Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What's On Your Workdesk Wednesday 143

Welcome to my first ever WOYWW post, regular WOYWW-ers – here, you’ll find a desk with a I hope you’ll stick around for a mo to see why!

For the uninitiated, What’s On Your Workdesk Wednesday is a weekly initiative set up by Julia over at for crafters to show and share what projects they’re working on at the moment.  My fab friend and papercrafter-extraordinaire Zoe got me into WOYWW a couple of months ago, and I’ve dipped in and out since, interested and inspired by the various crafting desks and projects, but never participated.  Until now!

As my Pen Pot Readers already know, I get a lot of creative inspiration for my writing from Art, photography, papercraft, buttons, fabrics – pretty much anything visual or textured, really!  So, while I’m not a proper crafter, I am a writer with a crafty mind – and I’d like to share with you my work/writing desk this Wednesday.

My writing desk lives in the cupboard-under-the-stairs (no Harry Potter jokes, now, please!), which is big enough for my desk, a small bookshelf to my left, a deep stack of files behind me, as well as accommodating the necessary shoe rack and coat pegs to the right.  I converted the cupboard-under-the-stairs into my writing room (or scriptorium, if you, like me, enjoy a fancy term every now and again) in December 2007, when I decided to get serious about my writing and where it might (hopefully) find a place in the world (can that really be 4 years ago, already??!!).

As I don’t have a window – I like, even need, to see things that’ll ‘spark’ my imagination and creativity, and a blank wall just doesn’t do the job – I created my own view by sticking pictures and quotations on the wall; you can see that I’ve dabbled in papercraft a little by backing these on to paper, even distressing a couple for effect.  Every now and again (when I get bored!), I’ll change these pics and quotes, taking them off the wall and beginning from scratch.  These ones have been up since Zoe and I came back from our city break in Paris (back in November last year), so it may be time for a change soon!   

Just like my wall, my laptop wallpaper is also a view into creative thinking – it tends to be more directly focussed on the current Project-at-Hand, and so it gets changed every few days to help spark new ideas and angles.  The wallpaper you can see is a fab drawing I found ages ago on someone’s blog after a Google Image search of ‘girl reading’ – it’s by Antonia Franck, but I can’t seem to find any info on her anywhere (I’d love to see more of her work, so if you happen to know of anything, do let me know!), and it’s a direct influence on the poem I’m currently writing.

Perched on my favourite book of all time, Roget’s Thesaurus (I just love words, you see!), is my pencil case (containing the portable and bare essentials of red and black pens, highlighter, Post-It pad, and a couple of paperclips – plus I have plenty of pen pots around the house that hold many more choices!) and behind that is my Journal.  Pen Pot regulars already know that I’m working on a poetry sequence based around my early writing influences, but they’ve never seen my work actually in progress, so this is a first for both of you!

I devote a separate journal to each writing project, so that it has its own home and place of genesis, and so that I can keep it all in one place!  My current Project-at-Hand is a poem about reading and why it’s so important to me.  I’ve written...(hang on, let me count ’em!)...twelve pages (wow!) of notes about this in the Journal, and am in the process of building up a Word Bank around this idea – which is where my beloved Roget’s comes in!

You should just be able to see a red brainstorm on the right-hand page – this will grow later today with alternative words from the thesaurus, added to the brainstorm in black ink; when that’s done, I’ll read back through them and highlight the ones which stand out.  On another day (for distance between drafts, or even stages of an idea, is important), I’ll take those words and start weaving a narrative or poetic line around them, which will probably make it into the First Draft of the poem.

So, there you are – my very first WOYWW post!  I hope you enjoyed a little look at a writer’s desk, and would love to hear any comments you have.  I’ll be looking at and leaving comments on as many WOYWW posts as I can over the next few days, so see you soon!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Lovely Sunday Sun

I've been sitting in my garden this afternoon, finishing the last fifth of 'The Paris Wife' by Paula McLain.  Facing into the lovely Sunday sun, I've felt all warm and light and spring-like, rested and relaxed and peaceful - just as a Sunday should feel.

Reading in the garden is one of my favourite things (which comes after reading in bed, as you'll guess if you know my lazy self!); I love the quiet yet drowsy quality to afternoons such as these, where I'll be warmed through by the sun whilst losing myself in the world that I'm reading about (being safe and wild at the same time) - but I do remember my manners and greet my neighbours when they walk by!

I've really enjoyed 'The Paris Wife' and would like to read the poetry that Paula McLain has written, for her language and succinct, textured description grabbed me.  I'll post another time about my responses to the book, but first I must let it leave me - I always write my Reading Journal entries a day or so after finishing each book, so that I have a bit of distance away from the characters and what happened to them, otherwise I'm still so caught up in it that I can't think critically.

Plus, the garden is calling me once more - so now that a fresh cup of tea is brewed and emails/Pen Pot checked, out I go again...before this lovely Sunday sun sets.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

In Tandem

Today, the two separate poems that I’ve been writing alongside each other have reached their Final Drafts together.  It’s an odd sense of duality: I’ve never written two things in such tandem before, always worrying that each separate, distinct Voice would get scrambled or diluted, or both; yet here is the result – it can be done, this duality; it doesn’t have to get messed up or become irretrievable.

For some time now, I’ve had the notion that I want to finish my Early Writing Influences poetry sequence before I move onto Novel Number Two (NNT).  This isn’t a denial of or a distraction from the work required before I begin NNT’s narrative.  It’s about completion, of bringing a project full-circle from first thoughts to final drafts.

Before Book One, I’d only ever finished a few things: several poems (a few of which I’ve tweaked in later years), various stories written at school, and a kind of novella when I was 10 years old (though I no longer have it, as I got ‘serious’ about my work when I was 18 and chucked out all the early stuff I didn’t – at that time! – rate).

The recovery time after Book One was rather arduous, to say the least; I went from believing in my book to hating it, mainly because I’d lived with it too intensely for too long.  It was all I’d thought about, all I’d written, for about 5 years; I’d become consumed by it.  Chewed up and spat out by the time it was rejected several times, though I stuck it out and reworked the beginning...but never tested it.  Book One had become an acquired taste, one I needed to live without for a while.

A couple of years down the road now and I feel better about it.  Yes, I worked damn hard on it.  For 5 years.  Yes, I redrafted and edited it chapter-by-chapter more times than you can count, and then did the whole-novel-edit thing a couple of times.  But yes, it is still way too long.  Yes, bits of it are good, both in terms of the writing and the messages it gives.  I really believe that.  But yes, some bits are pedestrian and over-described and need to be cut.  Yes, it deserves to be edited and tried out in the big wide world once again.  But yes, it’s still too soon.

And the biggest yes yet – I learned so much about the process of writing, about constructing a narrative and peopling it with characters that can stand the scope of a novel, that I want to do those lessons justice.  I want NNT to be fresh and sparky and real; I want the process of writing it to be creative and challenging and fun.  I want to start it, work through it and complete it.  I want to write it well, write it good – and a way to do that is to write other things alongside. 

And so the tandem of these poems has given me faith.

What’s interesting about these two poems, ‘A Piece of History’ (about a character I created in a school story and the encouraging response from my teacher that buoyed my writing career) and ‘The Almost-Pirate’ (about my easily-impressed young self copying down phrases I liked from books, then realising that to use them in my writing would not be right; it would not be my work), is that they’re both about the same time in my life: my teens.  While about different experiences, they’re both about seeking and gaining reassurance, affirmation – as most of our teenage years are. 

I’m pleased with how both poems have turned out, and have a sense that one written without the other would have made a lesser poem of both – and so they will be tandem’ed together in the sequence line-up...though I’m not sure which will come first!

There are only two more poems left to write – perhaps another tandem?  Who knows – I’m open to the duality of the writing process now that I have experienced it.

Vive la creation!  Vive la tandem...though you’ll never see me on a bike!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Pledge: Borrow a Book

As was my pledge back at the beginning of the month on National Libraries Day (see that post here ), I have borrowed this month’s book from my local library – because if we don’t use our libraries, we might lose them (and that, to a booklover like me, would be awful).

Without much time to browse when I popped in the other day, I zoomed in on the novels on a shelf-end display.  A couple looked interesting, but one’s title and blurb was intriguing enough to make it my February quick-pick.

‘The Book Club’ by Marjolijn Februari (I’ve just realised how apt a surname that is!  Anyhoo...) should be a book I’d love, with its plot of a book club not reading a controversial bestseller written by a local writer, because it threatens to expose their dark secret...  Why, what, how dangerous is it, and all other questions beg to be answered...

Except that the secret wasn’t all that shocking, to me, by the time I’d got to it (rather a while into the narrative).  Neither did I care about the (supposed) main character, because the third-person narrative concentrates on many other characters before her.  In fact, I couldn’t get a handle on any of the characters, though I tried (really, I did: I got to page 63 of 308 before giving up and skim-reading the rest, which is good for me! Usually with a not-so-good-book, I’d give up earlier and just read the end – which Zoe tells me off about all the time!).

For me, the way the book is written is a stumbling block I can’t get over.  I’m not sure whether this is anything to do with it being a translation (and I mean no offence to people speaking other languages; in fact, I admire them, being boringly mono-lingual myself!) of a Dutch novel, in the sense of the syntax, vocabulary and tone put across by the English words chosen.  Perhaps it’s simply that the narrative and so the story feels distant and impersonal, as if I’m standing far, far away, looking down on shadows of people, not sitting in a room with real people before me.  I’ve just had a nosy on Amazon, and the two reviews there say the same, though one continues more favourably.  My view is mine, and I do not mean to colour or taint yours: if you think this novel sounds interesting, pop down to the library and give it a go!  (I’ll be returning it tomorrow...)

And this is the beauty of a library full of books: when one story doesn’t satisfy, you just pull another one down from the shelf!

The one I chose next is, as a nod to my pledge, another borrowed book, though it’s from Zoe and not the library.  ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLain is a fictional account of Hadley and her husband, the writer Ernest Hemingway, and their tempestuous time in 1920s Paris.  The blurb promises flirtation, love and loss, as well as literary discussion.  Right up my street, then!

Zoe picked it up because of the Paris connection chiming with our recent trip to the very same chic city (see my November and December posts in the archive on the right for my take on Paris), and she thought I’d like it for the same reason.  Beginning it with a cup of tea in bed this morning (dunked Hob Nobs are obligatory, of course!), I’m currently on Chapter 5 and, as Zoe rightly predicted (!), I’m loving it.  Zoe warned me that she found it a little slow in plot development, so I’m prepared for this – but I’ve already noted down three passages that I love, ready to be treasured in my Reading Journal when I’ve finished the book.  Somehow, I think there will be more...

I wonder what books you’ve borrowed recently, and what you thought of them?  Please feel free to share in the comments section! 

Happy Reading.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Mockingbird Metaphor... morality; the state of having morals and living by them.  Equality.  Decency.  Kindness and fairness.  Courtesy and civility.  Goodness.  Justice.  Having an enquiring mind, having courage.  Possessing the dedication to stand up for something or someone, no matter what, because doing so is right.

“Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy... [they] sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.” [i]

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is, of course, the mockingbird-metaphor in question.  A seminal novel, I studied it at school but remembered little of it, except that it was about racial injustice, and that I didn’t not like it (as was the case with the too boy-sy for my tastes Huck Finn, and The Mayor of Casterbridge – I still shudder at Hardy’s ridiculous over-use of the semi-colon and his impenetrable pages of one bloody paragraph!).  A few years ago, I saw To Kill a Mockingbird for sale and thought I should buy it for the bookshelf so I could read it again – and though it’s taken me a long time, I’m glad I did.

I’m not going to rehash the plot here, as I’m guessing (hoping) that most people have an awareness of it (if not, have a quick Google of it, otherwise this post won’t make much sense to you!).  From a technical angle, I find its narrative perspective occasionally flawed – as one who, at the same age as 9 year-old Scout, burrowed into a dictionary daily, I can accept her wide and, at times, specialist vocabulary; but I have trouble believing that even with her learned and inclusive upbringing, she can describe the history and backstory of other characters, places and events so roundly, so thoroughly.  For me, these setting paragraphs suffer from an intrusion of either an omniscient narrator or an authorial voice, both of which are tolerable in a third-person narrative, but are not feasible from Scout’s first-person point of view.

However, this is Harper Lee’s first novel – the first draft written when she was 31 (co-incidentally, the same age as I am now!); the novel completed two years later, and published the year after that, in 1960.  It’s fair, then, to speculate that these lapses of narrative perspective would’ve been ironed out with further writing, further practice and experience.  Yet she has never published another novel.  Wikipedia tells me that her literary career post-Mockingbird is brief.  She assisted her good, childhood friend Truman Capote in the research for his book In Cold Blood, and she later had her second novel called The Long Goodbye on the go, yet “[filed] it away unfinished.”[ii]

The fact that she hasn’t published anything else intrigues everybody, I should think; it certainly intrigues me.  As a fellow writer, I don’t take the fact that she hasn’t since published to mean that she hasn’t since written anything else; a writer must write, after all.  In the same Wikipedia entry, there is a statement given by Lee herself in answer to this question:

“Two reasons: one, I wouldn't go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”[iii]

As a fellow writer, the worry of repeating yourself in your work is always there.  While it is fine to have a theme running throughout your body of work, you don’t want each piece to be a regurgitation of the last.  And so I wonder, is this what Lee worries about too?  Or is it more that perfection can only be hit once; once you’ve said what you need to say so very, very well, saying it again only weakens the message.  And then you’ve got other people, readers and critics, taking what they want from your text, and putting what they think you meant into it.  Of course, only Lee knows which side of the argument she is on, and I respect her reticence to articulate this: it is her right to own the truth about her creations, not ours.

In reading the article this quote comes from, I stumbled on another point of view that is fascinating and deserves consideration.  Lawyer and ‘executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative’ says,

“I've always had a complicated reaction to the book. It's beautifully written, great story-telling and I enjoyed reading it, but I'm also provoked by the reaction the book gets.
“If you're a person of colour and you see yourself as one of the people sitting in the balcony, or you see yourself as Tom Robinson, it's not an affirming story, it's not inspiring and it's not encouraging. It's a familiar story. Tom Robinson ultimately dies from a lack of hope.” [iv]

Lack of hope, lack of a belief in the mockingbird metaphor. 

I, like many of you, I imagine, am fortunate: though I have been bullied, I have never been persecuted. I have never experienced it, and neither, in the book, did Scout or Jem or even Atticus.  But for those readers of To Kill a Mockingbird who have experienced persecution, do they read the mockingbird metaphor as hopefully as I do?  Or is it, instead, a contrived or deceitful one?  Certainly, Lee does not write about Tom Robinson and his feelings, his experience, his lack of hope; nor does she write about his wife or his children and what they are thinking and feeling.  Again, this is a limitation of Scout’s first person narrative, but its exclusion does make me wonder what more the book could have said if it included these issues, these experiences – but then this is my extrapolation of the text, and not Lee’s meaning, not the story she wanted to tell.

Thinking, now, about To Kill a Mockingbird in terms of the story and its themes, I find the book incredibly moving on a moral level – its exploration of racism and persecution inspires me to be a better person; to stand up for the everyday injustices I encounter.  I have always stood against racism, sexism, ageism; against hatred, injustice and persecution – but often I feel unable to do much, to make a change in the world.

On lunch break at work yesterday, I was talking with a colleague, and though he hasn’t (yet!) read To Kill a Mockingbird, he has read and been moved by The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.  Now, I urge you – everyone must read this book: it is a heartbreaking and searing child’s account of the Holocaust simply written; it won’t take you long to read but will stay with you forever.  What struck us about both books was the persecution; the horrific, unspeakable, murderous side of humanity – how we humans can visit such violence and hatred against each other in the name of greed, glory and supremacy.

Looking again on Wikipedia (terribly lazy of me not to search more widely and perhaps more reputedly, I know, but I only wanted a quick, communal glance at what others’ had said or thought!), I found another counter-view, just like I had for To Kill A Mockingbird, of the goodness I personally found in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.  Wikipedia says that Rabbi Benjamin Blech argues:

‘The plot is highly improbable and gives credence to the defence that people did not, and could not, know what was happening within the death camps. Students who read it, he warns, may believe the camps "weren't that bad" if a boy could conduct a clandestine friendship with a Jewish captive of the same age, unaware of "the constant presence of death" ’[v]

Again, this makes us non-experienced aware of the other side of the argument, the sufferance.  However, I personally agree more with Kathryn Hughes, who Wikipedia quotes that ‘whilst agreeing about the implausibility of the plot, [Hughes] argues that:

"Bruno's innocence comes to stand for the wilful refusal of all adult Germans to see what was going on under their noses"[vi]. 

For me, Bruno’s innocence is also the innocence of the untouched by persecution; the unworldly and yet hopeful mockingbird inside us all.  The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a children’s book, and my reading is that John Boyne wrote to educate children how innocence can be corrupted, but yet how innocence is made up of good morals too.

As awful as our world can be, the other side of our humanity sings as steadfastly, if not as loudly.  For me, the mockingbird metaphor is seen in Bruno’s innocence, goodness and friendship in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, just as it is with Tom Robinson and Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.  These are morals to be proud of, to aspire to.

Yes, we have to listen harder to find this mockingbird in our materialistic, power- and adoration- obsessed 21st Century (get down off your soapbox, Deb!), but it is there: –          

Decency does exist in all of us.  And that is something to celebrate.


[i] pp 99-100, To Kill A Mockingbird, (Arrow Books, 2006)
[ii] Wikipedia search on ‘Harper Lee’, found under subheading ‘After To Kill A Mockingbird’, 19/02/12
[iii] Wikipedia search as above, reference17,  article by Paul Toohey (July 31, 2011), "Miss Nelle in Monroeville", The Daily Telegraph (Australia),
[iv] As above, from article text.
[v] Wikipedia search on ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, found under the subheading ‘Criticism’, 19/02/12, ^
[vi] Wikipedia search as above, Hughes, Kathryn (21 January 2006). "Educating Bruno". The Guardian.

Friday, 17 February 2012


Doing puzzles is something I’ve grown up with, both of the jigsaw- and the mind- kind. While I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle on my own for many years, I fondly remember doing them with my Mum.  More importantly for me, though, she always had a mind-puzzle on the go.  Her favourite was wordsearches, but she also enjoyed crosswords – she’d even let me join in, me sitting on her lap, pointing at where her pen should mark.  Mum entered hundreds of competitions too, many of which would see her unscramble an anagram or solve a clue.  I also remember us playing this travel game which was a bit like draughts, only with coloured pegs that pinned into a diamond-shape 3D board as you advanced across it (if anyone knows what this was called, please let me know!). 

Puzzle-playing was a pastime of my childhood...and I continue to indulge it now I’m (well into!) adulthood.  Crosswords are my third favourite, wordsearches second, with first place going to...Arrow-words.  With no filled-in boxes acting as barriers like in a crossword, or extraneous letters muddling the mind as in a wordsearch, I find Arrow-words less linear and so and easy, quick and creative spark-y, I guess.

Designed so that the clue-box points the answer-arrow in various directions, each word you fill in forms part of another; so as my pen races horizontally across the page, my gaze darts diagonally to another clue-box and I’m answering that question before I even register reading it.

Filling in an Arrow-word doesn’t happen every day, but when I do one, I find the puzzle terribly more-ish and have to solve another one and another...  Perhaps it’s the mind-equivalent of polishing off a box of chocolates!  It certainly fuels my word-collecting appetite anyway, and so I thought I’d share some of the words that I’ve collected from my recent Arrow-words puzzle:     

Slovenly          Proximity        Furtive             Shock              Lively              Invigorat        Vile                Gristle             Deed               Onus                Stodgy         Inane     Collide         
     Rife       Purge     Doom      Heed      Haste     Lame       Grill      
          Resilient       Hubbub        Intrepid          Array          Melee         Stretch     
     Cramp     Cower       Strand      Caper         Repertoire       Exodus            Breadth      Foe          Seldom       Eddy       Rancid          Ajar        Recur              Squander       
       Swat        Pallid      Dwell        
                          Blasé        Rebuttal      Lag        Shale             Drab         Imitate       

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Things That Catch My Eye III

Carrying on from Things That Catch My Eye I and II a while ago, I’ll close this spotting-and-catching-inspiration trilogy of posts here with two more things that make me stop and wonder:

Striking Photography

Visual art is something which has always had an influence on me – my love of paintings and landscapes aside, I write using lots of imagery and metaphor, and most of this is fixed to a visual element or indicates one.  Since I joined the home-Internet revolution (always a bit of a late starter, me!), I’ve been nosing on newspaper websites (a bit of a news junkie, I don’t take a daily newspaper...because I hate the thought of wasted copies having to be recycled!  Trees, my beloved trees...!) – and found some fab photos that I’d never come across any other way.  I also like to browse Google Images and other photo sites.  Startling, beautiful, poignant, provoking...the images I find are all that and more.


Unfortunately, my love-of-trees doesn’t extend to writing paper – I like my notebooks, journals and scraps-of-paper-when-the-moment-strikes way too much!  I’ll only buy paper that I like and will use (plain, preferably, and certainly not heavy-lined – ugh!) – but with so many sheets flying around, I need something to keep them in place... 

So in step my trusty paperweights.  I’ve only got two (rather sparse, compared to my 70+ handbags!  Yes, really.  I have a problem, I know).  One paperweight was my Mum’s and is blue and white and makes me think of magic and space.  The other is bigger, tawny like a tiger’s eye, and robust – it does the job while the other one sits on my shelf, looking pretty (and mysterious and questing...).  Having them around, though, is essential – they’re a tool of the writer’s trade, help keep me from losing things, and inspire thoughts of orbs and spheres, crystals and stones, other worlds and travelling to them...which I do every time I write!

There are a few more inspirations/influences to talk about (fabrics, handwriting, and tea cups/pots), so watch out for a later sequel to the trilogy of oddities!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Pop Poetry

Like most people, I listen to music all the time and have wide and varied tastes (from Aretha Franklin to Aerosmith, opera to hip-hop, Harry Connick Jr to McFly – yes, really! – and all others in between).  Often I’ll be shaking it to the rhythm of the beats before I decipher the lyrics (which is odd, considering I’m all things wordy), but these lines slapped me in the face when I first heard this song, and they’re still resonating a couple of months later:

You're gonna catch a cold
From the ice inside your soul

~ ‘Jar of Hearts’ Christina Perri

It’s a good song, though for my taste, Ms Perri does get a bit pitchy towards the end (not that I’m Randy Jackson from American Idol, dawg), but it’s the poetry in this line that makes me stop and think.

I think about how coldness is an epidemic that spreads from one person to another, contaminating their kindness towards others in short seconds.  How easily we turn against each other when rumour rusts acquaintances, friendships and family, let alone lovers – when all we need is that one match-head of clarity that will fuel an inferno; a moment to step back and decide what we really think when others are silent, and to reach out accordingly.

I think about how ice forms* – a thin layer at first, powdery and pretty like frosted eyeshadow; harder now with the dropping temperature, hard and sharp like the cutting edge of a tin can; tier upon tier after night upon night of frosts, it is canny and deceptive, glistening in the shadows like slippery tar, waiting for us to skid across its dark glass face.

I think about how coldness must exist, for we live in a world of balances – yin and yang, day and night, hot and cold.  How the cold would not seem like ice if we did not know the searing heat, and how we can warm ourselves again against future winters.

How we don’t have to be infected, our souls don’t have to suffer.

Perhaps this lyric inspires the above rambles because, last January, on a hard, frosty morning, when walking my beloved late dog, I passed a cemetery and noticed how thick the frost was atop the tombs, how the shade held back the sun and denied its thawing touch; and wondered...

How cold must the bones be?  Are the ghosts inside the graves shivering? 

This thought, without character or plot, has stayed with me; haunts me.  I feel like there’s something there, deep down, like it’s a good spark-line for a piece of writing; I just have to mine it, find the tinder that will ignite it.

I haven’t yet.

And I don’t want it to remain just a line, just a wonder.

But nothing comes.  I move on to other ideas, other moments to write about.  It remains frozen inside my creative soul, waiting for me to thaw it out.

If you think you can help me, please let me know!  A thought that you have and share with me may push me to have another one, concertina-stylee.  I’m game to try if you are...

*Disclaimer: I am a wordsmith not a scientist, and so I very much doubt that I’ve got the step-by-step-ness of frost right – mucho apologies!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Use It or Lose It

Today is an important day for we booklovers – it’s National Libraries Day.  As I last posted, I’ve visited my local library this week – have you?  I do tend to run a bit late (blame the lie-ins, a habit started from birth as I was 2 days late!) and should’ve made an effort to post about National Libraries Day earlier in the week, as a nudge to both you and I to get down there and borrow a few books...oops.  Life happens, though – so as it’s Valentine’s Day soon (another commercial nonsense, my Scrooge-self tuts – see Christmas-type postings for more of my Scrooge rants!), let’s make a date with our local library this coming week.  Because, like the independent shops on our high streets, if we don’t use them, we might lose them.
I did do my bit for National Libraries Day by pur-chasing a very snazzy tote bag from this fab all-things-literary website:  Without contravening fair trade and advertising guidelines (!), I’d recommend the Literary Gift Company – an ingenious selection of book-related products and quick delivery.  If only I had more money to spend...

50p from the fair price of £5 was donated to the National Libraries Day campaign (could it not have been a little more than 10%, my Scrooge-self asks?  Still, 10% is better than 0%...), and I used my lovely literary bag this week at the Poetry Liaisons night at my local library.

While I’m not reading a book at the moment (gasp, I hear you cry!  This is because I’m deep in writing two poems, and I find it hard to work with my own words if there’s someone else’s words wandering around in my head – but never fear, a book will make its way into my hands very soon, I’m sure!) and even though there are many, many tomes on my bookshelves waiting my attention, I am going to make a pledge.

I pledge to borrow a book from my local library once a month.

Considering I read at least 2 if not 3 books a month, that’s not bad.  This may even save me some pennies and pounds, too, ’cause I don’t have to buy the books I’ve been waiting ages to read...  Libraries really are a wonder, aren’t they?

I’ll leave you with an item that’s in the news today: poet and Waterstones (God, it kills me not to put that apostrophe in where it should go, but if that’s what the corporate bigwigs want...!) Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson “has written a dedicated poem to celebrate National Libraries Day.”  I found it here but couldn’t resist leaving it there.  So have a read, have a think, and I’ll see you down at the library soon!

Everyone is welcome to walk through the door.
It really doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.
There are books in boxes and books on shelves.
They’re free for you to borrow, so help yourselves.

Come and meet your heroes, old and new,
From William the Conqueror to Winnie the Pooh.
You can look into the Mirror or read The Times,
Or bring along a toddler to chant some rhymes.

The librarian’s a friend who loves to lend,
So see if there’s a book that she can recommend.
Read that book, and if you’re bitten
You can borrow all the other ones the author’s written.

Are you into battles or biography?
Are you keen on gerbils or geography?
Gardening or ghosts? Sharks or science fiction?
There’s something here for everyone, whatever your addiction.

There are students revising, deep in concentration,
And school kids doing projects, finding inspiration.
Over in the corner there’s a table with seating,
So come along and join in the Book Club meeting.

Yes, come to the library! Browse and borrow,
And help make sure it’ll still be here tomorrow.

~ Julia Donaldson

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A Cosy Kind of Open Mic

Without the microphone.  Or a stage, actually.  Well, the local library* isn’t a concert hall, after all – but it did host a supportive and quite cosy open-mic kind of event this Tuesday evening.  In an hour long get-together, poetry enthusiasts and poets were invited to share their favourite poems in an encouraging and accepting environment.  It was an interesting and enjoyable night and I’m glad I went along.

Leading up to it, I wasn’t sure how many people would be there or if other poets would read their own work too; I was concerned that it would just be me, my friend Zoe (my constant literary wingman!), the librarians and the four walls...but I needn’t have worried.  Around 30 people from mixed literary/writing backgrounds came, and there was a comfortable atmosphere from the beginning, with everyone taking their seats around the circle and chatting over tea and coffee.

After a wonderful start from Bath Spa MA alumni and published poet Ellie Evans** (she read so well, we were all jealous!), we were off.  The opportunity to read was offered to the circle, and the first brave volunteer accepted.  Of course, my main reason for attending was the chance to read my poems to a real, live audience (no snoring in the back row, now!), and I waited till I heard a poem which mine would follow on from well, before taking the pseudo-stage.

The time is here for me to share one of my greatest fears with you: I hate the way my voice sounds, and am always nervous about what people will think of it.  It’s odd, as I don’t have a problem with standing/sitting in front of a group of people and having to speak or read aloud; and it isn’t even about reading words on a page and worrying that I’ll stumble or mispronounce.  It’s all about the Zummerzet flavour.  You see, I am (as are many of you, I suspect!) Somerset born and bred, and I fear that the country-bumpkin stereotype of West Country people will be applied to me before I’ve had a chance to prove it wrong.  Now, my rolling rrrrrs do betray the Zummerzet in me, but if you’ve ever seen (or hid from) my reversing, you’ll know there’s no way I could drive a combine harvester!  As soon as my Zummerzet-shame rises, my local pride quells it – I love dialect; believe it should be preserved, protected.  For me and other Somerset-ians, snow ‘pitches’ on the ground; but for my Surrey-hailing father, it ‘settles’.  How boring!  Quick Google-research shows me that for dialects from other areas, snow ‘lies’ in Scotland and ‘sticks’ in the North West of England.  This local flavour should be celebrated, championed.  But now I’m getting rather off the point...

To get back to it, then, while I didn’t mind sitting there in front of people and reading, I did mind what my voice sounded like, what the audience thought about it, and what it would do to my poems...and I felt myself flushing, heard my cadence waver and wobble, and so committed the cardinal sin of not looking up from the page when reading out (your voice and expressiveness gets swallowed up by the paper, you see). 

But I was brave and I did succeed: I read Arson (see recent posts for an explanation of the poem), and took a risk with the recent and under-exposed Murder, We Wrote, which comes from my early-writing-influences sequence, and is about authorship and community inspired by the TV show ‘Murder, She Wrote’ (but without the murder, I promise!).

Because I never looked up, I’m not quite sure how they were received by the audience circle – but Zoe reassures me that they went down well, and that she noticed Ellie, the published poet, nodding during Arson...  Everyone was supportive of each other, applauding after each reader had finished, and welcoming the next poem to be introduced. 

I enjoyed hearing each poem read by all at the event, and this aural experience really made me think about Voice; about how vocal presentation enriches the creative work.  Ellie Evans read her work with such expression, flavour and colour that it was impossible not to see the scenes she spoke of.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to notice that she seemed to be reciting them and not reading from the page; and this talent of recitation was echoed when another audience member spoke aloud a favourite poem from memory.  Certainly, practice helps; I should imagine that Ellie has given many readings and presentations of her work, as published authors do.  She often made gestures, and looked at people as if in conversation with them, and I realised that familiarity with your own material comes not only from creating it, but from presenting it too. 

A volunteer from the circle read his chosen poems (not his own work) so well too, using the same colour and texture as Ellie.  Inflection and cadence of voice shows meaning, as does pace and rhythm, and makes what’s happening so much easier to understand – just like when writing.  And suddenly my fear seemed rather silly – I have such a distinctive Voice when writing, why should I worry so when performing the same work?  My actual voice may well be high-pitched with a pinch of Zummerzet, but it can be used to get the best out of the words that I’m reading.  The more I focus on this, the less scared, inhibited and wobbly-voiced I will be.  I just need to put this into practice...!

I came away keen to attend the next ‘Poetry Liaisons’ on the 13th March – and you’re welcome to come with me, listen to others’ favourites, and maybe even partake in a little poetry yourself.

*Midsomer Norton Library is the one in question, and hosts a number of literary-based events, both in office hours and out; their recent initiative ‘After Hours’ is for the community to get more use out of the facilities and space – so if you’re interested, have a look at:

** She read from her collection The Ivy Hides the Fig-Ripe Duchess, which is published by Seren and is available on Amazon.  If you’d been at the event, you could’ve bought one from her direct and maybe even got it autographed; but if you’re like me, payday has just visited but is equally spent: after direct debits, accounting for bills and social outings, I don’t have any spare cash at all, and so couldn’t purchase a copy direct from Ellie.  Come next payday, I shall be buying though!