Q & A with Penny Pepper

PENNY PEPPER is a disability rights activist, writer, poet, performer, and in her own words 'rebel.' We caught up with her at her third Unify and Progress Masterclass, focused on social media and digital marketing, where she offered up her 30 years of experiences and insights into writing, performing and disability activism to mid-career artists. Twitter @PenPep

What three words best describe you?

Wilful, cheeky, provocateur.

Penny Pepper at Edinburgh Book Festival.jpg
Agents and publishers have liked my work but always wanted to remove any mention of disability. I’m having none of it!

Tell us how you got into what you do?

Writing started in earnest with punk. Johnny Rotten’s to blame and the infamous Today programme with the Sex Pistols effing and blinding on national TV. I was shy, stuck out in the sticks with my mum. Doing all that scribbling in the bedroom stuff. Punk set me free. It took a while to get work out there but fanzines gave me the door and I opened it wide.

What do you most enjoy about being a writer?

With writing, it’s telling the stories not told, going to a place in my head where I can create a world. It’s also about communicating and provoking – being a bit cheeky and questioning everything. Writers don’t have all the answers anymore than the next person. But we can issue a challenge to the status quo.

And your thoughts on being a performer?

Performing for me is all about the linking with an audience, the thrill of disturbing them and also the joy of collaborating with them too.

Your memoir, First in the World Somewhere, has just been published. What was the most challenging thing about making it happen?

Apart from the usual barriers writers put in their own way such as too much self-criticism, I’ve faced huge prejudice as a disabled person wanting to tell those stories in a very particular way. Agents and publishers have liked my work but always wanted to remove any mention of disability. I’m having none of it! It’s also that the world is still catching up with disability as being socially constructed – barriers and attitudes within society create the challenges. It’s changing slowly. Thankfully Unbound, my publishers saw beyond this.

Tell us about an upcoming project that excites you?

I’m completing my novel, Fancy Nancy – first draft completed 15 years ago. Then there’s work on new spoken word sets. A major excitement this year is my first poetry collection, Come Home Alive, published by Burning Eye Books. A long journey from my fanzine days.  Twitter @PenPep