Tuesday, October 18, 2005


I need a break from the bombing stuff.

It is knackering me out. I've been running with my choke pulled out for miles and miles and my engine is starting to grind and smoke.

There's a big push on now though, from us in the survivor group to let other survivors know they can meet fellow-passengers from the train, before the November 1st Memorial Service for the Victims at St. Paul's Cathedral. We're on a bit of a deadline, before the news moves on, which it will soon. (Plus we are seeing that it seems to be about now - 3 months on - that the impact is really hitting people, now that the shock is fading, the emotional blowback kicks in.)

So, Grazia magazine, and the Evening Standard both get a feature , written by me. 2000 words each. Both out 25th October. I have rewritten Grazia because the first piece I wrote was mostly about Jane, who I met a month after the bombs and who set up the website and who is lovely and about how we became friends and how we co-run Kings Cross United. But they wanted first person, so I rewrote it all again. We did the shoot on Saturday with jane, Kirsty, and 2 new KCU ladies, Barabara and Angela, who found the group last week.

I'm outing myself for the first time since I wrote the BBC blog that has had millions and millions of page impressions. I hope that by coming out of anonymity now, I will have missed the worst of the press attention and can get these messages out, then retreat into my normal life.

I must have written god knows how much first person stuff on the bombs. Bombsbombsbombsbombsbloodybombs. It is taking up a lot of my head space. And a lot of my word count. I am aware that this blog site is being put out there as a resource, especially for the next 2 weeks, so I am keeping on topic. For now.

And the writing stuff is forcing me to deal with my emotions about the whole thing: because editors demand emotional viscerality I have to force myself to rip my feelings out of the hard shell and bring them into the story. It is really shattering, especially for me who likes to disengage from her feelings, but probably good for me in some ways.

In other ways it is not good for me at all And it is odd, being both a writer and a survivor. I don't notice many journalists who were bomb victims - and I know of at least three - writing about it. I am not a professional writer, I am not a journalist, maybe that is why I am fool enough to write about it. I don't know how difficult or inadvisable it is supposed to be, so I do it anyway, because I have to write about this, even if I find it painful. Anyone could have got blown up. Anyone could write about it. So why not me?

But, reaching out to other survivors, as well as writing about, other survivors? Trying to do the right thing by them. And at the same time, having to think like a journalist, about the best story, the one the paper or the magazine wants, when what I want to do is tell THE story, our story, as truthfully as I can. And trying to protect us all, and myself. And not wanting to be the enemy; this is not 'material'; this is our lives.

And yet I worry, I don't know if I know what the hell I'm doing and what I'm getting into. I wrote an eyewitness account on an internet message board, whilst in shock. Then for the BBC, when they read it and emailed me. Then for the Sunday Times. Then for Grazia, then the Evening Standard, turned down Marie Claire Australia, Red magazine and the Mirror. That was all writing, not interviews. I mean, ker-ist, that's a hell of a career curve ball. And now the News Director of the Sunday Times wants me to come over for tea to talk about stuff.

Is someone trying to tell me something? Should I chuck in my advertising job - which I love - and try to become a writer, a proper one?

Or do they all just want bombsbombsbombsbombsbombsbombsbloodybombs?

To write your own story is one thing, to write other people's stories when you are aware of what it costs them to tell it, and to you they are not 'sources' or 'material' or 'eye witnesses' or potential Pullitzer prizes but people you care about - people whose recovery and strength inspires your own. That is quite hard.

I was subbing the Grazia piece and reading it as if I were a reader, not the writer, and I let my guard down and the story made me cry. I still can't believe that it is my story, our story.

I am in such a state about the whole damn thing that I can only get touched by it if I deal with it at one remove. Like the war photographer, who records the terrible pornography of violence as an exquisite composition of colour and light behind his camera lens, but whose heart breaks and whose nerve fails if he looks again after he has put the camera down. and has to look at the unfolding scene with his own eyes.

So then I decided to write about the song that makes me cry, and then I decided to have a proper cry, sod it, let it out - so I'm writing, and listening to the music, and actually being properly emotional for once, which is a luxury, really - and then the Evening Standard rang and then Grazia rang, to discuss the copy and push for more detail.

And because the music was playing, and I had been reading the story and feeling it and feeling responsible for it all, I couldn't look through the camera lens at it all and have the distance from the story and I couldn't get my feature-writer head on at all. So I was caught out crying. I think the commissioning editors were embarrassed: commission a snappy, moving bomb exclusive, you don't normally have the writer in tears. But then, the feature writer is not normally telling her own story. She's telling someone else's.

I don't know if I am in a great state to make life changing career decisions, right now. But what if this is my one boat? And I miss it?

I want to write about more than bombs. I want to write other people's stories. There's more to life than bombs. Wait til after the November 1st service, then I can mark that milestone, and let a bit more of this go. See if people want to read anything else I write apart from trauma and recovery stuff. Still, it is there all the time, it informs most of the things I think about right now, so bombsbombsbombs it is, for now.

It's time for other people's stories, not always my own.

There is still much to say, many stories that deserve to be heard. I'm just sick of writing and hearing mine, endlessly.

Which brings me to one of the men from the group, 'Ian', who is one of those stories. that desetves to be heard. He gave a most incredibly moving interview with Frank Gardener, the BBC'S Security Correspondent, who was made paraplegic by a terrorist attack. Frank interviewed Ian for an interview on Broadcasting House programme on Radio4 . Frank Gardner also spoke to the magnificent Gill Hicks whose story appears in the Telegraph and in Grazia this week. Gill lost her legs, but is to be married in December and will walk down the aisle on her new legs, filled with hope and surrounded by love. And Ian was thrown out of the train onto live cabling and burned, and deafened and surrounded by bodies, but survived to tell his story with dignity and warmth.

Both were in my carriage. I am proud to know Ian who is a member of Kings Cross United. You can listen to the programme - click here for the next week, until Sunday 23rd.


Blogger Jag said...

Wow. Speechless. Big hug for you Rachel. Don't know what else to say.

October 17, 2005 11:21 pm  
Blogger Clare said...

Rachel it's worth meeting with the guy from the Sunday Times just to see what he has to say. Remember you don't have to take what he offers you but you may regret it if you don't.

I am not surprised you have been inundated with offers. Your writing is amazing. It makes me cry just reading about you getting emotional. I think you are amazing.

October 18, 2005 12:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Rachel, I think I've said this before, but you are truly amazing and a brilliant writer. I can't remember how many times I've shed a tear when reading your posts - you have a true gift for writing that's for sure.

As Clare says, it's worth meeting the Sunday Times chap, just to see what he says. At least then you won't regret not having met him to hear him out.

You don't have to make these major life changing decisions like chucking in a job that you love now, let yourself rest, grieve and recover properly first, and then the right decision will come.

Take care now.

October 18, 2005 1:04 pm  
Blogger Leigh said...

Your courage is awe inspiring. I truly am speechless after reading your story.

I know it sounds trite, but follow your heart. If writing for a living is where you're headed, it might be worth the leap of faith.

October 18, 2005 3:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been lurking here for a while, but I had to delurk and comment on your writing, which is completely wonderful (and in a style that makes me jealous - which, believe me, is a good thing). Seize any opportunities to write more, you really should.

October 19, 2005 12:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can only add to what others have said - your style,content and, of course, subject matter are very thought provoking and very difficult to read without feeling both sad and happy. You have a fantastic way of making your story our story (the closest I've been to anything like this is using the picadilly line everyday for 2 years), yet I can see, taste and feel how I imagine you did and do, the bad days, the good days, the depression, the bravery and determination (I wont be crass enough to say I feel the same, because without the experiences I never could).

I'll be buyig a copy of Grazia (not really a bloke mag) to put pictures with the story and, I hope, get a clearer image of what you went through and what you are going through.

We've never met, probably never will, but the insights you have given and the way you have shown your emotions make me feel I've known you for ages. Please add another BIG HUG to the growing list, there is a lot of love in the world.

As for chucking in the Advertising job, I'd sleep on that for a while - there is a lot to be said for a job you love (they don't come up often), plus you have to make that daily journey, to travel, meet and interact with others. If you do free-lancing there's not always the same pressure to go through that front door every morning.

All the best


October 19, 2005 12:43 pm  

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