Saturday, 15 November 2014

She Who Dares Writes: Rage against the dying of the light Clive james

She Who Dares Writes: Rage against the dying of the light Clive james: I was about twelve when I filched my dad's copy of Clive James's Unreliable Memoirs and took it back to my bedroom to read. It tol...

Rage against the dying of the light Clive james



I was about twelve when I filched my dad's copy of Clive James's Unreliable Memoirs and took it back to my bedroom to read. It told of another life beyond my small town, a life of adventure and travel, told in the voice of a consummate storyteller. I didn't think I would ever get to see Clive James in the flesh, but in the hallowed surroundings of the Cambridge Union Chamber I wait with anticipation and many others. We're lucky, Clive may not be making many more public appearances. Clive is dying, shuffling off his mortal coil, battling Leukaemia and emphysema with the assistance of the Addenbrookes staff and a raft of meds. There is a hush in the chamber, Clive shuffles in. A smaller man than I imagined or remembered from the television appearances, bent by time and illness, but with an impish grin that widens as the crowd breaks into spontaneous rapturous applause. He welcomes the applause like an opera singer on their seventh encore, it feeds him, feeds an unashamed ego. Yet there's no pomposity, he accepts the praise with kindness and humility, and a knowing smile. He's enjoying this last kick at life,

Mr. James has a voice made to recite poetry and a perfect voice for broadcasting, deep and sonorous and full of wit. He recounts how at school they were made to recite a poem by heart, standing by their desks at the end of the day, until the teacher released them home. Some of his classmates are still there. He treasures the value of learning poems for recital, although his impromptu performances to female undergraduates in his youth met with disinterest. To the consternation of his family, his home has grown into a library and he brings books home as waifs and strays, nurturing them to health, many from his favourite place in Cambridge, the book stall in the market square. Words are his life, without them, he says, he was a faithless creature, a liar, a lost soul who may well have ended up in jail in his native Australia. If he wasn't a writer, he says, he doesn't know where he would have been, except maybe in jail.

Reciting poems interspersed with anecdotes, he reaches Auden. It's so important that he says if he gets it wrong he might as well drop dead on the stage then and there. He launches forth, the words flow, then there is a pause, a long pause. The audience holds it's breath, willing him to breathe, listening to the effort of his breath from emphysema crushed lungs, hoping that he will not fall, he will not stumble. Looking at the scuffed floor, the worn leather of many benches gripped by urgent hands. He moved on, leaving a gap. The lines returned near the end of the evening, coming to him in a burst which he shouted with a flourish, with a new energy. In true poet style, raging against the dying of the light, to rapturous applause.

Thank you Clive James.

Friday, 26 September 2014

She Who Dares Writes: November Novel

She Who Dares Writes: November Novel: Yes, I know it's not even October, but I've decided to give myself the proverbial kick up the backside and enter NaNoWriMo, write ...

November Novel



Yes, I know it's not even October, but I've decided to give myself the proverbial kick up the backside and enter NaNoWriMo, write a novel in a month. Easy, if I didn't need to work, eat or sleep.

So why do it? Well, I finished Girl In The Box and sent it off to suggested agents, only two were kind but not interested, one was very enthusiastic and interested, but couldn't represent me due to a conflict of interest (maybe that is agent speak for 'I'm not interested'?) and one is pending.
That's life after a writing MA - Pending.
You have to move on, hence the short story workshops, the social media connections with other writers and the idea to write a novel in a month. I've got the setting, I've got the main character, now I need to do some hasty research and just write. Anyone out there care to join me?

I'll let you know how I get on!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

She Who Dares Writes: Paddling downstream

She Who Dares Writes: Paddling downstream: Summer brings a chaos of work like the swarm of black winged damselflies that danced about our boats this weekend. Time to take a break, pa...

Paddling downstream


Summer brings a chaos of work like the swarm of black winged damselflies that danced about our boats this weekend. Time to take a break, paddle Sudbury to the sea, well, halfway for me - Sudbury Quay to a campsite by Nayland. The river Stour flows like molten glass over shallow shale and luminous green weeds, it cuts through bamboo in jungle mimicry, widens below rope swings and winds between overgrown banks. A true Wind in The Willows river. The tranquility makes the aching arms worthwhile, the company and camaraderie of the She Who Dares girls cancels out weekday stress and strain.
It was a wonderful weekend, meandering along the water, wrapped in the warmth of a June day. The leaden sky above finally broke and laced us with cold rain at one point and the waterproofs were unpacked for a short time. Reaching the campsite it was warm enough to swim in the Stour as children hung on a rope swing above.
I was heaved out, pants full of mud, grateful that we stayed in Carters Corner Bed and Breakfast, with comfy beds, hot showers and a feast of breakfast. The others feasted on pots of chilli cooked over the campfire and toasted marshmallows on the embers before completing their journey the next day, while I went home to sleep.

Thank you girls

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

She Who Dares Writes: Dolly mixtures or Allsorts

She Who Dares Writes: Dolly mixtures or Allsorts: What a mixed bag the last few months have been. I miss the literary circles and study in London, this time last year I was preparing my dis...

Dolly mixtures or Allsorts


What a mixed bag the last few months have been. I miss the literary circles and study in London, this time last year I was preparing my dissertation. On re-reading it, I'm not sure who wrote it, how quickly intellectual capability fades. This year's Creative Writing MA students will be getting their final pieces ready to submit - good luck all! There is life after the MA, it's just a little quieter and takes more determination to write.

I've edited and re-edited the first 50 pages of my YA novel - Girl In The Box - a coming of age story set in Blackpool, a slice of Northern Fantastic Realism. Tanks to my ex-tutor, the talented Julia Bell, for the tagline! It's ready to send out, so I'm lining up targets, off it goes into the wide blue yonder to the screens and desktops of literary agents and publishing folk. I hope it makes a little dent on someone's daily slush pile.

While I re-edit the rest of the novel, trying to catch characters who disappeared half way through, re-order sentences and correct incredible typo's, I have to keep on with other projects. A couple of short stories, a book for my parents golden wedding anniversary and juggling my father's memoirs into the semblance of a new story.

Meanwhile .... The day job calls and I'm looking for storytellers who will run sample workshops with school and train up our people at Hatfield Forest for when we make our own story circle. Let me know if you know of anyone.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

She Who Dares Writes: Poem! First draft of a little poem I'm writing abo...

She Who Dares Writes: Poem! First draft of a little poem I'm writing abo...: Poem! First draft of a little poem I'm writing about where I work, all to do with Spirit of Place There is a special place of ancient ...
Poem! First draft of a little poem I'm writing about where I work, all to do with Spirit of Place

There is a special place of ancient trees and space
A place of hoep field
Of oak and ash and maple
Where trees whisper century secrets to a placid lake
Where children play in branches held by hands of Hornbeam
Run down rides of wide green and hide in copses
Build dens and gather for family picnics.
Of chasing dogs, quiet deer, leaping squirrels and stoic sheep
Of people who have heart and passion
Who crave space and time to breathe
This place is ours
This place is yours
Our forest
Our Hatfield

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

She Who Dares Writes: A return to the river

She Who Dares Writes: A return to the river: Back to form, writing an article for Canoe monthly about She Who Dares: She who Dares are an inimitable group of like minded women who mee...

A return to the river

Back to form, writing an article for Canoe monthly about She Who Dares:

She who Dares are an inimitable group of like minded women who meet weekly to have a go at a variety of outdoor pursuits. Some attend regularly, others, hampered by the joint distractions of work and family, occasionally. In over twenty years of the group’s existence we have undertaken everything from Kayaking to abseiling, climbing to coasteering, pole dancing to pole walking, gliding to waterskiing and more in-between. We’ll have a go at most things regardless of our level of fitness or experience. Canoeing is a favourite. Some of the group have gone on to be experienced paddlers, instructors on duty for major events like the Olympics or Sport Relief swims.

On the day we meet Helen and Peter of Woosh Explore in Grantchester, our rag taggle bunch is devoid of experts, most have some experience, others, very little. We gather near Orchard Tearooms with its small museum dedicated to the poet Rupert Brooke, a canoeist himself who would regularly take the trip up from Kings College. We’re in illustrious company, Virginia Woolf and other members of the neo pagans gathered to skinny dip in nearby Byron’s pool.

In Grantchester, In Grantchester
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly lordship swims his pool
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont or Styx
Dan Cahucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill

(Grantchester, Rupert Brooke, 1912)

I had considered bringing the wetsuit, there is a long tradition of swimming the river near this spot, The Granta Swimming club began an annual event in 1934 from Grantchester Mill to Cambridge and we do pass a swimmer later, gliding parallel to the bank. However, later events prove that it was wise to stay out of the water on this occasion.

The day is bright but chilled with an early spring sniff in the air. After a winter of drenches, floods and cold, the river looks peaceful, restful after the storms. We gather by the roadside corseted in tight buoyancy aids and engage a team effort to bring the boats down to the water and clamber in, one paddler at the bow, one at the stern. Or if you’re lucky, like me, and get the middle seat for a while you can coast and watch the scenery.

Sliding away from the bank we paddle over the deep, cool, unseen world beneath the surface with the odd bubble and burp of life from below. Three women in a boat, canoeing along as part of the secret river world, gliding over the green water in a flotilla of seven canoes. Ducks scatter into the reeds, buoyant dogs flounce along the river bank and the meadows rest as butterflies dance. A lone tractor ploughs a field. Time slows, as do we, contemplating a pillow in purple case perched in a nearby tree. Could be a place to take a nap? Further on, frayed ropes hang from sturdy trees opposite a well-worn bank. In the heat of summer this must be a crowded place. Lush trees stretch over the river, some splintered by the winter storms. The water is not as high as we thought given the recent rainfall, and there is some warmth to the sun. Losing focus momentarily our boat drifts to the bank and we’re caught under low hanging branches. I’m pinned to the seat in a limbo stretch backwards.

We get closer to the city, spotting spires that reach above the overhanging willows. The river Cam is the beating heart of Cambridge and we sneak in past a wier and moor up alongside a row of punts, floating like planks. A swan finds herself trapped between our boats and watches placidly as we share out the chocolate and biscuits, necessary fuel for the paddle back against the current.

It’s hard work, harder when the sky blackens and breaks with hail. The water peaks into tiny waves, ruffled feathers on its surface and the swan disappears. We bear on against the weather, paddling with hoods up as we’re battered by hail and wind. Finally, soaked and frozen we reach our mooring, and sit squelching in the boats while Peter collects his camera. The smiles may look forced, but despite the weather it was a lovely trip, encouraged as we were by the efforts of Helen and Peter and made all the more satisfying by the hot soup in the Orchard Tea Rooms after.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

She Who Dares Writes: Last pieces of the Jigsaw

She Who Dares Writes: Last pieces of the Jigsaw: The end is nigh! I've written the last words of a novel I've been working on for the past two years. A target I've approached wi...

Last pieces of the Jigsaw

The end is nigh! I've written the last words of a novel I've been working on for the past two years. A target I've approached with a mixture of sadness and pride. I'll be sad to leave the characters behind but proud to have finished a body of work and excited to launch it into the wider world and to move on to new things.
There's been a lot of moving on to new things recently - new jobs at the same time as old jobs, new skills combined with old skills. It's like very disparate pieces of a jigsaw that when put together shows a surrealist landscape fantasy. The last three consecutive weekends have seen me flitting from bar to bar in London on a literary tour in the footsteps of Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Virginia Woolf, stomping round a forest holding newts and toads and learning how flutter ostrich fans in a burlesque workshop, in between weeks of teaching and starting a new job. At least these experiences give me fodder for my writing, which has been pushed onto the back burner recently.
Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. It's hard to write every day, but a little Mslexia diary helps.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

New Chapters

The novel I'm currently writing is set over one week, so each chapter takes place on a new day. The good thing about this is that I'm nearing the end of Friday, so Saturday will be my last chapter. The bad thing is, It's taken me almost two years to write a week in the life of my main character. Two years is a long time, but there are bills to be paid and work to be done in-between, and nothing saps the creative impetus like work, especially work that consumes and commits more than the hours you're paid (other teachers will know what I mean). However, new year, new start and all that, lots to celebrate with the results for my MA in Children's Literature in Creative Writing, a merit and distinction for the dissertation. Huzzah! I miss the study and the hallowed halls of Birkbeck, now I must motivate myself without the support of my lovely tutors and fellow students. I feel the itch to do a PhD coming on - maybe one day, after the novel is finished and published! Keep calm and carry on.