Friday, October 15, 2010


Come and find me at my new home here...

Or sit with me on my bench blog.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


An (old-ish) article of mine about the joys of Getting Lost has just appeared on the Psychologies Magazine website. Really happy to have it out there where I can find it because I am quite the expert at getting lost myself....!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Another Poetry Competition...

Expensive this one, but it is highly respected.

(sponsored by NAWE)
The Poetry Business is now inviting entries for its 25th Book & Pamphlet Competition. Entrants are invited to submit a short collection of poems (20-24 pages), for the chance to win:
book publication & six free copies (for the overall winner),
pamphlet publication & 20 free copies (for three/four first-stage winners),
a share of £2,000 prize money,
a poetry reading hosted by The Poetry Business,
and publication in The North magazine.
JUDGE: Simon Armitage
DEADLINE: Last posting on Monday 29th November 2010 (or for online entries, 1st December)
ENTRY FEE: £25 (or £20 for Friends of the Poetry Business and North magazine subscribers). A £1 surcharge is applied to entries submitted online.
Enter online, download an application form and find full details on the Poetry Business website at

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Some publication news...

I'm very pleased that one of my short stories, For the Sake of the Children, first published in Night Train was chosen for the Chamber Four Fiction Anthology, a selection of 'outstanding stories from the web during 2009/2010'.

You can download the anthology here and please do, not least because it's FREE!

Also I wanted to tell you that a poem I wrote during Pascale Petit's wonderful Monday nights at the Tate Modern is included in the pamphlet, Poetry From Art. This is only available from the Tate, but I really recommend you getting a copy. Not just for my poem, of course, but for those of the other contributors including Karen McCarthy Woolf, Naomi Woddis, Malika Booker, Rowyda Amin, Matthew Paul, Anne Welsh, 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. Good stuff.

It really is such a privilege to walk around a gallery like the Tate Modern after hours thinking and writing poetry, but what gets me most is how good it feels just to sit and stare at ONE thing, rather than do what I normally do which is to try and see everything. Thank you Pascale!

Here's a poem I wrote in response to Anselm Kiefer's amazing installation, Palm Sunday:


Down in the root ball of the ship
the plant collector is making a nest.

He counts his catch, tucks each seed
up in its own handwritten box, an ebony

cabinet ticking with paused hearts.
He dreams of growing a fresh desert

one day, of these dried moments
in the old land coming back to life.

His bones ache as he waters
the dust, while on the deck above,

sailors sleep, the wooden mast dances
again in perfect tune with the winds,

until reaching for water, it leans
too far, loses balance. White sails,

like baby gowns, christen the sea.

I also have poems in two more anthologies coming out soon, WordAid and South East Poets, but more on those shortly.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Somehow I like it even better when it all goes a bit wrong - do LOVE Kim Addonizio and want to make my own videos now. The only recent one I've got is of me doing my party trick of sucking up a creme caramel directly from the plate and believe me, that is neither pretty or poetic.

Sunday, October 03, 2010



Here's a copy of the email I've just received in case you're interested in this excellent poetry prize:

Dear Poets

Some last-minute reminders in the run-up to our 2010 deadline as you're deciding which poems/how many to submit...

- shortest turnround of any major competition: poems in on/by Fri 15th Oct, winners know by Mon 22nd Nov, results by e-mail to everyone else after announcement on evening of Mon 29th Nov;

- no sifters/chuckers-out, both judges read every poem;

- not just £1000 top prize but 22 other prizes and the chance for every prizewinner to read at Troubadour Prize Celebration on Mon 29th Nov;

- every submission, whether one poem or ten, supports our fortnightly Monday night readings in London's liveliest, longest-running and best-loved literary landmark venue, now surviving without Arts Council support and relying increasingly on poets around the country and around the world to keep literature 'live' in London.

Do feel free pass on the word to anyone you know who's writing and who mightn't be on our newsletter lists. And many thanks to all those of you who've already submitted.

Best wishes


4th Annual Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2010

Judges: Gwyneth Lewis & Maurice Riordan
(Both judges will read all poems).

1st prize £1000, 2nd £500, 3rd £250, plus 20 @ £20 each
Spring 2011 Coffee-House Poetry Season Ticket
prizewinners' Coffee-House Poetry reading
with Maurice Riordan & Gwyneth Lewis
for all winning poets
on Monday 29th November 2010 at the Troubadour

Submission deadline: Friday 15th October 2010
See for previous winners & winning poems, 2007-2009;
See below or for judges, rules and submission details.


Gwyneth Lewis was the first National Poet of Wales (2005) and her words appear over the Wales Millennium Centre, opened in 2004. Educated at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen, a bilingual school near Pontypridd, and at Oxford, Columbia and Harvard Universities, she has written oratorio as well as having written on clinical depression and 'Two in a Boat - The True Story of a Marital Rite of Passage', inspired by a sailing journey during which her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Her poetry collections in English include 'Parables and Faxes' (1995), 'Chaotic Angels' (2005) and 'A Hospital Odyssey' (2010, all Bloodaxe).

Maurice Riordan (b. Lisgoold, Co, Cork, 1953) is the author of three collections of poetry, 'A Word from the Loki' (Faber, 1995, a PBS choice), the Whitbread shortlisted 'Floods' (Faber, 2000) and 'The Holy Land'(Faber, 2007) which received the Michael Hartnett Award. A Next Generation poet, he has been Poetry Editor of Poetry London and is currently Professor of Poetry at Sheffield Hallam University, has translated the work of Maltese poet Immanuel Mifsud ('Confidential Reports', 2005), has edited and co-edited anthologies on science, space and ecology, and has edited a selection of Hart Crane's poems for Faber's 'Poet to Poet' series (2008).


General: Entry implies acceptance of all rules; failure to comply with rules will result in disqualification; competition open to poets of any nationality over 18 years; no competitor may win more than one prize; judges' decision is final; no individual correspondence will be entered into.

Poems: Poems must be in English, must each be no longer than 45 lines, must fit on one page of A4, must be the original work of the entrant and must not have been previously broadcast or published (in print or online); prizewinning poems may be published (in print or online) by Troubadour International Poetry Prize and may not be published elsewhere for one year after Friday 15th October 2010 without written permission. No limit on number of poems submitted. No alterations accepted after submission.

Fees: All entries must be accompanied by fee of EITHER £5/ 6EURO/$8USD per poem, if fewer than 4 poems, OR £4/ 5EURO/$7USD per poem if 4 or more poems submitted; payment by cheque or money order (Sterling/Euro/US-Dollars only) payable to 'Coffee-House Poetry' with poet's name (and/or e-mail Entry Acknowledgement Reference, if appropriate) written on back.

By Post: No entry form required; each poem must be typed on one side of A4 white paper showing title & poem only; do not show author's name or any other identifying marks on submitted poems; include a separate page showing Name, Address, Phone, E-Mail (opt), Titles and Number of Poems EITHER @ £5/ 6EURO/$8USD each OR @ £4/ 5EURO/$7USD each; no staples; entries are not returned.

By E-mail: No entry form required; poems must be submitted in body of e-mail (no attachments) to; entries should be preceded by Name, Address, Phone, Titles and Number of Poems EITHER @ £5/ 6EURO/$8USD each OR @ £4/ 5EURO/$7USD each; acknowledgement will be sent to entrant's e-mail address showing Entry Acknowledgment Reference; send payment by post within 14 days quoting Entry Acknowledgement Reference; e-mail entries will be included only when payment received by post.

Acknowledgement/Results: will be sent to all e-mail entrants; postal entrants should include stamped, addressed postcard marked 'Acknowledgement' and/or stamped, addressed A5 envelope marked 'Results' if required.

Deadline: All postal entries, and postal payments for e-mail entries, to arrive at Troubadour Poetry Prize, Coffee-House Poetry, PO Box 16210, LONDON, W4 1ZP postmarked on or before Friday 15th October 2010. Prizewinners will be notified individually by Monday 22nd November 2010. Prizegiving will be on Monday 29th November 2010 at Coffee-House Poetry at the Troubadour.

Anne-Marie Fyfe (Organiser)
coffee-house poetry at the troubadour

Saturday, October 02, 2010


What's going to happen to all our old, unwanted letters?

Well, do not fret. Because I have just found out that help is at hand.

They are being collected at the Museum of Letters in Berlin, the only collection of letters in the world so far.

I have to say that finding out about this, and looking at all the photographs of letters, has given me an enormous gust of pleasure.

And it means that I no longer have to feel quite so sad when I see pictures like this...

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 (, 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.

Monday, August 23, 2010


William Blake famously said: Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

So I'm off to Kilimanjaro to meet my mountain. I shall see you all when I get back.

Wish me luck, and here's something for you to watch and listen to...

Sunday, August 22, 2010


She planned it before he died, so at the right moment they took his body away. The drop of blood they returned was bigger than she expected, but she hung it up in the sitting room, and turned to the fashion channels. No more sport, she whispered. My turn now.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010


She sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but she’s been comfort eating so much she can’t get out. And it’s safe with her chocolate and her sweets. So she watches the light thinking that tomorrow she’ll change her life. But now, she’ll sit here. Eat some more.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


He fell over in the middle of the labyrinth. They said it didn’t matter, but he stumbled again as he got up. For the rest of the week he felt lost. It was as if he was blindfolded. He dreamt of walking round. And round. There was no way out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I am pasting and copying the whole of this email from the Azaaz organisation about the floods in Pakistan in case you are like me and want to help but are not sure what to do or where to go...

Dear Friends,

A humanitarian catastrophe of terrifying proportions is unfolding in Pakistan, with a fifth of the country under water, and millions of people homeless and desperately needing assistance.

Some relief efforts are underway, but the international response to the mega-disaster has been irresponsibly slow and weak -- the UN has urgently appealed for $460 million of vital aid, but just 40% has been delivered.

Relief workers warn that without an immediate increase in aid the death toll could sky-rocket. We can help by sending funds directly to the most reliable aid organizations, and by pressing our governments to step up their efforts. Let's show our leaders what generosity looks like, and demand that they join us. Click here to send a personal message to key donor governments

And click here to donate to the relief effort.

After visiting the flood stricken areas, a visibly upset UN General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon, said “This has been a heart-wrenching day for me. In the past, I have visited many natural disasters, but I have never seen anything like this.”

Thousands of towns and villages have been washed away -- roads, buildings, bridges, crops. Now people are stranded on tiny islands surrounded by flood waters. With no clean water to drink, cholera, diarrhea and other sicknesses are on the rise, threatening the millions of people who have lost their homes and livelihoods.

The international response so far has not matched that of previous large scale disasters. Organisations like UNICEF and WHO have said they lack the funds to provide adequate assistance.

The governments of the world need to do more, and we can lead by example. Let’s stand with Pakistan at this time of crisis, and ask important donor governments to do the same.

Click here to donate.

Click here to send a message.

Our community has risen to the challenge of awful disasters before. In 2008, Avaaz members raised over 2 million dollars for the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma. Earlier this year, $1.4 million was raised for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Our ability to move quickly in times of crisis can make the difference between life or death for people struggling to cope with disaster. Let’s show the people of Pakistan that people and governments around the world stand with them in this awful crisis.

With hope,

Luis, Iain, Mia, Ricken, Paul, Giulia, Ben, David, Graziela, Pascal, Milena and the rest of the Avaaz team

More information:

UN Chief’s heart wrenching appeal for Pakistan flood victims.

Pakistan floods fail to spark strong global aid.

Death toll rises from Pakistan flooding.

Avaaz Burma Cyclone relief --

Avaaz Haiti Earthquake response --


It is like a visual art installation in which each message is an image or object we can pick up in our hands.

You all know the Bookeywookey website, don't you?

It's a brilliant place for book reviews and interesting people and things to do with the mind. Just my kind of thing, and it's been a great joy to me that its creator, Ted, has become a friend since he read and was so kind about Tell Me Everything a couple of years ago.

But that didn't make it any easier when I knew he was going to review my new book. I wrote to him saying that he should say what he thought.

And then I regretted it but luckily didn't send the email saying 'Actually I didn't mean that. Say what I think....' or something worse.

But hurrah, hurrah, he 'got' it.

You can read the review here, but here's some of what he says:

The novel's leitmotif is a photograph and a negative, if you will: the superficial versus interior knowledge of another person. The snapshot one gets when knowing someone only from the outside in a single context, versus who they are inside, who they are when they relate to their intimates, who they are to themselves in their fantasies, and sadly, who they become when there is no one to whom they show their deepest selves. As a literary device the letters and messages are an appropriate form for this novel in that they are like snapshots, you need more than one to know the whole story. And while a nude picture is literally revealing, it does not necessarily give the viewer an intimate relationship with the subject. However the subject themselves possesses that whole story and so posing for that photograph feels a kind of risk, perhaps akin to the risk we take when we tell someone we love them, or the risk artists take when they put themselves into their work. That is the reverse image contained in the novel, the risk that it takes to be known. This is not just the artists' journey, it is everyone's and this novel's message is that the risk is worth it.

And in other happy dancing showing off news, last week on twitter, William Gibson tweeted that he had Getting the Picture on his reading list and then I got an email saying that a certain British philosopher is planning to take it on holiday with him. Not going to name him because the names are dropping fairly heavily in this post already (Oh but OK, if you insist, A d B may be some of the letters.... )

Anyway that's probably enough of the showing off now, Salway. Back to happy dancy writing!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


One of the posts I've had the most personal responses to recently was one in which I mentioned my shyness and the cure that's helped me, Bach's Rescue Remedy.

I posted this photograph on Facebook as a joke about my forthcoming Kilimanjaro preparations, but it does seem to make a difference for me.

And here are some of the other things that help me overcome shyness when it comes to readings and public speaking etc ...

1. Making a note of all the things I've missed in the past because of it. And how much I would have enjoyed them. So I don't want to miss more in the future. Do I?

2. This tip I read which is that a speech should contain a fact, a feeling (created by talking about the senses) and an action. Just thinking about how I am gong to include this gives me some kind of structure apart from just panicking.

3. Remembering that no one else notices how nervous I am. Just bluff it out and smile. Also remember that people actually want me to do well. They are not the enemy. Although strangely easy to forget this sometimes.

4. In my head unless I'm careful, I often have a scenario going on about how I'm going to trip over, that I will start crying, that ... etc etc. The strange thing is that these thoughts are almost a little comforting - as if it's not really going to be as bad as that. How could it be? But that's all a bit negative, so I try to think instead about what people (the audience) want to hear. How can I give them that? Just replacing the first scenario with this calms me. Gives me something other than myself to think about, because it's not about me anymore. It's about everybody else. I remember listening to a talk by Dr Wayne Dyer in which he said that he sat in his dressing room before any presentation asking 'how could he serve'? Well, I don't have dressing rooms, and I'm not so sure about the serving, but I like the sentiment.

5. Have the first few lines ready, and prepared. And how I'm going to finish. And to practice this a few times in front of the mirror. Smiling. And bluffing it out (with a few drops of rescue remedy to hand..).

What tips do you have? Let's compile a list.

Monday, August 16, 2010


They prefer to live in the past. Of course, they’ve heard about televison, how strangers can come in to your house, how sometimes people cry over these strangers. But the villagers can’t understand. It’s busy enough already. In each family enough drama. In each house enough talk. Real connections. Love.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


One of our highlights during our trip to Ghent was a visit to the S.M.A.K. gallery, and not least finding this amazing room for kids to hang out in - The Factory.

With comfy chairs to watch art videos, or just to read one of the art books in the bookshelf...

A table to use for drawings and art, or even to draw on!

And because it's called 'The Factory' (love this collage of words, btw, I think I should paint it on my own writing room wall!) ...

It had its own Andy Warhol's...

Inspiring in every way!

Friday, August 06, 2010


Thrilled to be able to talk about Denton Welch and the meaning his book Maiden Voyage has for me on Norman Geras's blog recently.

You can find my piece here.

Also thrilled to get this wonderful Amazon review for GETTING THE PICTURE from Tania Hershman too.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Harry doesn’t really believe the hairdresser when he says this is the latest cut. Even when he sees the result, Harry leaves a tip. The laughter in the salon follows him out to the street. A child points at him. It’s good to be ahead of fashion, the hairdresser said.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Finding poetry outside book covers makes me happy.

Even though i couldn't understand what they say, and one of you may write in to tell me they are actually an advert for toilet paper, these poems in unexpected places.

Let's have more poems.


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

CAUGHT IN THE NET - a 50 word photostory

He wants to know how she found out. He was so careful. But she accused him straight away. He hadn’t even got into bed. She doesn’t say she saw the grid marks on his naked body. That she recognised the chair he’d got them from. That she’d sat there too.

Monday, August 02, 2010


We've just had a weekend in Ghent (our compensation tickets for getting stranded in Brussels in the Eurostar pre-Christmas disaster). Nothing better for me than wandering round a new city and getting a creativity fix.

One of the things I love doing is searching out independent artisans, craftsmen and artists, and this time we got lucky when we walked into Els Robberechts's hat shop (I can't seem to link to it, but here's the website - or second time lucky, try this.)

That's my new hat she's got on the counter by the way. She gave me a little lesson in how to be a hat wearer, and although I'm not sure I'm there yet, I'm looking forward to experimenting, especially with such a beautiful one.

And she allowed us to peek into her studio upstairs ...

Just as exciting, we met her husband, the master tailor Aravinda, who showed us some of the secrets he hides in his ties. Love it - these are exactly the women my character, Martin photographs in GETTING THE PICTURE. And I shall look at all tie-wearing businessmen with a new curiosity.

And to reassure Els if she happens to see this, this picture below is definitely not going to be the fate of my hat. He obviously wasn't wearing his right...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010



Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Hardship (and Kendal Mint Cake) - a 50 word photostory

They start the explorers off with cosmetics. Ranulph Fiennes drops out when he’s caught crying because they’ve discontinued his perfect Chanel lipstick. Then Sir Edmund Hillary faints because his corset is laced too tightly. Bear Grylls lasts the longest. He’s spotted trying the gladiator sandals, his glittery false eyelashes fluttering.

(More fifty word photostories here.)

(pps You all did know I'm climbing Kilimanjaro, right?....!)

Monday, July 26, 2010


... than members of your family reading your books?

Luckily Rach approves!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Today is the first handover between the artists and writers involved in the Tunbridge Wells Art Gallery project, to be exhibited at the start of the next year.

I have written already about the ideas that didn't make it to the final round, (here) so here's the one that did.

Please welcome for her first outing anywhere apart from my radiator at home one of my little STORY DOLLS...

The idea is that each body part represents a different part of the story. Either you can leave the story as it is, or you can use it to write something new from it. Or you can swop in another body part and make a completely different story. Rather like those women who used the dress patterns could make up different parts of the doll's dress and therefore create a new story for the doll every time they used the pattern.

And here's one of my stories from the doll above..


I tell the guards I didn’t do it, but they tell me that’s what people like us always say.

Except in the papers there was no ‘us’, there was only me. EVIL BUS DRIVER’S ROYAL KIDNAP ATTEMPT.

I didn’t even know who she was at the time. Thought she was just another dumpy old mad woman. We got those a lot round here. Especially after 10am when they can travel for free.

‘Help me,’ she’d begged. ‘My train is late, and I must get to my sick mother.’

Everybody knows the Queen Mother is dead, they said at the trial, but I didn’t know she was the Queen then, did I? And it was the sick mother bit that got me too. I always go that bit extra to help customers. Plus it was a question of pride. I wanted to show that buses were better than trains.

There’d been a fuss going on at the station. The Mayor and lots of camera crews were there, so I wasn’t surprised that the trains were late. I took her through the back way where my bus was waiting. Behind us, someone started blowing a trumpet. There was no way the passengers on the 5.45 were going to get in on time so I could make it to the hospital and back.

Her hat blew off as she climbed on board. Perhaps I should have twigged then, but I was trying to work out who her voice reminded me of.

‘This is exciting,’ she said. ‘Much better than judging boring hanging baskets. And of course we have private buses at Windsor but not so thrillingly dirty.’

I was about to get cross because I have high standards of cleanliness, when I saw the police lights behind and the helicopters above.

‘Oh, this always happens,’ she said then, ‘just when I’m having fun.’

The others on the prison floor tell similar stories, but no one ever believes us. Not people like us.

She visited the prison this afternoon though. I watched from the window as that new warden escorted an anonymous dumpy woman in need of help through the side door. And then I heard the sirens.

They’re already making up a new cell.


To be honest, I'm rather worried about my little story dolls and hope they get a good reception. Luckily I'm much more excited though to see what the others in our group have come up with. I feel very lucky to be involved in this project.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dummy - a 50 word photostory

She makes Claude at evening class. At work she boasts that she has a new man. A fencer. He can’t come to drinks, she says, because he’s always sharpening his sword or washing his moustache. She laughs at him. It’s much better than when they used to laugh at her.

(This is one of the fifty word stories I write to accompany my photographs. You can read more here, or write a 50 word story of your own and add it in the comments box. But be warned - they are addictive!)

Monday, July 19, 2010


Last week was an amazing time for meeting new people who now feel like old friends ...

(with Lia Leendertz and Joe Melia)

and starting new projects ...

(Catherine Smith and I promise that no animals or short stories were harmed in the creation of our new no longer mythical 'thingy', shortly to be announced)

and which culminated in an amazing evening in Bristol at the Bristol Short Story Prize celebration, won by super talented Valerie O'Riordan (seen here trying to escape from my clutches...)

It was such a great evening, wonderfully organised by Joe Melia, and happily coinciding with the birthday of short story queen, Tania Hershman. As she was one of the judges, I feel really grateful she invited me to speak. I had a few wobbles - not least because I was chronically shy as a kid (like so many writers it seems). So much so that I once locked myself in the bathroom and refused to come out just because my mum had asked a 'friend' round to play with me. The friend had to go home eventually, much to my relief as I could get back to my books and cuddling up with the dog. Anyway, I have learnt to control it most of the time (the wonders of the internet and best shyness cure EVER) and I'm particularly glad I came out of the bathroom this time, because I had a great night and met lots of lovely writers including Clare Wallace, Claire King, Jonathan Pinnock and many many more who I know I am going to enjoy reading more of, and about, in the future.

But this week is a bit quieter. A time to settle down and process some of the new thoughts, ideas and projects that are currently swimming round my head. I'm reminded of this poem by Jane Kenyon, who just always says it right.

by Jane Kenyon

It's quiet here. The cats
sprawl, each
in a favored place.
The geranium leans this way
to see if I'm writing about her:
head all petals, brown
stalks, and those green fans.
So you see,
I am writing about you.

I turn on the radio. Wrong.
Let's not have any noise
in this room, except
the sound of a voice reading a poem.
The cat's request
The Meadow Mouse, by Theodore Roethke.

The house settles down on its haunches
for a doze.
I know you are with me, plants,
and cats - and even so, I'm frightened,
sitting in the middle of perfect

Beautiful, eh? That perfect possibility...

You can buy the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology here, and I strongly urge that you do. This is GOOD writing - short stories at their best. And so varied. Even those people who are determined they don't like short stories will find something to love here.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Recently I have been watching Janet Frame's An Angel at My Table again, for about the squillienth time.

Is there a better film - or indeed book - about being sensitive and writing? Or about sensitive writing?

And when I went on Youtube to look up some scenes to put up here, then this is exactly the one I would hope to find because it sums up so exactly my fears (and I know not just mine) about standing up in public:

Almost, but just not quite, unbearable. That's what you would call what happens next in the film.

Of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I'm going up to Bristol today to present the prize at the Short Story Prize there. Actually, it really hasn't. I've read most of the stories that will be appearing in the anthology now. And I can tell you that they are absolutely sensational. It's going to be a real honour to meet everyone, and to get to talk to the writers.

And of course to help make the winner deservedly happy.... Sometimes I really really do love my life!

Thursday, July 15, 2010


The Trinity Arts Centre...

Love this idea of volunteers from local schools organising this evening:

Sat 17 Jul 2010 7.30pm

Join us at Trinity for a special showcase night night with some of the best local bands and solo artists around.

the sound project aims to give local unsigned bands a platform in a professional venue to showcase their talent. It is run on a non-profit basis by a group of young volunteers from local secondary schools.

For the sixth and final event of the season, the project invites some of the best local bands to record a live album at the theatre.

Headline and support acts will be performing in the main auditorium. Acoustic acts will be performing in the foyer before and after the main show.

7.30pm Authentic Acoustic
A local talent performs in the foyer
Acoustic Stage

8.10pm In Tyler We Trust
Thumping bass and driving beat
Alternative Rock
Drum n Bass

9.00pm Sevenscore
Thom Yorke meets John Lennon
Acoustic Rock

9.50pm The Good Ship Band
Infectious brand of indie-folk + memorable tunes
Folk Rock

10.40pm Midnight Music
More acoustic acts to enjoy in the foyer
Acoustic Stage

Acts are subject to change. Please check the website for the latest line-up.

£6 in advance | £8 on the door
Buy Now Online

For line-ups visit:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Don't ask me why, but I have been mulling over the message I might want to send to our friends in outer space recently.

This is the one President Carter put on the record sent out on each of the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977:

This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.

I don't know why but that seems almost unbearably hopeful and nostalgic to me now. Like watching old episodes of Star Trek. and remembering how, as a kid, I would always rush to the window after. Just to gaze.

So what would you put in your message? And what music would you include in your space capsule?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Days of Roses will be hosting a special event as part of the Oxfam Bookfest on Tuesday July 13, at 91 Marylebone High Street, W1, five minutes from Baker street tube station, starting at 7. Admission free. Donations encouraged. Do check this out. Featuring:

Faber's Jo Shapcott, with her new collection Of Mutability

Guardian Music's Laura Barton, with her debut novel Twenty One Locks

Oxfam's Poet in Residence Todd Swift

Malene Engelund

Gareth Jones

Robert Selby

Retta Bowen

Laura Forman

and music from Mr Dupret Factory

Monday, July 12, 2010


One of the subjects I got asked most about during the last year as the RLF Fellow at the LSE was about grammar. Always as if it was a dirty secret. Something people should be ashamed of. So although I've written about it before on here, I thought it might be useful to pass on some of the best sites I've found on the internet.

1. Grammar Girl. Who knew that grammar could ever be so entertaining, let alone ‘quick and dirty’ but this is someone who loves her stuff and wants you to love it too. Just be warned that this is an American site, so you may need to double check the British usage.

2. Royal Literary Fund Fellowship Although primarily designed for students, these pages offer some good, clear advice about grammar, structuring an argument and how you can prepare yourself for writing.

3. Plain English More than thirty years ago, the Plain English Campaign started their campaign against official ‘gobbledygook’. They offer a series of free guides on their site covering subjects such as letter, report and even business email writing.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Enough guinea pigs, thank you!

Feel really chuffed to be able to say that my pilot on-line group is now full, with a waiting list. I do love you lot - for those that didn't sign up, we'll let you know how it went when we get to the other side!


Sharon takes pictures of pebbles. She’ll move on to shells one day, or even the sea, but for now the pebbles are too fascinating. She imagines lives for them: the dreary stoniness of the grey ones, the soap opera dissatisfaction of the holey ones. And snap, she captures it all.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Hello I’m Sarah’s daughter, Rachael Salway, making a guest blog!

I’ve just spent the last month in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, and it really was an eye opener. I originally went to solely volunteer in an orphanage for babies called Sanyu Babies Home.

However on going along to this other organisation as a one-off with a friend who spent a lot of time there last year, I got completely absorbed. The organisation is called Peace for Children Africa and started off as an outreach programme in the slums, founded by two intuitive lovely young men called Paul and Martin who grew up in the slums of Kampala themselves. They luckily received a couple of donations, alongside all their own savings and managed to build a centre to home some of the kids they counsel in the slums that are most in need of an escape.

The centre currently hosts just under 25 children, ranging from 3-21 in age, and despite their age gaps they all just act like family to each other. They could not be more grateful and positive despite the fact their situations are still so far from perfect. Martin and Paul really have changed the lives of so many of these lovely children, and they want to expand the centre even more, and buy a place just outside Kampala so they can help many more children who at present have little chance to achieve their dreams.

Most of the children at PCA are lucky enough to be sponsored to go to school and in the evening and at the weekends Martin and Paul ensure that the children have a lot to keep them going like dance lessons and acrobatic lessons, as well as teaching them skills like wood carving that will help them in later life. It is only thanks to support from kind people that these kids are given these chances, but they are still only just scraping by at the moment.

Martin and Paul’s work doesn’t just stop at the children at PCA. They still continue their outreach programme in the slums every Wednesday and Friday, teaching the children basic lessons and giving them a free meal. They offer counselling to any child that desires this, which is understandably a depressing majority. They’ve also recently decided to set up training sessions with the local police force to educate them on how best to handle the children in the slums, as due to their situation the crime rate is high but the police are not very sympathetic to their situation and can be quite corrupt in their manners. Martin and Paul always welcome any new suggestions and could not have kinder hearts with their only desires being to help these kids in any way possible. PCA isn’t as well known in Kampala as it should be and it still needs as many visitors, volunteers and donations as possible!

They are currently working on the website to make it easier to give donations by Pay Pal but if you find any problems with the website or want to email Martin and Paul regardless, they will be happy to receive it. Giving to these children will be a decision you will never ever forget. Even giving just £10 will buy one mosquito net which could potentially save a child’s life in the prevention of malaria.

Thank you so much for taking your time to read this.