Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sunday night was the launch party for 'Are we nearly there yet?" - my anthology of poetry and short stories. A brilliant night -thanks to everyone who came, listened, laughed, bought the book... especially if you did all 4. Copies now available from my website. A free estimated time of arrival with every book.
I found a great Kierkegaard notion for the start: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards" - but now, in the same curious way the songs on the radio often seem about my current preoccupations, I keep finding other quotes that resonate: like Mary Oliver's words
"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."

And I like too her question:
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

On the subject of profound questions, Clare Dudman, who I met in Languedoc, has posted some great questions on her blog, with her answers and links to others' answers too.
Clare allowed herself 15 minutes for each answer, but I did the lot in three. Which may explain why hers are rather more profound...

1. What is the Book Whisperer? It's that rustling in your head that has to come out as writing
2. Why can I smell when it is going to snow? I can’t, I'm at home turning up the heating.
3. Tell me about a road that leads to a world where there are no ideas. It’s the M25, but there are ideas, it's just that they’re not the ones we need.
4. How can I get a memory out of my head? Cauterise it. Don’t try drowning it, in tears or booze, that just makes it swell.
5. Where is Shallowland and what lives there? Things too tender for the amnesia of deepness
6. Who is the man that lives inside the sun? It used to be Apollo, but he seems to be on a sabbatical this summer
7. When did you first know who you were? Tomorrow, maybe...
8. Why do gnats fly in spirals and never hit each other? The interaction of longing, lust and love.
9. What is love? It's the third in the gnat-tryptych of life. If we put it in the middle instead of at the side, all the problems of the world would melt.
10. How can I capture a free spirit? Cruelly. Don’t try it.

And now Frome Festival really is over until next year: The 'writers in residence' from the first Saturday reconvened at Christies to read their stories & poems and to hear which ones judge Helena Drysdale had picked as winners. It's usual to say how hard it is to select from such a high standard, but this was self-evidently true: everything I heard had me in awe that so creative & polished a piece could be produced in so short a time - and from so public a writing desk! Overall winner was Tracy Wall who regularly rides in from Glastonbury to trounce all-comers at Frome events, with local hero Scott MacKillioan a popular runner-up. Pix from Alan Summers - thanks Alan!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What are the ideal elements for a Book-lovers holiday? I'd say: fabulous venue, great meals, stimulating discussions, skilled hosts, friendly participants - and solid sunshine. "7 Day Wonder" in Languedoc ticks every box. I'm not surprised La Maison Verte sees so many returners.
There were 16 at the Wednesday Q/A session about my novel 'Frozen Summer', including writer Clare Dudman. Clare gave a fascinating talk next morning about her research for the wonderfully-titled '98 Reasons for Being', a fictionalised study of the psychiatric work of Heinrich Hoffmann who wrote 'Struwwelpeter'.
I can't praise Zoe and Lee's hospitality and organisation, or the venue itself, enough. The house is set in opulent gardens, dripping with jasmine, oleander, and apricots; a swimming pool, loads of nooks & intriguing artworks, and a wide range of courses from laidback literature-loving to standup comedy. Yoga on the lawn before breakfast as the temperature creeps blissfully towards 40 degrees, and time to walk around the streets of Roujan and beyond, where long vineyards shimmer in the heat and cicadas shrill. Roujan is an unpretentious little town, less than 2000 inhabitants, but clearly growing.
Footnote for the carbon-conscious: it's not far from Montpelier so easy by rail from UK.

From the airport virtually straight to the 'Completion of Album Party' for charismatic band Urusen for an unforgettable night. Unforgettable for different reasons throughout the UK apparently, with 2 months rain falling in 24 hours, a statistic that became vivid for Hazel & me when her car died on the outskirts of Bath and the RAC couldn't respond to calls never mind callouts. Around 3am both we and our mobiles lost the will to live so we abandoned the car and took a taxi home.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"A short story has to do what a novel does, but in a shorter space." Gerard Woodward explained at the Short Story Prizewinners' lunch. "The best short stories make use of the constraints - the immediacy, the transparency. You haven't got space to give backstory so you rely on the preciseness of the language." The winners all did just that, and will be posted on the website soon; in the meantime we enjoyed Gerard's choice of top tale, 'The power of purple' by Joanne Fox from Solihull, over coffee at Orchardleigh Golf Club. Alison, who devised and organises this event, told us the contest had attracted over 500 entries from around the world. Her top tip: "The title is part of the whole thing."
Last night party at Christies with Annabelle a fantastic finale - great singers, great crowd, and just enough room for dancing.

And here endeth the Words@Frome Festival bulletins for this year. Final footnote: respect to Frome Community Radio for covering so many of the words events: poetry and fiction, live interviews and prerecordings, afterviews and promotions- and thanks to Tasha for slipping Saturday's venue change information into the closing seconds of her show. How they did it from a corner of the attic space above the Cheese & Grain is a mystery to me. Downloads here.

And now I'm off to Languedoc, where the sun is out and the temperature is in the top 20s....

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Festival frontline report number 3:
A lyrigraph is a documentary poem written on location, and if you don't know the word that's because Sean Borrowdale invented it. The Black Swan is displaying his lyrigraph(s)? composed by Mells stream, tacked to the walls in an intriguing, if rather sombre, theatrically noir style. Another media crossover: Barry Cooper's massive Janus Head, created in situ at Mells First School, is all about dialogue - the including and excluding aspects of each individual. This is the placid side, but it's the other face, the malicious one, teeth bared with biting tongue, that spoke loudest to me. 'Fear is always fear of that which we do not know' Barry says in his notes, reminding me of Rilke: "Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure".

All week Frome FM has been broadcasting the stories from local writers recorded by Mike. The lunchtime slot isn't the most convenient for listening, but they seem to have been well received. Mine went out on Thursday: three short stories which are all in my new anthology 'Are we nearly there yet' (launch 22nd July at Christies wine bar)
"Arrival imaginary or real is preceded by a journey" (Kabir Hussain, whose huge minimalist pieces are also at the Black Swan). Soundbeam Story at the Merlin was a journey through the elements, using visual, music, and movement, for the children of Critchill school led by the inspiration of Annabelle Macfadyen. Stunning theatre, personal learning, and social collaboration too - no words, but the kind of event that takes writers to the heart of our craft: communication, and personal passion.

Still at the theatre, with words this time: Pip Utton's new monologue persona is Charlie Chaplin, portrayed as a morose old man resenting his childhood, the critics, his audiences (including us) and most of all his alter-ego creation - a surreal example of a man playing a man playing a man who was never real.
A different kind of surreality on Friday, when Paul Merton's Impro Chums filled the stage with characters and conflicts at the speed of strobe-light from audience cues. From the Scandanavian director of a parade of genetically-modified (well this is Frome) badgers to the Taming of the Teddy Bears' Picnic, all inhuman life was there. I think my favourites were the Fijian worm keeper and the vaudeville divorce lawyers, but it was all brilliant.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

It's Day 5 in the Frome Festival, and most of the Words@ group are in the town... (which gives away my secret vice, but only to those who are also secretly & viciously addicted to BB...)
I'm still fizzing from Monday night - reckoned by Elvis "One of the most enjoyable gigs I've done in ages and a great evening all round."

Here's a gallery of images sent by Jan Moreland who came up from Glastonbury to cheer us all on - Dave, Hazel, Rose, Emily, me & Elvis. And the audience. Rapt? They were cling-filmed.

'Desert Island Reads' on Wednesday afternoon is a new event on the Frome Festival calendar. It's based on an idea I pinched from the Mere festival: authors reading from their own favourite authors, giving glimpses of the fascinations and passions that have inspired their own writing. Despite the fact - or because of it - no-one knew what anyone else had brought, the format was really successful - an amazing diversity of literary gems from Pip Utton, Debby Holt, Lindsay Clarke Helena Drysdale Andrew Miller Rosie Jackson John Payne and Steve Voake - and with chocolate pecan brownies too.

Andrew, Lindsay and Debby combined again in the evening to read and discuss their own work - a happy replacement at 26 hours notice for Salley Vickers.
'I think we got better than what we came for' I overheard in the leaving audience. Bouquets to organiser Rosie Jackson for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat - or at least a fine event from near debacle.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Frome Festival 2007 has begun.
The sun arrived late and flustered but just in time for the launch at Cafe Cadenza, which omenises well for the week ahead (Shakespeare allegedly invented 1700 words so I reckon I'm allowed one now and again). Annabelle, who with Laurie and David makes up the wonderful Trio Svengali, charmed our twin-town guests with her fluent french welcome, with a few words for uncomprehending too: Tant pis...
Bob Morris as Festival Chairman used plain english for the subject of Lottery rejections: "It's hard not be bitter. So I will be. The price of the Olympic logo would provide funding for Frome Festival for fifteen years." Maybe another tant pis situation?

Saturday is the Writers In Residence contest, which sees the cafes and shops of Frome window-dressed with writers, busy scribbling their responses to the same trigger line. Twelve contestants from as far afield as Bournemouth, and amazingly everybody seemed to get their ideal venue; from coffee addicts in cafes to the smiling guy located opposite the changing rooms in Boho... Hazel's blog gives an insider's insight on the day & more pictures: Here's Tracy, Tim, Alan, and organiser Sally with Alison, who runs the short story competition.

Saturday afternoon was Mike's radio show 'Focus on Frome Poets' so I took my transister downtown - great to sit by the river listening to Lindsay Clarke, Rose Flint, and a whole range of work from other local voices.
And in the evening, with the main road closed, local bands playing, and summer finally remembering what it's supposed to be doing, the World Food Fest was simply brilliant.

There's an Art Trail too... which includes the gardens of the Blue House beside the bridge, where 'Happy and Glorious', life-size, by Marian Bruce lurks in the woodland rim of the garden like the last rebellious contestant refusing to leave the Big Brother Diary Room.

At the Library on Sunday, the Just Write! workshops went well for Rosie Jackson and Julia McCutchen, while agent Jane Judd had a full day and a waiting list for her 1:1s, with writers arriving from as far afield as Liverpool and London.

Monday night is the big one for me: as well as star guest World Slam Champion Elvis Mcgonagall the Poetry Cafe features an open-mic contest for the title Frome Festival Poet Laureate - a kind-of slam, but with a softer edge, aiming to encourage the widest range of voices possible. This odd hybrid actually turned out to be a totally amazing evening, with wonderfully varied authentic voices. Elvis is inexorably awesome, but the twelve open-mic poets who offered their words were also hugely enjoyed, with some powerful and moving pieces. Recalled to the mic were Dave Angus of Bath and debut performer Jennie Gilling, who won jointly: Jennie took the bubbly and Dave is now the new Frome Festival Poet Laureate. Probably the best Frome Poetry Cafe ever.
Thanks to Will Angeloro's sound system, over 60 people crammed into the Garden Cafe to hear Elvis on politics (Blair as a cowboy executive in europe: "The freedom & democracy combo I installed was perfectly alright when I left it"), media (the celebrity chef who can feed 5000 children on a rocket leaf) and global warming (people with huge carbon footprints telling us what to do). He rocketed the evening to a fantastic start with his poetic polemic: politics, verse, and stand-up comedy mixed into an intoxicating brew with a potent aftertaste. Elvis deals with serious stuff like war and climate change in a way that’s hilarious and passionate too, and his poems are as up-to-the minute as the last match at Wimbledon. My personal faves: Taking tea with the Taliban (a la Noel Coward) Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen Powers, and the one with the catchy title Greek Islands And The Inexorable March of Western Cultural Hegemony. The CDs were grabbled like wellies at a wet Glastonbury.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Raving at The Raven... that dynamic duo 'Live'nLippy' - aka Hazel & me - has been off-stage recently, each of us doing our own things, so it was great fun to strut our stuff at Poetry Can on Monday night. As ever, Richard Carder introduced a fascinatingly eclectic mix, from spiritual to bawdy, fledglings to veterans. (Thanks, Alan, for the photo!)

Frome Festival starts this weekend so if the storms let up there'll be dancing in the street on Saturday (actually if the storms ever let up there'll be dancing in the street whatever day it is as far as I'm concerned.) My big event is the Poetry Cafe on Monday night with Elvis McGonagall - booking not necessary but you can check out the event here. Lots of other yummy stuff around all week too so fingers crossed rain won't stop play, or even seriously damage it. And if you can't face going out, tune every available radio to 87.7 for Frome FM's festival highlights: Sunday 5-6pm is "Focus on... Frome's Poets" and during the week there's a short story from a different local writer at noon every day. And all that tricky stuff like downloads and online listening.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The 27th Winchester Writers Conference is over for another year leaving me and over 500 other writers exhilerated, encouraged, exhausted, and -even though it doesn't begin with an e, a little bit humbled. Barbara Large, indefatigable patron saint of penmanship, has once again pulled off an extraordinary feat: created an environment which is both inspirational and safe - a place where you can fly your dreams like kites and know that when you lament your struggles absolutely no-one will say 'Well I don't know why you're even trying.'
Worst bit of the weekend was my accomodation: a dark cell apparently air-freshened with eau de dead badger, and no hot water. Best bit was the people and the words. Two of my favourite talks gave advice to the jaded, Debby Holt on spinning those rejection slips into gold ("Don't be afraid to tease the reader" said Debby. "The reader needs to be seduced") and Kate Harrison who got us listing guilty pleasures and gave us media-stylee acronyms like SCAMPER to tackle writer's block. And I did like what Julian Rathbone said: "I would ask everyone to think, when they write, not just of technical aspects but to dig deep into themselves and find out's what's really there." Certainly the group I worked with did just that.

Back home, time to sift through notes and check out contacts. Kate's busy breezy website is great - lots of tips for writers as well as encouraging frankness about her own processes. Lorna Fergusson's blogspot has a good summary of the event, while offers a wide range of options for new writers.
And now to something completely different: Peter was surfing the web for goldfinches - don't ask, I never do - and found this link, unexpectedly showing us beaming our way along the highland paths around Omalos.
And another link: Luke Wright, poet laureate in waiting, now hailed by the Observer as a rising star, who gets my vote for quote-of-the-week: "I've always been scornful of people who go to India to find themselves. If you've spent most of your life in Surbiton, your soul's unlikely to turn up in Goa.'