Thursday, 16 May 2013
If you've watched Game of Thrones you know how easy it is to be sucked quickly into its fantasy world, especially if you have the double box set. Watching from the comfort of the sofa, little did I expect I would soon be out in the frozen North, re-enacting Game of Thrones on our She Who Dares annual weekend away.
We left the soft, sunny South and headed North, to the land of my forefathers, North to the Wall, a dark land of mists and mountains, passes and terrors, riders in the night and ravens at dawn, a cold land of rains and snow. Or as it's called in Britain - The Lake District. We enjoyed the hospitality of the locals on a brief overnight coaching stop in Garstang, before driving further North to Penrith, dropping down through Keswick to Glanamara Lodge in Borrowdale. A comfortable activity centre founded to 'improve' the population of industrial cities like Manchester and Leeds, and run on pretty austere lines until a decade ago. We were relieved to find clean, comfy rooms, central heating, open log fires and a bar! The food and hospitality were fantastic, the standard of instruction excellent. It needed to be, I felt like we were being prepared as stunt doubles for Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones or Frodo in Lord of The Rings.
After lunch we geared up and headed out to an old quarry for our first activity - The Zip Wire, fixed between two trees over a 60 foot drop, I asked the instructor how often they set it up, "Just three or four times a year" he replied. I hugged the tree closer and hoped the rope would take my weight. It did, but on my second descent the speed increased, the rope was too short and I found myself using my head and the tree as a brake. More 'George of The Jungle' than Indiana Jones on that one.
After a luscious three course meal, plenty of wine and entertainment from the Darlington Ramblers,(our fellow occupiers of the lodge,more Lannister than Stark) we set out the next morning for a spot of Fell walking. Half expecting a tribe of hill walkers to come yelling over the peak, weilding swords, we climbed up paths that had turned into rivers and I discovered my waterproof trousers, were not, in fact, waterproof at all. Rivulets of water soaked through to my underwear as we waded through brown, muddy water, switching up gravel paths to climb higher into the fells.
The mist came down, the rain changed direction, blasting our faces with horizontal sleet, peppered with snowflakes the size of Milky Bar buttons. We climbed on, reaching Castle Crag, I felt we should be leaving a banner, roaring down the other side, invading the tea shop along the river, but their creostoe coloured sweet tea was enough to broker a truce. We sat outside, numbed with cold, warming our hands around the white china mugs. Hardly a rampaging army, more a bedraggled huddle of middle aged women. Still, we didn't know what was ahead on our epic journey.
Lunch was taken back at the centre, we dried off, got warm, only to be frozen to the bone again. More layers, large blue fleece onesies that made us look like ageing Teletubbies, waterproof trousers, jackets, gloves, hats, socks and pink trainers to match my pink Lush lipstick. Amazingly, it stayed on all the way through our next, very wet, activity. I should have pushed them for a marketing campaign.We drove up to a nearby hill, again, and marched to the river. Ghyll scrambling is much like a water park, a natural water park, where the slides are drops and falls and the water pounds through slick, polished rock like lethal cappaccino.
That evening, over dinner, we shared war wounds and compared bruises from our wet campaign, we'd made it to the North, biut we couldn't conquer this landscape. Humans are insignificant out there. We discovered how much so on our final morning.
Over a leisurely breakfast, we watched some of the 1700 riders on the Fred Whitton Race cycle past, knowing they had 120 miles of winding roads, crucifying hills and driving rain to go before their day was over. We just had an episode of Indiana Jones. Donning more kit for climbing, we drove to Via Ferrata at Honister slate mine and began the long walk up the crag, cutting into the dark belly of the mountain as if we were on a quest for The Ring. We didn't see Frodo, but emerged to stunning views and a camera crew, filming a short piece for CBeebies. Thanks to those pesky kids, we had to start with the more challenging descent, over the edge and down a sheer rock face, clipped on by karibiners to plastic cables as we followed each other down a rusty ladder and worked across the rock on a series of ledges and metal staples.
I have never been so terrified, reaching round a blind corner, feeling for the next foothold, I began to argue with the instructor. But they kept us going,further on to a steel cable strung across a 100 foot drop, 60 foot long, I gripped the sides as if my life depended on it, which it proabably did. Then further white knuckle climbing 750 feet above sea level to the peak, and down through the mine and the luna landscapes of the old slate mines, finally, back on terra firmer with trembling knees
After that, nothing could sacre us, what an amazing weekend, with some amazing women, I went back to sit on the safety of the sofa and watch the next episode of Game of Thrones, knowing I could face The North with the best of them.
Thursday, 18 April 2013
The ADC Theatre in Cambridge boasts illustrious Footlights Allumini. Inside it's stuffy and slightly dusty, the seats are a third full of grungy middle class white kids and their parents. My offspring and I have sat on the back row, hiding in the shadows, waiting to listen to David Almond talk about his writing, I've bribed my son's presence with an overpriced jar of jellybabies from a nearby sweetshop, I think he'd rather be home on the XBox, but I must keep trying.
It's fitting that the place smells a little like a library, that's where Almond does most of his writing, the library in Newcastle, 9-5, with a break for lunch. Writing in my local library would be difficult over the clatter of keyboards, but it's a noble idea. Almond champions libraries, as should we all. He champions books, his talk lauded the beauty of books, the magic of the printed word, the evocation of wonder in everyday things. He speaks in a soft Geordie accent, a modest looking man in dark colours with a large black rucsac, from which he pulls his notebooks, his ideas for writing, his notes that capture his imagination,
"Making marks on paper is really important to writing, I just love storie, storytelling is a fertile onward going thing."
Almond has written most of his life, his love affair with words emerging as a babe in arms, carried down the hill in his hometown to his uncles' small printshop up an alleyway, whre he oohed and baby gurgeld at the wonder of the printers turning and producing press, the black ink on white paper, "Truly gorgeous".
He was a teacher for a long time too, although he's made a living from writing for the last 13 years or so. David believes in creativity, "Learning is a creative art, creativity informs everything you do."
David Almond books range from the uncanny and fantastic to the real and emotional. His new book, 'The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas' was inspired by a family holiday in Italy and a trip to a local circus, where for those willing to part with an additional five Euros, a curtain was drawn back to reveal the fantastical act of a man swimming in a tank full of piranhas.
He loves writing for young people because of the different range of forms it offers. His his book 'The Savage' is part graphic novel, written in collaboration with the illustrator Dave MacKean,
"Words and pictures go naturally together - as soon as the word goes into your brain, it turns into a picture." He writes about his childhood a lot, but as a traveller, which enhances his ability to become the voice of a character, an adolescent girl in 'Mina', a boy or angel in 'Skellig'. He praised Walker Books for making 'proper books', soemthing I was pleased to hear as they are publishing a short story of mine later this year.
The talk finished, there was a smattering of applause, I bought a book for the youngest, he was even keen to get it signed, first in line, thank you David, a worthy afternoon away from
Saturday, 23 March 2013
It was the last taught module of my MA this week, after Easter we enter the strange ground of talks, events and sporadic tutorials, and the serious business of writing up a dissertation. I'm not worried about the quantity of creative work, but I am worried about the quality and the resonance and punch of my accompanying critical essay. It's time to break out of the academic amnesia and get some serious writing done, kick start those neuron pathways that are dormant on the discontinued line.
I'll miss the MA, the once a week toe dip into the academic world. The last two modules have taken place in leased rooms off the Grays Inn Road, a modern steel and glass space. This week I discovered a green space behind the building that I hadn't noticed before, an elegant park sat behind a graceful London Plane. On closer inspection the wide paths bend around tombstones of lichen clad grey. I can't see the church from the window, but I can dee a tall white crane that digs the space next to the park. I wonder if they discovered any bodies in their excavations.
Westminster Kingsway is less ivory tower, more night school, populated by exuberant youth that literally bounce off the walls. Their conversation is sparky, loud and combative, in a style that implied they were always looking for a fight.
Overheard in the Ladies Loos:
"She's just jealous girl"
"She said don't speak to me, I don't need to speak to her, I don' know her"
"You left me a message, you can't assume I've read it man?"
On the tube there is silence, no conversation, all plugged in and non-communicative. The college foyer is like a Friday night in Liverpool, just after the Irish centre closed its doors and the occupants spilled onto the streets and mounted the top deck of the last night bus, loudly singing rebel songs. There's the same volume, the same energy, the same voices competing to be heard, physically, not electronically, shouting into the cold air.
Monday, 25 February 2013
She Who Dares Writes: National Competition Winner!: So called by Jack FM today - a National Competition Winner and Hertfordshire writer. In a huge boost to my confidence I'm one of 10 fi...