Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Fact

If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days, you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee.

And boy, would your throat be dry enough to appreciate it.

They're back together!

No, not them, but The Verve. News that got me dancing up and down with excitement, an all sweet symphony. Forget zigazags, The Verve have to be one of the ultimate writerly bands - beyond punctuation as Mike Gee of iZINE apparently defined them, "The Verve were no longer the question mark or the cliche. They were the statement and the definition."

And Squeeze too (albeit a while ago). Life is good...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Poems on the Moon

I can't think of anything more exciting than having one of my poems read on the moon, so I was cross to miss this competition. Some consolation though to see such a worthy winner in Joanna Clark's poem, Phase.

And of course you didn't actually get to go to the moon to read your poem. Or not this year at least. It was bounced off the surface apparently, and will probably still be echoing in deepest space. As Clark herself says in her poem:
She probably won’t hear your words up there.

Maybe by this time next year, though, they'll send the winning poets up in a shuttle for a proper moonlit reading. (I can think of a few I wouldn't mind leaving up there.)

48 Words for Alfie

You don’t notice my eyes at first. Not many look further than my white face mask. But when I shake out my coat, and one hundred eyes quiver on the edge, then you know nothing gets past me. When you realise I see everything, I’m ready to pounce.

(Find out more here.)

Buying the Bronte house

Not the Haworth vicarage admittedly, but here's your chance to own the Bronte family's house.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Fact

There are more people alive today than have ever died.

OK, I have a reason for putting this one up. My partner was told it the other day, and I'm still not sure if I can believe it or not. Any views, sources, final yes's or no's would be extremely welcome. Astonishing if it is true.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Poetry Thursday

Some interesting poems here, including possibly the only haiku I have read about eating marmite.


At last, a book festival that probably won't feature mainly celebrities who have written books for the sole purpose of the book deal, rather than what they might have to say.

London Lit Plus looks positively edgy and egalitarian - celebrating people who are actually interested in writing, and how they respond to reading other writing (whether they are famous or not).

Which is what writing festivals should be about, surely? The writing, rather than the selling. Somehow, by taking risks, this one seems to be bursting with energy.

And is it just me, or is energy missing from many other festivals I get the programme for? It has got so I can't actually summon up the enthusiasm to go to events, not least because these are authors I can see in several other festivals already. Seeing their names repeatedly makes me feel I've heard them before too, and you can be pretty sure before you even turn up, that you know what you'll get.

It's a bit like the High Street of every British town. Useful, but nothing to get worried or excited about, and oh how I don't want my reading (and writing) to become like that.

Great looking website too - and the Chroma event is just one of the many I want to go to.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Davida v Goliath

Why isn't there more coverage about bullying at work? Milly Johnson, author of The Yorkshire Pudding Club, has written about the experiences she's going through at the moment on her blog. Takes a lot of courage to stand up to the bullies, especially when they're more powerful than you, and I salute her.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Email jokes...

This one made me laugh out loud:

Subject: 1st day - New Job

A passenger in a taxi leaned over to ask the driver a question and
tapped him on the shoulder. The driver screamed, lost control of the
cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the curb, and stopped just inches
from a large plate glass window.

For a few moments everything was silent in the cab, and then the still
shaking driver said, "I'm sorry but you scared the daylights out of me."

The frightened passenger apologized to the driver and said he didn't
realize a mere tap on the shoulder could frighten him so much.

The driver replied, "No, no, I'm sorry, it's entirely my fault. Today is
my first day driving a cab.... I've been driving a hearse for the last
25 years..

Reading bits out the newspaper

We're heavily into exam fever in the house at the moment, coming to the end of GCSE's and in the middle of A2's, and no one has time to listen to me reading interesting bits out of the newspaper (not that they ever did really). Anyway, I'm going to do it here, because there's such a lovely column in today's G2. I found Hardeep Singh Kohli's brief picture of a shared father/son passion really moving. He writes:
I love shoes. Perhaps a little too much, but I really do love them. My father loved shoes and continues to admire mine, now that he has fallen inoxorably into the gaping chasm of 'comfortable' leisure footwear.
Later he made me laugh out loud with this comment:
For seven months I have been looking for a new pair of black shoes. Seven months. I have bought houses more quickly.
I'd like to go shopping with this man. We seem to move at the same pace when it comes to making decisions.

OK, I'm going back to munching my toast now, but wait, here's a bit about Virginia Wade, which reminds me of one of my most embarrasing foot-in-mouth moments ever. I was introduced to her at a lunch once and before I could stop myself, gushed, 'It's like meeting history.' She was less than amused, but let me just read this bit out from ... oh, you've gone.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Poetry Thursday

Bookmark George Szirtes' blog for brilliant writing and observation, and you can hear him reading his poems here, including one of my favourites, Losing, with the haunting first line: 'We lose each other everywhere'.

Get your own here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Three Wednesday Things

A fidgety and angsty start to the day, but on my walk with Tally, three good things happened to cheer me up:

1. There was a peony out in full bloom in the park. A pink one with white tentacles inside, searching for the sun as if it was under water. Leaves were already falling, reminding me just what short lives these flowers have. I wanted to rush back home and see if the tight buds I bought yesterday had started to open.

2. A man was lying flat out on a bench. His head and body were covered but he'd taken off his socks and trainers, placing them neatly, side by side, under the bench. I thought he was asleep, but as I walked past, his bare toes wiggled.

3. Some teenagers were sitting under a tree, having pulled the branches down so low they'd made a tent for themselves. One of them - a friend of my daughter's - shouted out hello as I passed, and I made them laugh by pretending not to have known they were there. Teenagers are the very best - I just wish we didn't seem to be so frightened of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Not Just For Christmas

I'm not sure why I've done this. Just when things were getting back on an even keel, kids nicely settled, dog respectable.. I've gone and adopted a lion! Actually I know exactly what happened. It was Clare's fault. She got one first and hers looked pretty. So I clicked on the link to something called the Shameless Lions Writing Circle, smiled a bit when I read what was going on, saw this lion above which was easily the most magnificent (sorry Clare) then forgot about it. But I clicked again several days later. Hey, my guy was still an orphan although others were going fast. And I clicked again another few days later to find him looking hungrier and sadder. So eventually I pounced. It was a bit like when my grandmother used to tell us to eat up, otherwise the two potatoes left on the plate would 'get lonely'.

So, meet my new lion writing champion. He's called Alfie, after one of the characters I'm writing about. And he can SEE EVERYTHING... Those are peacock eyes on his coat, and you can tell he has superpowers by the mask he has to wear over his face. We're very pleased with each other. I'm teaching him to growl every time I turn on solitaire instead of writing another chapter, and he's learning to LOVE carrots and spinach.

ps There are still three lions left if you are interested. Go on, you know you want to ...

Short Story Conference

‘The Story Shall Be Changed’: Tales and Re-tellings in the Short Story

Saturday July 21st, 2007
Edge Hill University

The second short story conference at Edge Hill, bringing together writers, researchers and literary scholars.

Speakers include:

Professor Alan Wall (Richard Dadd in Bedlam and Other Stories)
Andy Sawyer (Science Fiction Foundation, University of Liverpool)
Cecilia Morreau (Leaf Books)

The conference is linked with the inaugural presentation of the Edge Hill Prize, for a published single author collection from the British Isles. This year’s shortlist is:

Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things
Jackie Kay, Wish I Was Here
Nicholas Royle, Mortality
Colm Toibin, Mothers and Sons
Tamar Yellin, Kafka in Bronteland

Judges are A.L. Kennedy, Andrew Cant of Simply Books and Ailsa Cox, Reader in English and Writing at Edge Hill. The winner will be announced at an award ceremony at the Royal Exchange, Manchester on July 20th.

Jackie Kay, Nicholas Royle and Tamar Yellin have confirmed that they will be reading at the conference. There will also be readings by short story authors including E.A. Markham, Sarah Salway, David Evans and David Swann.

This is the second annual conference hosted by the North West Short Story Network, supported by Lancaster University, Liverpool Hope, St Martin’s Lancaster, University of Chester, Bolton University, Salford University and Manchester Metropolitan University (Cheshire).

Booking Fees: £55/£30 (students, unwaged)

To book please log on to the website or contact Trish Molynuex, Dept. of English, Edge Hill University, St Helens Rd., Ormskirk L39 4QP.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Take a walk ...

... around literary London with this iToor.

Or you can do it all without even getting out of your seat with this Amazon list. I'm still smiling at the subtitle to the Great British Cookery book - 'A well kept secret'.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A story idea ... surely?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Become Your Favourite Book ....

If your favourite book, song, TV show or poem was to be destroyed, could you save it by committing it to memory - by 'becoming' it? Artist Simon Pope invites participants to join the live event in Trafalgar Square - 24th June.


I have been so inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I even caught myself looking up courses on how to keep chickens the other day. But it's not just the practical (or in my chicken case, the impractical) that has stayed with me.

In her chapter on Celebration Days, Kingsolver talks about the Dia de los Muertos, saying she is drawn to this particular celebration because she lives 'in a culture that allows almost no room for dead people'. She says that growing her own food has allowed her to recall deeply buried memories of long-dead family members, almost as if she was spending time with them. The heading of this post, Xantolo, apparently means that memory space that opens up sometimes before your eyes, the ordinary communion between the dead and the living. Perhaps because it has no equivalent name in English, it sounds like some kind of weird zombie B-movie but now I've been wondering how much we've lost by keeping the dead so firmly in the past. Kingsolver writes:
"When I'm cooking, I find myself inhabiting the emotional companionship of the person who taught me how to make a particular dish, or with whom I used to cook it. Slamming a door on food-rich holidays, declaring food an enemy, sends all the grandpaprents and great aunts to a lonely place. I have been so relieved lately to welcome them back...."
Of course, it's not just with food that we form links with the past. Sometimes it's the smallest things - in fact, such small things that I've almost been overwhelmed thinking about it recently. Take this snapdragon pictured above which I know I only planted because, in the garden centre, I was reminded of how my mother always used to pick the flowers and squeeze them between her thumb and finger to make them talk for us. Indeed, as soon as my own kids saw the first flower, it was one of the first things they remembered too. So without being morbid, it's like having Mum back around with us, hanging out on our balcony and making stupid puppet plays with flower heads. Trivial maybe, but like Kingsolver, it feels like I can welcome her back. Besides, my mother was never one for a dramatic entrance.

The idea of space and memory is one which my favourite poet, Kenneth White explores in this poem,

My Properties

I'm a landowner myself after all -
I've got twelve acroes of white silence
up at the back of my mind

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Fact(s)

From A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves:

Different ways of invoking the Muse

* The poet Friedrich von Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk, open it, inhale deeply, and compose.

* Balzac drank fifty cups of coffee in a day.

* Colette first picked fleas from her cat, then wrote.

* Voltaire used his lover's naked back as a writing desk.

* Alexandre Dumas, the elder, wrote his nonfiction on rose-coloured paper, his fiction on blue and his poetry on yellow.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pen Event

Deathless Prose

Veronica Horwell, Martin Vander Weyer and Hugo Vickers
chaired by Jonathan Heawood

Tuesday 19 June, 7pm

The obituary is one of the most challenging of all forms of literature. It was not for nothing that Mark Twain complained that reports of his death had been exaggerated. Turning the chaos of life into a few succinct paragraphs that are at once respectful, illuminating and honest is a task beyond all but the hardiest writers. And who are obituaries for anyway - friends, family, or immortality? Obituarist Martin Vander Weyer, Business Editor of the Spectator, is joined by the royal biographer Hugo Vickers and columnist and obituarist Veronica Horwell to explore the darker corners of the newspaper pages.

Time: 7.00pm

Tickets: £5.00 PEN Members / £7.00 non-members (includes a glass of wine after the talk, courtesy of Waitrose Wines)

Venue: The Guardian Newsroom, 60 Farringdon Road, London, EC1R 3GA

How to book: On-line at or call 020 7713 0023

Poetry Thursday

One of my favourites - may your day be a slow one....

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
W B Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

24 hour blogging

I found the novelist Clare Dudman's account of her (nearly) 24 hour blog weirdly fascinating yesterday. I particularly liked this paragraph about the reaction of her teenage son:
According to Hodmandod Minor the act of blogging in itself is tragically sad and embarrassing - but this experiment of mine today has, to be frank (and he always is), has plumbed new depths.

'No offence.' He says. Finally.

It's made me think about the average age of bloggers - how many teenagers are there out there 'doing it'? I can't think of many - my daughter started a blog when I did, but got bored after her first entry, whereas I've kept on. And on. And on. Or is it just that the over-twenty-fives (and much over) aren't reading teenage blogs, or linking to them? Perhaps it is all 'tragically sad' and blogging is the new equivalent of getting everyone up on the dance floor as soon as 'some decent music' comes on just so you can strut your (much more considerable these days) stuff.

Oh but hey, we're still allowed some fun, aren't we? And we're not doing that much harm, tucked away in our little corner of the dance floor. After all, it's keeping us off Facebook and Myspace where we could really let ourselves go. OI!! WATCH THOSE FLAILING ARMS, GRANDDAD!!!!!!

And I'd happily do Clare's experiment myself, except I'd reveal just how many games of solitaire I play in the average day.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Three Wednesday Things

So, enough of me (surely not, I hear you cry!). My Three Things for today are novelists I admire who spend their time away from the keyboard doing very different things ...

1. Amy Tan lives the Rock Goddess dream. And also more recently here. You have no idea how much I'd like to be in a band like this - anyone out there want to put one together because I know just the right backing singer for you, lots of enthusiasm but absolutely no experience apart from in front of mirror?

2. Margaret Atwood is an inventor of distinction AND draws pretty funny comics. (Go to the desk and click on the comic drawer. My favourite is the Radio Tour.)

3. Barbara Kingsolver is currently inspiring me with her eat local food campaign. I'm half-way through her latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I've already made changes to our diet at home.

MeMeMe and More Me

I don't have a great record when it comes to having photographs taken. Normally at parties, celebrations and stuff, I think I'm looking great - in fact I think I'm looking pretty fantastic - until the pictures come back and I'm the drunken one with the bright red face. Plus I always break every rule us girls are supposed to have learnt at birth - those ones about picking ugly friends so we look good - and instead I grab all the good-looking people in the room and DON'T LET GO, not even when they're looking slightly scared and are just about to resort to begging....

(Here's me with the lovely poet, Catherine Smith last week, for example)

So, when it was time to have some new photographs taken, I was a bit nervous. (I knew it was time for new photos because I got bored of the disappointed faces I saw when I turned up five years after the last lot got taken). I spent hours trying to decide what to wear, only to find Ellen, the photographer, turned up wearing the only thing I could ever want to put on ...

Still, onwards and upwards. I didn't think it would be the best possible start if I asked her to take her clothes off straight away - she's a serious and wonderful photographer, so I made the most of my own mostly black and white wardrobe. And do you know - it was knackering. Ellen made it fun, but gosh, Kate Moss earns her money. Anyway, it was a bit disappointing I didn't look like Kate in the phtographs, but after the initial shock that what I see in the mirror is the real 'me', I'm pleased with the results, even in some of them my eyes look a bit starey and scary. Reminds me too much of when I used to be called Dracula at school because of my dark hair and because I was always 'looking at people'. Well, they were jolly lucky I didn't bite them.

And the best news is that apparently I'm too smiley in all of them, so we have to do it all over again. More mememememe... And now I know Ellen well enough to ask if I can borrow her top!

And even more me - apologies for this but it is my blog - here's a piece I just written for the Guardian on my Top Ten books about friendships. Have already had several emails suggesting books I should have put in, so am currently collating my top million books. Suggestions welcome ...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Book porn

Here, and here. So very very yummy - as is the confirmation for my 'how to make your own book' course which arrived this morning. I'm sure my lovely publishers will be quaking about the competition as I move towards full scale production, especially as apparently I don't even need to write any words:
"We have a book in the collection called The Mirror Book - no text whatsoever - it has glass mirror bindings, and silver mylar pages, so that the entire book is totally reflective. But it is bound like a book, it is shaped like a book, so in my mind it is a book even though it is not readable. It does not have to be readable, but does need to be book-like in some way."

The quote and photograph above are taken from an article about the books held in the collection at the National Gallery in Maryland. I have to visit there and here. I'm tingling in the way I do when I feel a new obsession coming on....

Monday, June 04, 2007

Women in art

This is like a dream, or a nightmare. I can't stop watching it though, and each time I feel like clapping at the end ...

(The link came via the fabulous the Hagsharlotsheroines blogspot, also well worth a look. Particularly Hannah Davey's diary, after her move from London to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Fact

(Ooooo, now this one seems like a challenge!)

No piece of normal-size paper can be folded in half more than 7 times.