored by humour in what I can confidently say is a book every reader will see themselves in.

Amelia Fergusson

Amelia’s podcast on iTunes is likely to be as unadulterated as her writing so it’s not one to miss

The book covers your teenage years to late twenties. What’s so important about this period, particularly in a girl’s life?

I’ll start by saying this – I’m so glad I’m above 30! Now I’ve come out of those ten years, especially with my drinking and everything else involved with it, I just really know who I am. In your teens and twenties, you’re still trying to decide and set boundaries and keep your self-esteem up. It’s also very easy when you’re not so aware of who you are to get swept away by relationships and have guys affect your self-worth, then it’s a downwards spiral. So for me, those ten years were quite a revelation [laughs]. I feel those are the years you should be learning about yourself and then in your thirties, you become a bit more settled and responsible.

Is this the kind of book you would’ve liked to read back then?

Definitely but I don’t think I would’ve learnt from it. However, I would liked to have known other people were going through the same stuff.

Often people go through life blaming others and feeling like a victim because of whatever has happened to them. Do you believe everything in your life happened for a reason?

My tattoo, I don’t know if you can see it? [I couldn’t on the Skype camera] says ‘Maktub’ which means ‘Whatever happens, happens for a reason’ and that is me all over. Also when I started going to Kabbalah, I was taught in every obstacle you need to look for the light. What is this challenge being sent to you to learn from?

It’s a sore subject but the situation you went through with ‘John’ aged 17 – I wondered if you’d ever gotten closure from him, or an explanation? Later in the book, you say you’d spoken to him – what was that interaction like?

It was weird. He got in touch and apologised and I did let it go only because I grew up with him and saw he’d changed. As a young teenager, he was such a talented musician and would be the opening act for artists like Beenie Man when they came to St Vincent. He went from that downhill towards drugs and gangs. Then about five or six years ago, he was murdered. He’d sent me a message over Facebook just before he died saying he’d been trying to get in touch which really affected me…I’m a big believer in karma. Even if you do change your life, something will happen. But I did forgive him.

Taking your experiences with alcoholism, what do you feel people don’t understand about alcohol abuse from the outside looking in?

I have friends who are very aware of drug abuse but when I say I have an alcohol problem, they can’t put the two together. They can understand a cocaine addict but not an alcoholic. Or if they do understand an alcoholic, it’s those they see sitting on a park bench. But these are people who weren’t there when I was locked in my house for days on end and when I did finally emerge, I’d be me again. The days I had to show up for work, I’d show up, but  even though I was there – my mind was foggy, I had constant sweats – I wasn’t my normal self. People also don’t understand a lot of young people have an alcohol addiction. Most people just assume it’s only older men who drink their cans of lager in the park.

So is it really an all or nothing situation for a person with alcohol dependency?

Oh definitely. I know a lady who was sober for 27 or 37 years. She had some issues going on and wasn’t going to AA as much. Then she went back out and within a month had a heart attack, she started drinking so much. Now she’s been back in AA for two years but literally it goes back immediately – there’s no sense of moderating it at all.

What were people’s reactions to the book especially your parents – have they read it?

Oh, God no. Actually my mum keeps asking for the name of the book and I haven’t told her! It’s funny because when I was partying a lot and doing drugs, there were times she’d call me and because of the time difference between here and the Caribbean where they live, it’d be about midnight and I’d already be off my head. I’d say, ‘Mum, I can’t talk right now, I’m doing coke!’ – that’s the relationship I have with my mum. She knows how crazy I can be, but I’ve never really spoken with her seriously about things like what went on with my son’s father. I don’t think she knows how much of an effect it’s had on me.

Would you prefer her not to read it? And what about your dad?

My dad? God, no, he’d probably have a heart attack! My parents are very aware of how I am, but there are certain things I don’t feel they need to know. They know I’m naughty [laughs]. Not all my friends have read it yet but the ones who have, found it funny. People who don’t know me at all have said they really appreciate the honesty and the humour. I just wanted everyone to laugh.

The wisdom in the book starts early on but you were really eager for it not to be taken as a guide on how to live your life – why?

I didn’t want anyone to think I’m this self-help person because I’m far from it. I just wanted to share what I’ve learnt because it’s worked for me, and if you’re going through the same experiences, maybe try doing it this way.

 

Besides Pretty Girls Can’t Write, you have a period drama currently in production [set 15 years after slavery in the Caribbean] – what else are you working on?

I have another script for a period drama and a short film I should be filming next year. I’ve been writing, writing, writing, keeping myself busy and out of trouble. People think I’m so boring now because I’m either at home writing or reading, but they don’t understand I need to do this! I can’t be out and about – it would just all go wrong [laughs].

Find Amelia on Instagram or encouraging other writers with the Pretty Girls Can’t Write podcast coming soon to iTunes.

To buy a copy of the book, click here.

Quick tips for when you need a reminder that you’re special

When I took the photo below of two diverging paths, I internally captioned it ‘a metaphor for my life’.

Cliché, I know, especially as it’s not that I have a dilemma forcing me to choose either or – it’s the choice of throwing myself at life and making things happen, or continuing to feel resentful because they’re not.

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Iyanla Vanzant, and I’m sure many others too said, everything you’ve acquired in life so far is a manifestation of what you’ve been able to create with the knowledge you have. If I measure my current situation and accomplishments by those words, I’ve done amazingly well, but I know I was meant for more. What has hindered my success in all areas of my life is fear and damaged self-esteem. Perhaps like me you’ve had the same negative self-talk for so long you feel trapped, and have begun to realise nobody sees you because of it. Who I am in my mind is not the person most people experience, and this is what I’m attempting to address without costly talking therapies – although I remain a staunch advocate of the practice.

“If you look underneath your depression, you’ll find anger. Look under your anger and you’ll find sadness. And under sadness is the root of it all; what’s really masquerading all the while – fear.” Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert.

The term ‘self-love’ may sound airy and vague, but how much you value yourself governs every thought and therefore every decision you make. However you prefer to term it, the concept can’t be ignored so I guess I’m on a self-love mission of sorts. Millions of other people around the world and I often don’t feel very special so I thought sharing what I’m doing to correct this, would be an ideal starting point.

Reiterate who you are

At times I forget who I am. My motivations, likes, dislikes, values etcetera, all merge into the 50,000 thoughts a day I’m apparently having and the humdrum of working. I love writing everything down (clearly!) so I started a mind-map with a bubble in the middle of an A5 page: ‘Who am I?’ It’s almost a summing up of what makes me ‘me’ – my qualities, interests, and my best bits – make it visible to you on a daily basis.

Be honest

However unfavourable, admit to what you’re feeling and experiencing. Be honest about your behaviour or negative habits because you need to understand the cause to effect the outcome. One of the key things I’ve had to be honest about is jealousy, which is borne from a lack of fulfilment. It sounds awful but it’s a change signal for me. Another is dedication issues. What are yours?

Think back

A lot of the passion I had in my youth has disintegrated. I exist, but I don’t live. However, much of what moves me hasn’t changed, it’s just I no longer, or don’t, do them. So think back to the original source of motivation, the purpose for doing, because remembering and feeling it again can be really helpful.

What do you do? Share some of your self-love practices and tips by commenting below so we can add to this working progress. While you’re at it, watch this TED talk.

BOOK REVIEW: Haunting My Ghosts: A Novel Experience by Noëlle Blake

Just pages into the prologue, I was struck by the vividness of each scene which soon became animated in my imagination; the film reel was rolling.

The action is suspenseful and dramatic, but saddening as you feel how the burden of main character Shelby Rivers’ early life is set to potentially destroy her future. And with this combined eeriness and poignancy, Noëlle Blake thrusts you into Shelby’s very accomplished but single Sex and the City-esque life, while at the same time exposing its hollow centre.haunting-my-ghosts-2

She is a community arts coordinator who at long last feels a real connection to her work, without judgement or the stain of inadequacy. However, not even something so integral to her life i.e. her career, is safe in her quest for revenge. We meet her current friends as well as friends no longer, and read her candid internal commentary. But once you take the character away from her affluent two-bedroom ground floor apartment in ‘Sandenham’ overlooking the canal – and I imagine her to wear chiffon wrap dresses with slightly windswept hair and wedges to match – the reader can empathise with a very relatable aspect of human nature: the desire to be acknowledged and have our feelings vindicated.

Rather intelligently, Blake leaves clues dripping throughout the chapters of what will be. Minute details which I overlooked on the first read became more obvious the second time round, but nothing about Blake’s descriptions or references are accidental. No words are out of place or meaningless.

In saying that, there are parts I felt less words would’ve done. Elaborate phrasing and wordy dialogue at times felt forced and led me to question – ‘would they really say that?’ However, this novel is a beautiful literacy challenge and has set a benchmark for future readings of impactful and contemporary fiction.

Haunting My Ghosts is personally more of a drama than a thriller, but a great debut from an author whose work already shows huge promise.

Rating: 4/5

Buy now from Amazon.

The day I accepted the inevitable – ageing

What a place to have a eureka moment.

I was flat on my back, eyes to the ceiling slightly seeing double, holding my g-string in place at the top of my hips with a beauty therapist smoothing wax along my pelvis. But something about the brief conversation, in which we discovered we’re both the same age, made me realise I am for sure getting older.

It’s a fact I’ve dismissed since maybe 24. This is despite being reminded by talks of mortgages and buying-to-let, becoming increasingly broody among other things, that I’m indeed closer to 30 than 20. So while the therapist and I discussed a spray solution to ingrown hairs, I brought up switching up my skincare regime for my “changing skin”. She laughed in agreement because now we have to consider “moisturising more and using sun protection!”

Yes, we do.

Fortunately, being black has blessed me with a youthful exterior so visible ageing isn’t necessarily a huge worry of mine –  I more so wonder when I will simply look my age – but something within our trivial chit chat connected me to this journey I’m on called ageing. And it wasn’t attached to either a positive or negative feeling, it just was.

Sure enough when I walked out of the Colchester salon in my very mismatched khaki, grey, striped, and printed outfit, which should never have seen the light of day, I vowed that on the way to the bank a few hours later, I wouldn’t dress for comfort and throw on the first item which lacked the caress of an iron, but would attempt to look like a lady. A 26-year-old lady.

The result was okay; an improvement on the usual but not as coiffed as 22-year-old Saoirse Ryan in the film Brooklyn whose Fifties style inspired me on screen this weekend. However, I acknowledged it’s time to accept growing up and allow myself to evolve again.

And at the time of writing this, I hadn’t even swapped my fitted dress for men’s marl tracksuit bottoms and a jumper – something is happening.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT – Exhibit B: Art That Shook Black Britain

‘A guilty pleasure,’ ‘grotesque parody,’ ‘highly confrontational, but yet exquisitely beautiful,’ Exhibit B: Art That Shook Black Britain, captures the public outcry that followed one man, Brett Bailey, from South Africa to London.

Known for his radical explorations into post-colonial Africa, the white South African artist crafts exhibitions to his audience who span across the world, ‘turning the gaze back on Europeans’ he says, in order to challenge the atrocities of colonialism and slavery.

Exhibit B, the second in what was a three-part series of human installations featuring live black actors, was met with critical acclaim at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival, but when news broke that it was making its way to London’s Barbican Arts Centre in September last year, the Black community was outraged; sparking protests and national debates on an unimaginable scale. 

On the surface #BoycottTheHumanZoo – the campaign that lit the match on this already volatile art offering, appeared to be an us versus them scenario – ‘them’ being the creators, the elite institutions and financial supporters of Bailey’s work and ’us’ – angry Black people. However what I found while researching is that the Black community were sincerely hurt; not only by the flippancy expressed by these art powerhouses but at their history being presented, yet again, by an outsider. To describe it simply as black and white would undermine the wider issues that arise, which could potentially compromise the entire arts industry. If artistic freedom is to remain intact, is there ever a place for censorship? Should there be boundary lines for fear of treading on another culture’s toes? 

I spent one afternoon in London on the opening day of Exhibit B in search of conversations to help gauge public opinion. What became clear midway is that the answers remained elusive, but this event would become pivotal to future discussions in and around race, history and UK arts. 

See below for further reading…

Vicky Gayle: Facebook/ TwitterRafel Thompson: Twitter

*Brett Bailey on his controversial art serial.

*VIDEO: Sara Myers calls for people to sign the petition.

*Nitro – the Arts organisation who casted the actors and models.

*Akala speaks out on the Huffington Post.

*The Barbican criticises the ‘extreme nature’ of protesters.

*The performers respond.

Birmingham woman pours grief into fiction novel and speaks up about knife attacks after losing brother

After keeping it a secret from her family, the sister of a stabbed Birmingham man today launched debut novel, The Life He Chose, raising awareness of the reality of knife crime.

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Candace Bertram, 27, lost her brother, father-to-be Leon Francis in 2007 when he was murdered by a friend, within a year of him being released from prison where he served over five years.

The mum-of-one with a daughter, began writing five years later to cope with her grief and dispel the myths around knife violence.

She said: “We’re fed that it’s just gangsters who get stabbed but anyone could be victim of senseless attacks, that aren’t just with knives. No matter how you’re raised or who you’re around, it’s about making the right decisions.

Source: The Birmingham Mail

Source: The Birmingham Mail

“Leon dying so unexpectedly and in a way that was happening to so many males at that time inspired me to spread a message, but this book isn’t inspired by his life or to glorify it because there’s so much that I didn’t know.

“He was a family man and someone that we looked up to.”

An ‘everyday story’ aimed at 16-30-year-olds, the crime drama novel centres on the relationship between Jay and girlfriend Lauryn, who is blissfully unaware of his dangerous street life.

The plot explores subjects like love, infidelity, crime and loyalty, but also tackles more sensitive and ‘complex’ issues such as sex, siblings with different fathers and biracial identity.

She said: “Jay lives his life how he wants to while Lauryn stays at home and reaps the benefits with expensive everything, but she’s happy to live that life because she has no self-worth.

“He doesn’t respect her and Lauryn has distanced herself from her family, she has just one friend, so she doesn’t know where to turn.

”When she does try to make a change in her life, it ends in tragedy.”

Candace shielded her parents from the book because they had been ‘dragged to Mars and back with grief and upset’ over their son’s death.

Now that they’ve read it, they’re said to be ‘really happy and proud’.

She said: “It’s nearly eight years now and it’s not getting any easier because it’s something we’ll never accept, but my anger towards his death got left at the door a long time ago.

“I think if Leon could come back and give me a message he’d be pleased that something positive came out of it and probably ask why I didn’t put him in it for his five minutes of fame.”

Candace wants the self-published book to feature as a set text on the English curriculum and aspires to deliver workshops in schools and colleges nationwide.

She said: “I’m hoping that in the future it will be adapted into a play or film because I’m a visual learner, so the next step would be turning it into something people can watch.

Already talking of a sequel, Candace is also planning a UK tour in the new year, with the next stop being London, where the novel is set.

The Life He Chose is available to buy here.

Website/ Facebook/ Twitter

MUSIC INTERVIEW: Lucan Mills – The rapper from Winchester who vows to always keep it real and acoustic

Rap that sears its way forcibly through a blues band while at the same time overwhelms you to close your eyes and sway, is a winning combination when executed properly.

Winchester rapper and songwriter Lucan Mills, whose debut EP Level 1 awaits its official iTunes release – 10 years on from gracing stages as a support act for Tinie Tempah and G Unit – marks the beginning of a new chapter for the 26-year-old.

To keep the music in its rawest form, Lucan has composed his own sound – an uptempo fusion of hip hop, jazz and funk – weaved together with realism and lyrics that puncture each note played by his seven-piece band. More than two years in the making ‘without them the live shows wouldn’t be what they are,’ Lucan admitted, and they go by the names: Graham Henderson (Bass); Alex Villar (Guitar); Louis Yalaz (Drums); Jen Watson (Saxophone); Kit Marsden/ Herty Hill/ Jacob Stoney (Keys); and James Tashario (Vocals).

In the lead up to national tour dates, the first being tomorrow at MK Dons Stadium, myself and Lucan had a lot to talk about – like how he learnt to rap so quick, the ‘weird’ music industry, and why he’ll be forever grateful to the likes of David Bowie and Jay Z.

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Now you’re from Winchester but my geography is poor, so I can see that it’s kind of close to London. Was music a bit part of the scene growing up there?

Well Craig David was Southampton based and it was very much the garage and hip hop scene down there growing up. He would emcee in a club called Rhino, which I did too a few years after, so there was definitely a buzz around it and everybody listened to the music – but don’t get me wrong, I was probably the only one rapping in my school at the time so that was different.

You must have definitely stood out then.

That’s a good way to put it! Especially back then it wasn’t as widely accepted as it is now so I definitely got ‘but you’re white’ all the time and people would take the mick, but I’m still doing it now so that faded off over the years.

What was your response to that ignorance?

Back then I used to just laugh it off. I loved doing it so much and knew that I could do it, that I just ignored it and got on with it. But when I got to college and was making more tracks, people understood that this is what I wanted to do and accepted it.

Listening to your voice now, you don’t sound like how you rap – you rap quite hard which reminds me of grime. Did you take influences from grime when you were crafting your sound initially?

100 percent. I’m a massive Kano fan and when I was growing up, he was just lyrically brilliant and in the US – Jay Z and Eminem were the biggest influences for me. I would study their tracks, not just their lyrics but it was more about flow, and I was also listening to a lot of UK grime. I can switch between all of them, it just depends what beat I’m listening to, but at the same time I’m very careful because people will say I’m not a grime artist. There’s a fine line between what’s going to be credible and believable.

I understand that. You mentioned Kano and Jay Z – were they the rappers that you would imitate when you were developing your rap skills and speed?

Definitely, some of the early tracks I learnt like So Ghetto, a really old track off one of Jay Z’s first albums and Imaginary Player, all those songs about flow and lyrics, and the way he would change tempo was similar to Eminem and Kano in P’s and Q’s. It was all about tempo for me at the same time as being lyrically impressive and thinking quick on my feet. David Bowie was also a big influence for me, I went to a show of his just before he’d finished touring. I’d listened to Bowie all my life because my dad was a huge fan and I took a lot in from watching how he’d perform and his stage presence.

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You probably get told often that your music is distinctive but there’s obviously been some conscious decisions you’ve made to achieve that sound.

It was difficult because when I first started making music I would rap over mixtape beats and other people’s stuff but with my own music, I was always very conscious that I wanted to have a live band. So once I’d made that decision it was a case of bringing together really good musicians who wanted to be part of it. I spent a long time crafting the sound – adding saxophone, having keys and synths – and trying to incorporate everything together to give it a live jazz feel that’s funky and different, at the same time as keeping the hip hop element strong. I’m still working on it – it’s constantly evolving but it took a while to get the sound that we have now.

IMG_1160 smallHow is it that you and the band work together because there’s a lot of creative heads to factor in?

It’s mad, when I first got them together I had my songs, we’d go into a room and go through them all but it’s different with a production track. You’ve got the band that play it but then I very much wanted their input into the music as well, so the tracks completely changed from the production version that we had into the live version. What you hear on the EP now is not what they originally were and with all these creative people as you say, they all had a different flavour that they wanted to bring to the table. Those songs evolved over a year or so before I actually went in and re-recorded the EP from scratch live. It’s a real collaboration of ideas but I want to take it even further because there’s so much that we can do to merge the live and electronic sound together and make something huge.

One of the songs I really like on the EP is Stay Lucky. Although it’s not the lead single, it’s very pretty and heartfelt – where was your head at when you wrote and recorded it?

That song I wrote originally as a poem, it was never a song. I can’t even remember what inspired the rhythm or what beat I was listening to, it was just a block of writing, but I loved the words so much that when I first started performing live with just me and a guy on piano, I got him to play this nice riff and I would rap the lyrics, almost like spoken word. I carried on doing that for a year maybe more and it just evolved. It wasn’t until a few months before I did the EP that I decided I wanted it to be a proper song and literally within a few seconds I came up with the Stay Lucky chorus, which stemmed from a story with my granddad and this ring he gave me with a horseshoe on it. The chorus isn’t complicated but it really fitted the tone of my singer’s voice. It’s one of James’ favourite songs to sing, who is my vocalist when we perform live, but on the EP it’s Wadé singing.

You’ve been gigging over summer and on the 31st October you’re playing at the MK Stadium so @menmademusic asked on Twitter if you’re an MK Dons FC supporter?

I’ve actually got a season ticket for MK Dons because my dad used to live in Milton Keynes and when they got promoted to the championships it was a really good deal. I haven’t had a chance to go to many games recently because I’ve been away, which is annoying, but I’ll be at the home game with the band. It’s a good atmosphere when I’ve been so to be asked to perform there is really cool and random because I don’t know how they knew I was even a musician – but it should be a good day.

Tell me about Ed Sheeran – you performed on stage with him and I know it was a lucky coincidence.

I was at a night in Clapham a couple of years ago and Jamal Edwards from SBTV came in and had bought Ed along. A mate of mine was running the night at the time and I happened to be sat chatting to him [Ed] about it. He went on stage to perform You Need Me and then he said, ‘I want to call some rappers up I was chatting to earlier’ and I had to take the opportunity when it was there, so I jumped up on stage and made it up as I went along. I’ve got the video forever so hopefully if I meet him again, I’ll show it to him.

Most artists have a bigger vision and motivation for why they’re an artist, what would you say that yours is?

I just know it’s what I’ve always wanted to do from the minute I can remember – the pictures of me putting headphones on, strumming away on a tennis racket watching Bowie on the TV when I was about four. My vision has always been to be respected for doing what I love and if another rapper turns around and says, ‘You know what? You’re a brilliant rapper’ – that’s my dream. When you see artists like Ed Sheeran sell out Wembley and the crowd are chanting the songs – just pure respect for your talent – that would be special. It’s not about the money. I know people say that all the time, it’s a boring cliche, but money can only go so far. If I could have a massive crowd of people all singing my songs and actually the songs do something for them, that would be everything to me.

And what stadium would you love to sell out?

Oh, Hollywood Bowl, Wembley, Coachella, Glastonbury – but for now Brixton Academy would be awesome.

For tickets to see Lucan Mills headline at Bloomsbury Lanes, London for their Hot Vox music launch night click here.

Website/ Twitter/ /Instagram