28 September 2015

Feeling the Fear with Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement

I have the typeset files for my book on my computer. They're uncorrected, so I'm going through them, looking for typos and bits of text that need polishing. There's more every time I look. It's been about seven years since I embarked on this project, so by now I am word-blind. I move a comma here, swap a word there, really, does it make any difference? I can't believe I use the word "trump" so many times, god I'm so flatulent, better fix that. There's nothing like having your own verbal tics rubbed in your face to bring you down to earth.

I've been published all over the place but Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement will be my third solo-authored book. The other two were hardly easy to do, but what I'm noticing with this one is that it is difficult to write a book and this is why most people don't do it. It's difficult because writing is difficult, getting a publisher is usually difficult (though I've been lucky), producing the blimmin' thing is difficult and being in the public eye is difficult. People treat you as though you can just pop out a book at will; well, maybe that worked for Barbara Cartland but it's not my experience. They don't see the labour or the risk.

Third time around I feel a lot more sensitive to the risk. Maybe it's because Twitter exists. I get more hate mail now than I ever used to get when things were more analogue. It's so easy for someone to hate you and well-documented how women, queers, fat people and people on the margins get a lot more trolled than the cis white guy population. I'm girding myself for that. Having any kind of progressive opinion about fat puts you in a firing line, no matter how comparatively anodyne. The agents of obesity discourse want you to shut up because your voice threatens their power.

But the risk is also in speaking to people whose opinions I care about. Have I created something that fat activists will find useful? Is this work of any value? I hope that it is, that's been the guiding principle for the project. I've shared the work where I can over the years, and invited a lot of feedback. But I will only really know the book's value when people start to read it and talk about it and contribute their own thoughts to the thing.

So this is a scary time for me. Will my work have been wasted? A couple of readers have gone through the uncorrected proofs and, so far, the response has been positive. There are more to come. I'm on tenterhooks though, and probably will remain so for some time.

Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement is going to be published in the UK by HammerOn Press in January 2016.

21 September 2015

Indexing Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement

I've been a hermit for most of the year and that's because I've been building my psychotherapy practice, developing a dance piece called SWAGGA and writing a book called Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement.

The book is based on my PhD thesis, but it's been largely rewritten, made accessible and some of the ideas have been developed. It's been three years since I graduated and I've had time to reflect on things. Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement is going to be published in the UK by HammerOn Press in January 2016, and right now I am finishing up the editorial work before it goes into production.

One of these jobs involves building an index. One of my biggest regrets about my first book, Fat & Proud: The Politics of Size, is that it didn't have an index. This meant that the content of that book is buried in its pages, you have to read the whole thing to find information, you can't just look up the bits that interest you in the back, or get a feel for the book by skimming the index. The only reason it didn't have an index is because the publishers of that book wanted to charge me £150 to include one but I was on the dole at the time and didn't have it. So no index. It's amazing what comes down to money.

HammerOn is a small press built on DIY ethics. This means that if I want an index, I am going to have to do some work on it myself and learn how to construct one. You can probably get an algorithm to have a stab at it, but the best ones are those done by the people who know the text very well. At the moment that's me, though soon other people will be able to join in. So I've been trawling the text, which is about 70,000 words, looking for key words, key concepts, key people and things that I think should go in an index.

As I look for stuff for the index I can't help thinking about the hundreds of books that I consulted for my PhD. I think about the countless times I looked for 'fat activism' in an index, or even just 'fat' and was disappointed. Some of this disappointment prompted me to develop ideas in the process of writing the thesis and the book: how come it was rare to find an entry for fat activism in books about fat people? How come fat activism, when it was mentioned, usually meant something quite limited? Why would there be entries for body image, weight loss, dieting, but not fat?

Doing the ground work for building an index is both boring and exciting. Trawling the text takes time and focus, it's hard work, but the pleasure is in thinking about what this index might look like. Here are some potential entries: Archives, Emotions, Grassroots, Killjoy, London Fat Women's Group, Mama Cass, Power, A Queer and Trans Fat Activist Timeline, Radical Lesbian Feminism, Research Justice, Spud Guns, Standpoint, Venus of Willendorf, White Supremacy. How might my understanding of fat have been different if I'd come across an index like this when I was researching fat activism? I feel some grief that nothing like this was out there, and now some hope that it's going to exist. Maybe other fat activism indices will exist in the future too.