Tuesday, 28 December 2010

a little bit of a head cold and a renaissance...

There's about a hundred things I want to write about, but I'm going to be strict with myself.

One.
The past five days I've been forced to stop by a bugger of a head cold. I've been holed up in Lancashire with my family, and it's been a honey and hot lemon Christmas. It's been sneezes, tissues, falling asleep on a chair by the fire, bloody lovely puddings made by my mum, more coal on the fire, more films, laughing until my belly hurt, pyjamas, blankets, paracetamol, fortune cookies, charades, more sleep, sore throat, croaky voice, leaving the house once for a snowy walk, hats, scarves and gloves, some lovely presents, family stories.

I feel dead lucky.

Probably without the head cold, I might have rushed back to Manchester, or rushed around doing things. But, I've been rough as old dogs and floored for a few days, and it's made me appreciate what is right here for me whenever I need it, all-weathers, and whatever I'm like, warts and all. This is what love feels like. It's ace.

I want to be better at showing how much I care for the people who are always there for me because they're brilliant.

Mushy mush mush mush.

Two.
This year was a bit like a head cold.

For years and years, I've been dragging around a whole load of crap from the past, a lot of which doesn't even belong to me, is not my fault, and stems from events that are gone and can never be changed.

Probably, somewhere deep inside, there has always been this hope that I would be able to heal it all or find some understanding to make it all go away. Or that I would find someone else who could take it all away for me.

But this year my body sent me some strong messages in the disguise of migraines and other health niggles and it shut me down at times, forcing me to stop and take a closer look at what the heck I'm doing to myself.

Since May, I've been slogging away trying to make changes, not sure what it is exactly I need to change, but trying anyway.

And at last in December I feel as if something is shifting. Yes, yes. It feels different, positive, as if some of the crap is being left behind and I'm starting to like myself and appreciate what is bloody lovely about my life. I'm enjoying myself a whole lot, feeling loved, believing in myself more, having fun, loving my friends.

Again, mushy mush mush, but you know, it is an amazing relief to feel like this again, after being in such a self-hateful, scared, empty place. It's not perfect... It's still tough. I still get ill. I still feel down in moments. I've just decided I don't want to be that unhappy scared person any longer.

I choose to leave all the rubbish behind and be happy. For as long as I can be.

So there. That's a good attitude to start the new year with, innit.




Tuesday, 21 December 2010

#56 Dear Promise of New Things



Dear Promise of New Things

You make me feel excited right down to my bones. I mean, it's impossible to say how new things will turn out. And not so long ago I probably would have been dead scared. But right now, you are just the ticket

A xx


Sunday, 19 December 2010

#55 Dear Amazing Weekend


Dear Amazing Weekend,

Thank you for so many unexpected things:

for putting me in a big Manchester snow-globe on Friday night. It was one of those evenings where even though it was freezing out, I felt warm cos of a bunch of lovely women friends, fairy lights on the tree, lots of chat, laughing until my belly hurt. Then when we looked out of the window everyone said WOW all at the same time because everything was white with snow.

for a very cool mate who sorted me two free tickets to see James at the MEN arena on Saturday. We danced like crazy for two hours, sang until we were nearly hoarse, and were transported back about 18 years. It was perfect.

for a very interesting after-gig drink, which even though was only planned as one ended up taking us into the early hours, new places, mad dancing, lots of laughing, new friends, a little bit of naughtiness. Ha!

and then for today, because we planned to see a film, but fate gave us an afternoon wandering around art galleries, singing carols along with some buskers, eating coconut macaroons, and browsing the Christmas markets.

Weekend, you've been surprising and full of spontaneity, and I'm exhausted, but have a massive smile on my face

xxx






Thursday, 16 December 2010

#54 Dear Poems I Haven't Written Yet



Dear Poems I Haven't Written Yet,

I love knowing you are out there somewhere, and when I'm watchful / open / curious it's very easy to find you, hiding behind an image, or a thought, or something someone says, or a memory, an object, a word, an idea, a sound, a song, or a person. And if I wait patiently, then all the words emerge, and you become something I never imagined writing. Almost like a stranger who starts talking to me in a bar. We might become friends, perhaps lovers, or maybe you'll be just another person I met once whose name I won't remember.

I like knowing there will always be more strangers and more poems. It's what life is about, and I think for a while I forgot you were out there, or stopped caring, or believing. But, here I am discovering you again, and it feels good.

Poems, I look forward to meeting you,

A x

Monday, 13 December 2010

#53 Dear Memory of Dancing in a Lake



Dear Memory of Dancing in a Lake

I love that you keep coming back to me, when I am working, when I'm in bed in the dark, when I am driving in traffic jams, when I am waiting in queues in the supermarket, when I am bored or alone or afraid. There is something beautiful about knowing you are there with me. Especially when I play one particular song and you fill me with that afternoon again. It is magic. How one minute I am here, and the next you have swooped down and taken me right back there. I love you for it. No matter what happens I can live that day over and over again from start to finish. Thank you,

A x



Sunday, 12 December 2010

Torino

So, a lovely brief visit to Italy last week.

Wonderful friends picked me up from Milan airport and whisked me away to a four course lunch home-cooked by Roberto's lovely mum for Mr Bertuol's birthday. She makes her own pickles and preserves, so we had artichokes, stuffed chilli peppers, mushrooms picked from the hills, and a ravioli with pasta sauce, beef rolled in mushrooms. It was a bit of a treat. His parents don't speak English and I don't speak Italian, so the conversation took place with some kindly interpretation.

I've been wanting to visit their allotment for some time now, having heard such a lot about it, so was dead pleased to get a tour later in the day, just as the sun was setting. Wow. All I can say is wow. Their allotment is more like a farm. Their hazelnut trees stretch down the hill for ages, and there is so much space, and a lovely collection of allotment structures built by Mr Bertuol.















I am dying for a summertime visit now, when everything is growing and Mrs Bertuol has her giant pan cooking tomato sauce on their outdoor fire. My god. Heaven.

Then to Turin for three lovely days with my friends, who really looked after me, took me touring round the city in the cold cold cold, down beautiful cobbled streets, into grand old coffee places, restaurants, christmas markets, museums, churches, down by the river, more coffee places, more streets. It is such a stunning place, filled with gorgeous historical buildings. And most important of all, I got the chance to spend some lovely time with my friend chatting about everything, proper time. And it was a giggle, a brush with the Italian fire brigade, some play in the film museum, and a little bit of jiggle to Aretha on our last night.

And I even had the drama of being caught up in an Italian student protest on the way back to Milan, when a mob of students decided to sit on the train line for an hour so that I nearly, very nearly, missed my flight back to Manchester.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

#52 Dear Part of Me That is Always so Hard on Myself

Dear Part of Me That is Always so Hard on Myself

Let's make a deal. I'll try not to mess up, if you be a bit kinder. There is enough hard stuff to deal with in life. There'll always be other people who will let us down because people are just people trying to live their lives in the best way they can. We're all imperfect and flawed. So, let's try to focus on the positive and not dwell on the mistakes and fuck-ups. What do you reckon?

A x


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

little see-saw of life part 4

Ups
Proper Winters. Central heating. Home-made mackerel pate. The Wire, Season 5. My new mobile. My new fringe. Laura Marling. Someone telling me I looked beautiful yesterday. Nexus Art Cafe. Hat scarf & gloves. The advent calendar my sister sent. Being less scared than I used to be. New friends.


Downs
Sore belly. Being let down. Being a bitch. Icy pavements. Wanting what you can't have.

#51 Dear Snow

Dear Snow,

I might get sick of you if you stay too long, but right now you are just what I need. I love the way you make everything look beautiful and the way you flurry down when I am walking and stick to my coat, my gloves, my specs. The way you sound under my feet is amazing, that scrunch scrunch noise as you press down under my boots. I've been wrapped up, huddled up in my coat, scarf, hat, layers and layers of clothes. You make it seem like proper winter. The best thing is you make me forget everything I want to forget about, and I just feel awe like I did when I was little. Thank you, thank you (but don't hang about too long cos I've got a plane to catch, and also when you go all slushy and icy you ain't so nice)

A xxx


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Hibernation Vs. Going Out

It's a bit cold. I am wearing two vests, a long sleeve t-shirt and two cardigans, furry slippers, jeans, and am almost lying on the radiator. Somehow the cold seems to be in my bones, and I'm very tempted to get into bed and stay under the duvet for the rest of the day.

I don't know how I would cope living in somewhere like Alaska. I just don't think I'm used to the cold, even though I should be a tough Northerner, to be honest I'm totally soft. I feel like hibernating until it gets a bit warmer.

As usual, there is so much I want to write about. Mostly personal. I want to write about how rubbish I am at anything remotely like love. Or how I wish I was less of a worrying kind of person. Or how I am so very far from understanding what my life is all about.

But, I will resist.

Instead, I will tell you what I've been doing to force myself to be a more sociable writer.

I went to Beatification, a Monday night poetry and beat film night organised by the infamous John G Hall. The highlight for me was seeing Tony Walsh read his massive brilliant clever funny sad amazing poem about Manchester. He said afterwards that he thought it didn't go down very well, and sent me a video of him going down a storm with the same poem. I think it is seriously one of the best poems I've ever heard.

Then Paradox, another Manchester poetry and music night. I'm not sure what my highlight was. It was a bit of a mixed bag to be honest, and perhaps not in the right order, and lots of chatting by drunk people while the poets were reading. I suppose that's the downside of mixing poetry with a music night on a Friday night, and keeping it going until 3am, although god, I didn't stay that late. I read two poems, my Dear Man with the Bicycle poem, and 'Out Dancing' a prose poem about my Burnley days, which is in the Flax Anthology This Road We're On. It is quite tough reading to a room filled with drunk people, so I just flung my voice out there, read loud and slow into the mic, and didn't worry how it was going down.

Then, I went to the launch of new Manchester publisher's Hidden Gem Press. A brilliant, very well attended launch, there were loads of people, not enough chairs for everyone who crowded into the Anthony Burgess Centre, and some great readings from Claire Massey, Zoe Lambert, and the main act Emma Unsworth. Emma read from her novel to be published in June by Hidden Gem, Hungry The Stars and Everything and it was a bit bloody tantalising, especially as we now have to wait until it's published to hear more...

It's been good getting out and hearing people read their writing, bumping into people I know, having a drink and a chatter. There are so many interesting events going on in Manchester, I love that I live in such a vibrant literary city.

I might even go out tonight to another event, if I can pull myself away from the radiator.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Mindfulness and Doing The Ironing



I'm slowly reading this book The Mindful Way Through Depression. I say slowly. I was first recommended this book by a friend who found it useful, secondly by my therapist, thirdly by my acupressure lady. It took me a long time to buy this book, and then it sat on my bookshelf for many months. I actually forgot I bought it, and finally I searched it out and asked myself why am I putting off reading this book?

Perhaps it's the subtitle: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. It sounded like a troublesome difficult read to me, not exactly bedtime reading. Also, I wondered am I chronically unhappy, what's the difference between plain unhappiness and chronic unhappiness?

Anyway, a hundred other questions later, and I'm reading the book. I'm three chapters in. It's actually fairly brilliant. It's written by four practitioners who have different experience working with people with depression. It draws on the Buddhist practice of 'mindfulness'.

I'm still in the early chapters, but there have been many recognitions, raw nerves perhaps, and yes moments. It's interesting. Their view is that the idea of 'fixing' depression or problem solving it or taking a 'doing approach' actually drags people deeper into depression.

So, I am trying to learn a 'being' approach, involving being mindful and aware. It's interesting and not a natural way to go about things for me as it involves being in the moment with the difficult experiences as well as the good ones. So, actually focusing on the sadness instead of making it go away. I can understand why, it's just a bit of a scary idea.

The first task in the book is to eat one raisin. In a mindful way. I know, it sounds a bit nuts...!

But it's an interesting way to demonstrate mindfulness. Putting the raisin in your hand and looking at it, properly, in a way perhaps you have never looked at a raisin, see it for the first time, see how it feels to the touch, bring it to your nose and smell it, be aware of how your body responds to the smell. Put it in your mouth slowly, don't chew yet, just be aware of how it feels in your mouth, then chew slowly deliberately, being aware of each bite and the tastes that come from the raisin, blah blah. The key is to be aware of the whole process to experience it, not just chuck a load of raisins in your mouth and chew, swallow without even realising what you're doing.

How many times have any of us eaten a meal, shovelling it into our face without even tasting the food, or really care what we're eating, just because we're hungry and we've got to eat? Especially lunch when I'm at work and haven't got time to eat and I grab anything, eat while driving or typing, worrying about all the things I've got to do, or what I've just done, or what I need to do next.

It's all about being, rather than doing. I've been trying it practice mindfulness while I was doing the ironing. I know!

I guess there is something about the smell of clean washing, the feel of the fabric as the iron runs over it, the steam, smoothing out all the creases. Yes?

I tried very hard, but found my mind wandering here there and everywhere. Wondering about a problem I have, trying to work out how it might get better, worrying it might be about me, then thinking about other worries, whether things will get easier, or harder, what I might need to do, thinking about next weekend, a weekend three weeks ago...etc etc. Ha!

It demonstrated why I might need to be more mindful... to focus on the moment, experiencing it instead of thinking and worrying my way through life. I don't suppose it's rocket science, but ahem, it's not something I'm very good at.

The next chapter is about breathing! I'm hoping I might have some skills already in this area.



PS. Sorry if Forgetting the Time is becoming more depression and angst than writing and books. As usual, heart on sleeve, I'm writing about what's on my mind, and being more honest than possibly some people might approve of. Don't care (sticks out tongue). This is my life, my blog and I'm tired of hiding, pretending, and living in a slightly embarrassed inadequate-feeling kind of way.

Anyway, this post IS about a book...

A Prize

I won a prize at the Allotment AGM on Saturday. I'm the proud recipient of a voucher, given to me by the committee for my hard work on my allotment. How lovely is that! The voucher came in a little 'baby' card, seemingly all they had left in the shop, but actually I thought it very apt. In allotment terms I'm still very much a baby gardener.

In celebration of my award, I did more hard work: dug over my old onion bed and dug in four wheelbarrows of horse muck, planted garlics and red onions, cut back my raspberry canes, and half-built a very wonky looking compost bin. I also had to do some repair work, after the 90 mph winds last week.

Harvest this weekend was leeks, for my delicious leek and potato soup. I've never made it before and have to admit it tastes amazing. All down to the gorgeous leeks I reckon.

It's very tempting to hibernate this time of year, but I'm doing everything I can to resist this urge. I need as much sunlight and time with friends as I can get...


Monday, 8 November 2010

little see-saw of life part 3

Current Ups
Cuddling with Sissy in this cold weather. Planting onions and shallots with my sister. Going out dancing. Seeing my friend Rosie sing in her band. Late night chats. PJ Harvey. Roasting my own home-grown butternut squash. Writing again. Sesame Snaps. Gorgeous Autumn leaves everywhere. Breaking Bad Season 2. New little cowboy boots. Getting the chance to say goodbye. The Eighth Day. All my lovely girl friends. Jacket Spuds. Allotment of course.


Current Downs
Damp dark days. PMS. Rejection. Health niggles. Government cuts. Heating bills. Stroppy or low moods.

our bonfire



We had a lovely bonfire down at the allotments on Friday. Perfect actually. We've all cleared bits of wood, branches and brambles over the past weeks and abandoned it on Carol's plot. She'd cleared her pumpkins and squashes especially. Somehow miraculously David and not sure who else built it all into an amazing bonfire that burned for hours (with the little bit of accelerant needed to get it going in this gorgeous British damp).

It was a wonderful gathering of plot-holders, their families and friends, and masses of food and drink. Eric and Dave got the barbeques going and we had a zillion sausages, burgers and chicken drumsticks, with Seamus's delicious potato pudding, and a whole heap of home-made cakes. The trestle tables were out, and our odd collection of chairs. We had a few fireworks, a brilliant Catherine Wheel nailed to a shed, and some rockets, and fizzy, screechy, banging things.

It was the best bonfire I've been to as an adult. Cosy, safe and friendly. We all got to throw more wood on the fire (no safety barriers needed!) and we toasted our cheeks by standing a bit close to the fire. Kids and big kids waved around sparklers and we laughed and chatted and made lots of wooing sounds when the fireworks went up, and of course, there was tea aplenty

I don't think I've had anything like this as an adult, it's like a little community, and I love it. It's been a year now since I got offered my little half plot. It seems to have gone really fast, and I can't quite believe how much work I've done, how much I feel part of something great, and HA, how much work I still have to do. I feel dead lucky that I was offered my plot number 21, and on the most perfect site.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Catching Up...

I have a lot to say at the minute. About writing, about me, about life, about changes that are going on, good things, bad things, emotional things, daft things.

In the words of the Wombats:
'And I don't know why I want to voice this out loud,
It's therapeutic somehow.'

Down at the allotment, everything is dying back, I'm harvesting the last of my Summer and Autumn veg, and getting prepared for next year. There is a lot of digging to do, a lot of horse muck to be spread, plants to be composted. There is something very therapeutic about it: letting the old die back and rot down so it will fertilise what I plant next year.

I suppose it makes sense then that I seem to be working on letting go of a lot of other dead stuff in my life, to make way for the new. Old patterns, old ways of doing things, old feelings.

I've been doing a course called 'Beating the Blues' for the past eight weeks. Only one session left. It's a course my GP told me about because I really don't want to go back on medication if I can help it, and this course is supposed to be as good as medication, so the blurb says. It's pretty much a self-help course, focusing on cognitive behavioural techniques to change thought patterns, challenge negative inner beliefs, develop better strategies for dealing with anxiety and depression. So, for example, I've been focusing on things like, developing better sleep patterns, working on problem solving, challenging errors in my thinking and replacing these with more useful ways of thinking. It's very practical and more thorough than I'm able to explain here.

The hardest part has been identifying my inner beliefs. All well and good if these are healthy, positive and self-affirming. But some of my inner beliefs (being honest) are a bit messed up and it was tough coming face to face with them, realising some of the deep down things I believe about myself. I was supposed to find evidence against these inner beliefs, and funnily enough at first all I could find was evidence that confirmed them.

It's strange how powerful inner beliefs can be. Even though, my head will say 'these are not rational beliefs, they make no sense,' somewhere else deep inside the beliefs are wedged tight refusing to be moved. And I really need to unwedge them. Otherwise I'm going to keep getting depressed or stuck or anxious. And life is passing, you know. Quicker than I want it to.

I was very emotional for a week or two. It spilled out onto all kinds of people and into all kinds of situations. This is something I usually feel really bad about, bad about myself, reconfirming all those negative inner beliefs blah blah. So, often I hide away when I feel emotional, and wait for it to pass. But I decided not to do this. And actually, I've been met with a whole load of kindness, hugs, and warmth from friends and people I don't know that well.

And it's interesting writing blogs like this. There are probably a lot of people that think I'm nuts. Heart way too much on my sleeve. Far too confessional, and all that. But, this is me, right? So... I'm writing it.

And this is what I want to do next.

Write more often and more of what I want to write. Write the novel. Write stories. Believe I can do it. Say yes to every opportunity. Be confident. Even if it scares me, still do it. Get on planes. Meet new people. Stand in crowded places. Talk to strangers if I want to. Learn. If someone is mean to me, believe it's about the other person not me. Let go more. Be spontaneous. Be me, actually. Chatter. Laugh. Be enthusiastic. Don't care what other people think. Stop bloody worrying. Get out there. Spend time with friends. Focus on now. Love deeply. And find some peace inside.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Dear Man with the Bicycle: A Prose Poem

Dear man slow-pedalling through Manchester streets, past all those late drinkers, the strangeness of students in swimwear on nights out and police vans with their blare blare blare blare. Dear man on your bicycle, everything seems slower when you are pedalling with a girl behind you clinging to your waist, arms warm, legs splayed and the whoosh whoosh of air and breath and fingers holding on, wanting you. And you find her hands are too gentle, her mouth bites kisses into your skin, and coats jumpers t-shirts are lost so it's just you bare-skinned in a chilly room and her, stripping off a turquoise dress, peeling away tights. She is an aching shade of white, not what you expect or want, she is a girl in front of you unfastening buttons and zips. She will sit astride you while you imagine you are still pedalling through the streets with her behind you. This city is a city you have always known; it is bricks and walls and music beating inside you with your heart drum drumming, and she is such quietness by contrast. She is not what you want. Dear man in her white-sheeted bed, not knowing what to say apart from Come on, fuck me. Fuck me. There is something just ever-so-maybe-you-don't-know-anything-about-her and she will ask you questions when there are no answers only music drum drumming inside you. Dear man waking with the end of a head cold, wondering why you didn't let her go all night, why she didn't ask you to leave like last time, this all or nothing everything girl who is accidentally maybe sometimes never going to be for you. But still, you feel the need to tell her Soon every time you leave on your bicycle, unchained from the front railings and pedalled slowly through this city of damp commuters and street sweepers, with the beat beat of your life loud in your head, louder than her, and maybe you know already that you never want to see her again. But you don't tell her. Yes, this is how it is. This is how it is.

Monday, 25 October 2010

This Government Cuts

Went on the rally against the cuts in Manchester. Last Saturday morning. It was pissing down with rain. Typical Manchester weather. But, we marched through town anyway, had a good shout, waved a few placards, listened to some very rousing speeches.



Although we don't look very roused...! Maybe that's because it's depressing. Many people in this country seem to think these cuts are inevitable. They don't seem to realise that the government have chosen to make cuts that will hit the poor and vulnerable hardest, and that there were alternative choices they could have made. This is going to be a hard four years for so many people.

Pavlov, sweat and tears... A reading this Thursday!

Just wanted to quickly spread the word about a reading this Thursday (see below). I've been commissioned to write a short story about a famous scientist and one of his eureka moments. It's part of a project by Comma Press linking writers with scientists, and will culminate in an anthology of short stories to be published in March 2011.

I have been sweating over this story for the past couple of weeks, talk about stress! I'll be reading a stripped down simple version of it this week... it still needs further work, and I'll write more about how mad, crazy and wonderful it's been working on this story soon.

But anyway, please come along, you can give me feedback after, and then I can scurry away to work on it a bit more...


Science and the Short Story

The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the Engine House, Chorlton Mill, Cambridge Street, Manchester


28 October 2010, 6.30pm (free)

Featuring Annie Clarkson, Trevor Hoyle, Emma Unsworth, with neurologist Sohail Siadatnejad and chemist Zoe Schnepp. An evening of fiction and science, with readings of three stories specially commissioned to celebrate moments of scientific breakthrough. Annie Clarkson revisits a fortuitous flood in the laboratory of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. Trevor Hoyle explores the potential ramifications of the brain's recently discovered 'Mirror Neurons' - the neurological seat of compassion, empathy and vicarious pleasure. Emma Unsworth plays cards with the father of modern chemistry, Dmitri Mendeleev. Followed by discussions with two researchers currently taking these fields further.

Trevor Hoyle's latest novel is Down the Figure 7, set in Lancashire just after the war. His environmental novel The Last Gasp is currently under option in Hollywood. He also writes drama for Radio 4, his play GIGO winning the Radio Times Drama Award. Annie Clarkson's first collection of long poems, Winter Hands was published by Shadowtrain Books. Her story 'Lindy' was published in Brace (Comma, 2008).
Emma Unsworth is a journalist, short story writer and graduate of Manchester University’s Novel Writing MA. Her first novel is to be published by Manchester's new press, Hidden Gem next month.

Part of Comma Press's Bio-Fiction project; supported by Manchester Beacon and part of the Manchester Science Festival.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

My end of October

Yesterday, I was driving down Princess Parkway. Leaves were falling from the trees on either side of the road. It seemed as if there were scatterings of rusty leaves filling the whole sky and drifting down towards me. It was so beautiful.

I sat on the settee in a strangers house. She recently experienced a breakdown and is slowly trying to piece herself together so she can care for her children again. We talked and smiled, and she told me things, and at a certain point she said 'That's the first time I've told anyone that.' I'm always astonished by people's courage.

I've listened a lot this week and it is still only Tuesday.

On Sunday, I baked a gorgeous apple and raspberry crumble made with delicious apples picked from Fiona and Nula's tree and autumn raspberries picked from my allotment. I shared the crumble with the girls at work with lashings of Devon custard.

I've cried. There was this man. I spent some time with him, and was growing to like him. He gave me a ride on the back of his bike and made me feel as if my breath was whooshing out of my chest sometimes when he looked at me. But, after he stayed the night last week, he didn't call. And now I know he's not going to call.

I dug out a heap of weeds and just kept putting the spade into the ground and turning the soil over, and digging again. It was a damp day and it kept spitting rain. I came home with earth on my face, my hands, my arms, my clothes, my hair. I was dead cold and my hands ached. But it felt good because I know that whenever I want I can go down there and dig and everything always feels a little better.

I sat in candlelight on my big brown settee with my roasted beetroot, roast sweet potatoes, my home-made meat and vegetable pie. I listened to James Yorkston, Meg Baird, Nick Drake, Bon Iver.

It's been months and months of not writing, but I'm here again, pen, paper, ideas. My head is filled with this character, this place and time that is so far away from me, but which has become so familiar. I almost have a story.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Pets, Pest, Prey, An Elastic Sky and The Word Dress

Wow, what an amazing day of poetry in Lancaster yesterday.

First, a day for writers published by Flax Books. This involved wandering around the very beautiful Storey Institute, listening to poems about Pets, Pests and Prey. A really interesting idea - readings taking place in different places, the bar, corridors, the gallery, the stairway.

I particularly loved hearing Cath Nichols beautifully poem about Starlings, Rosie Garland's poem about a certain kind of pest, and Kate Davis' poems about her taxidermy gifts to her husband...















This was followed by a lovely lunch. Thanks Flax! Plus, a workshop where thirteen of us worked together to create a collaborative poem. We then performed this in the gallery to a very friendly audience. It worked really well, I thought, considering most of us were strangers only an hour earlier, and our poem 'We are hundreds of moths' sounded amazing and was such fun to be involved in.



And I decided to stick around for some Litfest events too...

The launch of An Elastic Sky.



Lovely scones and tea, readings from the five wonderful poets featured in the anthology and five short films inspired by a poem by each writer. A packed auditorium, some great readings, and very moving films. I was so inspired. I've been lucky enough to be published in two of their anthologies, and can honestly say their launches are better than most.

And then WOW, the most gorgeous event I've seen at a literature festival.


Claire Massey is an amazing writer of fairy tales and she was commissioned to write a fairy tale about this gorgeous dress. The dress was made by a bridal designer and has been made out of the pages of a book. In this case, Angela Carter's brilliant book The Bloody Chamber. I mean, Wow. How beautiful does she look, and the story was amazing.

You know what, I love poetry and writing and reading and everything to do with books. I love that I can keep being amazed, surprised, and moved so often. Thank god for words right?


Metrophilias



My review of Brendan Connell's Metrophilias is on
The Short Review's website
. It's my latest book review, and just for your amusement here is a little snippet...

This book is filled with drunks, miscreants and sexual degenerates. Many of the characters seemed scarred or ugly in some way. We have stories about masochists, sadists, cannibals, erotic-pyromaniacs, and characters obsessed with carpets, noses, soft toys, and broken bones, for example. There is a man who finds a woman's head in the trash, takes it home and falls in love with her. There is a woman who, literally, gets sexual pleasure from the holy cross.



Friday, 8 October 2010

Busy Poet

I've been a busy poet.

After a quiet six months, lots has started to happen. Readings. A workshop. Writing. And some other writing opportunities that I can't talk about yet.

Funny how things shift and shimmy into place without much effort.

First, a lovely reading at Didsbury Arts Festival. A Tuesday evening at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, not the obvious poetry venue. We were a tad worried when there was only five people ten minutes before we started, but what a lovely crowd we got. There was maybe 30 or 35 people, very receptive, warm and friendly, There was an odd backdrop as behind me, Rachel Mann and John McAuliffe as we read were a trail of tennis players, passing the other side of the window from the tennis courts. It created a quirky evening of poetry/tennis. I loved meeting Rachel, the only vicar/poet with tattoos I ever met, and John's lovely Irish voice brought his poems to life, made me smile.

Then, Eat Your Word Soup at Cafe Culture for Wordpool 2010. Bit of a mouthful. I drove over to Blackpool, the North West's glittering seaside town, for an afternoon/evening of workshops and readings. And my first ever writing workshop. Eek. It was only a wee half hour workshop, but it was good. I think. I enjoyed it, and I hope other people did. I got people writing in response to various things I gave them, postcards of people, ripped up bits of my old work, angel cards. It was a way to spark new ideas, find starting points for poems or stories. Half an hour is not long, but we packed in lots of quickfire writing and then people could read out what they'd written if they wanted to... It was a real buzz actually for me, and for a first workshop I was dead pleased. Yay.

Then the readings, which were fab. Rachel McGladdery was wonderful in her slinky back dress reading some very powerful poems, especially the one about her dad, I think it's called Long Shadow, and it was brilliant, can't say more than that. I was next, and it was weird, I read the same set of poems as for the Didsbury reading, but it felt different. No nerves, but being a reader between two performers, perhaps made it stand out as being a little less confident. Marvin Cheeseman was AMAZING, I am his new biggest fan. He made me laugh so much, brilliant entertainer, very engaging, and some very funny poems. It was so lovely meeting them both, and a lovely audience which sadly was very small, which is a shame. The Eat Culture put on a brilliant event, and yet very under-subscribed. And on National Poetry Day too... where were all the poetry lovers, or are there no poetry lovers in Blackpool?

I drove back from Blackpool with all kinds of thoughts in my head about poetry and writing, and me as a writer and my life, and what I want to do and not do. I have a story to write, poems starting to shape themselves inside me again, which is nice. Yay. I'm a writer again, little old me, writing. I have no idea whether it will be any good, but it's about enjoying it right?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

This is England 86

I've been catching up on This is England 86 on 4OD. I was on holiday when the final episodes were televised. So, I missed out on any of the discussion about it. I wanted to share some thoughts, as phew, that's got to be one of the strongest pieces of television I've watched in a long long time.

I'm a big Shane Meadows fan, anyway. Dead Man's Shoes, This is England, A Room for Romeo Brass are all brilliant. He always captures something very tough about British society, the underbelly maybe, the stuff that other people just allude to, or explore in passing. No, Shane Meadows as a director really hits it to his audience, he seems unafraid of confronting the ugly truth. There's always humour, it's always hard to watch in some way, bloody heart-breaking.

So, Shane Meadows directing television is not one to be missed.

But heck, episode three was difficult to watch. More than difficult. I was shaking by the end, and felt physically quite sick and upset. Brutal, honest, horrific, very affecting. Brilliantly acted. I have no idea how actors play such scenes as the one between Mick and Trev. Johnny Harris had such a tough job playing the part, how any man takes the part of a rapist and plays it in such a convincing way, I've no idea.



We had a discussion at work about the last two episodes, both of which have horrible sexually violent scenes. For me, the scene with Trev in episode three was harder to watch. It was the power dynamic, the way he says, 'this could be the best sex you've ever had or the worst sex you ever had', the way he coerces her into not putting up a fight. And also how the scene seemed to last forever, it wasn't cut when it got difficult, but followed the action to the end. There was that awful moment when its over when Trev pulls up her knickers and fastens her jeans, and we all know that this isn't over for her. Rape is never over like that, even when the physical act has finished.

I'm in awe of Shane Meadows for directing this in the way he did, and Channel 4 for broadcasting it, the actors for putting themselves through this scene which must have been tough. Brave. Unflinching. Hard-hitting. Emotionally very raw.

It took me a while to get myself together, and I wandered around the house doing a few bits and pieces, wanting that awful feeling to go away. I've thought about it for days on and off.

Episode 4, with the scene with Lol confronting her dad was even more brutal, violent and in some ways more shocking. The girls at work found it more upsetting, but I think I was ready for it in some way. It was no surprise at all to me when her dad tried raping her as well. When she went round there, I understood why, I knew why she would want to scare him, confront him, show him that she knew what a nasty, violent shit he was, but there was part of me that wanted to shout at the TV, no no no, don't go near him, get out of the house! Sickening. But brilliant, the way they showed Lol reacting in such a different way, fighting him, angry, determined, desperate.

Some people might think it was too much, but I think it just showed reality. In my view that's the only way to confront reality, but shoving it in people's faces and saying watch this. This is what happens sometimes. This is what some men do. Yes, and not just psychos, or strangers, but men in people's own families...

It's why I still call myself a feminist, why I laugh or get annoyed when people say that we live in an equal society.

Anyway, rant rant rant. There were a hundred other reasons why I loved This is England 86, and thought it was a class piece of telly. But I've said enough!

Watch it! It's still on 4od...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

I have broken my machete

I know, it sounds like the title for a brilliant prose poem but, I really have broken my machete. I was hacking down my giant sunflowers and the handle broke, and now the blade is very wobbly. I kept using it like. But I'm sure it is a danger to mankind, or maybe just me. Sigh. Anyone know where I can get a new machete? It's not really an item I'm very sure about going into a shop and asking for. But it is so handy down the allotment for hacking, chopping and generally looking like I know what I'm doing. It also makes me look seriously well-equipped. (Incidentally, do you think the police would accept that I use it for gardening, if I was stop and searched? Hm)

After avoiding the allotment for the past few weeks, apart from harvesting some very good looking veg, I did a good two and a half hours solid work down there today. I had energy to burn and a lot to do, so I got stuck in, digging, pulling down my almost dead ten foot sunflowers with stalks like small tree trunks, and a bit of weeding.

I have SO much to do. The allotment committee have offered me the other half of the allotment, so I will have a full size plot for myself. Only trouble is, the other half is derelict, has not been worked for two years, the soil is hard as rocks, and there are piles of weeds, debris and other crap all over it, an overgrown pond with a hole in it, and some really tough looking grass on the rest of it. I'm beginning to think I might be nuts for saying yes. There's still a lot to do on my half, and now I have doubled my workload.

Eric has found me a greenhouse with no glass, that needs erecting and glazing. So that's lying around waiting to have something done to it. I also want to build some compost bins out of old pallets.

So, is anyone up for a dig? Seriously. If you're in Manchester and you fancy some hard labour for no money (although I'll throw in some veg or a beer, depending what appeals most), then give me a shout.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

butterfly

He wants her to be a butterfly, look pretty, land on his leaf when he wants butterfly. He wants short-lived, colourful, flighty, a transformation into the beautiful for a moment, and then gone.

Of course, he doesn't know she's already been cabbage white, common blue, speckled wood, been wanted before in all those grass verges waste ground woodland clearings, been captured and released, suffered a hundred tiny deaths in killing jars.

He doesn't know that being a butterfly can be painful, wants only what he wants, can't see that waiting to see what she wants might be a beautiful transformation for the both of them, only sees brevity, the flicker of wings when he wants wings, and not the woman she could be.

Of course, she could never tell him this, feels delicate because this is what butterflies feel.

Monday, 27 September 2010

So, me and V were Andalucian girls for a week

I love holidays. It's official. I love the way I can go to another country for a week and forget (almost) everything back home, transport myself physically and emotionally into another place entirely, and experience everything differently. Sigh.

This is where we stayed.
















One of three idyllic apartments hidden away in the Arab quarter of Alhama de Granada. We had a gorgeous garden, a library in the living room, a lovely cluttered Spanish kitchen, and a comfy double bed each. Perfect for friends, couples, a little family, a writers or artists retreat....

And we loved the town. White-washed houses, cobbled narrow streets, old churches, beautiful little square with a few bars and (my favourite) Cafe La Creme that sold the most gorgeous cakes imaginable, and of course, the gorge with its old ruined flour mills, jade river and jagged orange cliffs.

















Oh, I swear to god, I did not want to come home. It was amazing. We ate tons of gorgeous food, read, basked in the sun, watched films, chatted, laughed, walked, swam, wandered around palaces and gardens, had picnics, skinny-dipped in the lake, danced, entertained, soaked in the Arabic spa...

My favourite moments were probably...

lying under a tree on a very quiet beach called Punta de la Mona, with a lovely gentle breeze and an undisturbed view of the beach and sea, and then the most gorgeous swim in lovely deep seawater with the waves lifting me as I swam

eating the most delicious goat with garlic on our first afternoon in Alhama in the square

meeting Paco, a local restauranteur and Flamenco singer who was a little bit drunk when he came over to our table at Meson Diego, and then near the end of our holiday eating at his restaurant La Seguiriya, beautiful food and a most excellent host, and ever patient with my terrible Spanish.

skinny dipping and dancing like a wild thing at the edge of Lake Bermajales, where we had the whole lake to ourselves for an afternoon

getting lost wandering through the Albaicin in Granada and the gorgeous gardens at the Alhambra

and lots of little moments, funny things we did and said, little Scampos the dog who we kept meeting around town, lunches in the garden, reading, asking lovely old spanish ladies for directions, the views which were stunning, feeling so so so relaxed and not worrying about anything...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

That Little See-Saw of Life: Part 2

Current Ups
Meditation and chanting with Eric at the allotment. My free meal at Nando's. A Sunday evening play on the park. Especially the slide. One or two kisses, yes yes. Singing along with MUSE at LCCC. Making plans with lovely V. Sharing a dish of Jamaican Lamb Chops. Digging. My sister coming home from NYC tomorrow.

Current Downs:
There are a few. Worries. Etc. Thinking too much. Waiting for things I don't want to wait for. Health niggles.

Monday, 6 September 2010

bits and pieces...

You might notice in my sidebar that I have two readings coming up. One at Didsbury Arts Festival on 28th September and the other at Blackpool Wordpool on October 7th. I'll be dragging out my best frock and poems for both occasions so have a little clickety click on the right hand side of my blog to see what and where and who else is going to be there.

What else?

I worked on my novel a bit over the past two weeks. Hurray. I found a new narrator. She was already in there, but I realised that it might free up the story a bit if she became the main narrator. I've written a couple of chapters. It's all very messy first draft see-what-happens writing. But for the first time in over a year, I had one of those moments where I reach a certain place where my pen seems to move by itself and I'm surprised by what I write and it feels like discovery/ energy/ breakthrough all mixed up into something I feel pleased with. Ha. What are the chances of that. This novel feels like it might take me another ten years, but I don't care, because at last it clicked into place for me for a short time, and I felt like a 'proper writer' again.

And I've had another review published... The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund- a very wonderful collection of short stories that I very much recommend...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Horse, Flower, Bird



My latest review. Kate Bernheimer's collection of adult fairy tales Horse, Flower, Bird.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

privacy, autobiography and other perils...

I've been reading what Jenn Ashworth has to say about blogging's perils and pitfalls. There are some interesting comments from her readers, mainly around privacy.

It's got me wondering...

Some people choose to put lots of personal information out there about themselves. They reveal information about their childhoods, their relationships, their mental health, their experiences of abuse, their longings, their neuroses, their prejudices, the things they hate or love about themselves and the people around them. It can be freeing, cathartic, helpful to others, illuminating, or it can raise consciousness, build bridges, and share experience.

This doesn't mean someone wants others to seek out their address, knock on their door and say 'hey I read your blog and wondered if you fancied a cup of tea.'

Probably, even the most autobiographical blog is a version of the truth. It's selective, an interpretation through one person's eyes, written from a series of points in time, revealing some things, hiding others, with the truth shifting and changing depending on the person/ mood/ day / subject matter and numerous other things.

I've written poems that are very personal and autobiographical. Others that are total fictions.

It doesn't mean others know me from my writing or my blog.

It is a bit weird, when sometimes I go to a writing event and someone says 'oh I read your blog', and I think 'eek, did I want that person to know that thing that I revealed in that blog about such and such.'

But it's also nice when a stranger or a friend reads something and says, 'Yes, that's how I feel, or I love that too, or I like what you said about that.'

It's all a balance.

So, just for your entertainment, here are a collection of truths and fictions about me that you can take or leave, love or hate, believe or not:

My life is a busy place, a lonely place, a place full of people and without people, it is a labyrinth of my own making, a place where I breathe and eat and shit. I have a stone that I always carry in my pocket, a mole on my right breast, a nail-less toe, one eye blinder than the other, one leg longer than the other, a weak bladder, a weak heart. I have five jars of buttons waiting to be sewn onto jackets and a novel I will never finish and an unmade bed. I'm afraid of dentists, anaesthetists, hypnotists and being away from home. Actually I'm afraid of almost everything. Except being at home alone. I'm not looking for a relationship, I just want to be found. I'm emotional, devotional, kind-hearted, moody, broody, strong-minded and cold. There is not one person in the world who really knows me, my gate is locked, my roof is leaking, my curtains closed. I sing a perfect C, make chocolate muffins, parle francais, dance as though my feet are itching, and when I'm tired I get cross as old bears who are hungry and unlike the rest of the time I don't need love or kindness or cups of tea, I just need sleep.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

comforts

These things have been giving me comfort...


An interesting book called We lent to me by my therapist because she said what I was talking about is the subject of this book. It is an interesting take on modern love/romantic love using the story of Tristan and Isolde and interpreting it using Jungian psychology. I'm not one for reading psychology/self-help, but I liked it, it makes a lot of sense (to me at any rate). I've now ordered one of his other books.

The allotment. As always. I went down this morning and dug out my french beans which seem to have finished. I picked blackberries, sweetcorn, courgettes, borlotti beans, spinach and baby carrots. The sun was gorgeous this morning, warming my skin, giving me lots of goodness (and slightly pink cheeks). It didn't feel as if I was in the city. It never does somehow.

Sissy. As always. She is amusing me a lot at the moment. Yesterday evening I sat with my french doors open. There was sporadic rain, and every time we had a downpour she came rushing in, skidding and sliding across the wooden floors and then trying to recover herself to walk casually over to say hello. Daft thing.

A review of This Road We're On, which said some lovely things about my writing, including 'power crackles between carefully crafted lines' and 'astonishingly visual passages'. I've been feeling quite lost as a writer this past year. I was on a path and then realised one day that the path was no longer there. I'm not sure whether or when I might find it again. But it is really nice to read a review like this one.

The film Tetro.
I went to see it at the cinema this week. It's written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It's set in Buenos Aires and is in English and Spanish. It's one of the most beautifully made films I've seen recently, in black and white and colour, there is so much attention to detail, god it's beautiful. There is something terribly lost and achingly sad about it, yet also something reassuring. I can't explain any more than that.

This wonderful video. It's very inspiring, even if I haven't quite found a way to live life in this way yet.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Poetry, Veg and a morning with Sam Rockwell...

Oh, what a lovely weekend....

It started with a light bit of digging.

Progressed to an afternoon of poetic inspiration at a workshop run by the wonderful New York poet George Wallace. Which was wonderful actually because it has been six months almost since I wrote a word (despite all my good intentions to start writing my novel again, etc). We played, experimented, imagined. It was very inspiring, and made me think YES.

Then eating (which is always good in my books).

Then an evening of poetry, words, music at Paradox, a crazy poetry night where I saw lots of lovely friends, some wonderful readers, had a few laughs, and I read my sad little love story Everything. It's been a while since I read at a poetry night, and it was nice nice nice.

I went home to cake, chat, sleep, and an early morning goodbye to my lovely overnight guests. (Bye Gelly Bean, bye George, it was lovely having you both chez moi!)

Decided the morning would be best spent with Sam Rockwell (sigh) in Moon, which is an amazing film, I refuse to listen to anyone who says otherwise. And if Sam Rockwell is reading this, then, I know I live a long way away, but I would be very happy if you wanted to ask me out. Ha.

Then a whole beautiful, sun-kissed day at the allotment, digging, picking, planting, drinking tea, basking, chatting, and meditating with Eric. It was heaven. Tony let me pick a half dozen plums from his tree and they are such juicy loveliness. I picked a whole load of blackberries, dug up potatoes, spring onions, cut some chives, picked some black beans, and my first ever home-grown sweetcorn!

A little picture of some of my haul...



And another picture of my dinner, eaten al fresco on the deck outside. The sweetcorn was the most tastydeliciousscrumptious corn I have ever tasted, oh my god, so so so good. I will never eat shop-bought again


Big satisfied sigh.

Thankyouthankyouthankyou world for a most lovely weekend. Very grateful xxxx

Friday, 13 August 2010

A reading...

A short notice one.

Tomorrow night. Paradox at Fuel Cafe Bar in Withington, Manchester. 7.30, I believe.

The special treat is that George Wallace will be reading, he's a beautiful reader. He's described in the blurb as 'one of Americas original living beats, kindred spirit to Kerouac and mate of Patti Smith.' I've heard him read a couple of times before and he certainly has a magical way with words... Click his name above for a video reading.

The evening also features music, dj, and more poetry from an amazing list of Manchester (and a few other places) writers.... Neil Bell, Geraldine Green, Eoin becomes Spaceghost, Tony Walsh, John G.Hall, little old ME, John Leyland, Steve Waling, Lauren Bolger, Anna Percy, Sarah Miller, Jackie Hagan, Gerry Potter, Matthew Byrne, and Steph Pike

Apparently everyone gets a free flower and it's free to get in. What more could you want?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

see-saw

Still on the little see-saw of life.

Current ups
Everything to do with the allotment. Sissy. The Sopranos Final Episodes. Scout Niblett screeching out songs. The decking in my yard where I sit and eat my tea on nice nights. Tea at Kim by the Sea with Vanessa tomorrow night. Eric making me laugh. My bed. A brilliant book I'm reading about Tristan and Isolde.

Current downs:
Tiredness. Worrying a lot. Work. Not being able to see my family as much as I want. A little anxiety, even about nice things.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

mini chapbook reviews

From time to time, I review poetry chapbooks for Sphinx, a print and online zine.

You might have heard me banging on about just how few reviews many poetry chapbooks receive, so here I am again rat a tat tat.

I have two mini reviews up in the latest issue.

A review of Jon Stone's Scarecrow






And Casey Quinn's Prepare to Crash...










I review these chapbooks whether I love them or hate them or something in between, but the great thing is you don't just get my mini review, you also get the opinions of two other reviewers...

Have a read maybe. At least have a little click on the Sphinx website so you can see what they are doing, and you might find a little pamphlet of poems you want to read...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

gardening geek

I knew the weekend was going to be lovely. Allotment, food, friends (not in that particular order). A big sigh that the weekend is pretty much over.

I had a good weekend at the allotment. An exerting Saturday, sawing scaffold planks, and then with much-needed help from Eric building a big square raised bed. Then, basically digging it in, making sure it was firm, and filling it with soil, raking it over. It was a bit strenuous! Dripping with sweat, totally covered in muck, and knackered. It took a good four hours.

But the reward was harvesting some food for the weekend/week ahead.



I'm getting so much food from the allotment now. It had been five days since I last went down, and there was a glut of courgettes, some of them becoming small marrows. I dug up some charlotte potatoes, carrots, beetroots, and picked spinach, and french beans. Very, very rewarding picking my own veg. I can't even begin to tell you how much work has gone into reaching this point (most weekends from September last year until now). The rewards with an allotment are so so slow....

But, now I get to bring home this little feast (and a whole bag of courgettes that have been given to neighbours and friends.)


There is nothing better than cooking with your own veg. Actually, there's nothing better than having a bath after being down at the allotment. It's like the best bath I've ever had. Every time.

Today was another few hours hard work, but with the help and company of a lovely friend. I sowed red clover in the new raised bed (it's a green manure, which basically means you grow it, and then dig it into the ground so it adds lots of nutrients). We dug out the path next to it, pulling all the weeds out. And next week I'm going to put down wood chippings that we get delivered for free. It's making my half of the plot look so much tidier.

I did some watering, cut down all my comfrey to make some liquid feed and put the rest on the compost heap because it helps it all rot down better. Ha, ha. I know, I know. I'm a total garden geek, I had no idea about any of this stuff a year ago and would probably have laughed at the idea of it. It's bloody addictive and so so BRILLIANT learning all this and trying it out and seeing what happens. Even if it does make me sound like a bit of a ****

Here is some gardening geekery/allotment porn so you can see for yourself...









Friday, 23 July 2010

the most lovely part of the week...

Yes, right now is the most lovely part of the week. This week. But also any week. It's Friday 6pm. I'm sitting outside in my back yard, bare feet, sun warming every little bit of me, Sissy just about to poke her nose in the two scoop tub of ice cream I just bought from Moonlight. Forest fruits and Honeycomb.

The bees are buzzing around the lavender and geraniums. I can hear kids playing further down the street, an aeroplane, the wind really gently rusting the leaves on next door's tree. It's the start of the weekend.

Relief. It's the end of the working week, which has been good in its way but hard work and draining. I finished work and wanted to be somewhere half way between home and work for a while. I don't just mean geographically, I mean emotionally. My head was full and I needed to empty it a little. So, I went to one of my favourite little cafes Falafel. It's a Jordanian cafe where for £3.50 I can get gorgeous falafel wrapped in flat bread with houmous, olives and arabic salad, with a big pot of fresh mint tea. The service is lovely. The music takes me to another place completely, and I can stare into the street and watch all the bustle of cars and people passing and feels as though I am hundreds of miles from wherever I just came from.

I love it that I live so close to such a crazy, wonderful place with every kind of Asian and Middle Eastern cafes and restaurants, takeaways, ice cream parlours, fruit and veg shops, barbers, hardware, clothes and jewellery shops none of it particularly English. I love it that people can smoke shisha in one of more than a dozen places, or buy their wedding clothes, or choose a box of Indian sweets. So I milled about for a bit and watched people and bought ice cream.

This week was a week of much torrential rain, lunch with a friend, 2 for 1 pizza at pizza express with a lovely bunch of girls followed by Inception. It has been a week of Qi Gong, and Charles Lambert's The Scent of Cinnamon, and bumping into someone lovely in the supermarket, and trying to be more relaxed, confident and open to whatever. Doing less of my bad habits and focusing more on the positives.

This is my favourite part of the weekend because the working week is over and I still have a whole weekend to do whatever with whoever and wherever I choose. Hurray, hurray.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

#50 Dear Week



Dear Week,

Where did you go? I had no idea that you had passed, and I didn't even think about my blog once.

I must have been enjoying myself, hurrah!

A xx

Thursday, 15 July 2010

the safe children, and other nightjar press stories...

I’ve been hanging on to these beautiful chapbooks for quite some time. The idea of a series of limited edition chapbooks each containing a single short story is very exciting to a reader like me. I love unique books, I love short stories. What more could I want than four gorgeously designed Nightjar Press chapbooks, each one signed by their author and individually numbered, all for a mere £3?

So, I’ve been saving them up for a rainy day, and yesterday was such a day, torrential rain in fact. So, towards bedtime, I settled into my pyjamas with a cup of tea on the bedside table, and dived in.



Tom Fletcher’s The Safe Children was the first one. I’ve heard Tom read a few times, and I know he leans towards the scary side of fiction, so, I expected something a bit chilling. I went to a reading once called Fright Night where he read a few tales, but I don’t remember anything quite as scary as this. I’m not going to give it away. This story has to be experienced first-hand. It is science fiction, with a very down to earth, everyday style, but with an awful reality emerging that made me feel quite sick. And take it from me, I’ve heard a few things in my time, I’m a social worker and no stranger to gruesome realities. This one still bit me though and lingered in my head for ages (especially when I was trying to get to sleep). Shudder.



So, I decided to turn to Michael Marshall Smith to see what he had to offer in What happens when you wake up in the night. I know. The title kind of indicates that this story might induce fear, and the cover photograph is an accurate reflection of the content. The voice of the very young child narrating the story was quite brilliant, I thought. I’m a bit of an aficionado of child voices in fiction and was completely drawn in. Again, don’t want to say too much. It has less social context than Tom Fletcher’s story. It’s all set in one room, in a house, at night. Very little happens in truth, but it is a slow-drawn, perfectly created nightmare.



Joel Lane’s Black Country is quite a contrast. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cover, or from the title. Unlike the previous two stories which give an indicator of what we might find inside, this chapbook gave little away. I did suspect that it might be a bit creepy, given that it is published by Nightjar. This chapbook contains a story about some strange unexplained happenings in a broken and almost-derelict town. We explore what is happening alongside a detective who used to live in the area, and sets out on his own personal journey back to the town of his childhood. It evokes time and place beautifully, the description is poetic in a gritty way, and it is a story that creeps inside you, but I wanted more, I felt as if I hadn’t read enough of Joel Lane’s writing, and I felt somehow that this was not as good a ‘stand alone’ story as the other two. Brilliant, but wanting more from a one story chapbook has its difficulties, I thought.



Finally, I came to Alison Moore’s when the door closed it was dark, another story with elements of nightmare about it, definitely an uncomfortable story, and with a creeping tension (like all the stories in the Nightjar catalogue). Alison’s writing is beautifully detailed. I loved the vivid sense of place evoked from description such as ‘the iron staircase which zigzagged up the front of the building like the teeth of her mother’s pinking shears or a children drawing of lightning.’ Such detail really drew me into the story, and I identified strangely with its young isolated main character. Her sense of fear and almost claustrophobic experience really tattered my nerves. The ending is really horrible, because I was more worried about what was going to happen after the story finished than what had happened so far.

And I guess that is the power of a scary short story, how our imagination takes us deeper into the story. There is enough space for our imagination to play, and what is unsaid or suggested grows into all the darker corners of each of these stories. It was Tom Fletcher’s story that left me most disturbed, and The Safe Children has to be one of the most quietly brilliant stories I’ve read.

I can’t wait to see what else Nightjar Press has up its sleeve. From what I have learnt so far (and knowing a little about their editor Nick Royle's taste in fiction), I believe there will be some very dark, disturbing stories ahead.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

I heart Tove Jansson



My review of Tove Jansson's Travelling Light has been posted on Bookmunch today.

I adore Tove Jansson's writing, she writes beautiful short stories, that I recommend very very much. If you haven't read any of her work, then this is a good start... or you could read The Summer Book, which was the first book of Tove's I read, and the one that made me fall in love with her writing.

I wish I could write like Tove, yes I do, yes I do...



Sunday, 11 July 2010

#49 Dear Sun Kissed Shoulders



Dear Sun Kissed Shoulders,

You've always been very pale. I would describe you as a milky white colour. But now, after lots of outdoors work on the allotment, you seem to have turned kind of golden. Yes, maybe you are a little pink this evening, but you're more tanned than you have ever been. There is even a line where my vest strap has been sitting. There you are, all sun-kissed and I never knew you could do that. I'm glad you can still surprise me after thirty seven years.

Thanks

A xx



Saturday, 10 July 2010

#48 Dear Weeds



Dear Weeds,

Especially mare's tail, bindweed, and the one that looks like a fern and has little runners that shoot out in all directions. I wish I could banish you from my allotment, because you grow almost as fast, if not faster than all the lovely vegetables, and I am forever hoeing you or digging you out. Please don't grow so quickly, and maybe think about not coming back at all,

yours hopefully
A Clarkson



Wednesday, 7 July 2010

#47 Dear Sleep



Dear Sleep,

Really looking forward to you tonight. It feels like I really need you, and probably I could probably have a little bit of you now, but I have a few things to do and I'm not sure whether going to bed at 5.30pm is a thing that grown ups can do.

I honestly think you might be my favourite thing in the world. We get along brilliantly, and I probably take you for granted sometimes so this letter is to show you some love, and say I can't wait till later,

love Annie xx




Monday, 5 July 2010

and another giveaway....

Someone kindly pointed out that my blog has been getting a bit gloomy recently, which is probably very true, oh Annie lady of dark mithery moods and much moaning.

So, I am giving away nice things, again trying to spread a little love and kindness out there to make up for me being a bit maudlin at times.

In celebration and promotion of This Road We're On, a new free to download digital anthology of short stories published by Flax Books.... I have some lovely postcards to post out to people. The postcard has a very writerly picture of me, a tiny slip of a story called Behind the Apollo, in a lovely colour design, and on the back I will write you a little message, a hi, hello, and something.

So, if you would like a postcard sending, jot me a comment if I already have your address, or email me your address, and it will be heading your way. It's only a postcard, but how often do we get a little fiction postcard (or in fact any nice things) through the post for free...?

On Kindness, and a giveaway...

Oh, I forgot to link to this review.



I wrote this a little while ago. The book is about kindness, and as it's one of my favourite subjects, it seemed like an ideal book for me to read and review for Bookmunch.

It's an interesting little read, a bit too cerebral for me, and not enough about real kindness. But lots of fascinating ideas and theories about kindness (or the lack of it). I'd be interested to know what you think...

And so, I'm giving my copy away to whoever says 'me me me' first either in a comment, or by email. I would really like to hear what the winner thinks, maybe on your blog?