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...