Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kalo Paska! Greek Easter is as far behind our as their summer is ahead. On Paxos island the paths through dappled olive groves are already swathed with golden carrot flowers and broom, wild gladioli and garlic, mint, oregano, and thyme. The asphodels are beginning to seed and the aphrodysiac blue hyacinths nearly over, but the pretty purple parasitic mock-orchid broomsrape is profuse, and real orchids are emerging. Jana, our friend and my reason for being here, is path-Minerva of the island. She recognises each trail literally stone by stone, since she's cleared most of them herself, and knows the history of each ancient cistern, mill, basilica, and village. The cisterns - sterna, locals call them, are amazing: there's no running water on Paxos (the main reason it's escaped mass tourism) and since the first inhabitants rafted across from Corfu, finding water has needed ingenuity and hard work. Wells were chiselled from the non-porous rock, and settlements developed around this essential supply plus the need to hide from pirates. Hence the profusion of ancient connective routes.
I've come to see, and write about, the reclamation of these old paths zigzagging across this tiny island. Almost every turn gives another glimpse of the sea, indescribably blue. Our villa pack describes this crystal water as aquamarine silk but there's turquoise brilliance too. "It's like headlights under the sea" says Christos.
We've spent the last 6 days blissfully wandering these wild flower paths, stopping by white pebbled bays, and after dark watching the strobe dance of the fireflies in warm night air below our villa on the southernmost tip of the bay.
On 'Big Sunday' we went with Jana and Colin to share a greek family meal of pascal lamb and eggs dyed blood red.
Monday was even bigger: a procession from Ipapandi Church in the oldest hillside village, with bell ringing, fire crackers, and chanting - and flowers, blood-red and pure white, strewn on the path of the icon all the way to the sea front at Lakka. Kristo aneste - Christ is risen, the followers greet each other.

But they also say here Poseiden fell in love with the nymph Amphitriti, and with his trident sliced off the most beautiful end of Corfu to make a paradise hideaway...
"This division between past, present, and future doesn't mean anything, and has only the value of an illusion, tenacious as it may be." - Einstein, apparently.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sue Townsend said every time she sat down to do some serious writing she'd decide she really ought to defrost the fridge. I resisted that particular distraction for 8 years, but my kitchen's now getting a total makeover - by my friend Rog, hands-on designer extraordinaire - so what with essential scouring attacks on appliances & cupboards, and other local activities including a workshop at Longleat Centerparcs, there's very little writerly goss to report this week. Though I did find an entertaining site for surreal similes, for anyone prefers procrastinations that don't involve melting ice. Among 33276 options: Love is like a bumble bee. How true.

There will now be a month's intermission.
I'm off to Paxos, where the temperature is already over 20°C, to write about walking the footpaths of this exquisite island. I've been dreaming for weeks about sunlight on Greek waters... This image is from my hosts, Paxos Magic - other mouthwatering glimpses at their site too.

What will I miss most about the English spring I'm leaving, apart from friends and family? "Streetcar Named Desire at the Merlin" - my garden unfurling - and Gavin & Stacey, obviously. Oh to be one of Uncle Bryn's 17 Facebook friends...
Writers James Cordon & Ruth Jones seem unerringly to find the stairway from suburbia to surreal heaven, with awe-inspiring moments like Nessa reminiscing over her torrid affair with John Prescott: "many’s the time Dave Blunkett came over with his bitch". And if you're wondering, not even the writers know what happened on the fishing trip... James Cordon says his favourite comedies “have a touch of humanity, a touch of heart and soul”. Mine too.

Speak later.

Friday, April 11, 2008

It's a long drive to Taunton Brewhouse Theatre from Frome, so Alison and I were hoping Funeral Games, billed as a "black comedy double act" would be more playful than grave. It was both, and brilliant. The physicality is awesome, the humour irresistible, and the deeper layers of damaged intimacy deeply moving.
have a simple set: 2 filing cabinets used as prop stores, coffins, bunk beds, fight arenas, remembered landscapes, magicians boxes, even murder weapons.
Darren East is Henry, an undertaker, sole carer & lonely heir of a tyrannical father. Gilbert Taylor is Keith, a malevolent Artful Dodger of a baby brother, come home to relive the terrors and challenges of their childhood. Random extra roles are taken by the audience - we were in the front row so Alison was the horse. I was the one who betrayed Henry to Keith with a nod. I felt like Judas.

The final Words@FromeFestival meeting for 2008 was really more of a group pat on the back. We think we have a great programme. From soapbox poets and shop-front writers to a master-class with the creator of Life on Mars, there's something for every writer with a pulse. The brochure will be out mid-May - get on the mailing list now!

I'd love to tell you in a few words what "Seven Go Mad in Thebes" was about but I'd be about as successful as Stephen Hawkins explaining the origins of life. It's a witty spoof on Blyton and Greek mythology, it's a half-familiar history lesson of lamentable aggression that time-travels right up to Iraq, it's a passionate critique of the marginalisation of madness, and it's a outrageous farce. How do the Secret Seven come in to this story of conflict between the Kings of Thebes and Sparta, echoed in the rivalry of Tiresius and Cassandra? Why, through the magic pool, of course, to save the day by revealing the god Dionysus (or "some guy with a shrub on his head and a drink problem" as scoffed by King Lacedaemon, himself merely a guy with a stetson on his head and a Bush complex) was luring all the women to the hills for commercial gain not cultural freedom. Appalled by his conniving, everyone sings 'Summer Loving' and the show ends with a feel-good high and a flurry of cross-dressing.
Stepping Out is the leading UK mental health theatre group and they've been winning awards and delighting audiences for a few years now. Last night for this performance is Saturday, go if you can - check out the audience feedback for 54 reasons why!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Questions, questions...

You would think, wouldn't you, now that April's here it would be safe to invoke the theme of Spring for a Poetry Cafe event? Indeed if climate change had a shred of compassion for my nerves, as Mrs Bennett might have said, this April would sizzle with summer warmth as it did last year. Instead we've had hail, sleet, and snow. Despite which, 18 poets seized the night, creating an amazing collaboration of warm words, deep thoughts, and delightful humour. Rosemary Dun, the spangly - or possibly spanking - host of Bristol's Big Mouth Cabaret, was our witty guest (do Soulmates profiles really request 'No Performance Poets' apply? Apparently so...) and seasonal themes ranged through cuckoos and the first glimpse of builders to Persephone and Sheelagh-na-gig. A great night, showing how with poetry anything goes: if you can think it and feel it, tell it. Many thanks to all who did.

What makes a short story memorable? Sally Flint and Ginny Bailey, editors of Riptide, drove up from Exeter on Monday to talk to the Library Writers Group about their selection criteria for this sassy new journal of 'short stories with an undercurrent'. Their 18 enthusiastic listeners scribbled down helpful tips like “Start a story as close to the end as you can” and "Know what shoes your character wears, and what's under the bed. You won’t use it, but know it." After hearing smatterings from stories in issues 1 & 2, copies were grabbed faster than tickets for Glastonbury.
Sally & Ginny are currently considering submissions for Riptide 3 - check their website. And on a similar theme, a new project Yellow Room Magazine seeks stories of up to 2500 words. Hey, why not send to both?

Is this the end of the line for the semicolon? asks The Guardian whimsically (G2 supplement, last Friday). There's a semantic storm whirling in France, apparently. "People don't like it, writers are afraid of it, journalists rarely use it" laments Sylvie Prioul, author of 'La Ponctuation ou l'art d'accommoder les textes'. Unsurprising with so Proustian a title that its author deplores this trend - I'm more curious about those 3 separate categories of non-user; as a journalist, a writer, and a person too, should I be triply averse? Prioul blames the English for an increasing succinctness of self-expression, thus pushing the poor point-virgule into redundancy. The Guardian editor has trawled famous authors for views 'For' and 'Against'. My fave is Irvine Welsh: "People actually get worked up about that kind of thing? I don't fucking believe it. They should get a fucking life." He's been put with 'Undecided'.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Luke Wright fears his baby face will never age and he will always look like a child, although eventually a rotting child. Maturing gracelessly is a theme that gives him plenty of material, as he takes us through the chapters of his life from school-days taunts of 'Big Gay Face' to 'I bet that you look good on the sofa', now that married life means a night on the tiles involves grouting rather than dirty dance floors and dreams of naughty-Arctic-Monkey-ness.
Around 60 people came to see Luke's brilliant 'Poet and Man' show at the Merlin, not a bad turnout for a boy bard on a wet & windy March night in a small town. Most stayed for the Q&A in the foyer, and quite a few came to the pub with Luke and support act DockersMC after that. From then on, the night's performance contained haze, as Northern Broadsides might say...

Sunday night was more of a cakes-and-tea event - excellent cakes too, well done Ramscombe Kitchen Foods, caterers to the Mission Theatre where I was guesting at Bath Poetry Cafe. Sue Boyle organises this monthly event with a wonderfully convivial atmosphere and wide range of varied voices, from Helen Moore's passionate commitment to ecological awareness to Duncan Tweedale's evocative word-paintings inspired by romantic mystic Caspar David Friedrich. And I especially liked the understated elegance and warm humanity of Emily Wills, whose second anthology is due out soon. These sorts of events, as one reader said, are so important, "not just for what we hear, but for what goes on under the surface." Thanks, Alan, for the image.

Ashes to Ashes ended this week, though disciples of the Gene Genie have a fourth coming to look forward to. How was it for you? For me, several scripts disappointed, and the mother-Drake storyline stretched fantasy into frankly tedious, but hey, it's still an excuse for a picture of that 'overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding'. Bolly-knickers never got a line as good as that one but Thursday nights will be the poorer now.
Meetings, meetings... Writers groups are just the best, aren't they. I've been to 2 this week. On Monday Rosie Finnegan hosted the Frome Writers Circle and shared her brilliant work-in-progress script, and on Tuesday the Fromesbury Group reconvened at Emily's for another extraordinary evening of sharing and listening... It's a challenge, a privilege, and a fate, says Emily of family life. And maybe the writer's life too.

And finally....Luke Wright has a wickedly scathing link on foreign travel, pointing out that "if you grew up in Warminster you're unlikely to find your soul somewhere in Goa". While I don't leave home to 'find myself', whoever that perverse elusive person may be, for me such journeys are a necessary irrigation. I'm a passionate advocate of my (now) home town Frome, but I need to know that each year will bring pilgrimages to distant places, that I'll see the sun rise and set over unfamiliar horizons and hear voices in other languages. Next trip for me, coming up soon now, is the Greek island of Paxos, to report on a project to reclaim ancient footpaths. Dionysus, god of wild vegetation, satyrs, and nymphs, will, I hope, be pleased.