Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ever had your writing rejected? (No? Really? Then get off this blog please. Right now! It's human beings only welcome here.) Anyway, this video clip surely made me feel better!
A friend's just sent me this:
Can you raed this?
I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kirsty Wark's interview with Seamus Heaney about his new collection, District and Circle, took place in April, but I've only just found it. I love his description of poetry as the 'fortification of inwardness', particularly when he's talking about writing in an age of anxiety.
OK. Sit tight, girls of the seventies. In the course of researching a poem about communal changing rooms (remember them? where were the trumpets when they went out of fashion?) I've just discovered here that Cathy and Claire, doyens of Jackie magazine's problem page, didn't actually exist! Theirs was the first page we turned to every week, and my best friend and I even wrote to them once, only half as a joke, to say we had a crush on a sixth former who ignored us. 'They' (we always pictured them like the two women from Abba) wrote back and told us to take up more sport at school, and had we thought of hobbies. I feel cheated. Good news is that they've produced a Best of Jackie annual. I love the Amazon review from a 13 year old girl who seems amazed that anything her mum read could be interesting, but not as much as the fact the double-offer is with David Cassidy's Daydreamer. Now you're talking.
My writing prompt for today is going to be ... writing to a problem page.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bonnie Friedman probably writes the best about the role of envy in a writer's life. It isn't clever, it isn't nice, and it certainly isn't good for writing, but it happens and the publishing system we have encourages it. Once I acknowledged that, I felt so much better! So this is a homespun way of introducing one writer I was envious of for a long time when my first book, Something Beginning With, came out, because it seemed there were displays of Kate Long's book, The Bad Mother's Handbook, in every bookshop I went into, reviews and interviews in every newspaper and copies in everybody's hands!. This was the only - pathetic, petty, poor - reason I spent a long time being probably the only person in the country who hadn't read it. So when I was sent a copy to blurb by a US publisher, it felt this was something I had to get over. And, guess what, I LOVED it from the first page!! In fact, I loved it so much that I was reading it on the train once, the tears absolutely pouring down, when the man opposite touched my arm and asked whether I was all right. I told him I was more than all right and this was a book he absolutely had to read. He looked a bit scared and got off at the next stop! I wrote the blurb, putting as a private message to the publisher: 'Kudos to Kate Long' and that's what they ended up using. But I really did want to acknowledge her good writing and control in the book so I didn't mind, and now Kate's become an e-friend, so I've gained doubly! Anyway, her third book, Queen Mum has just come out and I've ordered my copy. Can't wait. This is what Kate says about the book on her website:
Queen Mum is the story of married mum Ally and her relationship with the family next door, in particular the beautiful Juno, who seems to glide through life with effortless grace. But when Juno takes part in the reality-tv show ‘Queen Mum’, Ally discovers a whole new side to the woman she thought was her best friend.

When I wrote this novel I wanted to look at the way in which we edit reality every day to fit in with our individual world view. As far as I can see, reality-tv is only an extension of this.

And you can see her talking about the book here.
A list of events here all taking place at the wonderful LONDON REVIEW BOOKSHOP
14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL
Tel: 020 7269 9030 Fax: 020 7269 9033

Platonov’s Fourteen Little Red Huts

29 June at 7 p.m.
In association with Academia Rossica, Robert Chandler, leading translator of the Russian writer Andrei Platonov, will introduce the play, explain how it came to be written and compare the relative differences in translating a play from prose. After a brief interval, a shortened version of the play will be performed by professional actors under the direction of Noah Birksted-Breen of the International Freedom Network. The play, written in 1932-3, addresses the hunger, trauma and confusion which accompanied a period of rapid collectivization and the unmasking of unexpected “class enemies”.

13 July at 7 p.m.
Bill Buford set out to write a feature about a chef called Mario Batali, but ended up on an adventure which dominated his life for years. In Heat (Cape), he describes his time as a “kitchen bitch” in the trendy New York restaurant Babbo, shooting game with Marco Pierre White in Britain and finally studying pasta making in an Italian hillside trattoria and butchery with a Dante-quoting butcher. Buford has been editor-in-chief for Granta magazine and fiction editor at The New Yorker, for whom he is now a staff writer and European correspondent.

Michael Gray on Bob Dylan
18 July at 7 p.m.
Andrew Motion called Michael Gray’s Song and Dance Man “the best book there is on Bob Dylan”. Recognised as a world authority on Dylan’s work, Gray has now compiled The Bob Dylan Encyclopaedia (Continuum), a monumental compendium from Baudelaire to the Basement Tapes, charting the impact he has made on the cultural landscape of the 20th and 21st centuries. This event will be a one-man- show with sound.

Peter Porter ‘Under the Influence’ of Arnold and Clough
20 July at 7 p.m.
Australian poet Peter Porter has influenced a lot of the best British poets writing today, but this evening, uniquely, he will talk about two nineteenth-century poets who have influenced him. Reading from his work, and the work of Matthew Arnold and Arthur Hugh Clough, he will discuss what he loves and admires about them, and how, both in language and sensibility, they inspired and enriched his work.

This event is part of the Poetry Society’s Under the Influence series, in conjunction with the London Review Bookshop. It is a unique opportunity to hear and ask about how working poets make use of their poetic ancestors.

Tickets £10 (£5 LRB subscribers, Poetry Society members and concs)

To book tickets with a credit or debit card call 020 7420 9895. For more information visit

Under the Influence will continue with Helen Dunmore under the influence of Keats (21 September) and Ruth Padel under the influence of Tennyson (23 November).

Michael McClure
24 July at 7 p.m.
The beat poet Michael McClure, following his highly successful event at the shop last year, returns to read some recent poetry and also give an exclusive talk about his controversial (some say obscene) play The Beard which will be performed for the first time since 1968 at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 25 July to August 12. It details an imagined meeting between two American icons, the sultry Jean Harlow and the quick-tempered outlaw Billy the Kid. “Juicy and exuberant” – Allen Ginsberg

Jenny Diski
27 July at 7 p.m.
On Trying to Keep Still (Little, Brown) chronicles Jenny Diski’s attempts to follow Montaigne’s quest for mental idleness. In fact she spent the year travelling to New Zealand, living in a country cottage for two months and visiting the Sami people of Lapland. Interspersed with ill-tempered descriptions of these trips are digressions on sore feet, growing older, spiders and fundamentalism.

Looking further ahead, as part of Banipal Live 2006, we are hosting an evening of readings by four young Arab writers on tour on Tuesday August 15th :Joumana Haddad, Ala Hlehel, Mansoura Ez-Eldin and Abed Ismael . From August 7th to August 21st, the shop will be taking part in Arab Authors Book Fortnight and displaying a selection of Arabic writing in translation.

On September 11th, the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion will give a reading from and discussion about his childhood memoir, In the Blood, an unforgettable evocation of family, school and country life in post-war England and how this idyllic world is shattered when his mother suffers a terrible riding accident. Two days later, (September 13th), Andrew O’Hagan will talk about his much anticipated (and already highly praised) new novel Be Near Me, which centres around an English priest in a small Scottish parish and the religious and class warfare he encounters as his own past unravels.

We are also very much looking forward to welcoming Mourid Barghouti, the author of the wonderful I Saw Ramallah, in mid-October and celebrating London – City of Disappearances with its editor Iain Sinclair and some of the book’s many contributors such as Will Self. More details as they emerge.
A whole radio channel devoted to books and reading. Wonderful - how lucky are we?! I recommend everyone with a digital radio tune in to Oneword, and those who don't can see what they're missing on the Oneword website.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Something to read for the weekend? Here's a short story I enjoyed by Zadie Smith, author of On Beauty, from the New Yorker online.
How strange, after my post yesterday, to get this poem sent to me this morning! It's by Jeffrey Harrison, and I've just ordered his book, Feeding the Fire. I had to, didn't I?!!!
Green Canoe

I don't often get the chance any longer
to go out alone in the green canoe
and, lying in the bottom of the boat,
just drift where the breeze takes me,
down to the other end of the lake
or into some cove without my knowing
because I can't see anything over
the gunwales but sky as I lie there,
feeling the ribs of the boat as my own,
this floating pod with a body inside it...

also a mind, that drifts among clouds
and the sounds that carry over water—
a flutter of birdsong, a screen door
slamming shut-as well as the usual stuff
that clutters it, but slowed down, opened up,
like the fluff of milkweed tugged
from its husk and floating over the lake,
to be mistaken for mayflies at dusk
by feeding trout, or be carried away
to a place where the seeds might sprout.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

So today's been a big day for me - I haven't been so excited since I got my first Girl's Guide badge for entertaining (I made my mum tea for that!). My friend Sue and I passed our canoeing certificate this morning. It's been a fantastic two months, facing all sorts of fears about going out on water, being out of control, etc etc, and today we had to make ourselves capsize into the river. That was the strange part - forcing your body and mind to do something you normally try not to! I went first because I was the most frightened, and although I nearly got stuck in the mud on the bottom and the smell had to be smelt to be believed, we both survived. We celebrated by eating a sandwich at the side of the river and just remembering how it had felt to be part of it. There have been some real highlights - being the first to canoe through about an inch thick fall of blossom, seeing fish jump, finding out a whole other world of houseboats neither of us knew existed in the middle of town, just seeing somewhere you know from another perspective and most of all, travelling so quietly and slowly. Blips - the one time I took fright, just couldn't manage to go on the water and ran away (!), but on the whole it's been a fantastic experience. And now ... have canoe, will travel! My writing prompt for today is going to be ... other ways of travelling.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I'm inspired by Mark Pritchard's interview with the essayist Noelle Oxenhandler - her book on desire centring round three wishes she made looks really interesting, and a good simple structure which allows her to layer both everyday and more philosophical musings. The link Mark has given to Noelle's essay on 'Remembering the Dead' is worth following too.
At a recent lecture on the work of Ted Hughes, Graham Fawcett read Hughes's poem about experiencing a different Paris from Sylvia Plath, and her naive enthusiasm hit home. I think I experience the 'American view' of Paris too ... and my writing prompt for today comes from an old story, but one I love. This is the man who was caught writing the word 'Amour' all round the city after he split up with his girlfriend. Apparently the police caught him, but the public supported him. Only in Paris..

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A report from the BBC reveals that TIME is the most used noun in the English Language. The top ten are as follows:
1 Time
2 Person
3 Year
4 Way
5 Day
6 Thing
7 Man
8 World
9 Life
10 Hand

I'm particularly interested from a writing point of view in this comment from Angus Stevenson, project manager of the OUP who says:
"The thing that struck me when I put together this list was that 90% of the top 100 words were one syllable, and that a large proportion were actually from Old English, meaning the basic words we use all the time in basic sentences are from before the Norman Conquest," he said.

"We always put the focus on new words, changing language and words from other countries, but in reality the basic language we use has been the same for hundreds and hundreds of years."
My name is Sarah and I'm .... There's no question about it. I'm addicted to playing solitaire. I've become painfully aware recently that when I'm writing/typing/doing anything on the computer, my fingers are aching instead to move the red queen to the black king, the nine to the ten. It soothes me in a way I can't explain, but it's also far too time-consuming. I'm not sure I can go the whole way and delete the game from my computer, but I'm determined not to play today. One step at a time.
And my writing prompt for today comes from a speech last night that made me cry with laughter and it's treading the wrong red carpet.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Thanks are due to Prufrock's Page for leading me through to this thoughtful article
by Lennard J. Davis, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, on reading and teaching Conrad's Heart of Darkness from different perspectives. He says how he underlined more and more different parts of the book as a student when he re-read it from a beatnik, anti-imperialistic and then feminist point of view, but then he had to consider his attitude towards teaching it all over again when students expressed not anger with it, but resignation and disappointment:
I found myself moving toward the decision not to teach Heart of Darkness anymore. Why should I inflict this painful work on my students? If any ethnic group announces that a word, phrase, or book is offensive to them, should I not honor their unique subjectivity? But the thought of giving up the book also created a kind of anxiety for me. Was I just giving in to the voice of censorship? Were my students’ sensibilities simply a new form of the old thought police?
This is one of the best articles I've seen on the responsibility of teaching texts - and the respect between tutor and students.
For several years, I would go through the newspapers at the end of the week cutting out articles that caught my eye and made me want to write about them - I can't remember the exact details but they would be things like how many years of our life we spent waiting at red traffic lights, how people in big cities learnt not to interact with strangers, how no one wanted to stand next to beautiful people on a crowded tube train, couples who had met in extra-ordinary ways, animal stories, obituaries, plus a lot about strange deaths for some reason. I've just started doing this again and it's as if I'm filling a deep well with so much stuff I want to write about. The cuttings are bunged in a box but just re-reading them, cutting them out and keeping them feels like I'm feeding a compost heap! So my writing prompt for today comes from this quote in today's Independent (from a column by Miles Kington) and it goes:
Talking to his wife was sometimes like going through a job interview with someone who didn't really want to give him a job.
How delicious is that as a piece of character development?!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Confession time ... up until now, I've not been really sure what Flash Fiction is. I've tried to write it a few times, but my efforts always feel more like a short story I've not finished, or a poem I've put into lines, so hurrah hurrah for Myfanwy who not only writes brilliant flash fiction herself but has put up on her blog the details of this fascinating analysis by Joseph Young of a piece by Kathy Fish. He writes:
The opportunity flash gives the writer, and more importantly, the reader, however, is to hold the entire narrative in the mind almost at once. Beginnings, middles, and endings can be appreciated more easily as a group, and we can more readily see how a middle can influence an ending, an ending a beginning.
Funny, this made me realise I'd been thinking about images rather than structure when I thought about flash, but those two sentences alone makes me want to go and try some straight away.
Writing in Different Places

OK, I wonder if anyone else has this problem, or is it me just being mad? Now that I've got myself a perfect writing room, somehow it's a little too....perfect. I can edit here, can write letters, reports, pitches, can read here wonderfully, but I need to break through to actually writing. 'Look here,' the room tells me, 'look at these beautiful blue walls, the desk you picked out so carefully, the little window... you need to write something REALLY special to do us justice.' So for my scribbles, freewriting, rough drafts, I've been sneaking off to other places just so my room doesn't see my shame. Thanks to the vole-goddess, Kate Long, for directions to this article by the scriptwriter of Desperate Housewives, Deanna Carlyle, which gives ideas for 'other places to write'. I'm going to work my way through them one by one and see which works. I particularly like the idea of writing in a hotel lobby with the canned music - I wonder if you could write in the lift - I guess that might be a haiku between floors!

And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... waiting in the hotel lobby.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sarah and Lynne invite you to join them in celebrating the publication of their new book ....


Messages is an exciting writing collaboration between Lynne Rees and Sarah Salway. Ranging from moving to the playful, the themes of love, sex, life, death and chocolate all take their place in this unique book of 300 pieces of 300 words.

Lynne and Sarah will be reading from and signing copies of Messages at:

Fremlin Walk
(easy parking at the new Fremlin Walk multi-storey car park)

Thursday 29th June 2006

Wine and Refreshments
In Store Discount

Ticketed Event - Please call the store on 01622 682042
MESSAGES, Lynne Rees's and my new book of 300 pieces of 300 words, was launched in London last week. Published by Bluechrome, I do have to say the book is very very beautiful. Good party too - thanks to Tony for this collage!
My writing prompt for today is to write about this beautiful dress by Madame Vionnet, sadly currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum and not in my wardrobe. The inspiration for this comes from the website's section on creative writing in galleries and museums - and in particular Michael Donaghy's poem here. The poem was written as part of a project which commissioned poets to pick a particular object from the museum and write a poem about it. I would have picked this dress I'm sure. When I was at Fashion College I picked Madame Vionnet as the subject for my final project, something that spoils you for Top Shop for ever more!
OK, let me come back to blogging-land with a bang. Here's the best extreme diet coke and mentos experiment I've seen, and it makes me laugh every time. Keep on watching - it gets worse! It's from Eepybird. Enjoy!

Friday, June 02, 2006

I don't know if it's the weather, my age or just a process I'm going through, but I'm turning down more than I'm accepting at the moment and just relishing being on my own. Even small things seem too much pressure and I've had all the challenges I can handle for the moment. Nothing makes me happier than an hour writing or reading, or best of all, digging on my allotment. The other day I even walked by a celebrity without noticing her because I was so interested in what my friend was telling me about the asparagus she's got growing in her garden - this is me, prime celebrity spotter! And although I do love London, I realise I'm putting off going there because it tires me out so much, and it's the opposite of that Samuel Johnson quote: 'When a man is tired of London, he's tired of life' in that I seem to be engaging with the smallest things in my life much more. I'm sure normal hectic service will be resumed soon, but in the meantime this poem by Thomas Hardy seemed appropriate!
A Private Man on Public Men
by Thomas Hardy

When my contemporaries were driving
Their coach through Life with strain and striving,
And raking riches into heaps,
And ably pleading in the Courts
With smart rejoinders and retorts,
Or where the Senate nightly keeps
Its vigils, till their fames were fanned
By rumour's tongue throughout the land,
I lived in quiet, screened, unknown,
Pondering upon some stick or stone,
Or news of some rare book or bird
Latterly bought, or seen, or heard,
Not wishing ever to set eyes on
The surging crowd beyond the horizon,
Tasting years of moderate gladness
Mellowed by sundry days of sadness,
Shut from the noise of the world without,
Hearing but dimly its rush and rout,
Unenvying those amid its roar,
Little endowed, not wanting more.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I love this story from PN Online. It gives me hope, but I'm so jealous of the prize. Imagine having a pig named after your book!:

Unknown makes the Bollinger shortlist

WHILE THE SHORTLIST for this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction is packed with famous writers – Terry Pratchett and Jilly Cooper among them – there is one author on the list who is a complete unknown. Robert Lewis, author of The Last Llanelli Train (Serpent’s Tail), is a 26-year-old first novelist whose debut title features a shambolic, alcoholic private eye.
Lewis may be young, but he’s already accumulated plenty of life experience. Originally from the Brecon Beacons, he describes himself as having been “a silver service waiter, painter, secretary, salesman, banker, web editor, yardcat [a form of night-watchman], high-voltage cabler, housing officer, mailboy, audit junior, welder’s assistant, and unemployed”. He’s now graduated from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth (where he now lives) as an English Literature mature student. His second book, Swansea Terminal, will be published next year, and he currently works as a journalist on trade paper In Business. “I made a new year’s resolution to stop working in accounts departments and that kind of thing,” he said.
Pete Ayrton, owner and MD of Serpent’s Tail, said: “It’s a darkly funny book. There’s a tradition in noir of gallows humour, and Robert Lewis has got that in trumps. It’s quite a feat to make what could be seen as a pretty depressing plot – the main character’s a complete failure – into something extremely funny.” The book was bought from Antony Topping at Greene & Heaton.
The other shortlisted titles are: Thud by Terry Pratchett and May Contain Nuts by John O’Farrell (both Doubleday); Wicked by Jilly Cooper (Bantam); All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye (Abacus) by Christopher Brookmyre; and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (Hamish Hamilton). The winner will be announced at the Hay Festival on 4 June, and will be given a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année, and a Gloucestershire Old Spot pig named after the winning book.
This is my writing prompt for today - "Behind each jewel are three thousand sweating horses." (Zen saying)
Poetry Thursday!

I know this photograph is a little macabre, but two things have happened to me recently with birds, and I'm feeling fragile as I'm a great believer in signs! Yesterday, looking for tomato plants at a market garden I felt a strange blub on my head but couldn't see anything above me, although when I put my hand to my hair, yes, you've guessed it, a bird had pooped on me. It's never happened before, but my son said it was a good sign. Why, I asked. Well, apparently because it's so bad that nothing else can go quite so badly. Hmmmm, some logic there, I suppose. Secondly, and more disturbingly, I found this little bird foetus on the balcony outside my bedroom window this morning. No sign of a broken egg, nest or anything. It looks perfect but is big - about one and a half inches long - so I can't work out what it might be. It feels rather like the Great Bird Godfather has left me a 'message'.
So in an effort to appease the birds - who I love, by the way - here's a poem for Poetry Thursday from Emily Dickinson, and I'm just off to bury the little chap above in a tissue-lined matchbox as well as filling up the bird feeder in my garden.

I shall keep singing!
Emily Dickinson

I shall keep singing!
Birds will pass me
On their way to Yellower Climes—
Each—with a Robin's expectation—
I—with my Redbreast—
And my Rhymes—
Late—when I take my place in summer—
But—I shall bring a fuller tune—
Vespers—are sweeter than Matins-Signor—
Morning—only the seed of Noon—
Couldn't resist this cartoon today from Harold's Planet!