I am interested in conversations with the past; in listening to long-lost voices whose ordinary lives hold up a mirror to our own.
My work is also concerned with cultural notions of faith and self-sacrifice, good and bad mothering, and embodied experience.
Turned Red Earth
“At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red… and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.” Tim O’Brien
In this work, a collaboration with photographer Eleanor Skan, fragments of the letters of WW1 soldiers are distilled into sparse poetry, accompanied by photographs of weeds and wildflowers gathered in Suffolk and North Essex a century later. Voices from both sides of the conflict describe moments of transcendent connection with fragile details of a landscape cut through by the trenches, “these thin lines of turned red earth in front of us”.
Turned Red Earth bloomed as a large-scale, public art installation on Ipswich Waterfront in October 2018, as part of the SPILL Festival. It has also been published as a limited edition artist’s book and set of prints.
Listen to Lucy reading extracts from the book on BBC Radio Suffolk
The Naked Jape
My first book, The Naked Jape (with Jimmy Carr) was published in 2006. It’s a fast-paced, light-hearted look at jokes and why they matter.
In the Sunday Times David Baddiel described it as “the best book about jokes ever” and the Observer called it “smart, funny and highly recommended”.
This wide-ranging, big-hearted exploration of jokes and why we tell them attempts to answer vital questions such as these:
– Is homo sapiens the only animal that laughs?
– Why are clowns so scary?
– Do jokes make children more intelligent?
– Are men funnier than women?
– Can God take a joke?
– What’s brown and sticky?
With a joke on every page, it doubles as the only joke-book you’ll ever need. Every downstairs loo should have one
You can listen to me talking about the ideas in the book as part of a humour symposium at the British Library, alongside Barry Cryer and Tim Vine (my bit starts about 9 minutes in).
the naked jape in the press
Dead Wives’ Tales
In February 1869, a young woman left England on a sailing ship bound for a remote mission station in East Africa. She knew she might never come home again. The long sea voyage itself was perilous; at the other end, a life of sacrifice and struggle awaited her. Where she was going, there would be no doctors. She was already pregnant with her first child.
A hundred and forty years later, I picked my way up a potholed track under a wide blue sky to the field where the woman is buried. I was back in my childhood home, in Kenya. A small headstone marked the grave. “Rebecca Wakefield, died July 16 1873, aged 28. Also Bertie, her infant son, died July 12, 1873. She held not her life dear unto herself.” My heart was full, the pity and the injustice of it fuelling an old anger. Why not? I wanted to shout. Why was her own life not dear to her? Why insist that she welcomed this senseless sacrifice, in exchange for – what? A mere handful of souls converted to Christianity?
Five years after that, I lay entangled in tubes and wires, bloodless and rattling with antibiotics, my infant son mewing in a plastic tank next to my hospital bed. I listened as a nurse gently explained how close I had come to dying. I couldn’t stop thinking about Rebecca and Bertie. About how tightly the concept of sacrifice is still interwoven with the state of motherhood. About how we avert our eyes from the deepest terrors and the bloody beauty of the birthing process, stepping aside apologetically like pedestrians reluctant to walk under a ladder. About how we minimise the mother’s agency, taking her total self-sacrifice for granted. “Still, at least the baby’s ok – that’s what matters!” said my hospital visitors, brightly. Hold not your life dear unto yourself.
The majority of women have always lived unregarded lives, full of massive but hidden drama. We bear the future in our bloody wombs, whether we are able and willing to take on this heavy responsibility, or thwarted by circumstance, or reluctant to do so. All of our bodies hold this weight. And if we do bear children, our bodies come routinely close to death – so routinely that we are encouraged to disregard it, to endure it silently.
But there is value in holding up such everyday dramas to be witnessed. This is the only life I have, and it is dear to me. Perhaps Rebecca’s life was too.