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...