Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I'm delighted to welcome Sue Guiney to the blog today. Many of you will know her work already - poet, dramatist, blogger and novelist. Her latest book The Clash of Innocents comes out at the end of this week, and looks fascinating:

Against the backdrop of Cambodia’s violent past and the beginnings of its new Tribunal for 'justice', a story of displaced souls unfolds. In Cambodia, innocents are everywhere. Everyone is innocent, or so they would like to believe – everyone, except the few who, for their own private reasons, take on the guilt of the many.

I took advantage of Sue's good nature (plus the fact that she was available because of promoting the book, she's the busiest person I know!) to ask her to write about something that fascinates me - how the writer can be an entrepreneur too. Here's what she says.....

Thanks, Sarah, for giving me this chance to visit your blog. And thanks also for giving me this opportunity to put down in a (hopefully) coherent fashion the lessons I’ve learned from my rather meandering and, admittedly, iconoclastic approach to my career.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I knew how to read. My first piece written for public (ie my class of fellow 7 year olds) was an adaptation for “the stage” of my favourite novel at the time – I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t remember its name, but I know it had something to do with mice. But it took me well into my forties to begin to believe I could write anything worth showing to anybody else. My first publications were a short story and a poem, both in the same year, in different magazines. I was 44. But here I am today, eleven years later, with 2 novels and a poetry play published, another poetry collection completed and a full-length play in development. I say this not to toot my own horn, but to show that it can be done. Now, as my second novel, “A Clash of Innocents”, is being published by the new publishing firm of Ward Wood, it’s a good time to look back and see what I can offer up as advice:

• Take your creativity off the page and put it into your life

We are all creative people, and writers are especially good at creating characters. Use that creative energy to create yourself. Think outside the box and let your imagination run free as you contemplate your own life. I suppose the rebel in me has always made me think that I can do things differently, I don’t have to do anything exactly the way everyone else does it. Agood example of this was the creation of my poetry play, “Dreams of May.” I had been taking my writing seriously for several years at that point, working on a series of short stories which eventually – and surprisingly - became my first novel, “Tangled Roots.” But at the same time I was writing more and more poetry and braving more and more open mics. Was I a poet? A short story writer? A novelist? Who knew? All I knew was I was writing and it felt good. I was trying to get my poems published but I realized that the poems which seemed best received by audiences were not necessarily the ones being accepted by magazine and journal editors. It made me question why, think about the differences between hearing and reading a poem and then I thought, “hey – why not turn my poems into a play?” I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing, but it didn’t stop me. I literally got a few friends together to help me get it done, and the result was a two-week run in London’s Pentameters Theatre. I also created a text which I assumed I would Xerox and hand out to people coming to the show, but another friend convinced me to send it to a small press who, quite shockingly, decided to publish it. Presto, I was suddenly a poet with a book published and a playwright. That bit of creativity helped me to become the person I had always wanted to be and to live the life I have always wanted to live – namely a life spent in the practice and contemplation of the literary arts. I used my “flair for words’ (as an early English teacher once said) to create Sue Guiney, The Writer. I guess I’m my own best creation.

• There is no one way to get something done

I’ve made all sorts of choices that have seemed sketchy at the time. I didn’t get a creative writing degree. I chose not to look for a big publishing house but to publish my first novel with a small press – and even though that press went bust, I’m today publishing with another small press (though one I know will be better run). I no longer have an agent. I write across several genres without focusing on any one of them. I’m not saying that others should make these choices, just that there are many roads that lead to the same place. My yoga teacher always says, “there are no shoulds.” I think she’s right.

* Dare to be bold and don’t edit your actions

Some of my most successful and rewarding ventures have been ones that I supposedly should not have been able to do at all. As I mentioned above, I wrote and published a poetry play and produced it against all odds. This was wonderful in its own right, but it also It led to my first publishing contract and then the formation of my arts charity, CurvingRoad (www.curvingroad.com), which has led me into a world of theatrical pursuits that I had never dreamt of. Over the past five years we have produced a photography exhibition and four plays, one of which was a West End World Premiere. There was no way that I ever had imagine I could accomplish such a thing. And all of these efforts have impacted each other and have led to new ones. In other words, don’t let the rational you stop you before you get started. Now that I think of it though, maybe it’s not that I have been so bold. Maybe it’s just that I’ve allowed my own naivete to lead me down paths I should have known not to go down. In other words, don’t let the rational you stop you before you get started.

• Be truthful with yourself about your goals

Don’t be ashamed of being ambitious. It’s the only way to get anything done. But be realistic. If you want to go for fame and fortune, terrific. But write the sorts of things that will get you there. I decided I didn’t need to have my face on the side of a bus, so I’ve stuck to writing things that are not necessarily mass market sellers. But I demand excellence of myself, just as we all should. I can’t tell you how many times I read and reread a sentence. I know I’m no artistic genius, but I do finally believe in my own abilities and force myself not to settle for “good enough.” It’s not easy. It takes more patience than I normally have and so I ‘ve also realized I need help. I rely on trusted readers to tell me when it’s not good enough and when I’m ready to move on. To be honest, I have paid people to do this for me. It may seem like a luxury, but it really isn’t. Sometimes an objective outsider is the only one to tell you the truth. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, and when you think of how much time you invest in your writing, throwing a bit of money into the investment as well really does make sense. I worked long and hard on “Tangled Roots,” and it was the help of a paid tutor which pushed me towards the level of excellence that I was able to achieve with that book. I have worked just as hard, though not as long, on “A Clash of Innocents,” and I have relied on outside readers with that as well. Whether other people agree that it is up to the standard of my first book is yet to be seen. Pretty scary! But I believe in it and know that I couldn’t have done any better on it, and I suppose that’s my real definition of excellence.
I alsoBut I do promote myself as much as I can bear, because I admit that I do want to be “known” and interviewed and asked to be on panels and workshops (still working on that last bit). I do want my work to be read by people other than those who already know me. And, as long as we’re being truthful, I do want/need an occasional evening when a room is full of people congratulating me for a job well done (ie my wonderful book launch on 30 September!).

• Step away from your desk

Writers are by nature shy. We like to sit alone, playing with words and creating worlds in our heads. But you need to force yourself to go meet writers and readers. Go to readings, launches, conferences. Embrace that awful verb: to network. This is always torture for me, but I’m never sorry. My latest publishing contract grew out of a conversation I had at a poetry reading with a woman I had known through my first publisher, but who I got to know better through Facebook. Going out into the world forces you to say out loud to strangers, “Yes, I am a writer.” And believe me, that was the hardest, but most important step of all.

I’ve rambled on too long. Thanks for sticking with me. But I do believe that with flexibility, imagination and old-fashioned gumption we can all live our dreams. It’s taken a while, but I know I’m finally beginning to live mine.


I love this piece - there is so much here that makes sense. May we all step away from our desks a little, dare to be bold, and above all, live our dreams!

You can order A Clash of Innocents from the Book Depository here

Monday, September 20, 2010


Well, here is a story I wrote especially for (me and) you....

Meanwhile back at home

Veronica Comrie has to call home three times and when eventually her mother answers, she’s breathing heavily and asks Veronica to hold on while she sits down. ‘Where have you been?’ Veronica asks, clutching her tear soaked tissue. She is going to ask her mother to come and pick her up. She hates college. Choosing law was a big mistake. ‘On the running machine,’ her mother says. ‘Running machine?’ says Veronica. Veronica’s mother hates exercise. ‘We put it up in your bedroom, along with the weights and the yoga mats,’ says Veronica’s mother. ‘I feel like a new woman. Or that’s what your dad keeps saying.’ Veronica tells her mother that she has to go a lecture now, but that she’s fine. Really. It’s only when she puts the phone down that she realises her mother hadn’t asked.

When Colin Hiscox’s dad picks up the phone, Colin thinks at first he has the wrong number. His father answers in French. ‘Sorry about that,’ Colin’s dad says. ‘It’s these foreign students we have staying in your room.’ Three girls, Colin’s father says. Apparently it brightens the house up to have some young folk around again. Even Colin’s mother is loving it. And the money comes in useful. ‘We are becoming quite fond of garlic,’ Colin’s father says. Colin hears laughter in the background. He can’t remember the last time he heard laughter in his parents’ house. Or whether he’s ever knowingly tasted garlic. And he’s certainly never been allowed girls in his room before.

‘Your room is your room for life,’ says Jerome Connor’s mother. ‘I have kept it just as you left it.’ ‘A bloody shrine,’ Jerome’s father adds from the upstairs extension. ‘She wouldn’t even let the neighbour’s niece stay there. Poor girl had to sleep in a tent in the garden.’ ‘It’s your room, Jerome,’ says his mother. ‘Now the neighbour refuses to talk to us,’ his father continues. ‘And will you be back to us soon, son?’ says Jerome’s mother.

‘Ferrets,’ Jane Brown’s mother says. ‘If it was kittens, or even rabbits, I might be happier. But what’s he going to do with ferrets? Keep them down his trousers?’ Jane’s busy smiling at the blonde guy from her economics class. ‘And they smell,’ says Jane’s mother. ‘I can’t go into your room without an oxygen mask. Not to mention the noise. It’s scrabble, scrabble, scrabble all day and night. And knock, knock, knock as he builds more and more cages.’ Jane stops smiling. ‘My room?’ she asks.

John Jenson’s father has built bookcases along the far wall of John’s bedroom to fit in every copy from John’s booklists, both primary and secondary reading. Every night, he works his way through them. Sitting at John’s old desk, he grinds his teeth through timed essays from the lists of titles John emails him, before sending them to an independent tutor to be marked. John hasn’t told him that he’s making up the essay titles, that the books lists are from several years ago, and that John isn’t at university any more. He’s working in a sandwich shop. He’s happier than he’s been since he started school and his father learnt to read alongside him.

Susan Carter’s father has turned her bedroom into a refrigerated storage space for his butcher’s shop. Meats that need to be hung are left on large hooks he’s drilled into the ceiling. ‘It might be a bit cold,’ says Susan’s mother, ‘but your bed is still there and we’ve shuffled everything round so no blood will actually drip on you when you sleep. I honestly can’t see what the problem is.’

When Chris Leslie’s mother rings, there’s a familiar background noise he can’t quite identify. ‘I’m cleaning your room,’ she says. For a minute he’s filled with fury. But then he recognises that sound. It’s the down pipe gurgling. Chris used to lie in bed listening to it, imagining surfing the water’s waves until it took him out of there. Out of the family. Out of the house. Out of the town. For the first time since starting college, he feels homesick. ‘I’m just cleaning because…’ she says. ‘Shhh,’ he tells her. He wants to listen to the pipe.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Poetry from Art
Launch of a pamphlet anthology: Poetry from Art

Saturday 25 September 2010, 18.45–21.00

You are invited to the launch of a pamphlet anthology: Poetry from Art at Tate Modern introduced and edited by Pascale Petit

These twenty-four poems were written on Pascale Petit's Poetry from Art summer course in the galleries at Tate Modern, the third of three six-week writing courses this year. These ongoing creative writing classes, open to both advanced poets and beginners, are held on Monday evenings and are in their fifth year.

The pamphlet includes poems after Mona Hatoum, Francis Alÿs, Joseph Beuys and Mike Nelson.

A still from Francis Alys's video work, Tornado, from which some of the poems were written.

The contributors are: Karen McCarthy Woolf, Naomi Woddis, Malika Booker, Rowyda Amin, Matthew Paul, Anne Welsh, Sarah Salway, Rebecca Farmer, Zillah Bowes, Cath Drake, Rishi Dastidar, Beth Somerford, Roberta James, Cath Kane, Kaye Lee, Lynn Foote, Seraphima Kennedy, Ali Wood, Julie Steward, Elizabeth Horsley, MJ Whistler, Andrea Robinson, Angela Dock, Beatriz Echeverri.

The event will be introduced by Pascale Petit.
Free entry, readings, great views and wine.

Tate Modern Level 7 East Room
Free, no bookings taken

Sadly I won't be able to attend the launch, but please do go, and please buy the booklet. There are some wonderful poems there. More information here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

You MUST read this book...

Nik started a great book recommendation meme yesterday, and Benjamin Judge joined in. AND BOTH RECOMMENDED ME! Thanks guys.

And to add my pennyworth, here are five poetry books I've read and loved this summer:

1. Furniture, by Lorraine Mariner. I came across Lorraine's work first when she read last during a packed Oxfam reading. Packed with readers, that is, and I'd heard some good things but to be honest I was a bit jaded by the time Lorraine stood up. Not for long though. The minute she started a poem about Stanley, an imaginary boyfriend, who has to go because 'nothing in our relationship has ever surprised me', she had charmed everyone in that room. I rushed to buy her book after the reading but she had already sold out. Even if it wasn't for the fantastic series of poems in the narrative voice of 'Jessica Elton', this collection would still be on my favourite shelves.

2. I wrote about Simon Armitage's Seeing Stars here and I have been coming back to it again and again this summer in admiration and yes, envy.

3. Human Chain by Seamus Heaney is my newest acquisition but I've already read it three times. A lot of the poems are dedicated 'i.m' but the whole book feels 'alive and living' in the best ways. I am sure there are a lot of references here I'm missing, but the joy of it is that it makes me want to read more, rather than just making me feel stupid. And in the meantime, the words are so beautiful I am enjoying just tasting them. In fact, I could almost lick every page of this book like 'Lick the Pencil':

'Lick the pencil' we might have called him
So quick was he to wet the lead, so deft
His hand-to-mouth and tongue-flirt round the stub.

4. Source, by Mark Doty is a good accompaniment to Human Chain, in that both seem to focus on what is left of the human being when the material elements are stripped away. Where is our place in the world? And how do we learn to see things through our own eyes rather than other people's? There is a lovely 'Letter to Walt Whitman' here that I read twice before I realised I was holding my breath each time. And then I raced to the page myself, wanting to write as directly as Mark Doty does here.

5. Not a poetry book but a book for poets that I have come to very late, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers has made me look at nearly everything differently this Summer. The book describes Wabi-Sabi as 'a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete,' and is a practice rather than an end result. The tension it describes between the meanings of Wabi and Sabi is perhaps the most exciting one thing I've read for a long time.

And now I'm off to add a few of the books recommended on other blogs to my reading list. Good idea, Nik!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back to earth....

Somehow when I got back to Kilimanjaro, I thought I would throw myself back into life with renewed energy. I have climbed a mountain, don't you know? So many people have asked if I've been writing about it, if I am already planning a new trip etc etc etc. But it hasn't been like that at all.

I think I've just been plain old exhausted. However, there's something else too.

Maybe it's because I'm a September baby, but I don't think I'm unusual in feeling the urge to sign up for something new at this time of year. A new class, learning a new skill. New shoes even.

This year however it seems I'm happy just to let it all drift by. There's a feeling that I need to let the whole experience settle down because I don't want to lose it before I've had time to ingest it properly.

It's a good feeling.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Us at the top of Kilimanjaro - around 8.45 on Tuesday morning!

I took lots of photos but unfortunately had my camera stolen at Nairobi airport so these are thanks to my sister (the one in the red jacket)...

It was an amazing, emotional, inspiring, exhausting trip. Of all the things I expected, FUN wasn't on the list. But that's what we had.

Every night when we arrived at camp, our wonderful porters sang and danced for us...

So after the first day, we surprised them by making up a song and singing it back to them every following night too! Not exactly rocket science, 'Four happy hikers climbing on a cliff, and if one happy hiker should accidently fall....' was one. But at least we can say that we did somehow sing our way up Kilimanjaro! Also we taught them an elaborate game of 'My grandmother went to market...' and played Rock paper scissors in return.

I'm going to write more later, and hopefully have some more pics, but this is just to say that we're safe, and happy, and to thank you ALL for your good wishes.

And if you're considering ever climbing Kilimanjaro, one thing to say to you .... DO IT! Happy to answer any questions you may have.