Thursday, 27 November 2014

One Lovely Blog Award - some blogs you might like

I've been nominated, by novelist Jane Davis, for the One Lovely Blog Award - a meme, but a good one because it suggests blogs you might never have found.  I have lots of favourite blogs, so I'm including only a quick selection here.

I'm very impressed with Gerry's blog 'That's How the Light Gets In' - discussions of art and poetry that go more deeply into creative things than blogs usually do.  This week he's talking about the paintings of Anselm Keifer and the poetry of Paul Celan.  I always come away with something to think about after reading his blog.

If you're a novice writer, creative writing student, creative writing tutor, or just someone interested in another writer's take on the nuts and bolts of the business, you can't do better than Emma Darwin's 'This Itch of Writing'. 

I like writers' journals and blogs that are online journals, so Sarah Salway's blog, 'Sarah's Writing Journal', is one I look at regularly.

Then there's Wendy Robertson's 'Life Twice Tasted', (a quote from Anais Nin).  Wendy's blog is an honest reflection of the ups and downs of the writing life and the amount of work that goes into researching a novel.  Wendy is a best-selling author with more than 25 published books, who has enthusiastically embraced e-publishing, creating an organisation called 'Room to Write' in partnership with other North Eastern authors.

And where would we be without readers?  I love Mel U's 'The Reading Life'.  He shares a wide range of books (where he gets the time to read all of them perplexes me!) both classics and contemporary. I re-discover old favourites and find new ones to read too. One of the best book review blogs because he chooses what he's going to read across the whole spectrum of literature according to a particular literary journey he's on - at one point it was short stories, at another Irish literature.

Finally, there's The Bone Garden, the blog associated with Sharon Blackie's 'Re-enchanting the Earth' web site - because we need some magic and re-enchantment in our lives.  She quotes DH Lawrence -
". . . we are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.'

 Happy bloghopping everyone!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tuesday Poem: Marinero Soy de Amor - setting of a poem by Cervantes

Marinero soy de amor
y en su piélago profundo
navego sin esperanza
de llegar a puerto alguno.

Siguiendo voy a una estrella
que desde lejos descubro,
más bella y resplandeciente
que cuantas vio Palinuro.

Yo no sé adónde me guía
y, así, navego confuso,
el alma a mirarla atenta,
cuidadosa y con descuido.
Recatos impertinentes,
honestidad contra el uso,
son nubes que me la encubren
cuando más verla procuro.

Oh clara y luciente estrella
en cuya lumbre me apuro!
Al punto que te me encubras,
será de mi muerte el punto.

This poem is by the Spanish poet and novelist Miguel de Cervantes and was set to music by 'anonymous', in the Spanish/Portuguese Sephardic tradition.  The result is a haunting folk song embodying what the Portuguese call 'Saudade' a mixture of longing, loss and homesickness - profound melancholy.  It's the music of exile.

The Tuesday Poets are a group of 28 poets from around the world who post a poem every Tuesday.  We're all very different!  To see what everyone's sharing, please click over to the Tuesday Poem website. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Afternoon on the river

The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh wrote that ‘to know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience’.  He thought that it was important for a poet to know every inch of their own acre in depth.  Observation is everything.

Spot the heron in the middle of the weir!
This is my acre. I’ve lived here for over twenty one years and I’ve walked along this river bank at least once a week for almost the whole of that time. The river is the first thing I see when I wake in the morning and the hushing noise of water over the weir lulls me to sleep at night.  In summer it glitters and sparkles; in winter it turns into a thundering brown torrent that sometimes runs through the ground floor.

Winter birch trees reflected in the river today
For the last three years I’ve been based in Italy and only back at the Mill once a month - occasionally for longer periods.  But a couple of weeks ago, when I was in New Zealand, I was asked if I’d like to have my RLF Fellowship at Lancaster University back. The answer, for a number of complicated reasons, was yes.  So here I am, on the river bank again, re-discovering my territory.

The river is looking its best in autumn and, even though most of the trees have shed their leaves, there’s the occasional torch still staring at its golden reflection.

The resident heron has his/her pitch on the weir, fending off all competition, though there’s another one hiding a few hundred yards downstream.

And the otters are still here.  A few days ago I was drinking my early cup of tea in bed watching the heron fishing on the edge of the weir, when suddenly there was a swirl and a flourish in the water directly under his beak.   The heron reared back in astonishment as the head of an otter emerged from the river to look at him before diving again.  The heron took flight, but the otter stayed in what was obviously rich fishing territory, rolling and diving like a seal, before heading back upriver.

Today the heron was about a mile further up where the river broadens out under shaded banks, the only evidence a big disturbance in the water and that familiar sleek body curving up and then down - gone before you can even think of getting a camera out.

Such glimpses of the wild are gifts.

A leaf floating among the clouds and trees reflected in the water.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

National Short Story Week: Last Days, Lost Ways

This week is National Short Story Week in the UK - a time to celebrate short fiction, one of the most challenging and respected of literary art forms, though not one of the most lucrative.  Since commercial publishers turned their backs on the short story a couple of decades ago, it has been kept alive in little poetry magazines and boutique literary presses - usually surviving on Arts Council Grants. A few years ago its existence was considered to  be under such threat the Arts Council mounted a huge online campaign called 'Save Our Short Story'. Extinction seemed imminent.  But there are recent signs of a revival - mainly because it has been flourishing underground in the 'Indie' sector of publishing.

The ability to Self, or Indie, publish via Amazon, Lulu, Lightning Source, Smash Words and other paperback and E-publishing platforms, has left authors free to experiment with the short form - if you aren't going to be paid for it anyway, why not have fun?   Flash fiction, novels for mobile phones, Tweet Fiction - it's all out there.  Writers are sharing them on Wattpad, blogging them, Tweeting them and getting them into every sort of print, ink or digital.  There have been some notable successes - Northern author Avril Joy (above) was one of the first Indie authors to win the coveted Costa Prize with her story Millie and Bird. 

A couple of weeks ago, Authors Electric author Alice Jolly won the Royal Society of Literature's prestigious V.S. Pritchett short story award (judged by Margaret Drabble) with her story Ray the Rottweiler. Both authors have been forced into the Indie publishing sector because commercial publishers have rejected their work.

The last couple of weeks has also seen the launch of one of the first Indie short story collections, curated and published by the Awesome Indies collective, based in Australia.  Last Days, Lost Ways includes authors from all over the world and covers the whole spectrum of fiction genres - fantasy, speculative, historical, autobiographical, crime and flash. It's a serendipity mix - readers won't like every story, but everyone will find something to wow them. I was lucky enough to get two stories accepted for the anthology - one contemporary, one historical, so I have to declare an interest!  Stories I particularly liked included A Matter of Trust, creative non-fiction from American author Colleen Grimes, and Recipe for a Dinner Party where New Zealander Shauna Bickley cooks up a storm for her errant husband.

Some of the books I've enjoyed most lately have been short story collections.  One in particular stands out - by Irish author Nuala Ni Chonchuir - To the World of Men, Welcome.  A female author looks at the world with men's eyes and explores gender myths and stereotypes. The result is brilliant!

I also loved this one, Harvest, an Indie published collection of short-short and flash fiction from Kenyan American author Amanya Maloba.  As the title suggests, a lot of the stories are about food and our relationship with it.

Also recommended is a small press publication (if you like horror) of a short story by Elizabeth Stott 'Touch me with your cold, hard fingers'.   It's a limited edition difficult to get hold of, but her collection 'This Heat' is available through Amazon. 

And if you like short stories you'll love the little magazine FireWords  - crammed with interesting new fiction.

A couple more that might interest, including a Christmas short story collection just launched by Debbie Young (plus a shameless plug for my own Three and Other Stories!):

Debbie Young's Stocking Fillers, Just launched in time for Christmas

Monday, 17 November 2014

Tuesday Poem: Simon Armitage - The Great War - An Elegy

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I, Simon Armitage was commissioned to make a documentary for the Culture Show.  He chose 7 stories, based on the letters and journals of ordinary men and women involved in the war, and wrote a sequence of poems which he reads for the programme.  This is the first of 4 short parts - I've given links below to the other 3 if anyone wants to see the whole thing. It's a fantastic documentary from a wonderful poet.

Part 2/4  Link is

Part 3/4 Link is

Part 4/4 Link is

There are 28 Tuesday Poets from across the world and we all try to post something on Tuesday. If you'd like to see what the other Tuesday Poets are posting please click over to the Tuesday Poem hub to read what's being featured.  This week's hub poem is 'Outpost' by Lindsay Pope

'The coast is a scribble. Stars are stored in a
wooden box on my shelf. It is more black than
white here. Like algebra but colder. . . .
Read More . . .

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hello Lancaster! A new beginning.

Well, it's day 2 of my new job at Lancaster University as Royal Literary Fund Fellow.  I've got an email address, a car parking permit, a computer, a coffee mug and a beautiful new office.  All I need now are students . . . whoops!  I mean Clients. Because we are in a new age of higher education and there's been a power-shift.  Fee-paying students have now become consumers.

This is my new office - the view isn't much but it faces southwest, so I get a lot of light.  There's even a comfy armchair in the corner for reading.

It's 3 years since I left Lancaster to go to Italy - 2 weeks since I was offered my post back - an email out of the blue while I was in New Zealand.  I did wonder if I was doing the right thing in accepting, but I'm surprised to find that I feel very much at home.  I'm not looking forward to the dark morning and late evening drives to and fro across the icy moors during the winter but there's peace and quiet here, space to work and a wonderful library just a few minutes walk through the campus.

All I need now are some students . . . I mean Clients!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Tuesday Poem: Vanishing Point by Clare Crossman

On Northend Field at the crossroads behind
an ancient chestnut tree, a gate opens on to ten acres
stretching toward an eastward slipping road.

I go there when I'm unsure.
A green tunnel of trees opens
to where the wind blows a straight path.

Here's where Tudor kings listened to larks,
that still sing heedlessly, staking their ground,
between a seed factory and a black barn.

Never far from water:  there is a chalk stream,
tracing the sound of rain over gravel and disappearing
into land so flat it's an entirely empty page.

Under my feet silver coins were discovered
in the parsnip furrows.  There is nothing to fence
me in but air and a sky.

Out here in the world it is just an ordinary day.
Somewhere behind me a window opens
and ditches trace the edges of the vista.

Wires sing along the hedges;
in the distance two horses canter away
through the long grass at vanishing point.

Copyright - Clare Crossman, Vanishing Point
Published by Shoestring Press, 2013

When I was back in England earlier this year I heard Clare read from this collection and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Clare has a quiet gift for describing landscapes that shape themselves on the page like paintings. One of the long sequences in the collection, Artists Books, explores the way visual images are committed to paper by painter, printer and poet.
'Trees shudder to bareness,
their shapes dissolve.
Suddenly everything is colour . . .'

The people who inhabit Clare's landscapes are gently drawn.  This is Verity -
'She is brought into the ward barefoot,
someone on either side, her index finger
browned from rolling cigarettes. . .'

Zarrin is characterised by her Ossie Clark dress:
'. . . deep blue crepe
with a red satin sash and a neckline
feathered with hand-sewn overlapping leaves.'

Most of these poems have a contemplative feel and the poet's eye is often turned inwards.  The best poems are the long sequences - in particular The Night Ship which is a prize-winning series of poems set in the surreal world of a mental health hospital.
'On the night ship, keys for
drug-cupboards are the life-belts
tied on the watchman's waist.'

The characters who travel on it have complicated pasts and unique ways of looking at the world beyond the locked doors that are both internal and external.

'When neighbours ask she won't let them in,
makes a shrine of tree roots in the house.
When the ambulance comes, they
find her wrapped in an old blanket,
ready for leaving.'

Other reviewers have described Clare's poems in this collection as 'beautiful and unsettling' and I would agree with this.

You can find Clare Crossman's website here.

If you'd like to see what other Tuesday Poets are posting, please take the time to click over to the main hub here.  We're a group of 28 poets from around the world, New Zealand, USA, Europe, West Africa, Australia and Canada - it's a glorious mix!