Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Best Thing 2012

Trying to decide what's The Best Thing I've seen this year.  It's very tempting to say Leonard Cohen.  After all, I'd waited nearly 36 and a half years for the miracle to come.  But I feel there has to be an element of serendipity to what ever occupies the Number 1 slot which is erased by the purchase of a ticket.  Plus, I'm seeing Him again in 2013. (Have I mentioned that at all?)

Last year's Best Thing was encountering two badgers in the middle of Parry's Lane.  I'd only ever seen dead ones before.  It was the sort of moment that imprints itself on the inside of your eyelids. And so was this - the swathing of the Vale of Avalon in mist with Glastonbury Tor poking out of the top as I came down off the Mendips, headed for this year's Wells Festival of Literature. 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Remembering Dennis O'Driscoll

So sad to hear yesterday of the death of Dennis O'Driscoll.  I was fortunate to hear him read some of his intelligent, witty and humane poems on a couple of occasions, as well as give a talk about Stepping Stones, his book of interviews with Seamus Heaney, and I hate the thought that he'll never come to Bristol, a city he professed to love, again.

But what I'll remember most is his generosity.  The way he would write a personal message in large letters alongside his signature in the book you'd just bought. How, in that moment, it was you who was the person of interest, not him.  How, upon encountering him at the door of the Arnolfini bookshop last September, he was more anxious to stay and chat to me and my companion, Pameli Benham, than go back to his hotel room to rest in preparation for the evening's reading.  How, when we each gave him a copy of our poetry collections, he said he would go back and read them - and did.  And sought us out later to comment on them.  

We didn't have him long enough. 

Monday, 24 December 2012


This is a direct steal from Dru Marland's blog, Upside Down in Cloud, which is always worth visiting but never more than right now, because ...


Yes, a sneak preview of next year's card starring an unusually still and attentive Ted. (How on earth he held that pose long enough for Dru to paint him, I shall never know!)

On the back of the card, one of my favourite Christmas poems by Thomas Hardy:


Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
   'Now they are all on their knees,'
An elder said as we sat in a flock
   By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
   They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
  To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
   In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
   'Come; see the oxen kneel,

'In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
   Our childhood used to know,'
I should go with him in the gloom,
   Hoping it might be so.

So, no need to dash to the sales to get next year's cards - just stay at home, put your feet up and eat the rest of the pickled onions, safe in the knowledge that you can buy a few packets of these from Dru's Etsy page next autumn.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Look of Innocence

Ted, caught red-pawed having eaten my dinner, 17th May 2012 ...

'What foot? Oh, that one over there? ... nothing to do with me, Guv!'

Ted caught using my bed as a nice clean towel, 22nd December 2012 ...

'It was the cats what dunnit ... I'll get them for you if you like ... '

I think he's getting better at it.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Et in Arcadia Ego

I am in receipt of the final final final set of proofs for my novel, Dart.  Which is scary because I used to proofread professionally back in the days of galley proofs and Tippex and learnt then that the only thing more certain than the small error that escaped your red Bic is the fact that some bastard will gleefully point it out to you.  

Although that hasn't been the case with my poetry collection, Communion.  It was a while before I could even open it after it was published.  When I did manage it, I saw one very minor thing I wished I'd noticed and changed at proofing stage, but no one else has ever said anything and now I can't remember what it was.

That said, I'm really not keen on the idea of living down a novel with a hideous error half way down page 73 (or anywhere else) so I'll be proofing carefully between now and the New Year.  Never mind Christmas, it's publication day that's looming.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the Valley of the West Dart, where my story is set.

The West Dart at Huccaby

Glittering innocence

Over the stone stile

Longaford Tor, Higher White Tor and Bellever Tor from Hexworthy

Stepping Stones at Sherberton Firs

My novel, Dart, will be published by Tamar Books (an imprint of Indigo Dreams) on 4th February 2012.  More details here, and here.

You might be avoiding Amazon on account of their (tax) avoidance, but fret not, my poetry collection, Communion, is also available from Indigo Dreams for £6.99.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Friday, 7 December 2012

Arthur Writus Gets His Feet Under The Table

No sign of the flare up of osteoarthritis that has plagued me for the last four weeks abating. It's everywhere, from my neck down to my big toes. That's both joints of both big toes, although it's worst in my shoulders, with pain running down my arms and into my stiff hands and fingers. I'm off work because I can't sit at a desk and type without pain. I also have problems getting comfortable enough to sleep. I can't settle on either side and if I doze off on my back, my head gets stuck to one side and when I wake up (panicked), I can't move it unless I do so manually. I usually arrange a sequence of bolsters about me so that I can lie half on my back, half on my side.  I feel like a dog in a manger or a pig in a poke or something, while Arthur grins and pushes his feet further under my table.

Ibuprofen, Paracetomol, Co-codamol, an injection of cortisone straight into my shoulder joint - none of them seem to be having an effect.  The fleecy wheat bag I bought off eBay does provide some relief but it's only shortlived.  A friend has lent me a mini electric blanket she bought in Lidl, at considerable cost to herself as her flat has no central heating.  The Keen sandals I got second hand off eBay are much more comfortable on my poor heels (with spurs so big I swear I could ice skate on them) than any others I own, but they are sandals and it is December.  I'm waiting for more second hand ones to arrive from America.  When they do arrive, I am hopeful that they will tide me over until my appointment with Orthotics comes through.  Apparently they have a huge backlog. Boo.

There have been some good moments also.  Let's see:

The workshop I ran last week while the usual tutor was away was well received, and it was good to pop my cherry as I need to add strings to a bow that is even balder than Seth Lakeman's after he's played Kitty Jay.  

In a similar vein, I have been confirmed as the judge of the Chipping Sodbury Festival Poetry Competition next year.  

It was lovely spending time with Daughter Number 2 yesterday, even though the occasion was sad, namely the funeral of her friend's mother.  I felt encouraged, however, to see how resilient all of the young people who stayed over at my house were. I just wish they could all find the work they want and need.

After today's Can Openers - the last at the Bristol Old Vic - John Terry, Alana Farrell and I spent some time at the dock at Sea Mills, formerly the Roman port of  Portus Abonae.  It was bleak and muddy and beautiful, and I'm ashamed to say I'd never been there before.  When/if my pain subsides, I'll be taking Ted down there for a proper walk.  

And I've won first place in the Pre-Raphaelite Society Poetry Competition with my poem about William Morris called 'This Serviceable Ghost', which is printed in my poetry collection, Communion.  In fact, it was a successful competition all round for my publishers, Indigo Dreams, as Caroline Gill, another poet on their list, is also having her poem published in the anthology.  

Final good realisation: if cider vinegar is recommended for lessening the symptoms of arthritis, so must cider be, right?  Time for a controlled experiment, I think ... 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Make Good Art

You can tell I'm confined to base, apart from going to funerals and petrol stations ...

You can listen to the entire speech here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

How To Speak Poetry with Leonard Cohen

I've been to quite a few poetry readings lately, as well as participating in several. I don't consider myself a performance poet - I have a horrible feeling that as soon as I stood in front of a mic without a piece of paper or a book in my hand, my brain would head for the exit - but I'm not averse to a bit of arm waving and breast beating from those who are.  

But the one thing I really can't stand is when people read intensely and v-e-r-y  v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y, pausing after every three words to let their significance sink in, even if they are only by way of or he took a, or - if you are reading Billy Collin's 'Paradelle for Susan' was my into ... it was with ... to to.

Let's hear it for Leonard Cohen who tells us exactly how we should speak poetry in this piece called ... erm ... 'How to Speak Poetry'.