Friday, 6 May 2016

Their Scribbles: Interviewing Gracie Latter of Almost Amazing Grace

Their Scribbles

I thought it would be fascinating for us all to get to know various writers better, and the idea for the interview series Their Scribbles was born.

First up, I'm really excited to have the wonderful Gracie Latter on the blog today. Gracie - or Gracie Actually as you might know her on social media - writes for her blog, Almost Amazing Grace, and as a regular contributor to The Olive Fox, Zusterschap and Oh No, Not Another Blogger. Gracie is also the Peer Editor at The Mix, and an Events Correspondant for Maximum Pop! Books. Gracie is an incredible writer, an inspiring person, and also a lovely lady, and I'm thrilled Gracie is my first interviewee for Their Scribbles.

Almost Amazing Grace

Gracie Latter

When did you first start Almost Amazing Grace and why? What can readers expect when visiting your blog?

When I first started a blog, it was Bracelets and Bangles (this URL still exists. When I changed to Almost Amazing Grace and moved everything over, I kept it as I simply couldn't let it go!). I was sixteen and between lessons at college, desperate to get my thoughts out there and have my voice heard by someone, anyone! Even if at the time all I wanted to write about was the guy I fancied in Drama class, or how hard my homework was getting as I approached AS Level exams...

I like to think that since then I've matured massively. These days I still share a lot of personal info, stories and opinions, but also I write about books I've been lucky enough to receive from publishers or have stumbled upon in shops. While I was doing my Creative Writing degree I realised that by sharing snippets of my creative assignments on my blog I could get feedback from loads of people, and that was always amazing and so helpful. I've continued doing that!

What has having a platform where your voice can be heard meant for you?

I didn't really think about how ANYONE could read my blog until I was in my first year of uni and a bully picked on me for mentioning her (and her evil ways) in a scared me for a while, I shied away from sharing anything for several weeks, but then I decided to make use of my little platform – to use it for good!

I am eternally grateful to readers, obviously. It means so much to me that people want to hear what I have to say, and take time out of their days to read my silly messes of words. I'm also grateful to my sixteen-year-­old self for taking that plunge and putting herself out there. It's done wonders for my self-­esteem – and my social circles! I now have so many online friends, some of whom get me better than anyone else ever has.

As well as writing for your blog and other websites, you’re also an unpublished author. What does writing, whether it be creative or otherwise do for you? The physical act of putting fingers to keys. What does being a writer mean to you?

Ooh, I love being referred to as an 'unpublished author'! It sounds so legit. I just think of myself as a madcap blogger with a degree who is forever a wannabe...!

Writing is often the only thing that makes sense to me. I've had so many jobs behind a bar or on a shop floor when I've done my best, sure, but my mind has always been elsewhere. It's always been at home, at my desk with a blank page patiently waiting before me. Some of my favourite times at uni were when I stayed in the Learning Cafe at a computer for 10+ hours, sometimes into the night when the staff all went home and left me with the keys, just writing writing writing. I can't not write. That's it, basically. I can't not.

You have been quite open on your blog about The Tumour Tale, recording your experiences with your brain tumour and how it’s affected you. This was the main thing that wowed me about your blog; how brilliantly you wrote, but how you were dealing with it all. So inspiring! Has writing about your experiences helped you process things as you underwent the various treatments and surgeries?

Oh yes, my blog has helped me so much throughout The Tumour Tale. I had already been blogging for almost 5 years when I received my diagnosis, and it was pure instinct to open the web page and pour my heart out when I got home from that first consultation in the neurological centre.

That enormous and sudden change in my life was hardly something I could write one Facebook status or tweet about – my blog helped me communicate my thoughts and feelings as well as the facts of my condition with literally thousands of people. Friends, family, friends of friends and even complete strangers. My dad's colleagues were particularly lovely, getting in touch with me after they'd sent the URL all around their office!

Writing things down throughout this mad journey has helped me no end. Just seeing it there, on the internet, has been cathartic and comforting. I dealt with everything far better than anyone expected because I was able to get it all out through the sheer magic of writing.

I actually recently sent my neurosurgeon and support nurse my blog URL. That was a big and terrifying moment! Let's hope they like it...

You’re quite sex positive, with fantastic posts like Girls Just Want to Have Fun on female masturbation, Just Wondering on friends with benefits, and I didn’t ‘lose’ anything – I made my debut! on virginity. What was it that led to you wanting to cover such topics on sex positivity in your writing?

I am all about sex positivity. I have learned so much over the years since starting my blog – especially at uni. However, I am aware there are some people out there who aren't as... enlightened... as me and my sex positive pals. Which I find devastating. People need to get all the fun facts and embrace their sexualities! I have, and I am all the better for it. I want others to be as happy as I am.

The first piece I wrote for Zusterschap was about a Sex Myth I'd been told from a young age by kids and adults alike: that sex = intense and immediate loving feels. I remember being astonished when I learned this was not true. I want to help rescue others from believing the wrong things, the myths.

Also, I've found there are so many topics in the writing world that are still considered 'taboo', and it's only in the past few years they've started properly coming to light. Such as female masturbation – the post Girls Just Want to Have Fun got the most overwhelming response. Because there were not that many other posts like it and so a lot of folks didn't know certain things or had had nowhere to go to find others who felt the way they did. Literally...!

Plus, y'know, writing about sex is always such fun. Just as fun as writing about books, if not more sometimes!

Your experiences with your tumour led to you giving a speech at your secondary school, and you have also gone back to uni to give a talk on blogging. Writing is one thing, but public speaking terrifies me – and I’ve done it! How was giving these talks? Is this something you would like to do more of, if the opportunity arises?

Almost Amazing Grace Blog Graphic
Created by Matt Anstee - @teanpencils

I have always been nervous speaking in public! Even with my Drama GCSE, A Level and then half of a degree (it was combined with Creative Writing), and after years of working in customer service. I still get ever so slightly jittery before stepping out onto the stage or up to the mic.

The speech at my secondary school was terrifying because the assistant principal (my former Head of House and now good friend) had called me up and officially asked if I'd be their guest speaker at their prestigious presentation evening – so sitting in the front row in my old school hall (where I performed in the Christmas panto every year and sat most of my exams) for the duration of the senior staff members' speeches and then walking up the steps into the spotlight was so frightening.

Then speaking at my uni recently to a whole module's worth of third year students was just as horrific, but in a different way – I had to win them over first of all and then make them think about things! A very difficult task. Whereas at my secondary school I was telling my story and sharing its positive meaningful message with all the kids, parents and teachers present.

Both talks/speeches were daunting but after about 5 minutes each time, when I got onto the second page of the speech at the school and when I'd shown 3 web pages at the uni, I got into the swing of things and just enjoyed it! I enjoyed being able to talk to people, to impart my wisdom (however limited it may be) and above all I was honoured to be asked to do so on both occasions.

It's a dream of mine to someday be invited to speak on author panels. Nowadays I am always attending Waterstones events or little conventions with the UKYA authors present, wowing the audience with their infinite awesomeness... I can only hope I'll be doing that someday. And I reckon if/when I do, my nerves will be immense but equally matched by my excitement.

For The Mix (formerly The Site), you presented an episode for their YouTube channel, Can I Have Sex on My Period? How did that come about, and what was that like?

My amazing friend Louise Jones who works for The Mix asked me to host that video as I'd responded so enthusiastically to their article on the topic (it was so so good!). I was nervous at first - I worried I'd be the worst host! But I was honoured they wanted me to do it and intrigued about the whole experience. It turned out to be the most fun day. Louise and her colleague were hilarious company, and let me take the filming one line at a'd think I'd be better at remembering lines after my half-Drama degree, but nope!

It honestly still freaks me out a little bit - but also makes me proud - that my face (covered in sanitary towels) can be found on YouTube! And that people who never heard me speak now have to hear my weird poshstralian accent...sorry, guys.

You’ve also talked about how you hope to turn your blog into a career. What are your aspirations around becoming a professional blogger? Where do you see Almost Amazing Grace taking you?

Yes yes yes, I would love to someday earn actual money for writing my blog – or any blog. That's my goal in its simplest form. Also maybe to give blogging advice and talks...

Right now though I do it purely for the love, the satisfaction and catharsis I get from writing, the opportunities to teach and help others, and the gorgeous responses I always get.

You were recently trolled for reporting Islamophobia you witnessed on the underground, but I thought you dealt with it brilliantly. What was it like to receive such abuse for doing the decent thing? What advice would you give to other people who are being trolled?

Thank you! Well firstly I was amazed at the amount of attention my tweet got – amazed and delighted, it was so important to get the situation out there and get help. (I have since seen the British Transport Police about the matter and am now in contact with them regarding the case.) I'd say there would be 5 positive tweets for every nasty and hateful one. So that was good. I did see the ugly side of Twitter, though, and I was so upset by that.

I've seen celebrities deal with hate in various ways, e.g. Carrie Hope Fletcher replies perfectly politely with kisses at the end of each tweet; James Blunt takes the mickey relentlessly and laughs at himself.

I found the best way to deal with the abuse I was receiving was to a) quote the nasty tweet so everyone can see, because that can make the haters realise how awful what they said was (people often deleted their original tweets when I did that!) and b) mute them if it gets too much, don't block unless you have to because if you just mute then they'll continue attacking you but you won't see it. They'll be wasting their energy and eventually burn out! c) If it gets too much, then switch off your phone or close the laptop and take time to recover. Prioritise yourself. I felt the most intense need to help fight the awful Islamophobia when all that nastiness went down, but after a while it got a little much and I had to step away and rest.

I really appreciated the messages from friends asking if I was okay and telling me how well I was doing!

What opportunities has your blog and your writing opened up for you?

I am getting authors tweeting me, or actually coming up to me at events these days telling me they love my writing. That will never cease to shock and amaze me, and then make me happy­cry a little later on when I get home.

I have written this and that for my favourite charity The Brain Tumour Charity; I've been recruited as a peer editor for The Mix (formerly The Site/YouthNet); Maximum Pop! Books Channel now have me on board as an events correspondent and occasional writer; I am currently in talks with another charity to help them with some high profile promo; I've found the most amazing sites to guest post for; I've found my voice and the drive needed to make my writing dreams come true.

Above all, I am in the UKYA community. That is awesome and means so much to me. I've made the best friends anyone could ask for.

Anything else you would like to add/discuss?

To all those of you who are hesitant to make your way in the blogging world, I won't say GET A MOVE ON, I'll say a gently encouraging GIVE IT A GO! You never know until you try. And work until you find what suits you best; what fits you and your desires the most comfortably. I tried vlogging last year, and quickly realised it was a major no­no for me. I come across way better written down, I feel! But again, you never know until you try. So try, maybe!

Thank you, Gracie, for an incredible interview! Isn't she just brilliant?! I implore you to check out Almost Amazing Grace, and follow Gracie on Bloglovin', Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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