Friday, November 30, 2007

"Let's meet up when we're back in the UK!"... that impulsive pledge under blue skies! Then winter arrives, it's a long drive in the dark to the venue agreed so light-heartedly last summer, and there's so much more you ought to be doing. Tempting, however fond the memories, to postpone the reunion. Lucky for us we had Jane, tenacious as a terrior, organising the gig, and fortunate too to be meeting in Esme's lovely home on the outskirts of Bath. A wonderful day sharing words, food, and laughter.

It's been a busy weekend for catchups: on Friday with my friend Diana, journalist and editor, who reminds me that all writing is travel writing. We supper on tiger prawns and Belgian chocolates looking out on the glittering night-lights of Bath and musing on our different journeys this year. Next day in Bristol I meet with poet and novelist Christine Coleman, and again the talk is of writing and life travels. "We have to make our own map for relationships" Chris says.

The week continues in this puszipajtas manner - puszipajtas in Hungarian meaning a person you know well enough to kiss in the street - with more writerly reconnections: Jane D'Aulby, who I first met on Skyros, talks about why she appreciates the firmness of her Creative Writing course: "It’s like when you’ve planted a seed, you need to tamp down the sides - but not stamp on the growing tip." Another soundbite, this one over supper with Roger Jinkinson who's researching for his next book: “Biography is just another form of novel. If someone tells you something, you don't have to write it down just because it's true, if it's not part of your story." Roger's Tales from a Greek Island is selling like popcorn at a saturday matinee - and quite right too, it's a great collection.

Literacy corner, 1840's style: "Learning's not for everyone" snarls surly Gregson in "Cranford" on the box (BBC's latest Sunday night costume drama) when his son shows a reckless interest in reading the newspaper used to wrap his new(ish) boots. He's going to have to get used to it, Gregson senior that is, as young Harry has been taken under the wing of Mr Carter, erstwhile the brusque unreconstructed yet somehow hunkily delectable Gene Hunt from Life on Mars and now a brusque forward-looking yet still hunkily delectable land agent. He's apparently trying to shed the Mars tag. Well Philip Glenister you shouldn't persist in looking hunkily delectable, that's all I can say.
The 1840s is also the decade the painter Millais began his astonishing career, entering the Royal Academy aged 11, their youngest-ever student. I've finally made my pilgrimage to that exhibition at the Tate. On a grey November day (I wrote in my notebook) this is a feast of opulent beauty, sensuousness you can smell, dresses you can hear rustle, jewels that glint in the light, fresh flowers that wilt a little as you watch, so close is mortality to this warm flesh...
as you see, I was transported. Millais was inspired by literature, especially poetry: he used quotations as titles and painted interpretations of works by Shakespeare and Keats. It's true some of his pot-boilers are a bit chocolate-boxy - in the case of Bubbles, a bit Pears-soap-adsy - but his women are strong and wilful, and his skill in showing of psychological relationships is quite extraordinary.

This week's Arts section continues with Steve Hennessy's new play The Demon Box, at the Alma Tavern - the third in his Lullabies of Broadway trilogy and the most difficult, for me, in terms of graphic material. Complete contrast tonight with the RSC production of The Comedy of Errors at the Theatre Royal Bath, a big colourful ensemble romp, part carnival, part Danse Macabre. Themes of confinement, identity, and madness mingle with farce; this too is - as Steve says of his - "a play about the nature of theatre itself". A clever production, and very funny.

And as Wednesday was William Blake's birthday, I'll end this long posting with some words of Raymond Friel from a publication called simply PS, which I found in the Poetry Library on South Bank:
"Yes, there is darkness, belligerance, and vulgarity. There always has been. This is why we need our poets, our visionaries, to speak as they always have done, of hope."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It's impossible to fly out of Dublin without consuming truffles. Routes to departure gates are lined with samples and coffee comes with a plump choc. I'm home now after a workshop at Chrysalis Holistic Centre in Wicklow, extending my trip by 2 days to stay with college friend Jenny who cossetted me and took me long windblown walks on the beach at Howth.

November I always find a tough month; this year another severance, yet paradoxically recent workshops have all been amazing and uplifting. The twelve scribes at Chrysalis shared profound and powerful words.
I'll remember the weekend for rain, porridge, candlelight, and unforgettable writing.

Merlin Theatre productions are famous in the panto world, thanks to Claudia Berry who waves her magic wand over these wildly popular events. This year there's a writerly tie-in: Snow White Poetry Night at the Garden Cafe on December 3rd - a wide-ranging collection (I hope) of open mic contributions on a suitably seasonal theme. Best on the night, as picked out by theatre director Paula, win prizes of tickets and vouchers for goodies at the show - come if you can, we start 7.30pm.

This month's Writers Circle was at Sue's; an indulgence of good listening and an update from Mike-the-mic on the return of Frome Radio on Friday (23rd) for a week to lead up to the Frome Spectacular, our street-party start to the festive season. By popular demand there's a repeat of "Quantock Court", an everyday tale of Fromie folk - sort of The Archers meets Secrets and Lies - co-scripted under overall guidance of Matthew (Life on Mars) Graham. Haz and I wrote our episodes during a memorable weekend in Amsterdam. When it was first broadcast (Quantock Court that is, our Amsterdam w/e escapades were mercifully never aired) drivers reported arriving late at destinations as they'd had to pull over rather than go out of range and miss the rest of the episode... pretty good feedback, I'd say. It's on daily 10.30-11.00 and 6.30-7.00pm. There's also a new series of Local Story Tellers 12.00-12.30 weekdays, repeated 7.30-8.00pm - full details here at Mike's new blog.

Posting pix on my Facebook I find Ben has called me a spleeny, clapper-clawed barnacle. I respond that he's a fitful, toad-spotted rampallion. Good old Shakespearean Insult Generator, not just there for the bad things in life.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My car was in the wrong lane for the M4 turn at Swindon so I ended up tacking my way home through splendidly gilded autumnal landscape on Sunday. The workshop at Lower Shaw Farm was splendid too. Matt Holland, who creates these events, takes writing seriously - as seriously as food, which was also wonderful. Communication, he says, is more than self-expression, and 'that E M Forster "only connect" thing is the most important thing we do.' Thirteen of us gathered together to share words, ideas, reasons-we-write, and best-ever reads. Matt urges us to discover Anna Wickham's wry observations like “The true male never yet walked Who liked to listen when his mate talked” and poet John Richardson introduces us to Tang Dynasty Confucian Du Fu who wrote: 'We cry sour sobs till our lives end.' At the start of last week I knew how he felt. But this is all nourishing: yoga and laughter as well as industrious writing with lots of ah! and mmm... moments, and the sun shone all weekend.
Feedback is spoken from a circle of cushions, rather than ticked on a form for filing, so we all leave on a high from poems and affirmations of new confidence, enjoyment, doors throw open, and "haven’t been buzzing like this since Glastonbury."
Matt has reminded me of a poem of mine he found on the Mslexia website, inspired by a newspaper report that doctors examining a 36 stone woman found an asthma inhaler under her armpit, coins beneath her breasts, and a TV remote control in her thighs.
Why I do it

I am woman mountain. I swallow storms
like butterflies. Bees swarm in my eyes.
Below my arms are forests where gaudy parrots flit
through shifting shadows, between my breasts
are languorous lagoons where dragons fly. My sweat
drowns oil slicks. Turtles crawl between my toes.
In my womb the tribes of lost children safely sing
while wounded soldiers blunder through the valleys of my thighs.
When I smile grim rocks sweat honey. When I shiver
the moon freezes. I munch the rolling years for fun.
I am woman mountain. I chew death like gum.

And talking of list-poems, which I did quite a bit last weekend, there's a black-and-white version of Things that are Weird, from the Live & Lippy DVD, on Youtube now.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Short stories seemed to be flavour of the week. In the post, a classy compilation of stories from the Santiago Writers group I worked with earlier this year - I hope the "In Transit" team submit this anthology for the award it deserves. In the air, Frome FM has renewed its broadcasting licence and the indefatigable Mike-the-mic donned his hunting pink in chase of local writers for the story slot. I managed to record my festive offerings without breaking any equipment. And at the end of a thoroughly enjoyable story-writing day at Sherbourne, I'm alerted by a participant to a reflection on the craft in The Guardian. Richard Ford identifies a quality he calls audacity, which he finds 'whether or not something far-fetched is "fetched" by a writer's imaginative muscle. Sometimes that happens... sometimes not.' It's true. There's always a journey at the heart of a short story, but sometimes the shift in understanding is the reader's not the character's. Story formulas, like recipes, are great to give initial confidence; once you've got the ingredients you can do what you want. Thanks too, Jonathan, for your feedback on the session - glad to know your 'flickering pilot light' is burning strongly.

Dark evenings, cold nights - could this be the reason I'm watching more telly these days? This week's thought-provoker was 'A Room with a View', re-adapted after the Merchant Ivory romance by Andrew Davies to a more edgily class-conscious film undoubtedly closer to EM Forster's intention. The author's interest in 'the love that dares not speak its name' - homosexuality would remain illegal for another 50 years - is highlighted too, with the character of Mr Beebe alternately farcically comedic and piercingly sad. More audacious than scripting a clergyman as a tragic buffoon is the altered ending: First World War carnage is dragooned, Flanders poppies, trench death and all, into that idyllic Italian field where Miss Honeychurch fell in love below her station and ran off with a railway clerk. I'm not sure what I think about this. I guess it's likely young George would have fought, and maybe fallen, a decade later - but all heroes die in the end. Is there a justification in extending the author's time-scale to delete his optimism with post-modern hindsight? Answers on a postcard please. More about the programme here.

Breathing deeply and practising constantly were key tips on public reading at the 'Frome self-help writers' meeting at the library, ably and charmingly led this this month by Helena Drysdale. The Fromesbury Group met on Monday too: the big news is that Debby ("witty wise and wicked") Holt's new novel 'The Trouble with Marriage' is out in January. Ardent fans can prebook here.

As this posting's been a bit wordy I'll endpiece with a few sparklers: November 5th outside my house, Annabelle and Peter's wonderful 25th anniversary party, and the Frome Drama Club tapping sensationally on the first night of Stepping Out at the Merlin Theatre.
November needs a bit of fizz, doesn't it.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

"It seems to me" says Fanny Hill sagely, "Life is very complicated and we must all get through it as best we can." Or at least the gorgeous Rebecca Night says it, because Andrew Davies said it, and maybe even John Cleland said it. And now I'm saying it. It must be true. There's an interesting little video about Andrew's adaptation of the classic !8th Century novel here.
Some good lines in Corrie this week, too. "I could do with a Get Out Of Gail Free card" sighs Eileen, sagging at the prospect of another close encounter as her son prepares to limp into a wedlock-facing situation with Gail's daughter Sarah. That's if psycho-boy David doesn't lob a sabataged girder at the vicar or ramraid the Registry - it is a few weeks since he casually semi-slaughtered anyone so he's overdue for a kill. Third time lucky, David! Easy to see why Eileen finds Gail creepy: she smiles eerily through adversity, though to be fair that's all she knows of life. You should watch more soaps, Gail, that would wipe the grin off your face. What's this stuff doing on a writer's blog? Well, John Betjeman apparently compared Coronation Street with Dickens' "Pickwick Papers" for scope and range of storylines and characterisations.

It seemed appropriate to spend the embers of the dying year - especially as Frome's big Halloween party was last week - at the movies watching 'And when did you last see your father?' I've never read Blake Morrison, though I do nuzzle next to him on library shelves sometimes, so I'm not sure how faithful the script is to his memoir, but the film leans heavily on the skills and charm of Jim Broadbent and Matthew Beard as young Blake. Any long look at human frailty and death is inevitably moving but this one seems oddly passionless and never really engages with the questions it nags at. Should love be long-suffering? Why not. Life is.

Lured by autumn sunshine Haz and I went to Longleat today - poignantly, the last of our regular-ish weekly writing dates. Haz is moving to a new town, a new job, and a new life. "Be bold, for boldness has magic in it." Goethe's words are as familiar as Klimpt's kiss these days, but it's still not easy to take that leap of faith we need before our wings will grow. Heartfelt good wishes to you Haz, and to all of us making new beginnings.

Off now to Sherborne House to lead a story-writing workshop.