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Penny Pepper

Penny Pepper.

Penny Pepper: writer, poet, activist, performer

Penny Pepper’s writing focuses on the exploration of difference and diversity, and unpicking the irresistible dark underbelly to life. Genre-defying and quirky, her work is infused with her passion as a veteran inclusive arts activist. She’s currently working on the final draft of her novel Fancy Nancy, and keeps the creative buzz going by writing flash fiction and planning her memoir ‘First in the World, Somewhere’. HOT’s Xaverine Bates caught up with her armed with some questions.

Tell us about your work as an inclusive arts activist. How much of this part of your life informs your writing?

In some ways, my activism is at the deepest core of me and my work. But I’m not interested in division or ghettoising, so I work hard to never fall into easy categories. As a writer, I am more than a label of exclusion; I am also a woman, a partner, a friend. Not forgetting I am also a gardener and cat owner! It’s true my passion is to write about the excluded, and in a very specific way, which is to subvert expectation. And what a lot of fun can be had with that, while driving home some serious points.

You have some amazing characters in your poetry: “Reprobate witches, cheeky cripples, cello-playing ghosts, awkward buses, lovers lost and new ones found in her poetic world” – where does your inspiration come from?

I have always enjoyed the hidden, the outsider; the rogues and charming outlaws. As a child, often a rather strange one, I was drawn to be curious about people who were seen as outside the norm. Perhaps this started with my own awareness of my difference – an imposed sense of difference. Not merely because I had a chronic childhood illness, but also because I contemplated the world in extremes of light and dark, the sun and the thunder. Of course, I’ve always been a voracious reader and love works that examine difference, magic in the everyday, and humour and compassion found within the darkest corners. One of my very favourite authors is Angela Carter, queen of that very particular British magical realism.

You have an incredible repertoire as a performer. How did you start performing & what’s been the highlight of your career as a performer?

That’s a tough one to answer! I did enjoy performing at the Royal Festival Hall Clore Ballroom, where the Women of the World Festival took place this March for International Women’s Day. I did a spoken word burlesque, which involved performing one of my poems while some of my clothes were taken off by my performing partner ‘fondling Francis’, in reality, my assistant Lindsay in drag. Burlesque at its best is about fun and pride – celebrating who you are.

New York was also fun and an amazing experience.

I started performing poetry after being encouraged on by my good friend Liz Carr, stand up comic and actor (currently in Silent Witness). Liz felt that I should take my personality ‘out there’ to further the exposure of my writing. She was kind in saying that I had a strong presence and would easily engage with an audience. After several months of nervous beginnings, she proved right and I am now outrageous in hogging the stage.

Tell us a bit more about how Desires Reborn came about. Do you ever come across people who are uncomfortable with the idea of disability sexuality?

Desires Reborn, Penny Pepper

Desires Reborn, Penny Pepper

Sadly, it happens all the time. I’ve done interviews where the presenter will say “now we’re discussing something outside my comfort zone”, which is a very dispiriting approach. I remain surprised by people’s reactions and believe it is based on a whole vast monster of misconception and pre-judgement – which human beings are prone to do about each other anyhow – it just becomes concentrated concerning disability sex. I’m always saying, sex is not copulation. Sex is passion, sex is enjoyment, not merely about details of sexual function. In my stories I try to achieve realism in my exploration of the human experience of sexuality, which is a universe of incredible possibility and can be positive and also negative. It can also be hilariously funny! Desires and Desires Reborn (updated e book version) are responses to these frustrations, and also, as importantly, a way of defining disability in a three dimensional, gritty and bawdy way.

The swathe of government cuts are affecting everybody, but you have written extensively on how they are affecting disabled people. Do you see a glimmer of hope in the distance or will you have to continue to fight for your basic rights?

I believe the fighting will go on for sometime – for many of us. And it may get worse before it gets better. The government would like to fracture our resistance, divide and conquer. But we are interconnected. If cuts are made to one service, that need will not merely vanish. For instance, if social care is cut any more, it is likely women will carry the brunt of the fall-out in caring for elderly relatives or adult disabled children – and that will create more pressure on them, leading to more stress, more health problems and more demand on our beleaguered NHS. On and on it goes. What I want to do most of all in my political writing is to highlight these links. I’m enraged that so many of us, the disabled community included, do not get to speak out in the mainstream. Our words are there but they are not picked up. This is a disgrace and powers me to continue.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline you’d like to share with HOT readers?

My flash fiction, Breathe In the Water, has been selected for inclusion in a Brighton based web project around mermaids. My inspiration comes from watching the sea dancing at the very end of Rock-a-Nore! I will post news of its release on my website. Very recently and out of the blue someone recommended me to their literary agent. The agent now has samples of my novel, Fancy Nancy, and my memoir, First in the World Somewhere. Keeping everything crossed that he’s interested in working with me!

On July 4th, to tie in with my talk for riart Grrrls, I will launch a crowdfunding campaign. I hope to raise £1,000 to produce a poetry pamphlet and CD of my performances. I’m doing this through Kickstarter and the project is called Lost in Spaces, a collection of approximately 10 – 12 poems, with a CD to match. Really excited about this, as it will really help me at gigs – people always ask for one or the other – and raise my profile in general! Very much appreciate all donors – see news of the launch of my website and facebook page next week.

Penny will be talking to riart Grrrls next Thursday 4th July at Claremont Studios, 48 Kings Road, St Leonards TN37 6DY. Entrance £2.50 – all welcome!


Posted 16:36 Tuesday, Jun 25, 2013 In: Literature

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