Thursday, May 31, 2007

Poetry Thursday

Ros Barber is my poet this Thursday, which is appropriate because her collection is called How Things Are on Thursday. Here are some poems she wrote on commission for Sustrans, and her blog, Shallowlands is always well worth a read.

Thank you!

So after my nerves yesterday, the reading could only really be better than I expected. And it was a LOT better than I expected. Lots of friends, questions, laughter and wine ... now I want to do it all over again tonight, and tomorrow, and the day after!
A huge thank you to Waterstones, Tunbridge Wells for supporting their local authors, to Anthony from Bluechrome, to everyone who came to support, and those who emailed after my post yesterday to tell me to remember to breathe!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Three Nervous Wednesday Things!

For some reason, my cup is over-brimming with nerves for my reading tonight. Half of me wants no-one to turn up so they don't see me fail miserably, the other half is panicked IN CASE no-one turns up. And I was really looking forward to this yesterday. Anyway, you're not too late to see this writer's knees shake - just come along tonight, 30th May, 7pm at Waterstones, 32-40 Calverley Road, Tunbridge Wells. Ah well, so my three things today might seem random but they are all places that make me feel strangely calm...

1. This site all about the London underground

2.The Astronomy Photograph of the Day website.

3. Knowing I am not alone.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

There's a very moving farewell by John Calder, Samuel Beckett's publisher for thirty years, on the Guardian blog today, linking to this absolute treasure of an article. I particularly liked the record of a meeting between Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs:

‘Tell me, Mr Burroughs,’ Sam said politely, about this cut-up method of yours. I don’t think I quite understand what you do.’

‘Well, Mr Beckett,’ drawled Burroughs in a voice that sometimes sounded southern and at other times Harvard, ‘what I do is this. I take a copy of the New York Times or some other paper and I cut a column in half down the middle or sometimes I fold it. Then I find another text, perhaps one of mine or perhaps a page of your Molloy and I do the same thing.’ Beckett was listening in rapt attention. He opened his mouth, to speak and then closed, it again.

‘Then,’ continued Bill Burroughs, ‘I read across the lines of the two and copy out what I see, so that each line has half of one text and half the other. Later I edit the new version until a whole new text emerges. Then, depending on how it looks, I may cut that up into a third text. And of course I add a word or two where it’s necessary.’

Beckett could contain himself no longer, ’but you can’t do that,’he said.

‘Oh, I do, Mr Beckett, I assure you,’ said Burroughs in an even voice.

Both had been drinking heavily. No one else was listening. Rosset was interested in the two girls who were obviously both girl friends of Girodias who was very much a ladies man, always in love and with a string of simultaneous mistresses. Anything a little kinky fascinated Barney Rosset. The writers were talking among themselves about their own affairs. The argument went on between my two authors, the classically-trained Dublin gentleman from a good middle-class family who had become a Parisian bohemian artist, and the quintessential American from the under-culture of drug addiction and Hollywood-glamourised gangster crime, Wild West and hoboism, totally unable to understand the point of view of the other until they both, quite drunk, slipped under the table at the same time and had to be taken home by taxi."

I've just finished reading Jonathon Coe's biography of B S Johnson, Like A Fiery Elephant, which shows how generous Samuel Beckett could be to other writers - sending B S Johnson a cheque for £100 when he was in need. Somehow this story just adds to that.

Juxtaposition 3

The teddy bear you want to take to bed...

and this story.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Friday, May 25, 2007

Three Wednesday* Things

Three things that make me wince:

1. The idea of a vibrating razor.

2. The fear of forwarding the wrong thing to the wrong people, every time I press send on a sensitive email.

3. The memory of my first day in the coolest job I could ever imagine when I was 'cool' for all of about ten minutes - and then got the toggle from my anorak stuck in my chair wheel and I had to be rescued by a genuinely cool person.

*and of course, posting two days late - unlike the lovely Clare, whose idea this three things was and who always gets it right.

TALKS: Debate London

News of an interesting looking debate at the Tate Modern

London is furiously on the move. Powered by an economic boom, it is changing, growing, diversifying. New planning policies allow for enticing new possibilities: iconic skyscrapers, tens of thousands of new homes, transformation and re-generation. New-look London is sexy and glamorous. But will such a shiny vision make London better?

This summer The Architecture Foundation explores the issues at the very heart of what it means to be a Londoner today: Will the 2012 Olympics bring any good? Are we creating a London that's good enough for our kids? Can we turn the big smoke green?

The four debates, held in the Turbine Hall, with a youth debate for London school students, leave an important legacy of London now by posing pertinent questions and projecting exciting visions for its future. Join the debate and have your say at

Sponsored by: City of London, Derwent London, Land Securities
Supported by: Arts Council England, Billboard, Cabe, Evening Standard, Tate

Friday 22 June - Monday 25 June

Debate London: Is London a United City?
Friday 22 June, 19.30-21.30
Tate Modern, Turbine Hall
£8 (£5 concessions), booking recommended
Booking fee applies

Debate London: The 2012 Wish List - What Kind of London Do We Want?
Saturday 23 June, 19.30-21.30
Tate Modern, Turbine Hall
£8 (£5 concessions), booking recommended
Booking fee applies

Debate London: How Can a Boomtown be Green?
Sunday 24 June, 19.30-21.30
Tate Modern, Turbine Hall
£8 (£5 concessions), booking recommended
Booking fee applies

Debate London: Can London be Both Big and Beautiful?
Monday 25 June, 19.30-21.30
Tate Modern, Turbine Hall
£8 (£5 concessions), booking recommended
Booking fee applies

Debate London: Generation London
Monday 25 June, 13.30-15.30
Tate Modern, Starr Auditorium
Free, first come first served
Places are limited

Friday Fact

In most watch advertisements the time displayed on the watch is 10:10 because then the arms frame the brand of the watch (and make it look like it is smiling).

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ho hum...

Just when I was feeling so pleased with myself at Tally's £3.79 patch of lawn (see below), here's someone who has gone one better. Always happens, doesn't it?

Poetry Thursday

I vividly remember the first time I read anything by Marilyn Hacker. I was sitting in a Starbucks in London Bridge waiting for someone to arrive for a meeting, and I had to stand up with excitment. It was as if I'd just had the biggest adrenalin rush - similar to when I read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. That breathless feeling, almost like fear, that the writer was going somewhere completely daring and unexpected, not with content but with structure. So my poem recommendation for today is Hacker's Scars on Paper, and I thoroughly recommend her recent collection Essays on Departure if you're tempted to read more.

The Salway Estate

So it's the week of Chelsea Flower Show, and all the great and the good seem to be opening their palatial doors wide to reveal their gardens. This is my sore spot. I gave up a really well-loved vegetable patch in Edinburgh, when we moved down South. Now I have a patch of concrete instead. For three years, I kept up an allotment but had to give it up this year because of a mixture of time and bad back. However, all is not lost... I am trying positive thinking to make me love my concrete. First up is my portable vegetable garden - some time over the summer, I want to have grown my own ratatouille (first having found out how to spell it)...

The other spoilt fat-girl Salway now has her own spot of lawn, thanks to buying a piece of turf at £3.79 at the local garden centre. And she thinks it very nice to lie on it in the sun ...

I'm even starting to see some results ...

And because every gardener needs something to make them happy ...

Gold medals all round, I think!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book signing

My hand is crab-like after signing the special editions of my short story collection, Leading the Dance...
Luckily I only had 125 to do, although it became strangely soothing, almost like meditating, and the book is so very beautiful.

And to launch the edition, I'm reading at the Waterstones in Tunbridge Wells on Wednesday 30th May at 7pm. No need to book, and all welcome!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Close reading

I'm sitting nervously here because my daughter's GCSE English Literature exam is just about to finish and I'm waiting for her thumbs up/thumbs down text. We spent last night going over the poems in her anthology, and I was surprised at just how good it was to read the texts closely with her. Surprised because I had maybe arrogantly (OK, extremely arrogantly) assumed that the life of the poem would have been taught out of her and her classmates by the time she reached the exam. Not so. She was as excited by the language and the meaning of the poems as if she was reading them the first time, maybe more as she saw more and more in each line. In his fantastic T S Lecture in 2005, the poet George Szirtes says:
The task of poetry is to tell the best truth it can about whatever it happens to be dealing with. After that it must trust the reader, and assume that the reader is deeper, stranger and wiser than the poet knows.
George also describes what seems to be happening with Rachael, which is that, rather than looking for points to be scored for each technique spotted, she was letting the poem take over. He says:
There is a process I have often noticed in my teaching: that the understanding of poetry is not, as Paterson thinks, structured like an apprenticeship. There is, rather, a particular point at which the nature of poetry is understood for the first time. That first step on to the ice involves understanding both the point of the ice and something of ice's nature. It is in fact the realization of something we have known all along. We have always known what lies beneath: we are always feeling the ice under our feet.
It was really exciting, and whatever the result of the exam, all credit to her English teacher for that. I was envious of how she 'got it' so much earlier than I ever did.

Mind you, she did come through first thing this morning to say 'I've been reading and thinking about the poems on my own'. Then she hit her head with her hand and said: 'No, I haven't. I must have been dreaming I have.' So maybe it was all just a dream, and English teachers are still beating out the rhythms on the back of pupils' heads with wooden rulers as they did at my convent school, and pupils are still growing up with an absolute terror of getting poetry 'wrong', just as I did.

Juxtaposition 2

Here's a fledgling vineyard in Kent:

and here's the result of many (possibly) cynical marketing meetings re the above:

A student gave me this bottle of wine and I say I keep it because it makes me smile, but actually I'm scared because I'm not sure if it clears or induces writer's block. Or am I just reading too much into it? Quite possibly.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Judgement Hour

That's what a wise friend called it when I said I wasn't sleeping, was waking up every morning too early, every effing morning. In fact I've got to hate going to bed, because I'm already waiting to wake up - and I've always been one of those annoying people who usually love mornings. A whole day ahead, and all that.

'Ah,' my friend said. 'The judgement hour. Between three and four, I guess.'

Why yes. I'm waking every morning at 3.46am almost exactly according to the digital alarm clock I also hate. So in some ways, it's comforting to know I'm not alone. That there are many many others there having that horrible hour of facing all the bad things you might have said, or done. That joke you thought was funny when you were telling it but in retrospect was just a bit embarrasing. The deadlines you're not going to make. Even the time you were six and told your mum you weren't the one who ate the last piece of cake and your sister had to take the blame. Etc, etc, etc. Well, kind of comforting. As soon as I get up, everything falls back into proportion, but, hey, I've always been more than a 'getting by' girl so I want to kick this. Any suggestions welcome, as is anyone who wants to keep me company in the 4am blues, including James Thurber, it seems, who said: "I used to wake up at 4 A.M. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness."

In the meantime, I'm particularly interested in this blog, and this, and this.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Everyday Matters

The book, Everyday Matters by Danny Gregory has given me some electric moments today. I was sceptical at first, but that says more about me than the book because it's not trying to convert me into anything. There are no self-help or 'come over to my side' lessons, more just a feeling of how it felt for one person to get through a bad time. When Danny's wife, Patti, had an accident leaving her in a wheelchair, his first thought was 'why me?'. Then when his wife seemed able to cope with the changes but not him, he took up drawing. The way he describes the process of letting go into the creativity is really beautiful, and there's a randomness about the pages, the stories, the humour that makes you feel you're there with him, learning to see things all over again. The page of drawings of all the different lightbulbs in his house has given me at least one idea for a short story, and I feel inspired to go out into my neighbourhood (becoming what he calls the 'weirdo' if I'm not that already) with my pencil and pad right now to capture some living of my own. In fact, the need to make something, anything, is proving compulsive. I love the quote at the beginning from Miles Davis: "Do not fear mistakes. There are none." If Danny Gregory's got a side, I guess I've come right over to it!

Friday Fact

90 percent of women who walk into a department store immediately turn to the right.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mark Wallinger Presents
Late at Tate Britain
Friday 1 June, 6 – 9.45pm

Mark Wallinger questions the right to protest and the limits of art. What are the principles of free expression? What might constitute the moral imperative to transgress the law and exercise the right to speak out? Joining Wallinger are Lisa Appignanesi, Shami Chakrabarti, Brian Haw, John Hegley, Hari Kunzru, Geoffrey Robertson, Jerry Sadowitz and Adrian Searle, protest choir Raised Voices and invited guest Mark Thomas.

Mark Wallinger has recreated peace campaigner Brian Haw’s Parliament Square protest for a dramatic new installation at Tate Britain. Running along the full length of the Duveen Galleries, State Britain consists of a meticulous reconstruction of over 600 weather-beaten banners, photographs, peace flags and messages from well-wishers that have been amassed by Haw over the past five years. In bringing a reconstruction of Haw’s protest before curtailment back into the public domain, Wallinger raises challenging questions about issues of freedom of expression and the erosion of civil liberties in Britain today.

For more information about the event and Tate Britain please visit

Time: 6-9.45pm
Tickets: These will be available from 6pm on the evening at the Clore Gallery Entrance
Venue: Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG

Poetry Thursday

OK, time for real women now. My poem for the week is Catherine Smith's Picture This.

Acting our age

Is there any woman - young or old - who hasn't had something to say already on the extraordinary Christa D'Souza article in Sunday's Observer Woman? The trouble for me is how it brings back all the insecurities from the school playground. If I say I don't really think I want to look like Melanie Roberts (which I didn't) then everyone will turn round and say it's because I'm just jealous of her blonde hair and teeny feet. If I say I don't want to hang around watching the boys play football but would prefer to do something interesting on my own, it's because the boys don't want me to watch anyway. If I say I don't want to kiss Timothy Robinson, then its because I'm frightened he might not want to kiss me... you get the picture. But now I'm older, I don't care what you might say back - I really really don't want to look like Christa D'Souza. I don't want that level of fear she - and the others interviewed - must live with everyday when they look in the mirror. If I was lucky enough to have the time to do yoga three times a week, I'd hope it would take me beyond the physical benefits and to learn something about the spiritual holistic side too. But the article can't be real, can it? That's about the only thing I could think about when I was reading it. Surely this has to be some kind of joke, and then I couldn't help feel a sadness for everyone involved. And even more sad when it's printed in a magazine called Observer Woman. Still, I suppose it just proves us women aren't proper adults - as Christa says 'I am obsessed with age. But admit it, aren't you too?'. Yes, that's it - we all want to wear short denim skirts and flirt with dads so that the other mums won't like us and then no one will be our friend long enough to tell us just to Grow Up. Thank heavens for this blog anyway, but my favourite post on the whole subject is from yarnstorm. It's almost enough to make me take up knitting, but then of course I've never been pretty enough to worry about losing my looks anyway....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gluten Free

We are rapidly turning into the family you really don't want to invite over for a quick meal. Not only are two members vegetarian, my son is also a coeliac, and although it has become second-nature now for me to cook the right meals, it's a nightmare to try to explain what he can and can't have. Luckily, since Hugh was diagnosed ten years ago, things have improved beyond measure in foods stocked, labelling and taste, and this week is Coeliac Awareness Week. Although it's worth putting up with people calling him a 'faddy eater' and me a 'fussy mother' just to make sure he gets the right foods, I'm amazed at how many people still think that 'just a little bit of flour' is going to be perfectly acceptable, even a treat. An extraordinary lack of knowledge when you think that they estimate that one in 100 people in the UK will suffer from it. Luckily, there are some brilliant blogs out there to help with recipes, advice and sharing stories. My favourite ones are: Gluten A go Go, Gluten Free Bay, Gluten Free Girl, and best of all, the divine Gluten Free Goddess, from whom I ordered the above t-shirt which still makes me laugh. I haven't found any British blogs as far as I know, but I'd really like to be proved wrong on that!

Wednesday Three Things

Three good interviews with writers today:

1. Narrative Magazine's profile of Ann Beattie. You have to sign up to get the full thing but the whole magazine is really worth it (even if it wasn't free!)

2.The Paris Review interview of Isak Dinesen. I love how the whole concept of what an interview is gets turned on its head before it begins.

3. This interview with Margaret Atwood. There are lots of interviews with Margaret Atwood out there, but this pleased me so much with its very particular specialised focus.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

How to be Happy, though Married

My friend, Michelle Lovric, has recently edited a book - no, let's use its proper subtitle: "A Tender Compendium of Good and Bad Advice" - with this wonderful title. Some of the quotes given make me laugh out loud, like:
"Sometimes your wife will initiate sex. This will occur when you walk in the door after completing a triathlon, or in the closing minutes of tied grand final." (Peter Downey)
Others are poignant:
"As for the clitoris, this is to be saluted, at most, in passing, and afterwards ignored as much as possible; for the reason that it is a rudimentary male organ, and an orgasm evoked there evokes a rudimentary male magnetism in the woman, which appears to pervert the act of intercourse, with the result of sensualising and coarsening the woman." (Ida Craddock's The Wedding Night of 1900.)
Ho hum. One Lucy H. M. Soulsby is quoted as saying,
"A husband of "a superior woman" is usually much to be pitied",
but I say the ones that are to be pitied are the wives of all those saluting men who went to good old Ida for advice! It does conjure up some lovely images though if she was taken literally...

More about the book here.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Fact

From possibly the most interesting timewaster I've found in a long time, your first Friday Fact. Amazing but this actually works:
While sitting at your desk make clockwise circles with your right foot. (go ahead no one will see you) While doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction.

Go and visit....

This wonderful blog, Dina Rabinovitch's Take Off Your Running Shoes, is worth a visit if you fancy an inspirational five minutes. Better still buy the book. It's positive, non-condescending, generous, funny and the fact that a percentage of all sales goes to cancer research is an added bonus.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Poetry Thursday

I was inspired by the idea behind Poetry Thursday at the beginning of the year, the collaborative, generous feel of it, but somehow let my weekly contributions lapse. But now it's time to start again. Here is my suggestion of what to read this week: the poem, The Nolans in Japan, by the wonderful Tamar Yoseloff. Her latest collection, Fetch is really worth a look, and if you click on the last link you get to hear her read some of her poems.

Three Wednesday Things

I know, I know, it's Thursday, but I was ill yesterday so my new bootcamp schedule went to pot, although I did manage to read some of the stories in Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things which cheered me up with thoughts of arm gnawing and dead men's parties. So... every Wednesday I'm going to put up three things that give me pleasure.

It's Claire's idea, but she's gone off running with a different idea of mine, so I reckon we just work well together. AND we both live in Tunbridge Wells, so my first three things are going to be local blogs, just so everybody can fall in love with Tunbridge Wells, come and live here and we can have the UK's first writer's town.

1. Three Beautiful Things, this is updated daily and is so simple that it's strange how you find yourself smiling by at least the second point.

2. Here's someone who really really loves Tunbridge Wells...

3. ... and here's someone who would prefer it if we all stood up a bit straighter and certainly never let our dogs off their leashes.

(and just because I'm late with my Three Wednesday things, here's another photography blog of Tunbridge Wells. I'm cross because I was watching those fireman at the world famous Paul Elvis Chan's Gracelands Palace, but can't find myself in any of the pics. Probably a good thing really.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A newer, nicer Marquis de Sade?

Childish of me, I know, but I'd like to go to this just to listen in on the conversation at the drinks reception afterwards.

A Different Sade: Food for Thought

A British Academy discussion evening convened and chaired by Marian Hobson FBA, Queen Mary, University of London

Katherine Astbury, University of Warwick, Bob Gillan, University of Manchester, Will McMorran, Queen Mary, University of London, Caroline Warman, University of Oxford, and Thomas Wynn, University of Exeter

Discussants and Commentators:
Philippe Roger, Ecole des Hautes Etudes Sociales, Paris, France and Svein-Eirik Fauskevåg, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway

Thursday, 7 June 2007
6.00pm - 7.30pm followed by a drinks reception

The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace,
London, SW1Y 5AH

With the publications of Sade’s correspondences, and his consecration in the Pléiade canon through Michel Delon’s excellent edition, after the monumental biography by Maurice Lever, not to speak of the much greater accessibility of much of his work through paper-back editions, the position of Sade in literary history is evolving. Much greater attention is being paid to his plays and to his short stories, while the sardonic pornography is seen as more embedded in its cultural content. A more nuanced picture of his production is emerging, and his work is now seen as key in understanding the ideological tensions of the Enlightenment, and the cross-over from the old literary world of the Ancien Régime to the new.

Almost 200 years to the day since Sade's final completed manuscript was seized from his room at Charenton, the event will discuss this new status, and to what degree the Sade of the older version is the twin or the black shadow of the newer, nicer and perhaps more approachable vision.

A poster for your notice board can be downloaded here:

Visit our website for further details and to to book on-line
Telephone enquiries: 020 7969 5238 / Email:

Another reason to live in Kent

Tuesday, May 8, 2007
SPELDHURST, England – An 82-year-old man in Speldhurst, England, clobbered a robber in the face with a head of iceburg lettuce after the bandit tried holding up a local grocery store. The bandit was armed with a shotgun but after being hit a second time by the produce, he made like a banana and split.

Apparently it's not as daft as it sounds - he'd just come from his allotment and he had the iceberg lettuce ready in his hand. No, sorry. It is as daft as it sounds. I don't quite get the banana joke though. Well, I do get it, of course, but it feels like something that's been hanging around looking for a story to latch itself onto. At least, you can be sure the lettuce was fresh.

Juxtaposition 1

Time to put some order into this blog, shake it up, sort it out, give it a good Spring clean. So Tuesday is going to be Juxtaposition day - for some reason they seem to go together for me. Here's the first one:
Dennis Sever's wonderful and magical time capsule house...
and right outside it, in Folgate Street, this maintenance sign:

I can just imagine the jokes about whether the workers will be wearing Victorian costume and digging by candlelight.

And back to writing prompts: Waking up in a different age

Sunday, May 06, 2007

(Not) in the post...

It's seeing a notice like this today, sellotaped onto a village postbox, that reminds me how much I like living in the country. Can you imagine how the conversation might go? Honestly, the cheque IS in the post, it's just that there are birds nesting and we won't be able to open the postbox until they hatch...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Knotty Friendships

When we left Edinburgh to come to Kent, a woman I knew only vaguely came up and said that she'd always think of me as a lost friend because she'd always thought we'd get on, but now we'd never have that chance. I was rather bemused at the time, but can't stop thinking about it now, particularly as I've been searching through my bookshelves looking for examples of 'unusual friendships' for a newspaper article.

I thought it was going to be easy, but had to set myself rules quite early on. It couldn't really be a lost love affair - which dropped PG Wodehouse's Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings; it couldn't be a master-servant relationship, however, heated - step down Rebecca and the creepy Mrs Danvers; and it couldn't be an ordinary friendship, but one where the two people involved (oops, that was another rule - just two) would absolutely not be expected to be friends in everyday life.

And then I had to add another rule - it had to be an actual living being - OK, Silas Marner is friends with his money, but I had to take that one off the list.

I'm still on my long-list, but have spent some very happy hours going back to all the fictional friendships that have moved me over the years. It amazed me all over again how writers have used them to demonstrate just how we don't live in isolation. I suppose I normally take the cliche of friendship as someone who supports us (a friend in need, and all that) but it's much more exciting than that. All it just takes is someone else close to us going off the rails to make us wobble too, or - more positively - to open our eyes to a completely new world.

Which is why I keep thinking back to that woman in Edinburgh. Just how would she have changed my life, and what have I missed?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Life is good...

The sun is shining and I've just ordered this book.