Sunday, January 27, 2008

Monday was officially the most depressing day of the year, apparently, since we're over the excesses of December and still a week till payday. Unfazed, the Words@FromeFestival planning group had a really good meeting. January is always the crucial one: brochure copy nearly due, so grandiose plans have to be sharply tailored to dates, times, and venues. We've got a great programme this year, we think, with a huge range of writerly interests catered for and a mix of big names like Matthew (Life on Mars) Graham offering a workshop, to fringe fun like soapbox poets spouting every hour in Cheap Street. And the usual everything-in-between. What I love so much about Frome festival is that the 'literary' bit really does support writers with chances to learn and to share, so is much more participatory than many well-established fests crammed with talks that are really only glorified book-signings. Or am I just being overly partisan? Let's think...... mmm...No.

Lust is a strange compulsion, especially for places. For some people it's an I-must-go-down-to-the-sea-again yearning but for me it's Bristol docks. I've no idea why, perhaps I was a footbridge in a previous incarnation, or a swan, but I love that quayside, especially the walk from the marina to the Arnolfini, especially when - after a week of baleful rain and flood warnings - the water glitters under blue sky and sunshine. And here's Stourhead, where Greek gods lurk around the lake and lots of burgeoning things are happening on the trees and shubs. Persephone must be packing her case already.

In celebration of Burns Night, 'Oh what a performance' featured several poems with a scots connection on Friday, though some (like the Scots chiropodist's ode to feet, 'the perfect stocking filler') were a tad tenuous. The gallery room at St James Vaults was overflowing with Bath bards, and the constantly recurring theme - apart from phalluses, obviously - was climate change.
David Johnson as guest poet led the charge, managing to make doom entertaining as well as, well, doomladen.
Most popular 'from the floor' was Lee Coombe's medicine monologue, with warnings escalating from dizziness to visions of angels and existential angst. (Alan Summers, of With Words, comments: "marvellous poet/comic story raconteur, a cross between Michael Caine, Jack Dee, and Hannibal Lecter, only better looking and funnier.” )

Happy Birthday Serendipity! Someone mentioned the origin of this wonderful word for happy accidental discovery, and I find it's 254 years old tomorrow... coined by Horace Walpole on 28th of January 1754 in a letter to a friend about 'a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip' in which their highnesses discover things they were not in quest of. I'd love to say I discovered this by serindipitous accident, but actually I wikipediaed it.

And finally....
One of the pleasures of living alone is not having to shop for food, hence my serendipitous indulgence in the vibrant cafe life of Frome.
On Black Monday, as the papers are calling it though for fiscal reasons unconnected with my erratic eating habits, I survived on Alison's sandwich and some crisps at our evening meeting, so next day was out early & hungry for Jon's veggie breakfast at the Garden Cafe, served with a freshly brewed newspaper. Which is where I saw this great quote from Jane Birkin. Asked what she sees as the greatest threat to the arts, this wonderful sexagenarian said simply: "I can't see one - art is so important. If you shut down all the theatres, people would act in the street."
Here's to all of us actors in the street theatre of our lives.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Physical Energy", sculpted by GF Watts as 'a symbol of that restless impulse to seek the still unachieved'. The moon glowed behind and the sun dazzled ahead, and Hyde Park felt more like October than January.
I was in town to see 'Marianne Dreams' at the Almeida, a transformational story in the mould of 'The Secret Garden'- a little girl fulfilling every little girl's dream: to become a healing angel and thus truly deserve love. For Marianne it's literally a dream. She meets her version of Mary's Colin in the night-time journeys of her imagination but, as she says, "What you do in your dreams is just as important as what you do in real life." Vibrant dance and charming acting, a delightful production leaving much to ponder. Like the restless energy of the sculpture, a metaphor of creativity for the writer too. "My head's empty" whines Marianne, staring at her pencil. "Well that's a good place to start" her mother tells her crisply, "anything may appear."

Thrilled to see at WH Smiths the speedy success of two recent books by writer friends: Debby's novel The Trouble with Marriage is planted firmly on the centre of the best-seller shelves, having charted at the half-way position of 52, while in the Business & Management section, Annie Lionnet's Brilliant Life Coach is at number 11!

And finally for this week...
If you've every wondered how many 5 year olds you could take in a fight, here's a handy website to work out your stats. I could manage 8, apparently. If I'd had experience of being chased by a swarm of pissed-off bees, or been prepared to use my adversaries as weapons, I'd have scored more. I also found out my body is only 24% effective as a human shield, though the value of my corpse is $4665. Presumably not after being shredded in a fracas, though. Great fun for all you writers needing other procrastination while waiting for your next turn on Facebook scrabble.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Poetry audiences don't drink enough, apparently, so Monday was the last of the Bath Can Openers "Poetry & a Pint" nights at the Raven pub (Quoth The Raven "Nevermore!" quipped Brian) before removing to The Rummer from next month. Linda Saunders and Sue Boyle were guests, sharing poems about journeys & time with each other and with us. "Time is to nature endless, and as nothing"... Linda wove these words from geologist James Hutton into a thoughtful piece on the ephemerality and endlessness of life itself. Her poems have been called luminous and tender, which they are, but both these poets' words leave a profound reflective aftertaste too.
And with time and journeying, and the new moon - Moon of Wands - I'm using the wafer-thin connection of Omar Khayyam for this image of my new stained-glass front door panal, created by talented Frome artist Tamasine Pritchard:
"The Bird of Time has but a little way to fly — and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing."
These are my swallows. I can see them from my study.

Poet Rose Flint led the first Self-Help Writers Group workshop of 2008 around a theme of resolutions. A full group, and some lovely pieces written and shared. Here's some trivia of mine, from the exercises:

Let us praise New Year resolutions, their pusillanimous tyranny,
and let’s praise their abandonment half way through January.
Let’s eat more cake, and talk about it too. Let’s praise
the boringness of diets, and that long debate about detoxing,
how much we don’t need this big glass of Pinot Grigiot
- would be just as happy without it! - oh go on then, I’m not driving.
Let’s admit that this new year will be just like the last: a wrangle
with discipline which your more articulate decadence will win.
Let’s praise the clich├ęs and faux logic we’ll find to let us off the hook:
“Be gentle on yourself – it is winter time, after all.” “Men like love handles.”
Ah, the love handles of our lives, the soft slack self-indulgence
that under-bellies every good intention. Let’s praise bad intentions.
Take courage, take heart. A toast to whatever is hidden in the dark.

'The Trouble with Marriage' has caused a local furore. So 'Exwife' author Debby Holt tells us in her witty speech at the launch of this her third book at Waterstones on Thursday. Her husband is receiving compassionate calls requiring him to respond that he doesn’t think he has separated but will look into it... As there are too many of us to sit for a reading, Debby beguiles us instead with a passionate talk about love songs: specifically those of Eric Clapton, who had ‘something in common with Shakespeare, Hardy, and Shelley, in that they were wonderful at writing about the first throes of love but no good at all at writing about what happens when those first few weeks of passion are over - about how you keep a relationship going. That's the really interesting thing. Any questions?'
Yes. 'Will your book be in the self-help section?' Possibly not, but it's sure to be in the best-seller lists.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Richard II is my favourite Shakespeare play, possibly my favourite play, so what better way to start 2008 than at the RSC's stunningly fabulous production in The Courtyard Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon... (that's a rhetorical question so no punctuational query required.) It's the first of the history cycle, 8 plays tracing struggles that smouldered on through Shakespeare's time, with themes still hot today: new imperatives versus the old ways, charisma versus status, and the limits of loyalty. So many moments of the staging reached inspiration - that swirling dust on dethroned Richard which became the brutal setting of the new king's bloody ascension, the gorgeous costumes blending in tableau yet each subtly distinctive...
Jonathan Slinger was sensational as the flawed monarch, finding outrageous comedic moments in his tantrums even at the most tragic moments while never losing a single breath of the poignancy. At the end of the three hours my eyes were raw from silent crying, it was that good.

And now it's Epiphany, and the new year is well and truly launched. 2008 is the year of the rat, a time of renewal and fresh starts. We've got another month to hatch them, as the Chinese reckon from February 8th, but no harm in getting a few resolutions ready. Here's a great one that landed on my mobile today:

This is a toast to all us beautiful ladies for 2008!
For the men who are fortunate enough to have us,
the losers who had us and lost us,
and the very lucky bastards who are yet to meet us!

I don't usually go for Up-the-wimmin rallying cries but this I did like. Happy new year one & all. May our writing inspire us and delight us throughout 2008, and maybe even enrich us too.