Friday 28 November 2008

Very easy writing exercise.

Make a list of overall 'theme' words. Chop up list. Fold up each word into a pile of 'themes'.

Meaning etc.

Then a second list. Forces of nature. Weather.


or 'link' words. Things that can link you from one thing to another.


do the same with this lot. make second pile.

Mix em all up.

get pen n paer/computer ready.

Pick ONE WORD from each pile:

EG Guilt Tightrope


Death Ladder

meaning Mist

and GO.

see what happens as you connect the two.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

People, poetry, prose, working.

The day before yesterday was great. Following the natter referred to in Saturday's post, below, I felt 'given permission' to do things differently.

I spent a few hours with the lovely Andrew Marshall talking about his novel for kids, and about my novel. We work in a face to face writing group, but there tends to be lots of playwriting talked about there, so this was a quiet time for prose. Andrew is a playwright as well as a very very successful author of relationship books.

We are total opposites. He is very hot on plotting and structure. I do the other stuff like voice, characterisation... things that are left to the actors and directors, on stage. The two writing disciplines are SO different!

The session was intended to be a quick 'tutorial' from me, targetting those elements of fiction he felt needed strengthening.

After a curry at a local pub (I will never be skinny) he got hold of my novel (metaphorically) asked about twenty minutes worth of questions, and lo and behold, came up with a structure that was so right - motivation, links, reasons for this and that... all by looking at the relationships between the characters, over time.


Afternoon, tea with the poet Judith Kazantzis. HERE. And the brilliant news that she will give me guidance on poetry. In one hour, looking at a few of my poems, we talked about the effects of different shapes on the page. About the effects of certain grammatical constructs within lines of poetry. About communication. About 'letting the air in', about humour.

I came away with so much. And it is going to be exciting seeing her on a monthly basis. I am one lucky lady.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Loneliness and the long distance writer

Interesting discussion yesterday whilst having a real blast, writing a few flashes, swapping some work, and talking poetry with an old writing colleague.

Talking about support structures, I said I had to learn to stand on my own two feet, trust my own feedback, not rely on others, in groups.

He said the opposite. That even the best known writers had support structures, creative sounding boards, mentors.

Food for thought.

Friday 21 November 2008

Sister stuff...

Readers of this blog and its comments may have seen someone called 'Doris' leaving comments now and again...

Well that is one of my sisters, and TWO WEEKS TODAY, I will be down at Bristol Airport to meet her from a flight from California...

There will be no problem our recognising each other. We look scarily alike!


(for anyone who didnt read earlier posts: I have found my sisters... after a rather long time. This is the first time Susie aand I will meet. See HERE for my first meeting with any of them, one lovely person called Phillippa...), and HERE for the first time all five faces have ever been seen together.)

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Anam Cara Diary

Anam Cara Diary

Tuesday 11.
Arrive early, at 6.45 pm, having had a very quick journey from Cork Airport. I have hired a car, and been allocated a Toyota Yaris. Seems OK although the headlights are not very bright on full beam, and it doesn’t pick up enough speed to overtake fast. Dark, rainy journey.

I have my usual room, with a view over Coulagh bay to Dingle via Kilcatherine. Not that I can see it in the dark…

Supper is a fish pie cooked by Sue, using fish delivered fresh today. It is lovely to see writers Sue Guiney and Kate Beswick, both of whom I met here a year ago, and good to meet Jill, a Welsh lady now resident in Ireland for a long time. She is both an artist and an art therapist working with psychiatric cases, and is working on a Masters thesis.

After supper, Sue and Kate are going to read their work in front of the fire. I love this. One of the best bits of the day, I feel it balances the creative stuff. I need to break the block of not really feeling at ease writing what I am, so tentatively share with everyone over supper what happened on the abortive MPhil. The unanimous response is supportive, and I decide to read from the piece I want to concentrate on this week.

We all settle in front of the fire, all the writers, Sue the Boss, and Jack the dog. (Jack gives his editorial opinion by leaving the room if he disapproves…)

We all read, all have constructive feedback. Readings finish at I go to bed feeling better. Still a little nervous of writing tomorrow and finding the words won’t come.

Wednesday 12.
Walk into Eyeries to buy a pad of paper and a pen. What psychological gremlins are at work that I forget to bring these?

Work all morning identifying the right words to describe the replacement character. I don’t want him to feel like an interloper. Change quite a bit of the language of the opener, several times, until it feels ‘rightish’.

Work for an hour after lunch.

Go for a ‘reading’ from Mary Maddison, the ‘Stone lady’, the local seer, who is a great part of the theatre of life in this place. You sit with your feet in a great bowl of tiny semi-precious stones. And you pick more, from larger stones, and shells, and from looking at this lot, she tells you all sorts. Then she reads the stones that stick to your feet.

It feels mad writing this. When you are here, it doesn’t feel like that at all. You just take it as natural. In her garden, Mary has a pyramid, built of pine, I sat in there for twenty minutes and thought about not a lot. But felt very calm. I might well go back and get the key and sit in there again, despite hitting my head on the very low lintel on the way out. (I am 5 ft 3 ½ ins!).

Back to Anam Cara really looking forward to working again on the story - and get two more hours of writing done before supper- a Tex Mex extravaganza.

The others decide to watch an old film. A perfect excuse to duck out, go back to my room and do more writing before bed. I take a herbal tea up with me….zzzzzzz.

Write for another hour, get to an OK draft of just over 3000 wds, into the story (which is sitting at 8,000 very raw and rambly at present, wrong characters and a lot of blather, and no ending scenes)…with new character in situ. Happy. Happy.

Read poetry ‘how-to’ book in bed, with the window open, listening to the waterfall outside in the grounds.

Sort of minor blissful.

Thursday 13
Minor blissful maybe, but before going to sleep I follow one of the writing exercises in the book, and create images of a journey from sleep through subterranean passages floored with light.

It seems to set the mind teeming, and although I sleep, I keep waking with lines of poetry in my head. Some get written across the notebook by the bedside. Naturally, in the depths of sleep, they are the work of genius.

This morning, things look a little different.

However, after breakfast, (at which Sarah Palin is a perfect target for verbal assassination) I write the first attempt at last night’s poem. Quite like it, which is always dangerous. As I am saving it on my Macbook, I open the ‘Poems’ folder I started this time last year, for my first attempts. It is good to look at stuff that was of course the work of genius a year ago….nuff said.

Return to the story, and fiddle with the character again. Transcribe and tidy/expand/enjoy a further 2000 words. Work until 1.00 pm, and go for a walk in the rain before lunch.

Over lunch, discuss what we’ve done this morning. Make plans to share work together again this evening. Talk to Sue Guiney, who has taken poetry to schools, and had the children’s work set to music. We decide to have a cuppa together later this afternoon to talk about working in schools as writers, and also about markets for poetry.

Back to work.

By 4.30 the wordcount of the fair draft as far as it goes, is 6,250 or thereabouts.

I need a break. The next section contains a death, and I need to be on form to kill off a character.

I brought several books, among them “All Quiet on the Western Front”. I curl up on my lovely double bed (all rooms have huge beds, with oodles of pillows, duvet, blankets, cushions..), wrap myself in a blanket, and mean to read.

I sleep, instead.

Then spent an hour with Sue G before supper, swapping market information and details re some writing associations. Sue has a novel published with Bluechrome, and her ‘play in poetry’ also published as a collection by Bluechrome, has been performed in London. She is an accomplished and well published poet and her advice is invaluable. It appears that publishing on the net in the poetry world is fairly meaningless in serious CV terms, even more than prose…. I have a list of good print magazines to target.

After supper the four of us spend a couple of hours round the fire, reading our work and giving feedback. I shared a couple of poems, and had great feedback about a changed line or two.

Friday 14

The first two hours were spent worrying at this character again. Having written a further 1000 wds or so, I realised that I had removed an element of the ‘old-new’ character that made the ending flow… so had to reinstate it all. Hmph.

Word count now over 7000 wds by coffee time, and nowhere near the ending yet. I am fascinated to see how long it is going to be, at complete draft stage. Hoping to get to the ending at least in ‘think-note stage’ today sometime.

After lunch, I take the car and the other writers to visit Kilcatherine and The Hag of Beara. We all bring a gift - coins, bright pieces of coloured paper. We drive for ten minutes through the mist. Then we pick our way over the mud to the Hag. She needs visiting, and I go each time I’m here.

The story goes that she lost her man when he went to sea and was drowned. She promised she’d wait on the headland for him, and stayed there, looking out to sea, hoping, until the wind turned her to stone. People bring her gifts. And tell her their dreams and wishes. The crevices of the stone are filled with coins, messages, crystals, bits of ribbon, messages scribbled on bits of paper.

(Madness? Not really. It doesn’t feel mad when you are here. And that’s one of the things about ‘here’…)

Delighted to see that a little stone I found on Dursey and gave to her two years ago is still there.

Also visited Kilcatherine churchyard.

Back for a cuppa, and by 5.30 my draft is still only at 7500.

I am finding displacement things to do, like mad…avoiding this ending. Hmph. Need to take self in hand, I think. Give self a talking to.

Mind you, a squillion texts from number two son about surfing next summer in Cornwall are a tad distracting too!

At 6.30 ish, I set a fire going in the sitting room, and curl up with a glass of wine and a poetry book – a bit cross that I haven’t succeeded in doing the ending scenes of my story.

This supper is Kate, Sue and Jill’s last supper, as they are leaving tomorrow. There is a tradition here that those who are leaving choose the meal… and they have chosen roast chicken, followed by pears poached in red wine, with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce.

But the best thing is that Kate has finished her novel. Today. She was advised to rewrite two pivotal chapters that seemed underwritten, and has spent this week completing that task. So, a project that has taken several years is finally done and ready to go out to agents.

Kate has brought champagne to celebrate. We down two bottles, and as Sue B doesn’t drink much at all, and as I also had a glass of wine beforehand, I end up feeling very squiffy.

We are reading and feeding back until midnight. My feedback is strange… like it’s in a language I don’t understand - ‘But this is already a novel… what’s the problem?’… when I don’t believe it is.

Before turning out the light, in bed, I realise I have bitten the nails on my right hand. Haven’t done that in years.

Saturday 15

Breakfast is like a therapy session, the conversation is about digging at the things that make us react as we do as people, and as creative beings. How we create our own barriers.

Lunch today will be at 12.30, as Sue G and Kate are leaving early. Sue has a driver to take her back to Cork airport. He seems very nice, and she uses him each time, and they talk in the car all the way. It costs not much different to hiring a car… and on balance, I think I like the solitude of a car journey, the independence once here, and above all that sense of being totally grown up because I have crossed a different country all on my own, in a strange car.

(I didn’t drive until quite late. I lost a friend in a freak car accident in my last week at school, the Sixth form, in North Wales, … have never really liked driving.)

But by lunch, the story sits at 9000 words. I have managed to assemble all the ingredients for the final scene, and already the piece is 2000 wds longer than any other edited single piece I have ever written. I feel slightly wobbly…

After lunch, Jill and I decide to go for a walk for an hour, taking Jack the dog, It is misty. Low cloud on top of the hills behind the house. As we start out, it begins to rain, so we walk along the road and down to the strand, along the strand to where the river meets the bay, then back home. About an hour or so.

I fall asleep on the bed, curled in my duvet, then Jill knocks to say she is leaving… tis sad to say goodbye. I hope we meet again. I have plans to write about her book on the blog when I get back.

Write until supper time, by which time the story is 10,120 wds and the ending is almost done, bar the shouting… feel very accomplished even thought the thing is a draft… its OK.

Pat self on back.

Pat self on back!

Supper is lovely, just Sue and I in the kitchen. We have haddock in a lemon, red wine and leek sauce. And we talk.

Later, I check the file to make sure I haven’t made it all up, this stuff about stories coming out at over 10000 wds!… and edit some of the spelling… I was doing the last thousand words typing blind, a tee shirt over the computer screen. Final edit of this draft in the morning, I think, and the last paragraph…

I go to bed with a collection of poems edited by Sue’s good friend, the American poet Billy Collins, the friend who sent Jhumpa Lahiri here in September.

Sunday 16
I decide to stick to the same routines, even though it’s just me and Sue here now.

By 10.30, and after a natter over breakfast, I am back in my room, polishing the ending of the story. Funny what happens when you type fast with something over the screen! There are a zillion typos, some paragraphs seem to have married each other and had kids, and the formatting has gone to pot. Must have hit some function keys!

But as I polish, the word count keeps growing.

And when it is finished, just in time for lunch, the final word-count of the longest story I have ever written is 10,813.


After lunch, I take Jack the dog for a lovely walk, two hours, to the rocky coastline near Eyeries. We explore the rocks, and the fields behind the beach which isn’t a beach at all but lichen-covered fingers of dark rock, and black water breaking.

When I come back I make a fire and curl up to read All Quiet on the Western Front. And I flip back and forth between that and North, by Seamus Heaney. They seem to go together.

Monday 17th

My last day. It crosses my mind that today I was meant to send the finished piece of the novel in to Glamorgan, and it is a real relief to consciously think I don’t have to do that. No way could I have written it this week if I was still ‘there’.

After breakfast, the wind is howling. A storm is brewing. The rain is lashing down from Mishkish Mountain. I return to my room with my reading books, and get into bed fully clothed, as the room is chilly (I’ve turned off the radiators, which I loathe with a passion) and start to read the Seamus Heaney.

The words of each short line rise off the page into me. Each image settles somewhere under my ribs. After a while I have to put the book down to think.

And I wake up at one o clock….

During lunch, we have a visit from Terry Black, the local storyteller. He joins Sue and I at the table after protesting that he mustn’t stay, and an hour later this lovely man is still with us, telling the stories he is so well known for. Hilarious.

“The day we stole the geese from the nunnery” is truly priceless. And every word is true…as is ‘How the boys from these parts learned to swim so well’… (the boys and girls had separate beaches, and the priest used to sit with his book on the rocks in the middle….so the lads had to swim miles out to sea and back if they wanted to catch a glimpse of the girls in the buff…. It was strange how the girls used to change facing the sea… )

The afternoon is spent in front of the fire with the dog, listening to the wind howling louder and louder, beginning to worry about the drive back to Cork in the morning. I read Heaney. I also read an excellent book of exercises for creating poetry… and spend a long time doing several exercises, to create some images. Or not.

But I do begin the creation process of several poems, to work on at home.

And as it’s my ‘last supper’ Sue makes me what I choose. I choose fajitas, made by someone who adores Mexican food, so they are suitably authentic and absolutely delicious.

And the fire is still going for the late evening….a little turf on the coals, and the room is filled with scent, round and rich…

Before turning in for the night, I show Sue the photos of my sisters, on my blog, and ones of the youngest, who is a well known makeup artist. Sue retires to bed, then her door crashes open… #she’s turned on Sky TV and the fist programme was some make up award ceremony… and MY kid sister compereing…

Of course, I missed it… but what a coincidence.

Tuesday 18
Drive to Cork, (two and a quarter hrs) check car in, buy newspaper. Read newspaper. Do Sudoku on plane.

Chris drives to Gatwick to meet me. Lovely man.


So. I check back what my objectives were, and how far I met them.

Story rejigged, edited, new character done, rewritten loads, ending written. Story 10800 and finished. Task completed.

Second story not touched. Task not completed. It was far too close to the last story. Silly idea!

Poetry: Wrote the start of at least six new poems. Completed many creative exercises, and have lots of material to work on. Talked through stuff with Sue G, and tweaked an important line or two as a direct result. Task completed.

Reading. Did I say I would read?

All Quiet on the Western Front.
North, Seamus Heaney
The presence, Dannie Abse.
Anthology put together by Billy Collins.Including a poem by one of Ireland’s finest young poets, Leanne O Sullivan… (Two collections from Bloodaxe and she’s only just out of the egg!) I’ve met her here, as her Mum Maureen does the cooking for workshops.

I’m happy.

More congrats for Tania Hershman

Lots of congrats to Tania Hershman for her wonderful achievement in winning the European Regional Prize in the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition. Details HERE

Tuesday 11 November 2008

A Week at Anam Cara

Off for a whole week, to my writers retreat in Ireland. Flying to Cork, then driving due west for a few hours, but I will stop just before I tip into the Atlantic at Coulagh Bay.

I figured it would be A Good Thing to set out my objectives for this next week. Although I always have plenty I could get on with, it is easy to sit and play, and lose focus.

I am very tired, the writer part of me is very stressed. I think the last few months has taken its toll in one way or another. So I need some good nights sleep, the TLC that Sue is so good at providing, and the company of other writers.

I think it is probably silly to set out a list of objectives that are rigid and prescriptive. I think I need to feel my way, and hope to rejoin some sense of pleasure in writing the ‘novel’, instead of this laughing demon on my shoulder who screeches ‘you mustn’t write this, waste of time, it will get bad reviews..’ each time I open one of the files.

In the spirit of being open about my own demons on this blog - it would be so so easy not to go on with this. At times, that feels the best thing to do. But I know that is also an attack of the uber-sentinels. With 70,000 words already scattered all over the ether and secondary hard drives, that would be a real shame. And as my son wisely said, it would be too easy for me to blame the shock of the MPhil disaster for ditching it.


NOVEL: I will revisit the ‘story’ based on Jude Thaddeus and John. There is a third central character in this one who has been niggling at me. He needs to come out completely, and a new character needs to replace him, and I think (hope!) the whole will take on another dimension.

That means unpicking a story that is currently 8,500 words ish. And re-embroidering the patches. But until I do that, I have been unable to write the ending. I KNOW the ending. It’s just the players felt wrong and I didn’t know why. I now think I do.

I have an idea for the eighth story. Or the backstory within. That backstory will get written this week.

I also have a snippet of Welsh superstition to do with the mines, found thanks to the Net, in a newspaper account of a mining tragedy in south Wales that happened over 100 years ago. It is tiny, slight, but I believe tiny weightless things take on a vast significance on occasion. I will play with the image, see what happens.

(Delighted to read this on Fictionbitch this morning… it gave my little finding and my need to incorporate it centrally in the book some validity. I almost felt a twinge of excitement.

Adam Thirlwel in The Guardian

“…there could be a way of describing reality which was both true to the seriousness of the world and yet also true to its absolute flippancy, because even the most passionate of experiences, especially the most passionate, were weightless….” )

That quote has become precious, in all of ten minutes. He seems to be saying exactly what I am thinking as I write this novel.

Poetry: I also want to share some poetry with Sue Guiney, one of the writers who will be at Anam Cara for the next few days. This time last year, I wrote my first poem in forty years, inspired by listening to her and to another poet, John D Smith. My poem was ghastly, but a year later, I am glad I didn’t throw in the towel.

I am working on a series of poems inspired by a recent visit to Sachsenhausen concentration comp, near Berlin. I hope to at least start another one. I am amazed how slow poetry is, sometimes.

Far too much time spent hunched over a screen.
I will get out and walk each day, get some air into my lungs.

READING: I am taking some books. I won’t list them here, in case I get sidetracked by the endless shelves of books over there.

Monday 10 November 2008

Workhouse news

Since October 16th, the following hits are announced. Thanks to the organiser who send me news of my brood. I still think of them as my brood! Daft.

J W, winner of the Yeovil Prize, approached by BBC Somerset, asking ASKING! for permission to broadcast his winning story…and request to see more work. Story being broadcast in November.

M: story accepted for December issue of Litro, Literature for London Underground. (Print), a story solicited for Red Peter online lit site, AND a story accepted for inclusion in an amazingly titled anthology Radgepacket II

B: Acceptance at Hobart

R: acceptances at Foliate Oak and at Right Hand Pointing

S: acceptance at Every day Fiction

S1 and J contributions selected for inclusion in the first Every Day Fiction anthology.

And of course, not to be forgot, D and his Bridport short story shortlisting.

Bridport Poetry Judge's Report

I thought it worth posting this in full. I look at my entry and can see clearly why it ended up on the floor at his feet, and then in the bin. Useful stuff!

David Harsent:

‘Poetry should be at least as well-written as prose’: an over-quoted remark of Ezra Pound’s; and here I am quoting it again, since maybe the lesson still has to be learned by some. Pound didn’t mean written like prose, of course, though while judging this prize I did sometimes find it difficult to say why the piece of writing in front of me deserved to be called a poem. I mean, it was a piece of writing all right; but a poem? Who says?

Poems can seem a cinch – they don’t have to fill the page, the lines stay shy of the margin: no problem. Take a look at your Waitrose list. Seem a contender? Could be… There are ways of telling, sure, but that doesn’t mean I can offer the formula for a poem. The very notion of ‘formula’ is nonsense, though too often there was evidence that formulaic constituents had been applied: the emotion encapsulated, the shining moment preserved, the opinion flagged. What I can say is that a significant number of poems among those I was sent made me itch to give notes: a line too far; a redundant grace-note; a leaden sound in the music; a sudden string of dead adjectives; a wilful line- or stanza-break; a piece going along quite nicely until the expected arrived with a blind eye and a heavy hand. It’s not that the batch contained an unusually large proportion of total duds; more that I was frustrated by the missed chances, the near things, the close calls. It’s one thing to Frisbee a poem into the ‘nix’ box because the bum notes in the first couple of lines told you all you needed to know; it’s quite another to have thirty or so ‘maybes’ buzzing round your head like illtempered hornets. You know, really, that the poem won’t do; on the other hand, it so nearly does, and a nip here and a tuck there would have sent it to the ‘this clicks’ box. In the end, the ‘needs a fix’ box was the one that overflowed which is, frankly, a crying shame.

I had said I’d be looking for poems that didn’t seem to be a first or a second draft (or even a third) and I was moved to wonder how many of the poems silted up round my ankles had benefited from serious revision. If the answer is not many, that’s annoying. If it’s quite a few, that’s depressing. I’d find myself re-considering a poem for the tenth time and thinking, ‘No, look, if he/she can write this line, and this line, and this line, how in hell did this line get in? More than that, how did it manage to get in and lock the door?’ It’s not a matter of being original: that word isn’t at all what it seems; you can write about death or loss or sorrow or love, of course you can; just don’t do it as if you had everything to hand from the outset. You need to be looking over your own shoulder; you need to be the sceptical voice in your ear.

Since I seem to be in the business of quoting the over-quoted, I might as well iterate the opinion of a few (hundred) poets who have taught or judged, and say that it’s pretty clear that not enough people who write poems read poems. In truth, it’s not an option. If you want to stand a prayer of writing well you have to be well-read. It’s more a question of absorption than of copying, though influence is a necessary stage, something to be got through and not at all unpleasant: much like a slight illness during which you take to your bed, drink whisky, gain resistance to the bug, and emerge to write better than before. Beyond all that, of course, there’s a small matter of aptitude, which, in its more mysterious and potent version, might be called ‘gift’. It’s there or it’s not. There’s no remedy for a tin ear; or, to put it another way, creativity can’t be taught. However, it can certainly be encouraged and celebrated by competitions like the Bridport Prize out of which, whether or not the year’s entry is more nix than clicks, good things always come, a fact made evident by the selection printed here: pieces of writing, all of them, that have a clear claim to be read as poems.

There were thousands of entries for this competition, of which I was sent several hundred. When you get down to the last twenty, ‘ability’ has long since given way to ‘touch’ and there are always reasons for shuffling the pack. A different day, a different way? Well, no, I think I’d always have made this pick though, of course, there were those that came close. You might say that, when I got to the final few, the discards were poems that worked, but didn’t work for me. In particular, each of the three prizewinners had caught my eye at once with a line or an image, or made me listen to its music: qualities that stayed with me and became more evident when I went back to read again.

My third choice, Time Travel, is a study in melancholy. It’s of a piece in tone and narrative drift alike. It carries a ghost-novel between its lines. The poem gains, I think, from remaining deliberately unemphatic; the lines do their work without becoming strident or sentimental. The list – letters, ration-book, photo, lock of hair – finally extends to encompass the mother who, by the time the piece closes, has become almost a part of the narrator’s collection. The deliberate retreat from questions, from the gently implied weight of risk in the past, provides a nicely-pitched emotional alternating (therefore tyrannical) clocks, seems to leave us on a held breath.

Second prize goes to Finistère, a poem of invocation, a chant, almost, that uses an insistent scheme of near-couplets to sustain its brief, fierce energies. Like the wind blowing through its lines, the poem doesn’t let up; images are strong and keen, not least the arresting ‘… here on the Pont du Raz the salted man leans in/to the force of the wind …’ – clever line-break, compelling set-up for the mind’s-eye. Repetition is a crucial aspect of invocation (and of lament) and here it has a dual purpose: as musical device and as charm, since names, in such a context, have talismanic properties. The rhythms of the poem are sustained in a way that provides emphasis, not least when an openly risky octameter causes the voice to rise and extend at just the moment when it becomes most anguished and darkly lyrical.

The winner is Still Water, Orange, Apple, Tea. It might be said that this poem is about nothing more than ‘I’m not you and don’t have to be’, but what marks it out is the way this emotional commonplace is adapted to language. I’m guessing that the poet found, as things progressed, that she wanted to frame the piece up so that no line lacked a surprise, and it’s pretty much paid off. I liked its briskness – celebratory but never cloying – and liked, too, the fine-tuning: the way the rhyme-scheme of the chosen form (a Petrarchan sonnet) works for a tone of voice that promotes brevity. Abruptness, in fact, is part of the deal: a sort of Post-It Note poetry, where the notes in question sing and tease and intrigue. There’s a real confidence in the way the poet has gone about getting her effects, and the internal energy builds nicely to the double entendre in the final line.

Glass Bubbles and teaching.

I was delighted when an early review of Words from a Glass Bubble' described it as being a collection illustrating 'how the short story ought to be written nowadays' or words to that effect. (Tim Love's Literary References)

I heard this week that a tutor on a University Creative Writing course is using it next year as a set text. And today, I heard that a second CW teacher is using some of my story openers to inspire new writers to take their version of the story forward, with some good results.

To say I am delighted that my work is being used like this is an understatement.

Thank you to both, if you are reading.

Sunday 9 November 2008


What links a café in Antarctica, a factory for producing electronic tracking tags and a casino where gamblers can wager their shoes? They're among the multiple venues where award-winning writer Tania Hershman sets her unique tales in this spellbinding debut collection.
So says Tania's blurb, on the Salt Publishing website.
I am delighted to be the next stop in her Cyclone Blog Tour, and my subject is one very dear to my own heart...

Hi Tania!
I remember the first time I read your work. It was a tiny flash piece called Plaits, and I am delighted to see it included in The White Road and other Stories. I know I responded to that piece with both delight and understanding. Here was another writer who 'saw things a bit differently', to put it in the simplest of terms.
Many of your characters seem to inhabit a recognisable world, but you endow them with the skill to transcend it. And the reader is transported with them. In Plaits, we believe totally that a relationship hangs on the length of a woman's hair, and that her knees are her confidantes - advisors.
In the title story, we believe totally that a simple woman would go literally to the ends of the earth to escape the deepest of sadnesses. And we believe that the action she takes towards the end of the story is real. (I don't want to do a spoiler!).
And it is so with so many of your stories. Not for a moment do I doubt the 'truth' that underpins each story.

Three multiple questions:

1) Can you tell me whether your work fits broadly into the school of Magical Realism? If so can you define it as you see it, and give us a few examples of Magical Realist writers who have influenced your work??
First, thank you, Vanessa, for that wonderful introduction. It means a lot that you find my stories believable, you are willing to step into the worlds of my characters and accept what happens there as their “truth”.

I do love Magical Realism and I would like to see some of my stories as falling under this heading. I think that the name, Magical Realism, is already thrilling – you are taking something which we might call “real” and add a dash of magic, something otherworldly. For me, this is why I read – I want to be lifted out of the everyday, out of the world I know, and be shown something new, something other.

I do want to mention, though, that only some of the stories in my book would be called magical realist, and that this isn't something I set out consciously to do. Much like you, I imagine, I just follow where the story leads me. If, as happened with the story Rainstiffness, I hear the first line in my head: “When it rains, she stiffens”, I just go with it and am not put off, made nervous by the fact that actually my main character is semi-paralyzed during rainstorms, something I have not heard of happening in “real life”. Many of my stories are far more realist, whatever that means, some are perhaps more in the science fiction realm – not realist enough to be even magical realism. What I am trying to say is that I believe in doing whatever serves a particular story, rather than setting out to write a piece of magical realism. I follow my characters, see what they do, see why they do it, and if it is something odd, something bizarre, something otherwordly – such as a rabbi meeting an angel in a car park, or two small boys who are afraid that one of them is going to explode - I am open to that. I would like to think I am open to anything my characters might do!

So what exactly is magical realism? I looked up several definitions: the most basic is that it is realism with a twist. This means there is some overlap with science fiction, speculative fiction, slipstream – but this is fiction firmly set in the world as we know it, not on other worlds or planets. The “magic” may only be something like, as you mentioned, a story in which a woman has conversations with her knees or, in your wonderful story, Words from a Glass Bubble, the talking statue of the Virgin Mary. Or, as in Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, a rather grander example in which food has an effect on the eater depending upon the emotions of the cook.
I like to read magical realist stories because they make me think more than a story in which every element is familiar. I am not particularly interested in a story about someone like me, who lives where I live, does what I do. I want to learn something from a story, and one way to draw me in as a reader is to invent something completely new! If you convince me, I will step into that world, I will accept it all, I will be right there with your characters. If you don't convince me, I stop reading.
Some of my favourite writers in this vein are Angela Carter, Aimee Bender, Italo Calvino, Hariko Murakami, Jose Saramago. These writers inspire and influence me by saying that anything is possible. Their work says to me: Don't be constrained by what you have seen, what you have experienced. Go beyond your world, use your imagination, see what might be, what could be.
This is not done simply for entertainment value: the best magical realist stories use the magical aspects to unveil something about our own world, our communities and societies, who we are as human beings. In Aimee Bender's beautiful story Dearth, from her collection Willful Creatures, a woman comes to love potatoes that grow hands and feet. This is an achingly moving story about loneliness and connection, attachment and loss. It is not about animate vegetables.

2) Why is Magical Realism effective? What does it do that straight realistic storytelling can't do? My take is that it leads the reader to see life through a prism, and makes them look back at simple events and reappraise thanks to the new layer of 'sight' the writer lends them. And that post-reading, the reader is left with something that resonates. Things are never quite as predictable afterwards. Debate!

Exactly! Oh sorry, does “debate” mean I have to disagree? Well, if you take the example I gave above, Bender could have attempted a story with a similar theme by showing us how lonely her main character was and having her trying to have a baby, find a boyfriend, something “mundane”, something familiar to most of us. By freeing us from the bonds of our world and asking us to accept that the potatoes can acquire human attributes, what she does is release something in us. She forces us out of our comfort zone, asking us to stretch our imagination “muscle”, flex it and exercise it. A well-toned imagination muscle gives us something, perhaps what you called a new layer of “sight”. We see the magical in the everyday, we are open to other possibilities, we are less rigid.

This discussion has led me to thinking about some of the wondrous books I read as a child: the Phoenix and the Carpet by E Nesbit was one of my favourites. So much of children's fiction could, I think, fall under the Magical Realist heading: our world, plus the addition of a talking phoenix and a magic carpet. I devoured these books, I loved the idea of the magical, and why should we grow out of that? The success of television series such as Heroes is a clear demonstration that we long for there to be more to this life, answers to the unexplainable, delight and wonder, untapped potential deep inside all of us.

3) Do you think that Magical Realism has anything to do with our innate search to explain the unexplainable? Does it go back to the dawn of time, when people sat round their fires and sought to explain the movement of the sun moon and stars through explaining those movements in 'Realistic' stories, thereby creating a mix of fantastical and familiar, all that time ago? You are a scientist by training. One might think that the search for fact would negate the very magical elements that come out in your work. How do you reconcile the two?

Most definitely. One of the definitions I found for magical realism said, when talking about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the leading magical realist authors: “Magical realism expands the categorizes of the real so as to encompass myth, magic and other extraordinary phenomena in Nature or experience.” Many see magical realism as having Latin American roots, although it has now spread further afield. Yes, I see it as coming from a desire to understand, to explain the world around us, to fill in the gaps.

And this could equally be a description of science, no? Science is about explanation, understanding. And much of science requires scientists to suspend their disbelief, to accept the existence of the unseen, phenomena we cannot touch or feel. For example, quantum physics postulates that our tangible physical world is in fact mostly subatomic particles whizzing around in empty space. That doesn't fit with what our hands, our eyes are telling us.

Particle physics, which I studied at university, always felt to me like some type of science fiction: we can't “see” any of the particles the physicists believe exist – quarks, neutrinos, the Higgs boson - they are too small to be measured by any of today's instrumentation. We can only follow their trails through our world and see where they might have been and what effects they caused.

Scientists use their imagination to “probe” below the surface. How much more imaginative can you get than String Theory: we are all fundamentally made of tiny vibrating strings! But science is based on experimentation and proof, so it is not just enough to have a theory, you must design experiments to attempt to prove or disprove it. Well, actually, nothing can ever be proven to be true: in science there is no absolute truth: there is only the “best fit theory” that has yet to be proved wrong. I also studied Philosophy of Science and was deeply impressed by the logical argument about White Swans and Black Swans: just because up until this point in your life you have only seen White Swans, don't assume Black Swans don't exist. What a healthy attitude towards all of life: expect the unexpected, don't assume you know it all, have seen it all.

Scientists are always searching for the Theory of Everything, the “rules” which will completely explain our world, but all along the road is the debris of theories that were once believed and then proved wrong. Science is dynamic, always on the move, creative, magical. Scientist are always asking “What if...?”. So do fiction writers. Just pick up a copy of New Scientist, for example. Some of the reports on the research that is being carried out sounds more like fiction than fact!

Studying physics taught me that curiosity is a virtue, that asking questions is vital. I may not have continued on into a career in the lab, but I hope I never stop wondering, never stop asking questions.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog and asking me questions!

Next stop on the Virtual Book Tour: Nov 18th, Sue Guiney's Blog

Previous stops on the tour: Literary Minded
, Keeper of the Snails

For more information about Tania's Walking the White Road Virtual book tour, visit HERE!

Saturday 8 November 2008

Bridport Winner!

. . . . . Elaine Chiew . . . .

I'm sure it is now OK to say a proper congrats to a fabulous writer for her spectacular win at Bridport 2008, with a story entitled Face.

Congrats Elaine! Many many many of them.
E is mentioned in the One World post below: her story Leng Lui is for Pretty Lady kicks off the One World Anthology.

(You can read Leng Lui is for Pretty Lady online at Storyglossia, HERE)

Every Day Poets

My poem 'A Stone for your Shoe' is up at Every Day Poets. HERE

Good ole internet... the system initially had a gremlin in the works and removed the stanza breaks, and the italics. So pending it being mended up there, I put the correct version here.

EDP were great to work with, as I said in previous posts. Not only did they help with at least three rewrites, sending helpful suggestions, they corrected the glitch as speedily as they could.

Friday 7 November 2008


There must be something in the air. First the huge vote for change and a mixed race President-elect who is already having a huge effect on the world.

Second, the One World Anthology is now going to be a reality. Our team leader, Nigerian Journalist Ovo Adagha has just signed the contract with our publishers! Wheeeee! And there is such wonderful news to impart.

First: All royalties are going to Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Our publishers are New Internationalist. NEW INTERNATIONALIST WEBSITE HERE

The little team of multi-national multi-cultural, multi-coloured and multi-ethnic writers only came together on the web a year ago... each working on a piece of short fiction illustrating something we wanted to say about the world. We aimed at getting the stories posted, reviewed, edited, re-reviewed in a few months.

Then the marketing began...and thanks to Molara Wood, we found New Internationalist and struck the beginnings of a deal very fast.

So, publication is scheduled for the spring of 2009!

But the most moving, exciting thing has been the generosity of two world class writers who wanted to support the project.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, known to one of the group, agreed to let us publish a story that had previously never appeared in print.

And then I plucked up courage to talk to Jhumpa Lahiri, talked to her about the anthology... and she agreed that we could have a reprint of one of the most extraordinary stories in Interpreter of Maladies, her Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection.

So the collection opens with Leng Lui is for Pretty Lady , a short story by an erstwhile Fiction Workhouse writer called Elaine Chiew (see link on the right), and finishes with The First and Final Continent, by Jhumpa lahiri.

And in between somewhere are stories from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Henrietta Rose Innes (winner of the 2008 Caine Prize for African writing) and some 20 other writers, including one from me.

Phew. Full list of contributors and their respective countries follows:

Elaine Chiew (Malaysia)
Molara Wood (Nigeria)
Martin A Ramos (Puerto Rico)
Henrietta Rose-Innes (South Africa)
Lauri Kubuitsile (Botswana)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
Shabnam Nadiya (Bangladesh)
Ravi Mangla (USA)
Chiks Unigwe (Nigeria)
Dipita Kwa (Cameroon)
Vanessa Gebbie (Wales)**
Sequoia Nagamatsu (USA)
Jude Dibia (Nigeria)
Konstntinos Tzikas (Greece)
Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe)
Kan N Kamoche (Kenya)
Lucinda Nelson Dhavan (India)
Adetokunbo Gbenga Abiola (Nigeria)
Skye Brannon (USA)
Wadzanai Mhute (Zimbabwe)
Ivan Gabriel Rehorek (Australia)
Ovo Adagha (Nigheria)
Jhumpa Lahiri (USA)


Flowers for a fantastic writer....

This is a bunch of flowers for the friend who will be travelling to Bridport about now, to attend the prizegiving lunch tomorrow, and to collect the First Prize.

Hearing this wonderful stunning super whizzbang news has lifted my spirits so high I am floating gently somewhere near the ceiling!

Thursday 6 November 2008

Story Time

I would seem to be writing again....

This is a wee bit of the latest letter from Kafka's aunt. If you like fairy tales, make a coffee and have a read.

Dear S...

Will you think me silly if I tell you what I thought of on the way back? I expect you will, but by now, you know me well enough to know that I will tell you anyway.

There is an old story about babies and trees. Did you know? Or is it only the women who know these tales that are passed down from generation to generation?

I was thinking about water, about birth, and non-birth. About how Gregor is lucky to be here, and indeed, I am lucky to have him. Naturally, when I did finally give birth to my child, he was not taken to any ceremonies reserved for most children. He is not named in the eyes of any beings higher than ourselves, if such exist.

The story is this:

There was once a husband and wife who lived on a poor farm, where the soil was thin, and where there were no hills round about to protect it from the winds that blew from the north. The farmer had over the years cut down all the trees on his land for fuel, leaving the fields bare, so that when that wind did blow from the north, it met no obstacles at all, and cut across the grass like it had knives in its teeth.

I say the farmer had cut down all the trees… but that is not quite right. He had a river running along the boundary of his farm, and on the bank this side, he had left some willow trees, believing the wood to be damp and bad for burning, and the branches too spindly to be used for anything much. Besides, the bank was treacherous. And the farmer never wanted to risk his life in the fast flowing waters of the river. So on this side, the willows stood tall. For in those days, the willow had not learned what it was to weep.

On the other side of the river, on the other bank, the trees were poplars. Standing tall and straight, their leaves shimmering in the evening light.

The farmer and his wife had many children. One after another, they had babies, because they would need help on the farm as they grew older. Of course, in those days, and in that country, the babies were taken to be baptised, taken to the river with the village priest in attendance, while they were dipped quickly in the water.

The farmer and his wife had a special net made for this purpose. They would stand with the priest on the solid ground close to the trees, and would put their latest baby in the net. Then they would wait until the priest was intoning the correct prayers, and they would stretch the net out over the field, the bank, right to the river, and they would gently lower their latest child into the flow, and name him.

But for each ceremony, the village priest required payment. He would ask for not only coins, but cloth. Not only cloth but meat. Not only meat but the finest wines that grew on the north facing slopes of the valley.

And so gradually, the farmer and his wife grew poorer and poorer. Not only did they have to pay the priest, but the farm did not repay their hard work. And one by one, not long after their baptism ceremonies – indeed, some versions of this story say because of the baptism ceremonies – the farmer’s babies died and were taken to the village church in small coffins, to be laid in the ground.

It was not long before the farmer and his wife were again expecting another baby.. And not long before they realised, after counting their money on the kitchen table one evening, that they had not enough money left to pay the priest to baptise this child when it came.

The baby was born, and it lived three days, before it too, was taken along the village street to the church to join its brothers and sisters in the earth. But the priest stood at the gate of the cemetery, and barred the way.

“Only those whose souls have names are welcome here,” he said, and he turned the couple away. And they walked home carrying their child in his wooden box. That night, they went in the darkness down to the river carrying their child and the baptism net they had used for all their other babies. And when they were watched by nothing but stars, they took the child from his box, placed him in the net, stretched out the net on its long handle through the willow branches, and down to the water.

They moved the net gently this way and that in the current, feeling the water playing with the burden. They felt the burden shifting, heavy, not heavy, until suddenly, there was no weight at all…. And the two of them turned their backs on the river, and returned home.

The wind blew from the north that night, unhindered. It blew the grass across the fields, leaving bare patches where it tore the grass up by the roots. And when it reached the river, the wind blew the trees until they were almost bent in two.

But the trees would not break. It has been the purpose of trees to guard the souls of the dead since as long as anyone can remember – and for them to break would be to relinquish their reason for being. In the very beginning, each tree was given a different soul to guard. Dark upright fir trees guarded the souls of soldiers fallen in battle. Great oak trees guarded musicians. The aspen guarded the souls of poets. And so on, until poplar trees were chosen to guard the souls of babies who lived less than a week.

The souls of the farmer’s babies played at night high among the leaves of the poplar trees by the river. They looked down at the farmer and his wife and sang, making the same sound as the wind. And when the soul of their little brother appeared on the sand by the river, they reached down their arms to lift him into their tree. But the poplar was only allowed to guard the souls of named babies, and the babies’ arms were not long enough nor were they strong enough to take their unnamed brother into the tree.

Back then the willow had not been told which souls to guard. All souls seemed to have been taken. And back then, the willow tree stood tall and erect, just like the poplar trees.

The soul of the unnamed boy stood on the sand at the foot of the willow tree, and tried to catch its branches as they swayed in the wind. He looked up into the poplar, and saw his brothers looking down at him, the space between too great. Perhaps if he could grasp a branch, he might climb up to join them? But the branches of the willow tree were too high, too erect. They thrashed in the wind out of his reach.

For months, the soul of the unnamed child stayed at the foot of the willow. And each time the north wind blew, he tried to jump and catch a branch, to climb up to join his named brothers. And for months, the heart of the willow tree filled with tears for the child.

Slowly, the warmth of those tears softened the wooden heart of the willow tree, and each time the wind blew, the branches softened, and bent, until they almost reached the ground. The soul of the unnamed child caught hold of the branches, and played … swinging higher and higher as the wind blew. He called out to his named brothers to come down! Come down! Come and play and swing!

But the named brothers high in the poplar tree could not come down. Their place was at the very top of the poplar, close to the clouds.

Soon, the branches of the willow tree were so soft, that they bent right into the river as it flowed at its foot. And the next time the soul of the unnamed child played, it swung its branches out over the river, and dipped the child into the water, then sprang back, lifting him into the air and back onto the sand of the bank.

And as it did so, the willow tree gave the soul a name.

Afterwards, and until this day, the willow tree’s branches have swept the surfaces of rivers. And they guard the souls of unnamed babies who die before they have been on the earth for a week.

And on the opposite river bank, as is often found, there may be poplar trees. And when the wind blows from the north, if you stand close by and listen, you will hear singing.

It is the souls of the named and the unnamed calling across the water to each other, asking each other to come and play.

But they do not know which names to call. For the poplar tree and its souls cannot understand the language of the willow. And the willow cannot understand the language of the poplar.

But it is only the willow whose heart has melted enough to weep for the lack.


More pics from lewes Bonfire celebrations. I was pleased with this lot. They are probably already on the blog somewhere... but so what. Here they are again.

Wednesday 5 November 2008


I took this pic from the balcony of The White Hart Hotel, Lewes, on Bonfire Night, a couple of years ago. The town closes completely, and is taken over by torchlit processions. It is joyous, raucous, colourful and fun. But there is a real undercurrent. It is not just Guy Fawkes being remembered on this Fifth of November, but also the burning of seventeen Protestant martyrs.

The air is charged. Chinese firecrackers blast and crack, shaking the glass in the law court windows. The crowds are ten deep on the pavements. During some processions, they yell and shout, throwing coins into buckets carried by costumed collectors of gifts for whichever charity is nominated that year. Other processions, the crowd is silent, and the torches and burning crosses pass in silence apart from a band playing the Dead March.

Back to the pic. I was just snapping away, as some kids waved sparklers in the crowd opposite the hotel.

It wasn't until I put the pics on the computer, I saw the squiggles spell C G quite clearly. With end stops.

My husband's initials.

A Story in '8' Magazine

'8' has just arrived, and it is the most stunning publication. Huge, glossy, thick, crammed with the most extraordinary photographs, from photo-journalists all over the world.

For a writer, this is a treasure trove. I get inspiration from image, and this will be such a lovely thing to have.

I was delighted and honoured to be invited to contribute a short story. They carry one in each issue (2 a year). So, my story is called 'Echoes, Elephants' and deals with a man writing for therapy, using photographs as inspiration... The illustrators have found a photo to illustrate it - flowers tied to a lamp-post by an empty road.

I remember thinking a few years ago that it must make you feel you are a 'real writer' when someone commissions your work.

And it still gives me a real buzz.

Words and pictures together... it works.

This issue features the work of:
Simon Norfolk
Alvaro Ybarra Zavala
Andrea Diefenbach
Ilan Godfrey
Julian Stallabrass
Paul Hayward
Tim Minogue
Chris Steele-Perkins
Zelda Cheatle
and much more...

And it includes a FREE Simon Norfolk fold-out poster (stunning, double sided... the cover image one side, and a lonely sky surreal shot the other.

FOTO8... find out about the magazine here, on their website. This is "The Home of Photojournalism"
I also have another story on the website, together with two colleagues from the Fiction Workhouse. Under 'fiction'


Tuesday 4 November 2008

Portslade Portraits

Nice news. A year or more back, I facilitated a collection of reminiscence and creative writings at the WRVS in Portslade. It was a real privilege, working with men and women who had memories so worth recording. Memories of this town near Brighton, of the War, the Blitz, growing up in very different times.

Funded by the Lottery Heritage Fund, the book is finally on the chocks and is to be launched at the WRVS centre in Portslade on 4th December. I am invited... and it will be great to see all the participants again.

How to be Creative

Thanks to Writer’s Little Helper for this link.

HOW TO BE CREATIVE from Hugh Mcleod’s website. He’s a cartoonist. I don’t care. This is good stuff.

It is spot on. Take a look. The sentences that resonate most with me are:

The idea doesn't have to be big. It just has to be yours.

The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not.

The best way to get approval is not to need it.

Monday 3 November 2008

The Incommensurable Banner

Imagine this as the backdrop to a 'writing on/about war' workshop. It was extraordinary. Ghastly. provoking. As far from bland meaningless pap as you could get. One photograph stays with me. No, two. First, a young man lying on the roadway, his body relaxed, untouched. Jeans and thick grey cable jersey. The top of his head has opened like a vast flower, bone petals. His face is almost untouched, mouth open in slight surprise.

And his hand is still in relaxed his pocket.

Second, a head in the mud, maybe a tyre track on the side of a road. Handsome man, who looked gentle, asleep, peaceful. He finished above the collar bone.

It was hard to look at the images. But this is the reality of today's wars, and I think we ought to see it. If we don't we are turning our backs, to a certain extent.


Thomas Hirschhorn (CH) is one of the foremost artists of his generation. His work is characterised by makeshift constructions, made of cheap and readily available materials including cardboard and masking tape, and a willingness to set up the spaces and facilities in which such constructions can be debated, along with the courage to make work about deeply contentious political issues.

In recent years, Hirschhorn has engaged with the ‘war on terror’ head on, making many works that draw on the photography of the conflict, and in particular the terrible pictures that circulate online and are printed in magazines devoted to bizarre and disgusting spectacle, of bodies torn apart by modern munitions. For the Biennial, he shows for the first time an 18-metre long banner, The Incommensurable Banner, of the worst of these photographs. Hirschhorn shows us what is excluded from the mainstream mass media and asks us to reflect on the politics of that exclusion. His images also confront, not merely killing, but the extreme mutilation of bodies by cluster bombs, 20mm canons, hollow-point ammunition, indeed the entire, lengthy evolution of the means to tear apart flesh most efficiently. The photographs of bodies that he shows us, sometimes reduced to no more than an abstract smear, are traces of what were once people with histories, memories, families and friends. Their reduction to mere pulp is the most extreme exercise of political power, and one exercised by our governments daily in the occupied nations.

Naomi Klein, in her recent book, The Shock Doctrine, writes that the torture centres of the Latin American dictatorships were often situated in city centres where people could hear the cries of the imprisoned. Far from being secret, they were placed to terrify the rest of the populace, through the whispered transmission of fears that could never be broadcast. These images also circulate underground, and daily we hear their insistent whispering. To blot it out would be inhuman, and to broadcast it the only, if brutal, response.

Supported by The Henry Moore Foundation. Project part-financed by the European Union.

Poetry Workshop

Well, it is now four emails in the last week to Glamorgan to see if I can concentrate on poetry for the MPhil. No reply.

To those lovely people who have left messages here, and who have emailed me about the Uni situation, thank you... and yes I am still writing the novel. Alone.

And I am pursuing poetry as well. Maybe alone too. We shall see. But meanwhile, I am looking forward to attending this workshop tonight:

The Incommensurable: War and Writing with Judith Kazantzis.

6 - 9 pm. Monday 3rd November.
Fabrica Gallery, 40 Duke Street.
Price £20 or £15 Concessionary Rate and Friends of THE SOUTH
Working with The Incommensurable Banner, the extraordinary photographic exhibition being held this autumn at Fabrica Gallery as part of the 2008 Brighton Photo Biennial, this creative writing workshop will engage with some troubling visual material and raise some challenging concepts. The workshop will be led by Judith Kazantzis, whose sensual and surreal work as poet and fiction writer, as well as artist, has been threaded for thirty years with an anti-war ethic. The workshop will start by looking at a number of media, photography, film, song, fiction, poetry: all of which have been channels of anti-war protest. Judith will explore different methods of protest writing, showing how word and seen image can charge each other, and historically how they have met in a response to war, both past and present. She will use the visual material as a springboard, leading to a conversation about responses, both concept and emotional reactions; following, there will be plenty of space to use these rich resources to create your own war writing.

For a little insight into the tutor, here is a remarkable post on her blog.

here’s her bio.

and finally… I read this on her website…

Of her poem cycle A Poem for Guatemala (1988) Harold Pinter said that it was "A rare event: A major political poem...beautiful wrought, concrete, and passionate."

Brand, Ross, Atticus....

I’m at a loss to know what to say about the Ross Brand debacle. Least said, soonest mended, I think.

However. It is worth pointing out that in yesterday’s Sunday Times, India Knight, in writing about the events (and having taken a pretty damning line on Georgina Bailey… who “signed with Max Clifford and obligingly posed en deshabille to emphasis the terrible ordeal Sachs had suffered…”) says:

“What lies at the centre of this sorry saga is misogyny…both men have made part of their living out of treating women – wives and mothers excluded – as though they were pieces of meat.”

But the same paper also carried this, from Roland White, in Atticus:

Further proof that Palin is a stimulating politician…

For those Republicans who haven’t managed to find a Sarah Palin blow-up doll, there is a new range of Sarah Palin condoms available…there are many vulgar jokes to be made about this, but in the new post-Russell Brand austerity, I feel a dignified silence would be better. Well, better at least than a dignified withdrawal.

Not much better is it? What was that about women being meat? And did someone complain about Russell Brand apologising then saying ‘but it was still funny…’.

No change there then.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Chris Tarrant mucking about in the bar after filming.

Vast poster on the side of the studio wall.


Ruth in her dressing room. All contestants have their own.




Ruth preparing for the recording session.

At last, some pics.

The contestant friend was Ruth Harris, writer, library manager at Sussex University, erstwhile member of Fiction Workhouse, and graduate of Glamorgan writing Masters.

Sadly, Ruth was pipped very narrowly to the post in the fastest Finger rounds... but she is a stalwart, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience anyway!

Filming was fascinating. Chris Tarramt was charming and funny. The warm up comedian was funny but very sexist. The studio is tiny. People wearing glasses have to be placed on the far end of rows in the audience, with less chance of appearing on the telly. Poo.

We has a little scandal during filming. Two people were drinking in the audience, and getting rather close to carnal relations when the lights dimmed. Ahem. They were forcibly ejected together with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin and two bottles of vodka. Cor.

And a starter question which caused great consternation and the loss of a 'lifeline' was ditched, when it was realised that it was ambiguous.

The question was:

Which of the following creatures does not have spines?

A. Hedgehog.
B. Tasmanian devil
C. Stickleback
D. Porcupine

Spine = backbone
Spine = spike