BackStory: Six Questions with Tamsin Cottis

Doubledecker bus photograph by John Ward.

BackStory: Six Questions with Tamsin Cottis
Author of Freedom Pass

What inspired you to write ‘Freedom Pass’?

My first proper job, in the early 1980s, was working with adult with learning disabilities who’d returned to London from many decades of living in long-stay hospitals. They talked about their experiences while away, some of which were truly terrible. But it was also a joy to see and share in their new found independence. For so many, being able to move about freely on London public transport was one of their greatest pleasures, and they were often hugely knowledgeable about bus and tube routes. Lennie is fictional, but through his voice I wanted to capture some of the spirit of the people I knew at that time.

What is your favourite piece of historical flash, prose poetry or hybrid work?

Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts has made a huge impression on me – poetry combined with memoir, combined with activism

Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?

I had wanted to reference the fact that the original free travel bus passes had an orange ‘H’ for ‘Handicapped’ printed on them. In the interests of word count, I had to let it go, but it was painful!

The groups I was working with were involved in a campaign to have the passes redesigned to look the same as those given to older people for free travel.

The 1980s were an exciting time to be working with people with learning disabilities, as the self-advocacy movement grew in voice and influence. An active consultative group of people with learning disabilities continues to work with Transport for London, advising on issues of accessibility.

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

I did do a little bit of research on the route 38 – I was surprised at how long it was! The rest was all in my head, really. I’d been trying to find the form for this story for a very long time – as soon as I realised this could actually be a historical flash fiction (thanks guys!), it came relatively easily (this is not AT ALL how it usually is for me).

What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?

I’m a huge London Transport nerd!

What do you like most about writing flash (or prose poetry, or hybrid work)?

I only write short fiction and poetry and I love the challenge of the word count – trying to say a lot in few words – especially if I can cover a large time span. Brokeback Mountain is one of my all time favourite short stories for this reason. I also like the freedom of hybrid form – especially as I write academically about my work as a child psychotherapist and love to be a ‘storyteller’ in this form to some extent, too.

Tamsin Cottis is a Child Psychotherapist and writer of short fiction and poetry. Her writing has been awarded number of prizes and has been published in Mslexia, Mechanics Institute Review, MIRonline, Verve Poetry Press, Rattle Tales, among others. She was the recipient of a Word Factory Special Commendation in 2017.
Photograph by John Ward (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).