Penny has never let her disability define who she is or what she can do, she's been a nude model, a wheelchair burlesque dancer, in a punk band that topped the charts in Italy, been Morrisey's pen pal, received crazy PR with Tony Cowell, (brother of Simon), performed at the National Theatre and been on Channel 4's "Love Less Ordinary", to mention but a few.
She's committed to what she does, passionate and motivated. She's recently been interviewed for "Make Yourself Heard" radio show and has featured as Ether Books writer of the day this month. Her book "Desires Reborn" is out now and is a collection of fiction that focuses on the taboo subject of sex and disability, but isn't erotica, it's an intelligent examination of desire featuring disabled people.
Drizzly rain fell as I wheeled across Westminster Bridge, for an appointment at a drinks reception in Portcullis Place. This is a new shiny complex where the UK's MPs go about their business outside of the old parliament buildings. I am always excited to go to such London landmarks even though I've lived in the city for 26 years. The history and the buzz burn from the surroundings - even in typical English weather.
I was attending an event to celebrate a project called Accentuate (www.accentuate-se.org/about). This is the London 2012 Legacy Program for the South East, launched on 3rd December 2009, which worked around a 1000 day countdown to the Paralympic Games. Made up of multiple projects, Accentuate had an aim of creating a cultural shift in the way disabled people are seen. I was privileged to have been involved in this project as performer and creative at different events in the South East of England.
Going through security at Portcullis Place was amusing. Armed police officers stand guard near the x-ray screening equipment. We are all scanned or body searched. Yet as one of many wheelchair-users, the camera used to make up my visitor's pass was too high. We were let in with numbers - but no photographs. Making our way through corridors full of portraiture of politicians new and old, I soaked up the atmosphere but would not let myself be over-awed.
Once in the pleasant airy room, the reception was a hubbub of other Accentuate participants and supporters enjoying a drink and canapes, before celebratory speeches were made and a slot of enjoyable networking began. With friends, I even got to use the MPs own cafe, a somewhat surreal experience, as we sat, disabled people, amid an ocean of suits - still largely male - and no doubt many influential people of all political hues.
The next day was as busy. I had secured a place at Story Slam Live, being held at the Southbank in the Royal Festival Hall, an iconic 50s building that looks over the Thames. My story 'Today She Killed 50', was ready as it could be. The tricky part was making sure I read it well, but within the requisite 5 minutes. I'd never done a story slam before, so my excitement was tempered with some nerves.
Unfortunately despite some advanced efforts by various folk involved, the ramp to the small stage was absent and I had to do my story in front of it. Naturally, I was weary and frustrated. London hosted the most successful Paralympic games in history, in the country of the Paralympic games' birth, and there has been much talk of a legacy for disabled people. I faced the reality of such notions at the Royal Festival Hall with its lack of stage access.
However, I did my piece, cautiously pleased at how it went. The audience laughed in the right places and applauded at the end. After everyone in the competition took their turn, we waited for the judges to announce the outcome. I was very pleased to be a runner-up and highly commended!
It was more unnerving to find myself faced with a room of senior council managers the next day for a talk I'd be booked to do, yes, on the Paralympic legacy - such is the focus on this topic. I spoke on my own feelings, drawing on my involvement in the UK's disability arts and rights movement for over 20 years. We've heard about legacies before and this one may simply be a token sound bite from politicians - because we are facing horrendous new challenges in the changes to our cherished welfare state. Disabled people are being scape-goated in these times of austerity, with basic rights we have fought for over decades, now eroding. Ultimately the legacy may not be the one so loudly proudly touted by politicians in September.
The managers seemed to respond well and I can only hope they took on board what I, and the other guest speakers, highlighted.
I went home in a thoughtful mood, pondering that my e-book 'Desires Reborn' was picking up increasing interest since it's release on Sept 9th 2012 and there were new projects to finalizing such as my novel 'Fancy Nancy'. It had been a crazy three days and now I was home I felt a new determination to keep doing what I do best: write and tell the world stories I do not believe it has heard - those of a disability perspective transmuted through the filter of fiction.