Written by Standard Issue


Getting to know you… Jen Brown

If you’re a regular visitor to Standard Issue, you won’t need telling that we’re lucky enough to have a cracking team of contributors who we love dearly. We thought it was about time we let them introduce themselves properly. Give a transatlantic wave to Jen Brown.

Illustration by Louise Boulter

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Name: Jennifer Ann Brown (I remember turning bright red in infant school when singing: “Jennifer Ann and her watering can”).

Age: Mind yer own business!

Location: I say Hollywood because it sounds good, but really I am in Sherman Oaks. Hollywood is a 10-minute train journey away.

Official job title: Retired minute taker for North Tyneside Council, turned writer/actor.

What was the first thing you wanted to be? I always wanted to act and in my last year at senior school placed this desire at the top of my three choices on a careers form. The careers officer told me not to be so silly and suggested I get myself to secretarial college. My mam and dad agreed, warning that if I didn’t, I could end up in a shop or worse still, a factory!

The factory I would have more than likely ended up in, had I been rebellious, was the one that made huge rainbow coloured net petticoats, for the rocking and rolling teenagers of the day. My neighbour’s daughter worked there and I remember thinking how lucky she was to have such a glam job.

When did you know you wanted to be what you are now? I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer, or even if I could write at all until after attending an acting workshop in the 90s. I remember complaining about the lack of meaty roles for women to the actor running the workshop, and she suggested I write something for myself. I gave it a go and discovered I had a ‘voice’. I haven’t stopped writing since.

What’s your strongest memory from school/education? I remember clearly making a horrendously funny face at a classmate as we sat in a circle listening to something boring. I was about 14 and should have known better. My friend burst out laughing and when she was asked what was so funny, without a moment’s hesitation, she grassed me up.

‘Miss’ asked me to show the class the face I was making, and as it was an impression of the hunchback of Notre Dame, I wasn’t keen. She told me to go stand in the corner of the room, by the sink, and make faces at the tap, which I did. The class was hugely entertained by my antics and by the end of the lesson I was the toast of 3a. Happy days!

Jen BrownWhen you’re not working, what else do you like to do? I like to walk but have only recently been able to do so because of the stinking hot weather this summer.

My favourite pastime is going to the movies. The last film I saw was The Danish Girl with Eddie Redmayne.

What has been your proudest creative moment to date? Apart from giving birth to my daughter, which was a long moment, I can’t think of any short bouts of inspiration. Rather, my creativity spreads over years. To date, I would say watching my work being performed professionally on stage at the Customs House in South Shields made me proud.

What was your favourite day at work? Friday, of course! Apart from it being the end of the week, it was bacon sarnie day and I was the official bacon sarnie buyer, so I could escape for half an hour to Cliff’s Bakery.

What would you like to erase from your past? Nothing. Everything that has happened was meant to be.

What brings you the most joy? My two granddaughters, no question. Grandchildren are so much better than your own kids. I learn from them every single day and they are more in charge of me.

What makes you angry? Bad mannered folk make me very angry. You know, the ones who follow close behind you when you are exiting a shop; the ones you hold the door open for and they give you nothing but a cursory glance.

“I define success by the happiness yardstick. If you wake up each morning excited and ready to get on with the day – whatever the day may bring – I reckon you’re already successful.”

Professionally, who has been your biggest inspiration? The playwright, Lee Hall. His masterful dialogue can cause you to crack up at poignancy or shed a tear on a laugh-line. I love his work with a passion because it is so relatable.

Have you ever met someone who made you go weak at the knees? Gin makes me go weak at the knees. It starts at my knees and works its way up. Oh – person? Sorry! No.

What advice would you give a woman who wants a career like yours? I don’t really have a proper career. I’m still very much a wannabe. Whatever you wannabe though, the best advice is to keep learning, keep practising. Keep at it.

How do you define success? I define success by the happiness yardstick. If you wake up each morning excited and ready to get on with the day – whatever the day may bring – I reckon you’re already successful. Feeling glad to be alive is success in itself.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever had? Re: writing, Tom Hadaway (another north-east playwright), said to me in 1988: “Write from your own backyard, Jen.” And as my backyard has always had a wealth of gannings on in it, I am never short of material.

Re: life, a dear cousin of mine once wisely advised: “Least said, soonest mended.” I can’t remember what trouble I was in when she handed out that little nugget, but it has proved its worth countless times.

jenWhat’s your favourite photograph of yourself? This was taken five years ago, shortly after the death of my father. My sister paid for it as a treat. It is a reminder of how life goes on regardless. I sometimes study my face, but I can’t see grief in my expression, though it was undoubtedly there in my heart. It is one of my favourites because I feel I look strong in it.

Where did you go on your favourite holiday? Butlins, Filey. It was in the late 90s and I was with my sister, her son, Lewis, and my mam and dad. We entered every competition going and made ourselves miserable by not winning any of them.

Who can’t you live without? My lush granddaughters, which is why I live in California even though I miss old Blighty an awful lot.

What can’t you live without? I once thought I couldn’t live without Cadbury’s chocolate buttons, but because of a current chocolate dispute allowing only Nestle goodies to come into the American ‘British’ shops, I have learned that I actually can.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Raising my daughter as a single parent and making a canny good job of it.

Who is your favourite person? I have lots of favourite people so can’t comfortably pick one. They can be interchangeable, which sounds shockingly shallow, and probably is, but I prefer to think of it as an indication of my impeccable taste in friends.

Who’s your favourite animal? My favourite animal ever was my deceased friend, Daisy dog. Standard Issue readers know exactly what I thought of this lovely girl. Irreplaceable.

Daisy the dogWhich song could be used to soundtrack your life so far? Chandelier recently sung by current The Voice (in America) contestant Jordan Smith. The lyrics bring to mind my youth, when, on a Friday and Saturday night, it literally was 1, 2, 3 drink… 1, 2, 3 drink.

I do sense my greatest Chandelier moment is yet to come and the anticipation is killing me!

What are your favourite three articles at Standard Issue? I loved Supermarket Weep by Carol Tobin. It really made me laugh out loud – and I don’t do that easily. She captured all the angst of a fearful shopper wandering around a brightly lit supermarket, with every product and aisle bringing a new set of worries.

Rebecca Humphries’ article: Fighting January and Winning was one of my favourites because of the many depression-busting tips and techniques she listed to fight off the doldrums.

Cilla: An Infectious Entertainer by Kathy Salaman was a great read for me, not just because I really liked Cilla, but because I was away from home and Salaman’s simple, touching piece reconnected me.

Which question would you have liked to have answered in this questionnaire, but weren’t asked? What piece have you written for Standard Issue that you are most proud of?

I would have replied Tribute to a Mam. I wrote it at a time of great sadness and proved to myself once again that I am stronger than I think.


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Written by Standard Issue