Cutting a Slice of Slack

While I’ve been absent from here, life has been present with an overload of sadness that had me all muxed ip for a while. But I’m back on track, heartened by a few interviews with radio writers in the fortnight just gone, a seminar with Man-Booker shortlisted author Alison Moore and a wonderful read through of my script with a group of actors.

While I polish up posts about each of those gems, here’s a video’s worth of gold for every creative who aspires to write to a standard that lives up to their own taste and ambition. Thank you Ira Glass.

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How to Approach a Year

Poet Jo Bell has started a new blog ‘52‘. She’s inviting followers to write a poem a week for a year. There are two wonderful poems in her first post:

Everything is Going to be Alright, by Derek Mahon
and Everything is Going to be Amazing, by Lauren Zuniga

The first is reassuring and the second a kick up the butt.

If I can get my head in the Samsung Laserjet, I’m going to print Lauren’s poem on my mind.

Everything is going to be.

The bugs, the bugs

A brief excursion from the kitchen…

The bugs (and sales of large, 3ply, with balm, tissues) had a better time of it than I did this last fortnight, especially into the New Year. Out damn bugs, out!

Sympathy call over, and in spite of the nasty little virus, Christmas with friends in Leeds was good. I hope yours was as you wished it to be. The festive season continues, some of my family are coming later for another lazy day and another feast.

As a result of kind Christmas gifts, my place is booked on one of Alice Oswald’s writing courses. It will be a new experience – a course with a writing idol, whose words make mine stumble into the pit of silence. But, it’s 2014, the Year of the Challenge!

I hope your Christmas was as you would have chosen, and the new year finds you open to surprises. Some will be welcome, others will not.

angelakaysmlThe first surprise of my 2014 was the news that Angela Kay, who conducts the choir I sing with – the East of England Singers – and founder and director of the wonderful Music for Everyone, had been awarded an MBE. About time too!! Congratulations, Ang. That was one surprise I’d been hoping for.

The second was a phone call from a friend in Switzerland. We met in Cambridge 37 years ago on the day we moved into the Nurses’ Home to embark on our nurse training at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. I taught her how to boil an egg. Happy days.

OK. Post written, back to the washing up and preparation, and continuing to ponder why it is that even though we own the DVD of a film, we still like to watch it when it’s ‘live’ on TV. For the next post.

The Whispering Archbishop

_48457030_51417990In 1988 Desmond Tutu visited Durham. The cathedral was packed. As the photograph shows, the Archbishop is not the tallest of men. We could hardly see him, his head only just showing above the book rest that tops the cathedral’s pulpit. At various points he turned his volume down to a whisper. Not because he had lost his voice but because he knew people would lean in and listen more carefully.

‘Every night a man walks in the woods of Virginia at 2am to pray for South Africa,’ he said. ‘What hope has the South African government got against that?’

His eyes twinkled, he grinned and then he laughed loudly. The congregation, rather hesitantly, fearing the situation in South Africa was not a laughing matter, eventually broke into laughter too. The Students’ Union had recently screened Cry Freedom and many of us there had seen it. I will never forget either occasion.

Tutu whispered freedom and laughed at oppression. And not long after, those prayers, those hopes, and justice were fulfilled as Nelson Mandela walked, at last, to freedom and then became president of South Africa.

Both men are, of course, on my mind. Go well, Madiba.

Finding a voice

Not many people come to writing through necessity. I needed a poem about disability for a church service. Not being able to find one, I wrote one. It was an awful poem, full of cheesy alliteration, and will never be seen or heard again.

Something in the doing of that poem ignited a new (for me) form of self-expression. Poems came spasmodically at first and then in a flood. Between 1992 and 2000ish, I must have written 500. They were autobiographical and shared only with  those closest to me. They spoke when I could not. Literally could not.

For some months, some years ago, my voice box could only sustain a whisper. I developed a stammer, in part I think from the awkwardness of not being able to be heard. A lovely NHS speech therapist helped me through all that, though my vocal power never fully recovered.

Since starting the BA course, I’ve enjoyed writing in all forms, and poetry has seeped into the style of my prose. Perhaps, for me, that will be the best reason to scratch away at a poem now and again.

But I find poetry hard work in terms of art, craft and emotional cost.

I meet three friends – proper poets – once a month and we critique each other’s work. I enjoy reading poetry, and I enjoy listening to it. I’m delighted to be involved with Beeston Poets – if you live in or near Nottinghamshire, come to an event, Martin Figura will be performing ‘Whistle’, 5th July, 7.30pm. Award winning, not to be missed.

Now I’m pretty excited about that because he’s very good, and the more poetry I hear, the more I’m inspired to write it. Contemporary poets shake my box and tip me out for a while. Let loose, my words make little forays into freedom and away from conventionality. Sadly, I appear to be attached to the inside of the box by bungee elastic, so on the rebound I fall back in and the lid slams shut.

Oh, that’s provoked an earworm…

Hmm, Poetry Group meeting at mine this Friday….

Productive Inefficiency

Well I’ve been up to my neck in research data, the third year project temporarily out of mind. Fascinating stuff about what writers/poets and publishers think is the purpose and meaning of a book’s title. (Paper to follow once complete and marked.)

Last night, a visit to the East Midlands Book Award. Some fabulous books were shortlisted. John Harvey, celebrity judge, said it came down to two. Alison Moore’s Man Booker shortlisted The Lighthouse (the title of which I don’t forget, while we’re on the subject of titles) and Jon McGregor’s short story collection This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You (the title of which I have to check, and which I guess may not meet one publisher’s criterion for a title: ‘Must fit on a spine’. It may, but eBooks – the format I use – don’t, of course, have spines. Both books are worthy of great praise (she says, having read them).

And the winner? Jon McGregor.