Thursday, 31 December 2009

Here we are (almost...)

I made the decision to stay home this New Year's Eve. Being honest New Year's Eve's have not always been the best of times, anf for me New Year's Day is the most important part of moving from one year to the next. I like to wake fairly early and make the most of the first day of the year.

I didn't realise today that its the end of a decade. Gosh. Another one. Ha. Get beyond thirty and the years start passing by incredibly quickly.

So, 1999, I spent the millenium new year in Leeds with my two wonderful friends Carole and Dave and their new born baby.

I was a very fresh faced 26 year old... with incredibly short hair and little glasses. I was skinny as a stalk, probably more silly than I am now, but much the same. I was at the end of an incredible year, starting my social work training, travelling twice to the US, moving to South Manchester, gaining a lot of confidence. I couldn't have had a more wonderful new year 1999.

Ten years has tracked me from 26 to 36 via graduating my social work MA, four different jobs, two boyfriends, a lovely little flat that I lived in for seven years, buying my gorgeous house, acquiring Sissy, two of the most amazing holidays I can ever imagine having, an MA in creative writing, the publication of my chapbook of prose poems... so many things, I could write a list that went on for a very long time.

So, tonight I am listening to some of my music from the last decade, those songs that we all have that make us laugh, that we danced to, cried to... oh yes. I have been looking through my photographs of all the friends I have known over the past ten years, some still around, others moved on, and others who have come back into my life.

Mainly for my benefit I wanted to write about some of the most important things from the past ten years...

I wasn't a writer, but I was someone who wanted to be. I hadn't written much, didn't know what I wanted to write, and had only dabbled here and there in poetry and short fiction. This week at Lumb Bank in 2001 changed everything for me. I met an amazing group of people, some of whom are friends still. I wrote poetry that I never imagined writing. It was a wow, so freeing, I felt I had come home. It was all books books books, and writing and talking about writing, and reading, workshops, readings. It was the week I found my voice. Honestly. I found something I had never found before and it's not left me. For me, this week was always the time when I became a writer. Gosh.

JC was my love for three years. I never talked about him on my blog because, well, privacy for a start. But I want to say something about him here, because he was probably the most significant part of my decade. I spent my most amazing times with him... I learnt a lot from him and from being with him... He supported me, made me laugh, annoyed me too, and opened my eyes to possibilities... Of course it didn't work out, and that's a whole other story. We will never be together again, but I have such a lot to thank him for. Thanks JC!

For one, I never imagined I would travel to the other side of the world. I didn't think I was the kind of person who could fly that far, for a start. But, in 2007, there I was driving a camper van around New Zealand, jumping off waterfalls, kayaking, white water rafter, flying above volcanoes, sitting on beaches, walking near Mt Cook, swimming in lakes... Yes, little me, for a month, feeling ever so free and happy at the other side of the world. I loved my time there so much. And Hong Kong and Tokyo stopovers, my god, brilliant.

Morocco was another kind of place altogether, the craziness of Marrakesh, the heat, dirt, souks, riads, tagines, stray cats, carpet shops, mint tea, the muezzins calls for prayers, spice souks, holding a chameleon in my hand, the cooperative marjana, beack walks in Essouaira, lobster fresh from the fisherman, dirty cafes, camels, moped rides, lazy baths in the afternoon. It was the most peaceful, beautiful, inspiring time in my life so far. I will never forget.

Have a developed as a writer since that first writing course...? Hell yes! A learning-by-fire MA in creative writing at Lancaster University, where I started my apprenticeship. Tough, but brilliant. I learnt shed loads, wrote tens of thousands of words and scrapped most of them, met some interesting people, was taught by some amazing writers, made a couple of life-long friends, read my poetry for the first time, graduated, but the most important part of it was the experience, the graft... since then, a chapbook, magazine and anthology publications, my blog, collaborative writing with other writers and artists, interviews, reviews, readings. A couple of the proudest moments for me: reading alongside Graham Mort (my tutor) and Ian Duhig at Litfest; travelling to Prague with my sister and reading at the Globe Cafe. It's been one hell of a decade for my writing... creatively my life has transformed and developed, and still feels as though it's only just starting...

Two years ago, I bought my house, I moved in around the 5th January 2008. I never thought I could afford it on my own (and sometimes wonder whether I can ha!), but here I am, in my beautiful two bedroomed terraced house, with its little back yard, wooden floors, old fireplace, french doors, teeny tiny kitchen and bathroom, high ceilings, and filled with my books and clutter. Home is wonderful.

And so is this little darling, who came into my life in 2008, crazy little kitty has become a sleek lady cat now, she is such a lovely, gentle, playful, cuddly, mischievous, scaredy cat. Hey, I might be a crazy cat lady, but I don't care...

Many many things to be grateful for...

Roll on another decade... hurray...!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Etgar Keret

I'm reading this book. I have been meaning to read some Etgar Keret short fiction for a long long time, and was prompted by this (wonderful) gift. I'm so excited by how brilliant it is. It makes me wonder where I've been all these years when I should have been reading this, or one of this other books.

If there is anyone who doesn't read short fiction, start here. If there is anyone who thinks short fiction is for wimps who should be reading novels, then please read this. If anyone thinks short fiction has been reading boring short fiction... you know, get a copy of this book and I promise you will love it.

It's really accessible, no fancy pants language, complicated narratives or experimental plots. It's clever, laugh out loud clever, no-idea-where-this-is gong clever, it's emotional (read the one about the woman killed by a suicide bomber only to be found in the postmortem to be riddled with tumours), it's quirky, magical, very funny (the man who has a beautiful girlfriend who turns into a hariy football playing man at night). I think he's a genius actually. These stories remind me of Raymond Carver, in the way they have an easy-written style, characters that we can relate to, ordinary moments turned into extraordinary stories. But he's more weird than Carver.

I had a moment last night where I thought 'OH MY GOD, what am I doing trying to be writer when there is Etgar Keret'. But, then I stopped myself and said, 'No, I'm doing alright, it's different, it's not genius, but I've got my own little thing going on.' Writing like this is to aspire to.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

the order of things...

I am gathering together short shorts and prose poems written since my chapbook Winter Hands, so I can work on a collection.

I have a hundred pieces of writing, very short, quite short and slightly longer. I'm in the process of sorting them into YES, MAYBE and NO piles,and also looking at how they will hang together in a cohesive and meaningful way.

It's over three years since I was working on the MS for Winter Hands, and it seems such a long time ago, I have only vague memories of how I managed to decide on which poems to include, which didn't fit, which poems might sit well together, an overall shape.

I've been re-visiting my myspace blog (I find it weird and amazing that I started to blog as far back as 2006, and here we are on the brink of 2010). It seems that I printed out all my poems and spread them across the carpet in my old flat, and approached it like a jigsaw - finding which poems worked best at the beginning and end, and then searching for some kind of arc or pattern or theme. Ha! Apparently it gave me a headache, but I eventually got there, so the process must have worked in the end.

I know I had a good editor. We worked through three drafts of the chapbook until we were both happy, and I remember the MS went between us over a couple of months. It started as a full collection of 50ish prose poems, and ended up being a chapbook of 26. I am pleased we were so thorough in our editing, because the ones we cut out were not up to scratch.

Now, I am a different kind of writer, and although I have connections back to the writing in Winter Hands, I want this to be a different and longer collection.

It is interesting appraising my own work,with the distance I have now. For me, Winter Hands was a wonderful starting point. I still love most of the poems, but they feel almost as if they aren't a part of me now, and I have much more objectivity. I can see how it could have been much stronger, given more time for me to develop as a writer.

And now, I'm working on this collection. I have about 35 solid prose poems and short shorts that are on the definate YES pile. I have a whole heap of maybes that need second opinions, or a little more time for me to edit, or decide whether they are strong enough, whether they fit. I'm reading and re-reading, editing and laying them all out like a jigsaw to see if I can find the corners.

Inspired by Nik, I've drawn a rough shape of my collection as it stands at the moment.

Obviously, I have a lot of work to do.

I still feel like a baby writer, crawling across the carpet, trying to find my way across the room on her knees.

I have all the doubts that many writers experience:'Is this good enough?', 'Am I ready?', 'Will anybody want to read this?' and I guess the true answer is I don't know.

But I'm pleased to be at this stage, with three years writing behind me and now some time to reflect, gather, edit, and see what emerges...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

snow is falling, all around us...

So, it's officially the festive season. Shakin' Stevens is on the radio singing 'Merry Christmas Everyone' and I am ready.

Or I was ready until a shelf fell off my kitchen wall in the middle of the night causing an almight crash. I thought it was one of the neighbours putting bottles in their recycling bin at some unearthly hour, have some consideration I thought, roused from a beautiful sleep where I was dreaming I was in Morocco with my hairdresser. I turned over and was unable to find the dream again.

A few hours later, still pre-dawn, and Sissy is chasing unvisible creatures across the bed, and fighting with the covers. She hasn't been out for days, she won't venture out in the snow, 'too bloody cold' she says in a pitiful miaow. It's made her rather hyperactive and she is hell-bent on getting me out of bed at a silly hour on christmas eve morning.

I go downstairs, sleepily, to find my kitchen is a disaster zone of broken glass, pasta, rice, herbs and spices, and cornflakes. The shelf has fallen off the wall bringing everything down with it. The floor is somewhere underneath the mess, and I sigh as I get out the dustpan and brush, picking pieces of broken cup and filling up two carrier bags with mess that needs to go in the bin.

It's still dark outside and I go out to the dustbin in the snow in my pyjamas, with a big sigh, realising that at least I wasn't burgled or some other mishap. A broken shelf is hopefully my christmas disaster (there's always one every year) and now I can get on with my day.

Now that I'm awake, Sissy has taken my place in the bed. She is curled up, snoozing, dreaming about the smoked salmon and turkey I have in the fridge.

I'm on the internet scouring youtube for depeche mode footage. There is something appealing about Dave Gahan at eight in the morning, with his tattoos, straggly hair and sweat, as he prances about the stage singing 'Everything counts in large amounts'. I realise, this is probably what I would have been doing on christmas eve twenty years ago (if the internet had existed then).

So, not that much has changed.

I have decided not to do a reflection on the year. I always do, and it never does me any good. I don't seem to change much, and I make the same mistakes over and over again anyway. So, I'm taking my therapist's advice and learning to say fuck it.

2010 is close, and I am refusing to make resolutions, goals, lists of things I want to read, buy, do, achieve. The year will be what the year will be. I'm going to take it as it comes, and try not to worry about everything.

I am ready. Bring on the disasters, the good times, the sad times, the anxiety, the friendships, the writing, the laughs, the whole mixed bag.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

shovelling shit in the snow...

It was freezing today. Minus 5, I believe. The farmer delivered this lovely steaming load of manure at 11am. He is 92, very doddery, and he reversed into the gates to the site (a regular occurence I'm told) and then dumped a big pile of horse muck in the snow.

I was very worried that I might have to shovel it on my own, because it was a very cold day for it, and there was nobody at the site when I got there, but hurray for three of my allotment neighbours, who knew I was getting a delivery, and came down to help.

I think I must be a bit mad shovelling manure into wheelbarrows and then pushing it across frozen ground to pile it on my plot, while snow was whirling around us. But, it was great. We had a laugh, and worked up a bit of a sweat, got covered in muck. The snow was beautiful, and I figured that I couldn't think of anything better to be doing right then.

I love the way people on the allotment help each other out, and that they turned up for me this morning, when it would have been much easier,warmer and comfortable to stay at home. It's the nearest I've got to a community for a very long time.

We made a big pot of tea (once we melted the frozen water in the kettle, as the taps were frozen), and ate chocolate cake. I felt better than I have all week.

Here's me, literally, covered in shit.

Friday, 18 December 2009


I want to spread a little love for some of the blogs that are inspiring me...

First, Curious Nature, a collaborative blog by two photographers, Mariana Ciliberto and Charlotte Dickson, who live on either side of the North Sea, and post the most gorgeous photographs. Their last few posts have been called 'Woodgrain', 'Orange', 'Creases' and 'Pattern' - delicious titles. I found it by accident, it is a very new blog and I hope they keep going for a long long time.

I am enjoying Emma J Lannie's blog Gargling with Vimto at the moment, as she has embarked on Josie Long's project 'One Hundred days to make me a better person'. Emma has inspired me with her commitment to do the following things every day for 100 days: 1.Learn a new word or phrase in Icelandic, 2.Do something creative. 3. Blog about it. I am love with the idea of Emma learning Icelandic, apparently Ég er að skrifa means I am writing.

Fleurfatale is the blog of a jewellrey designer who lives in Belgium, and I love her necklaces. I have been inhabiting her blog and her etsy shop with great regularity, and if anyone should like an idea of what to get me (or in fact anyone else) for Christmas, it's probably a little late now, but I love this purple necklace...

Cary Walker at little blue love is another artist's blog that inspires me. I love her cute little felt animals, her inspiration thursday, and her 'how to...' blogs where she takes us into the process of her work, and her photographs of her christmas decorations, gosh, are just beautiful

please please visit her blog and maybe buy a couple of cute christmas gifts, from a real artist, (as opposed to a big horrible corporation).

I'm sure this blog needs no introduction, but I wanted to say, how much I'm enjoying Scott Pack's Advent Calender of books and his Books of the year countdown. There is everything to love about Scott's Me and My Big Mouth blog, if you love blogs about books, it is a feast!

I've been following Fiona Robyn's Planting Words for well over a year now, and it has filled my whole year with inspirations: about writing, about the world around us, about buddhism, therapy, life, sometimes small things like a little robin on her fence, sometimes huge things that change life. I love her approach to life, I think she is a very wise, aware person, who observes life in her blog (and her novels) beautifully. I read her blog avidly, and would feel a little lost if it ever disappeared. Strange, how sometimes we feel as though we know people who we have never met, because they share of themselves so kindly in their writing, Fiona is one of these beautiful people.

I have other favourites that I always click onto and read avidly, writing blogs mainly. They hopefully don't need a mention because I always rave about them to all kinds of people, but just in case I will quickly say... thank you to Sally @ Tinkering Times, the lovely Taniawrites, and crazy Nik's blog with his drawings of stories and all kinds of literary devilment. There are many more, but I would be here until January if I carried on...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

lovely day...

Lovely days are like this:

being woken up by little snuggly cat at a not too early hour

lazy breakfast

beautiful crisp cold day with a blue sky

helping wheelbarrow 2.7 tonnes of steaming horse manure on the allotments

followed by a well-earned strong pot of tea, shared in the allotment hut

a whole afternoon digging, composting, digging, more cups of tea, chatter

picking out a christmas tree at the community garden centre, and being invited to stand next to the metal fire bin, with its crackle of flames and beautiful smell of wood smoke

carrying a christmas tree on my shoulder so that I can smell pine needles

hot bath that felt like the best bath I ever had

decorating the tree with sparkly lights and baubles

lovely tangy bowl of tuna and vegetable pasta with cheese on top

phone call with mum and sister

little Sissy creeping under the blanket for a snooze while I watch Strictly

the anticipation of an early night, knowing that I have still have Sunday....


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

higgledy piggledy blog

I am a little bit higgledy piggledy, so I think I will turn this blog into a list...

So, the reading at The Nook was great. I had an email from a very nice poet who said:
"Really enjoyed your set at The Nook on Saturday - thought the tension created in the room between the girl staying back after hours and the guy single-finger typing was exquisitely carved"

How lovely is that! I need to keep hold of positivity like this, as it is all too easy to forget otherwise...

I have a new review up at Bookmunch - Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry, which I had mixed feelings about... it was a slow-starter for me, but I would be interested to hear what other people thought about it. I would describe it as having 'mainstream' appeal... Other reviewers seem to overwhelmingly agree that it is not as good as her first book, The Time Traveller's Wife...

The Allotment.
It has been a little waterlogged. But I've still managed to get down there on weekends and get a lot of work done. I have had various ongoing projects... digging out the masses of jerusalem artichokes next to the fence, and pulling bindweed from the fence. I seem to have cleared a big patch at the back of the plot next to the fence and have all kinds of ideas of what I want to grow there. I built a very ramshackle boxed flower bed and planted bulbs, including bright red tulips... I picked up two old windows, now leaning against the compost bin hoping I might make them into a cold frame. My onions and garlic are growing, they have little shoots poking out of the ground. Still a million jobs to be done, but it's great to get out there on the weekend and get dirty.

The people are great too... I took down some broth this Sunday to share with whoever was there, and heated it on the gas stove in the hut. One of the guys decided that I need to learn some self defence, so taught me what to do if someone tries to strangle me, grabs my wrists, or grabs me by my jacket. I would show you, but you could get hurt, you know... ha!

Recent films I have loved... Coraline, Revolutionary Road, Frost/Nixon. I loved Coraline, I thought it was a real old school kind of animated film, it reminded me of the animation that was made in the seventies in a way, but with all the darkness and cleverness of right now. I have a list of films I want to see... It's winter, so this is the best time to stay in and watch films right?

I have really good intentions about getting ready for Christmas, but as usual everything might get left until the last minute. I'm trying to be as ethical as possible, and not spend vast amounts of money on crap, or vast amounts of money to line the pockets of the big shops. So far, I have bought Oxfam unwrapped, books from small publishers and handmade crafts at etsy. But it is hard because it is so easy to do a big amazon shop or go wild in accessorize, marks and spencers, etc. I've decided that a balance is the right way to go about it, give moderately, try and buy as ethically as I can, buy from little independents where I can, and donate a little to charity as a way of remembering that a lot of people are in a tough place and this time of year makes it harder...

There's lots more I could say, but I will save it for another day. Thanks for all the comments on previous blogs by the way, I don't always reply, but it means a lot, and I value what people have to say...x

Saturday, 5 December 2009

reading today at the nook, chorlton

I forgot to say, I am reading prose poems today at The Nook in Chorlton

It starts at 2pm and is on til 5pm, and I think I have a 15 minute slot, so come along if you are so inclined... There are other lovely women poets reading, and The Nook does a lovely cup of tea and food too, there will be lots of breaks and chatter inbetween poets. What a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, hm?

Just to update, it was a lovely reading, very cosy room, receptive listeners, and some great poets. I really enjoyed Melanie Rees reading her poems, her poetry connected with me the most I think and I've never heard her read before so it was a real treat. I liked her enthusiasm as an audience member as well.

Nice to get back on the bike after missing several readings last month when I wasn't feeling so good...

More, more, more...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

notes about love, being alone and other nonsense

This is another of those personal blogs that some people might not approve of because *oh no* I tell people about my real self rather than my writer self, my professional self, or my psuedo-only-for-the-internet self.

Bugger it. I feel tired of keeping myself private and hidden in a shadow/cupboard/behind a facade.

I want to write about matters of the heart.

Increasingly as I get older, people around me are part of a couple, or a family that live together. I belong to many things - I have a lovely family who live a drive away, I am part of a team at work, I have a lovely collection of friends who are brilliant and fun and very important to me, I belong to an allotment society, a choir, a spanish class (when I go...!), a writing community.

These are all lovely, lovely things to be a part of and give me a wonderful sense of belonging. And believe me, I am grateful for the life I have which is rich and creative and in many ways more than I imagined.

But, none of these things keep me warm at night, or give me a cuddle right when I need one, or make me a cup of tea when I'm feeling a bit poorly.

I know, I know. I'm very lucky. People tell me all the time. I'm independent, no need for compromise with anyone. I have plenty of my own space (what other people wouldn't do for a bit of time to themselves like me!). My own lovely quiet house (what other people wouldn't do for some peace and quiet for a change!)I don't need to worry about anyone else. No arguments over whose turn it is to clean the whatever. Nobody else's dirty socks on the bedroom floor. Blah blah.

But, I kind of think some noise around the house might make me smile, and a little row now and again about something silly, and someone else's stuff around the place. Being alone is great in so many ways, but I'm a little tired of it right now, and being together sounds nicer, not just for a short time but a long time, you know, not just anyone, but someone.

I'm not looking for pitying comments, or people cheering me up. I'm not maudlin about it, not feeling sorry for myself, it's just the way things are, life is about having some things and not others.

I guess though, I wanted to express it and say where things are with me at the moment, and perhaps later on when there is someone I can look back and smile, and appreciate it all the more...

Sunday, 29 November 2009

top ten short story collections

I have a bit of a cold, so I am sitting in bed with PJs, a scarf,honey and hot lemon, and a little cat keeping my feet warm. I'm amusing myself by doing what I love most... searching for new collections of short fiction. I've just searched on the internet to find out what other people think about the best ten short story collections (by a single author)...

It's very interesting how diverse the lists are... a selection of the ones I found:

Alison McLeod's list in the Guardian has The Nose by Nikolai Gogol as her number one collection. James Joyce The Dead is second (I might pick Dubliners instead), other collections are Raymond Carver What we talk about when we talk about love (I prefer Cathedral, but I concede it is difficult to choose), Alice Munro, Helen Dunmore... other probably quite obvious choices.

Then we have Amazon's Best of 2009 for short stories (US site)... this is an interesting one because they have two lists - editors' top ten and customers' top ten (ie. bestselling)... so you can compare the two lists. Actually the lists are quite different... which seems to say to me that perhaps best selling is not best quality. Everything Revaged Everything Burned by Wells Tower is close to the top of both lists, as is Maile Meloy's Both Ways is the Only Way I want it. This is the only cross-over, it seems. The customer top ten is more mainstream (to be expected I guess), more big names, and the editor's list perhaps more subversive... if the editors at Amazon can be called subversive (probably not). But, anyway, I have added a few books to my 'hot hot hot short story yes I want to read it soon' list.

AV Club's best collections of the 00's is a good list too... there are 7 collections on the list I have never heard of, so it should be useful for my christmas wish list... although, it's not really the list I might compile... a bit staid I felt. Sorry, I like my experimental, exciting, edgy short fiction, and this list does say any of these things to me.

So, my challenge is, that I want to find out what your top all time short story collections are (top three or top ten, whichever you prefer), but also your top three or ten from 2009.

I'm heading downstairs with my blanket and hot water bottle to rifle through my collections, and write my lists...


Saturday, 28 November 2009

hurtling through the week

I have so much in my mind, this blog might turn into a long rambling pseudo list with various digressions.

It is very grey outside and threatens rain, but I am still going to the allotment today. It's felt like a very LONG week and I need to get outside and do something practical. My week is so rarely practical, when I reach the weekend I'm just dying to get out there.

Last weekend, there was enough rainless hours for me to get things done. I started digging out the jerusalem artichokes next to the fence, pulling bindweed from the fence and digging out their crazy roots, clearing a bit of space for what I feel might become a potato patch. I also decided to tackle a huge wire container that turned out to be full of soil and weeds. I've been sifting out the weeds, and using the soil to fill my raised beds. Still more to be done on both these tasks. I bought some cheap flower bulbs (tulips etc) so am going to build a little flower bed in front of my compost bin with some spare planks of wood so I will have a blaze of colour in spring. Today, hopefully some tyres being delivered which I am going to use as planters. And also via freecycle, I have also been promised some old windows, which I want to use to build a cold frame. I love the allotment. It is turning into a PROJECT.

It's also giving me balance. Time when I can just be. I don't have to be anything to anyone. Just do whatever needs to be done. And have cups of tea with other people who don't need me to be anything other than someone who digs and grows things.

It's really brought it home, the pressures there are on me in other parts of my life. At work, I give so much of myself all the time, I am responsible for things, people have expectations, I need to focus, reflect, think. Don't get me wrong. I'm enjoying my job, but it certainly feels like pressure, that I am 'trying' all the time, and I guess the real me slips behind some kind of persona.

Even writing can be a pressure. I'm having time off from writing at the moment because my brain needs a rest, my emotional capacity for writing has ebbed, and I just want to be, instead of thinking all the time, editing myself, worrying whether I am a good enough writer or not.

Of course, writing is still important to me, it's not abandoned, and my life as a writer goes on without me it seems...

I received my copy of new magazine Cake, containing my short short Aberdeen. It has some good poetry and fiction inside. I was pleased to be amongst such good company, George Szirtes, David Morley, Roddy Lumsden, Gaia Holmes, and Joolz Denby were along the familiar names, but there is are many poems by poets and writers unfamiliar to me that I thought were brilliant especially love getting drunk with youby Stephen Emmerson.

So, my writing life goes on. I remember that next Saturday I'm reading at The Nook in Chorlton at 2pm with a group of women poets. I am still slow-writing reviews, and talking with writer friends about writerly things.

In the midst of all this, I'm less anxious, still a little anxious, but managing it. I'm still getting migraines (Any migraine tips?) and wondering what my body is trying to tell me. Is it saying slow down, or I'm not looking after myself properly, or I need something I'm not getting, or is it saying that something in my life is not quite right and needs to be changed? My thoughts jumble around in a kind of productive but messy way, and I'm working through them bit by bit.

I find reading other people's blogs helpful. This week, I discovered a blog written by transformational coach Aboodi Shabi thanks to Fiona Robyn whose blogs I also find inspirational. He writes about the 'lies we need to stop believing', or in other words the expectations we have about what we can attain in life if we only do the 'right things'. It struck me a great deal, I thought, yes I SO agree with this,

What are some of these “lies”?

Some day, my prince(ss) will come. Not necessarily – many people face a lifetime of not meeting their prince or princess. An increasing number of us might have to face a future of growing old alone, and accept that there isn’t “someone out there, just for me”.

You can make your dreams come true. You probably can’t. This is one of the ones I hear and read about most often, and perhaps one of the most insidious. Yes, we can aspire to fulfil our dreams, but we need to be grounded in the reality that most of us aren’t going to be able to have the ‘life we always dreamed of’.

Things will get better. No, they might not. This might be ‘as good as it gets’.

If you build it, they will come. Again, they might not.

I deserve better than this. Perhaps, most harshly of all, why? Deserving is absolutely tied up with entitlement, and it’s a myth that I deserve anything – it’s an act of sheer good fortune that I have the comfortable life I have, and am not living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, or languishing in a prison-cell in Baghdad.

Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is – life is unfair. The good guy doesn’t always get the girl, and the bad guy sometimes wins. We can have our dreams, do our affirmations, practice chanting and meditating on our goals, do the work, network, go on plenty of dates, and still not get what we long for.

It seemed to make a lot of sense to me, and says so much more succinctly than I ever could some of the things I've been struggling with recently. Some people might find his blog harsh, read the whole thing before you decide, but I just felt YES, at last someone is saying what I feel is realistic.

But, then I hit my brick wall. I have a wonderful life, many things to be grateful for, but some of the things I have wanted (MASSIVELY) have not evolved. What if they never do? I have to prepare myself for that. I can't sit around waiting for something to happen that might not. I am hurtling through a lot of thought processes and realisations at the moment, and not finding many answers (hence why I posted the Rilke quote earlier this week).

So, I try and ground myself with good soup, meeting with friends, films, digging, reading, and all things lovely. I'm planning Christmas at my house, for the first time in my thirty six years, which is giving me lots to sort out and feel excited about. Sparkly tree. Scrumptious menu. Gifts. Treats. And slowly maybe, I will find acceptance of the things I have no control over, find some kind of peace with it, reach a place where I can relax a little more.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

words for a bad day...

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language.
Do not now look for the answers.
They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them.
It is a question of experiencing everything.
At present you need to live the question.
Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Real Post

I've had a lovely two weeks thanks to the postman.

Firstly, a lovely print copy of Unsaid Undone, which has been available as a free download on the flax books website and is now also available as a print version for £5. It has some short shorts by me, and short fiction by Andrew Michael Hurley, John Siddique, Marita Over and Brindley Hallam Dennis. Of course, I have read it online already, but how nice to be sent a print copy. A nice unexpected surprise.

Then, my two copies of the latest Succour Magazine arrived... which I had a lovely flick through while drinking a cup of redbush tea when I got in from work. My four prose poems look great. I love Succour for the brilliant quality paper, print and design. It's classy, you know, and it has that new paper smell that is just pure pleasure. I've loved the poems/shorts by Shaunagh Darling Robertson and John Clegg.. brilliant, and yet more to discover...

On the same day, I had a surprise package from my friend Melissa with a copy of her latest book Patterns of Mourning. Lovely cover, and wonderfully rich, complex poetry that explores her own experience of mental ill-health. She wrote the book when she was going through a 'Mixed Affective Episode' and it says on the back of her book:

It was composed on the underside of letters, the backs of my hands and arms and all over my clothes, on train tickets, in public computer terminals, on walls, hotel, hostels, hospital wards, on platforms in train stations, during painting classes, at my mother's house when I was lost

Wow, makes me want to read cover to cover. But you know Melissa's poetry is for short periods of immersion I think, it is so raw and multi-layered and intense. I will take my time with it.

On top of that, I received a dress from the catalogue (expected) and a £10 gift card from Sainsbury's (out of the blue)... Wow, I feel so pleasedto have so much real post... even better than when I have a crazy ebay or amazon spree...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ouroboros Review, Succour and Sparks

A few bits of lovely news for me and my writing...

First up, I have two very short pieces of fiction in issue 4 of Ouroboros Review, The Sound of Rain and Take Me Dancing. Ouroboros Review is a great quality literary magazine, I love the photographs of old mailboxes, windowframes, and door handles by Julie E. Bloemeke and the poetry, short fiction etc are a treat, I especially enjoyed poems by Michelle McGrane, Arlene Ang, Jeanpaul Ferro and Susan Millar DuMars.

Also, I have prose poems in the latest issue of Succour magazine. It's an issue on the theme of The Banal. I haven't seen or read a copy yet, but I have the feeling that the writing will be far from banal, and am intruiged to know how other writers have interpreted and written about the theme. It's a print magazine, so is available to buy for £5.95. Hopefully I'll get my copy sometime soon... am very excited to read it.

Finally, you might have caught this on facebook, I found out yesterday that another short short has been accepted for Sparks 7 in Brighton on December 1st. Each story is sent to a photographer and a photograph commissioned. The photo is then projected behind whoever reads the short, usually its the author, but I won't be able to make it down to Brighton on a Tuesday night sadly. I'm hoping someone might either film it or take photos, and I definately want to see the commissioned photo. It is a really exciting that it will be read aloud and I hope people like it. It's one of my crazy adolescent Lancashire stories.

Lots of exciting news hm?

Oh oh oh, and the tiniest piece of writing you might ever see me have published, has been posted at elimae...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

the week in realisations...

Muddy wellies are the best kind of wellies. These are my pink polka dots, fresh from three hours on the allotment... It was muddy down there after five days of almost constant rain, and I was covered in mud after filling my new compost bin that I found with surprise when I arrived this morning. Two of the guys had built it for me during the week, how nice it that! Now, the compost bin is almost full. I stripped out tonnes of weeds and old plants, pulled out couch grass from around the raspberries, discovered a gooseberry plant hidden under loads of elbow high weeds, and drank lots of tea. There was a tin of gingerbread in the hut today and we had a few breaks for strong tea and cake.

Stevie Wonder is a genius. He has brightened up my week no end. I bought his definitive collection from ebay and have been playing it when I've got in from work, dancing and foot-tapping. I am in love with 'I don't know why', it must be one of the most emotional songs ever written, and the way he sings it, wow. I've realised that my ideal man is Stevie Wonder circa 1969. If only

It's hot chocolate weather again. I mean hot chocolate is the drink for all seasons, but especially winter, cosy nights in when it's cold or raining outside, cosy cafes in the dark evenings, cosy bars with a friend on Wednesday nights having the most lovely chats.

I've realised that cats become more snuggly in winter. A friend of mine said it's only because they want to be warmer, but my theory is that cats like to cuddle in the winter. Sissy has been getting under the covers and cudding up to my belly in the night, she wants her belly tickling, she wants to be curled up on my knee, and is never far away, after a summer of independance and being constantly outdoors. I feel like my little kitten has come home.

It has been a mixed week, mostly good. A few difficult things, but I've been holding on to the good things and saying thank you thank you thank you that the anxiety has eased.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

short stories, taking it easy and clearing the plot

Things have been better this week, not out of the woods yet, but significantly better than they were the previous few weeks. I am trying to take things very easy, and focusing on the few things I really want to do...

For a start, last Saturday, I went out for a lovely short story day. A writers brunch in Manchester with Tania Hershman, Elizabeth Baines, and Melissa lee Houghton. Lots of talk about short stories and writing over scrambled eggs and toast. It was the first time I met Tania and Melissa, even though I have 'talked' with them a lot online. It's weird and wonderful meeting people from the internet, I felt like I already knew them from photos, blogs, emails.

Then, on to the Short Story Weekend at Manchester Literature Festival. My highlights were:
- hearing Adam Marek read the beginning of a very intruiging short story about school children wearing nanoclothing, in a futuristic world. And also getting the chance to meet him. I desperately want to read his collection.
- A video interview with Gazan short story writer, Atef Abu Saif, who was not allowed to leave Gaza to read in person.
- Bernard MacLaverty read a very entertaining story, and answered questions. I loved it when he answered a question by saying, 'yes, I can't remember which of my short story collections that was'. Oh, I aspire to be able to say that.
- I also aspire to be able to say the same as David Constantine, when he told us he had 'found' several novels that he had written in a cupboard recently.
- Finally, Iraqi writer Hassan Blassim read one of his short stories in Arabic, with an English translation projected behind him. It was a very brutal story, black humour, ironic.

I was exhausted after such a full on and intense day. But, how wonderful to be able to indulge in so much short fiction. If only all literature festivals could focus on the short story like this. It is very exciting to discover new writers, and enjoy the vast mix of short fiction writing out there!

I'm back to reading short fiction as well, after a brief foray into novels. I've just finished Alice Zorn's Ruins and Relics and have started Mary Caponegro's All Fall Down. I will be writing reviews for both of them, and will post links when they are online.

Work on the allotment is coming along very well...
I've planted onions and garlic ready for spring, it felt good to get something in the ground, as well as all the digging I've been doing. At least I know that (fingers crossed) something is growing. Last Sunday in the drizzle, me and my sister cleared a little more ground, and I pulled out all the big weeds in the middle of my plot. The compost heap is getting to be huge! It was very muddy and a little cold, but exciting to see how it is progressing.

Yesterday, I went to the Allotment Association AGM, which was an eye-opener. There was so much arguing! People disagreeing about water butts and top soil, and what the money is going to be spent on, and whether we should have a toilet fitted and who would clean it if we did, and whether it's better to have green bins or a skip, and all kinds of other heated debate. Gosh, I didn't know allotments invovled so much politics! I did another couple of hours on my plot, and cleared a little more space, dug it over again, and with the help of Eric (one of my allotment neighhours) built a raised bed...!

I never imagined I would enjoy having an allotment so much. Simple pleasure I mean, a slow kind of satisfaction, seeing how I am slowly getting things done, tidying the ground, digging it over, how little by little, big things can be achieved.

I find life interesting, the way this allotment was given to me, just at a time when I was really struggling, and how it is turning out to be exactly what I needed. Perhaps its sychronicity, I don't know, but it couldn't have arrived at a better time. It's not the answer, but it's given me something to focus on, it's getting me out in the fresh air, exercising more, and introduced me to a very friendly community of people at a time when I was feeling very alone.

Positive, yes?

I have much more to say, mainly about the kindness of others - friends and strangers - I've been surprised by the amount of kindness and also where it has come from. I will save this for another blog, perhaps, as I have a lot of thoughts about it that I'm still working through. But, I do want to acknowledge the kindness people have shown me, often in very simple ways, that has meant such a lot. Thank you!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Digging etc

I've been to the allotment twice this week. Tuesday, I did some digging, but soon got rained off. A little bit of rain is fine, but when it starts plastering hair to your face, and everything around you is turning to mud, I think it's time to pack up and go and get a cup of tea.

Yesterday was a much better day. I was there for four hours. The first half an hour was a bit hard going. I was thinking, there's no way I can manage this allotment by myself, blah blah. Anyway, a few cups of tea in the allotment hut with some of my allotment neighbours soon sorted that out. 'Little and often' was the advice, as well as 'don't kill yourself working too hard' and 'set small targets'. I have to say that cups of tea in the allotment hut is one of the best things about having an allotment. There is a lot of banter and chatter and advice shared, and I now have my very own key to the hut!

I helped shovel and barrow a load of manure, as there was a big stinking delivery. But mostly I was digging. I had help yesterday as well, a friend came and did a couple of hours digging with me. We have cleared an amazing amount of ground, and pulled out the biggest pile of weeds and grass, that is now festering in a makeshift compost heap in the corner of my plot. Hurray...

I'm wondering whether to start an allotment blog, or is that just weird...?

I'm going to do a short visit today, as I have to say that I'm aching a little from yesterday.

This week has been very up and down. But the good things...
1. watching the film Up with my mum and dad, which is brilliant animation, very good fun, endearing and uplifting.
2. not winning an award at the Manchester Blog Awards, but loving the fact that Emily of My Shitty Twenties won two awards.
3. seeing Jenn Ashworth read from her new novel at the blog awards... her reading was fab, and I'm so looking forward to reading her book (once published).
4. the lovely vegetable soup I made for tea last night and sharing it with a lovely friend.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

back to a few literary things...

Just to balance out the see-saw that is my blog/life at the moment, I wanted to focus on books, writing and literature for a moment. After all, this is why my blog exists, n'est pas?

I have a new review in The Short Review. There are some excellent collections and anthologies of short fiction on review this month, so many exciting short story writers and publishers out there... I need a second income to be able to afford everything I want to buy. I reviewed Samuel Ligon's Drift and Swerve, a gripping collection of short stories which I described as:
the best weekend you've ever had, without the hangover or having to face your friends wondering what on earth you did to upset them.

This quote doesn't give you much insight into the writing, more how it felt to read the stories, but if you fancy finding out more, have a read of my review... and buy a copy, it's definately worth the dollars.

I also have a couple of mini reviews in Sphinx Magazine, both are reviews of poetry chapbooks (each chapbook is reviewed by three seperate reviewers). Chapbooks hardly ever get reviews so have a little browse on the site, you never know you might find a brilliant little chapbook for as little as three quid, and they make excellent presents... I reviewed Greg McBride's Back of the Envelope and In the Little House by Jenn Habel, both very different... interesting too how my fellow reviewers (male) had a quite different take on the Jenn Habel chapbook.

Erm, what else? I have a number of books to review, but haven't done it yet (sorry editors...). I finished reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. Brilliant. What more can I say? I have been a very slow reader these last few weeks, but I have started a new book yesterday, short fiction, and it suits my attention span a little better.

Two of my favourite literature festivals are on at the moment. Lancaster Litfest and Manchester Literature Festival. They both have some very exciting events on. I'm not sure whether I'll get to many of them, but I urge you to go and tell me about it.

I did, however, go to a writing workshop on Saturday in Lancaster. It was described as a fringe event of Litfest. A workshop run by Eliza Mood, at the Alexandria Gallery at the University of Cumbria, where there is an exhibition of work by artist Andrew Ratcliffe. His work is figurative, detailed, at times graphic. I didn't know his work before the workshop, but it was fascinating to wander around the gallery, focusing on different paintings, writing poems/short shorts, and then sharing with the others, seeing what other people had picked up. I wrote some very short character observations and a short story. Very inspirational.

Anyway, off to the allotment for some digging...

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Allotment 21b

Sissy told me she is getting bored of all the stress in the house (yawn yawn). She said, come on, write a positive blog for a change.

So, I thought I'd tell you about my allotment. It's weird, don't you think, how sometimes the world gives us what we need at the time we most need it? I've been on the waiting list for an allotment for two or three years. Last week, I was emailed by one of the people on the allotment committee to say, they have half a plot for me, am I still interested?

I had a choice of two half plots, both very overgrown, but I chose the one that looked easier to work on.

First visit, I didn't even get my spade into the ground, before I was offered a cup of tea in the allotment hut. I met three fellow plotters over a cup of very strong tea, and then one of them came down to my plot with me to take a look. His advice was, start with the easiest jobs. He then spent maybe an hour with me helping me to clear my first little rectangle of land, telling me which weeds are the worst and chatting about life on our allotment site. I went home after a tour of his plot with a bag of beetroots fresh from the ground, and the promise of help to strim the worst of my weeds.

Second visit yesterday. I did two hours of digging, to finish clearing a square and boxing it off with scrap wood I found on my plot. I then started digging what will be my main planting area. I have rescued from within the weeds... globe artichokes, three strawberry plants, a raspberry plant, nasturtiums and some lemon balm. I have also rescued a sun dial, plant pots, canes and a trowel. I had another cup of tea in the hut, and was introduced to a number of other people. I was given a lesson in taking hardwood cuttings from blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes (I have a monstrously overgrown blackcurrant bush at one end of my plot). I've had offers of strawberry runners and runner bean seeds. Some scafford boards were mysteriously left for me, and another man has offered to help me build some raised beds, easy, he said.

I've been invited to the annual bonfire and barbeque on Guy Fawke's night, and my £26 dues for the year need to be paid by then... 50 pence a week for a lovely piece of land that once I get digging, get rid of the weeds, start planting, will be my own organic vegetable garden.

It couldn't have come at a better time...

Monday, 12 October 2009

apologies for tonight

I was due to read at Bolton Octagon tonight with Chris Killen. I've had to cancel this, due to what you will already have read about in my blog. I left it until this morning to decide, because I really wanted to be there, reading poetry and enjoying what promises to be a really good evening. But, in all honesty, I'd struggle to even be there.

It's difficult cancelling commitments like this, especially as a writer, because it lets people down and these opportunities come up so rarely for me. So, I apologise to anyone who has bought a ticket specifically to see me. I urge you to do along and hear Chris read, and hopefully they will be able to find an exciting replacement in time. I hope so.

I'm also taking more time off work. Another tough decision, because again I feel as though I'm letting people down. But I have to be realistic.

Probably, there will be a number of things in coming week/s that I might have to pass on.

There is an argument for 'pushing through' and I've spent a lot of time in the past days going over and over this (probably not a good idea to be going over and over things!). Sometimes, though pushing through feels too difficult, and retreating feels like the more sensible course.


So, let me talk positive on this blog for the rest of my post because I'm becoming a total misery guts, and you know, it's important to focus on the positives:

1. I watched Memoirs of a Geisha yesterday with my sister. I've never seen it before and I've no idea why. It's a beautiful film, gorgeous. I loved the story, but the costumes were just amazing, and all the mise en scene, the attention to details, it is visually brilliant.

2. I'm still reading Sarah Water's Night Watch, slow slow reading attention span. But it is brilliantly written... I love her writing.

3. I've been offered an allotment near where I love. Well, it's half an allotment. I've been on the waiting list for 2 or 3 years, and now here it is. I went to see it, and it's a very friendly small site, and I have half an allotment, that needs a lot of work. Any offers for help with digging? It will be wonderful to get out there and do some digging and planting and grow my own stuff.

4. Kindness of friends and strangers. I don't need to say anymore than this. Even small kindnesses are most appreciated.

I want to end on a poem that someone emailed me this week...

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Bark

Friday, 9 October 2009

let's talk about anxiety...

Grr.. this blog is about tackling this thing head on by being open about it.

I mean, everyone experiences some form of anxiety or stress in their lives. Those feelings we get before a job interview or an exam. The anxiety we feel with major life events such as changing jobs, illness, even positive things like getting married or buying a house. It's part of life. A little stress or anxiety can help me prepare or cope with something, or perform better.

But, I want to talk about anxiety when it gets worse than butterflies and a sleepless night. When it goes on affecting someone day after day and where the symptoms are so severe it disrupts everyday life.

According to the organisation No Panic 18% of the UK population suffer from severe anxiety or a phobic disorder. That sounds like a high number of people having a really hard time of it.

Yesterday, as a way to focus and try and deal with what's going on for me at the moment, I visited various internet sites for people with anxiety disorders or experiencing panic attacks. Mind seems to be the best website for information about everything to do with mental health and support available in the UK. They have an amazing number of information leaflets about every kind of mental health problem you can imagine. It's clear, easy to use, very practical, and thorough.

It's not the first time, I've been on their website. I've used it as a social worker to get information to help people I work with. I've used it when people I love have been struggling, and also for me.

Understanding is the first step. I'm sure someone said that to me once. I've got to a point now where I think 'OK, so I understand, so what next?'

Perhaps that sounds a little short-sighted, but I'm paraphrasing about four years of my life, where I've learnt that understanding is one thing and being able to put your understanding into practice is a much harder step to take. It's complicated. It involves trying to undo a lifetime of negative coping strategies and find new ones. It involves progress mostly, but then sometimes a bit of a crash when things get bad.

I think there's still a lot of stigma about any kind of mental health problem. Yes, GPs and other professionals are much more aware and understanding, there are services out there, and people are able to be more open about it, particularly around depression.

But, what happens when someone is shaking so much they find it had to focus on a conversation. Or when someone is in such a panic they think they are going to die/have a heart attack/collapse. Or when someone starts behaving in ways that are a little 'weird' or 'bizarre'. Some people are not good at being around people who are like that, as if it might be catching or maybe it just freaks people out a bit or they don't understand what it's all about.

It can be hard for people (me) to tell others about it and ask for a bit of help. There is a fear of how others will react, not wanting to put on other people, guilt that this is happening AGAIN, or thinking, well maybe it's not so bad this time, maybe if I just keep on living my normal life it will get better and then nobody will need to know.

So, it becomes a private, isolated experience, and more frightening because of that.

There are things in life over which we have no control. These events or situations are an anxious person's nightmare. So things like a car or something in the house breaking down, like a disturbance at a neighbour's house, like going out to a social event, can become the cause of huge panic or distress that impacts on other areas of a person's life.

Anxiety can be beaten, I know this. But in the midst of it, it's enough just to get out of bed, eat breakfast, and sit in bed writing a blog that attempts to make rational sense of a very irrational set of experiences.

Later, I am going to go for a walk, hopefully see a friend, eat better than I did yesterday, and see if I can get a good night's sleep. This would be an achievement. It would mean that I am doing a little better than I did the rest of the week. Other things don't matter (the state of the house, work, achieving things, writing). Just the basics...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

on life and difficulty

What was the first line of Scott M. Peck's The Road Less Travelled? Something like 'Life is difficult'.

Interesting opening line to a book. One which I agree with overall - from my experience as a social worker and in my own life. It's why I'm drawn to write, and also why I veer towards difficult subject matter in my writing.

But, when life is difficult, reading (or writing) about life being difficult is not good for me.

This week has been particularly hard, for various reasons. I've struggled with anxiety more than usual. I've had to take a few days off work. I've had to cancel reading poetry in Blackpool today (which is so annoying, as I was really excited about it). A few other things have been put on hold, while I wait to see whether things get easier.

So, I turned to good literature. I'm reading Sarah Water's The Night Watch. Brilliant novel. Only, I found it impossible to read the scene where Viv goes for an abortion and it goes horribly wrong. It made me feel sick reading it, and I had to skim my way through it, avoiding any details. Perhaps it's a particularly gruesome part of the book anyway. But, with the way I'm feeing right now, I couldn't stomach it, it made me feel more anxious.

I tried writing, but my inner critic was wailing at me, you're no good, what you writing that crap for? I guess other writers might be able to relate to that?

So, I decided that perhaps I needed to get out of the house and not read or write at all.

I went for a walk round Chorlton Waterpark, along the river Mersey to Jackson's Boat. It sounds more beautiful than it is, what with the motorway close by and the power plant, but it is still beautiful. Especially with all the Autumn leaves, and especially at dusk. I took this photograph as a reminder that sometimes books and writing are not the answer, but there are many other answers out there, I've just got to get out and find them...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

deep breath (get ready for all this...)

A list of what has happened recently, what I am trying to do now, and what might happen soon (missing out the things you already know about:

1. October Boot Camp - I have joined up to Alex Keegan's October Blast, 28 days of writing every day. He is posting prompts simultaneously on his blog, facebook and bootcamp sites, and you have to commit to writing every day. In his words "PLEASE do not join unless you promise to write a piece of day, or leave if you fall even one day behind. If you are going to take a day out then write two pieces the day before. And "a piece" doesn't mean a 5-minute "poem". Tough stuff, but I'm taking the challenge. I started yesterday and wrote 1300 words, a first draft of a short story. Today I am writing about 'Black Rain' and have been doing some research. I hope I can keep going during the week. Weekends are easy, but on work nights, I often want to slip into a TV coma as soon as I come home. Hoping this will spur me on.

2. Didsbury Arts Festival finished yesterday, a great success I thought from the events I went to. Last Saturday I went to a reading at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club in West Didsbury. I went to see Elizabeth Baines read from her new novel Too Many Magpies, I love her short fiction, and wanted a snippet of her novel writing... as it's a treat to hear people read their own writing. It was a good event (despite the noise competition from the Ladies Hockey Team Annual Dinner in the adjoining room... raucous ladies!). Cath Staincliffe read from one of her Manchester based lady detective novels, and Carl Tighe read a graphic scene from his latest novel. I thought the Q&A was a little odd... I'm undecided about Q&A at readings, I rather like the informal chatter afterwards, as sometimes people ask weird questions that the writers must struggle to answer, and other times (like this event) it seems a little staged.

Last Sunday, I headed to Fletcher Moss Park to hear Nick Royle read bird stories. A real treat actually (although a little shivery, sat outside in this lovely brisk Autumn weather we have in Manchester). There was a real crowd and Nick read some of his sinister stories about birds, which I love, there is always an edge of something quite disturbing in his stories, and he reads well, hikes up the tension. Also entertaining, were the bemused cyclists, walkers and familys in the park who stumbled across the reading, and in good spirits sat down to listen with their cup of tea and thick slice of chocolate cake.

The event I perhaps most enjoyed was Nick Royle and Tom Fletcher's Fright Night, also at the Lawn Tennis Club. They set the tables out like lounge bar style (or posh working men's club, depending on your viewpoint). They dimmed the lights, lit candles, and hung various scary and weird objects aound the room including a stuffed fox's head. Their stories were scary, but not in a horror sense, more macabre, disturbing, creepy. Nick read a story about a man/owl who regurgitates 'owl pellets' that was funny, as well as weirdly horrible. Tom read a number of stories that were quite odd, in a good way. He has a really slow, lilting style of reading that makes the tension all the more eeksome. More than once during the reading, I turned to my friend Ray and pulled a ugh face or laughed uncomfortably, a sign of good fright writing, I would say.

3. Loving Sujan Stevens at the moment. This song is the subject of my latest short short.

4. I'm still working with artist Gemma Lacey on our collaborative project that has been on and off for the past couple of years now. We have had a bit of a lull with various changes in our lives, but we reviewed where we are up to, and I felt excited about it again. Our current work is around photographs of words, and we are exploring where we are heading next. Everything we tend to do is a conversation or a recycling of our work and in that sense it has a never-ending quality to it. It is more about inspiration than end result. Plus, it was lovely to meet her in Jam Street cafe for a big bowl of stew (as usual, everything with me includes food)

5. Just to bring the tone down a little, I thought I'd confess how much I'm loving X-factor (shame on me). There's something about all the drama, the tears, the awful sense of voyeurism, the judges caustic comments, ha, oh yes and the singing. My money is on Miss Frank, Treyc, and Stacey Solomon!

6. Vintage fashion and dinosaur bones, Charleston dancing and taxidermy animals. I had a brilliant night at Manchester museum for a fundraiser organised by Rags to Bitches and Barnardo's. Everything from colouring, guess the name of the taxidermy polar bear, treasure hunts, gramophone DJ-ing. I was very happy to part with my cash and flash my legs in a dress and heels. Hurray for imaginative and quirky fundraisers.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Manchester Blog Awards...

Very surprised and pleased to be shortlisted in the Manchester Blog Awards...

I've been shortlisted in the 'Best Personal Blog' Category, alongside some brilliant Manchester blogs, including My Shitty Twenties,a blog I love and have followed ardently. Personally, (which is probably very much against the rules of being shortlisted for an award) I'm hoping My Shitty Twenties wins, because her blog has kept me so engaged and entertained over the past months, it's funny and witty and sad sometimes as well.

Of course, I like my blog too, but you know...

I also want to shout out for Big city, little girl shortlisted in the 'Best Writing on a Blog' Category, which is a really cute blog with some lovely quirky poems.

So, come along to the the award ceremony. It's at Band on the Wall on Swan Street, Manchester. It's on Wednesday 21st October at 7pm, and tickets are £4 and on sale here or on ticketline.

I will be there, cheering on my favourite blogs, and enjoying the fact that my lovely blog was chosen to be on the shortlist... Hurray, hurray, thank you! I'm dead chuffed!

on being a good (or bad) neighbour

This morning, I was woken by a knock on the door at eight. There was a policeman at the door, notebook out. He asked me if I heard anything last night as there was a break in at one of my neighbours houses. I was still half-asleep and I vaguely recalled some noise in the early hours of the morning. Was it before or after I got up to go to the loo at ten to six this morning? I couldn't remember. He asked me what kind of noise I heard. I told him there was a van, doors slamming. I remember being woken by noise from the van and thinking to myself in my half sleep state how it was a bit out of order someone being so noisy when people (ie me) were trying to sleep. I assumed it was another neighbour who is a builder and there are often one or two vans on the street overnight. In the morning he leaves for work, and I guessed that he had an early start today, hence the van doors sliding and banging.

It took me maybe two minutes of the uniform police standing on my doorstep before I asked, what happened? He told me there was a break-in but couldn't tell me anymore than that. I asked if the people were at home when it happened, which they were. I asked if they are alright? He told me 'they will be'. One of those phrases I have learnt to read between the lines, ie. no they are not alright, but they will cope/get better/survive.

He asked me a few more questions and I realised how I had no information that was any use. He asked if I had got up and looked out of the window to see what the noise was. My answer was a regretful no. I quickly added 'I wish I had now', knowing that the sentiment was no use in hindsight.

This morning there have been police up and down the street, door to door. Another neighbour knocked on my door to ask if I was OK. (A bit sleepy still and annoyed with myself that I didn't look out of the window or dial 999 or witness anything useful.) We has a brief chat about the incident. I know the people by sight, a couple with a toddler, we say hello, sometimes stop and chat mainly about their boy. I was told an ambulance had taken the woman and child to hospital. The husband has been standing on the opposite side of the street watching the police knock on doors, hoping perhaps that someone has seen something or wondering why we didn't.

My street is a friendly street, one where we say hello to eachother, admire eachother's hanging baskets and sometimes stop for a brief conversation. I know the neighbours on either side of me a little better. I know their names. But, it's a street where a burglarly can happen, and I lie in bed assuming the noise is something else, and go back to sleep.

There is a certain amount of guilt hanging over me today, and also a wish to start knocking on doors and ask people's names, say hello, ask if there is anything I can do for anybody.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

national poetry day, acceptances, and other stuff

I'm reading on National Poetry Day for the very first time... hurray! I'll be in Blackpool, my favourite British Seaside town, hoping the lights have been switched on so I can get on a tram with a bag of chips and soak in all the lovely poetry around me.

It's part of Wordpool, an annual literature festival organised by Blackpool library. I'm reading at a wonderful Word Soup-on-tour event in Blackpool Central Library between 3.30 and 5pm on Thursday the 8th October.

It's FREE. There's an open mic. And four poets...

The lovely Ann Wilson... it's always a joy to hear her read.

Me, me, me.

Norman Hadley, who I don't know, but he describes himself as a poet, author and mathematician, which I find quite intruiging...and I like his website and have just discovered that he has a book called On Pendle Hill, which has photographs of the hill I love more than any other hill because it is oh so familiar and reminds me of home.

Ron Scowcroft who I don't know either, but seems from his website like a good Lancashire poet.

How very exciting to have so many good lovely northern accents reading poetry to you on National Poetry Day in Blackpool. I can't wait! Come along, come along, say hi, then ride the tram with me (the one with lights on it that looks like a boat).

My other news is that I had a lovely email from Max Dunbar this week who is northern editor for Succour Magazine... I sent some prose poems to him a while ago for 'The Banal' issue and have had them accepted. Yippee. It's a lovely magazine, I was lucky enough to have a story in the 'Icons' issue. And now, have got through their two step submission process again to receive a big fat YES... (to balance out all the big fat NOs I seem to have had recently).

Other stuff... in summary. Spain is off. Literary Festivals are on. I am writing prose poems at a slow drip drip pace at the moment. I was a domestic goddess last weekend and learnt how to make the most gorgeous blackberry scones, hot from the oven dripping with butter. I am learning to use a sewing machine (badly), so if anyone wants to me take up their trousers, send them over. And my new job is going very very well, which means so much to me.. (after all that stress with the change, and a few panic attacks along the way, I have come out the other end feeling like I can do it, oh yes I can!)

I love October...