Saturday, 27 February 2010

Geeky Inspirations...

I was at the allotment today for a very short time. I was a lightweight. It was very damp, raining on and off, so there was no chance of any digging. There was a big pile of top soil, so with persuasion I shovelled and wheelbarrowed some of it into plot, probably only about half a ton, and the same onto my friend's plot. My arms seemed to be aching today, wheelbarrow felt heavier than usual, but I got into it, and did some work. Small steps forward. I also took some rosemary cuttings and have a few pots that will hopefully grow into big healthy rosemary plants...

Inspired by all the talk in the allotment hut last week, I have bought my seed potatoes (I'm going to plant Charlotte potatoes and Roosters. They are chitting snugly in little egg boxes in my cold kitchen. I also spent ages trying to decide what seeds to buy and ordered some organic seeds. Sitting in a little tin waiting for the right time are seeds for growing butternut squash, sweetcorn, french beans, three different kinds of tomatoes, courgettes, and purple sprouting brocolli (which I have been told is very hard to grow and takes AGES, but I am going to try anyway). Oh, also bought a mix of salad leaves so will have gorgeous Mibuna, Red Mustard, Pak Choi, Komatsuma, Chinese Cabbage and Mizuna leaves!! Also, flowers.. nasturtiums, sunflowers and sweetpeas (so far).

I am hoping to swap some seeds for leeks, beetroots and I don't know what else, we'll see... Ha! I won't have enough space!

I've been inspired by Sonia on her Gardenwrite blog, who has already started planting her seeds... she's planted leeks indoors. And because I am a total geek and am loving reading about someone else and their allotment, I have been doing a little search for other people in Manchester or in the UK who are blogging about their allotment... I've found a couple, but if anyone wants to recommend some good allotment blogs, then let me know.

I like the look of Our Allotment's Blog particularly their recent blog about 'Shed Porn'. Also Soilman who looks like a total pro (at blogging and allotmenteering (if that even exists as a word!)... Down on the Allotment a blog by Matron (possibly not her real name) cos it has great pictures, and My Tiny Plot cos it has recipes as well... brilliant eh. I am officially a geek.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Words by the Water...

I just wanted to tell you about an event coming up very soon at Words on the Water Festival in Keswick Cumbria...

Amongst all the wonderful literature events including readings by writers as diverse as Fay Weldon, Brian Keenan, Melvyn Bragg, Penelope Lively, and Lynne Truss... there is a brilliant day of writing called North West Voices...

It's a whole day event for the price of £20 and the details are:

Northwest Voices
Words by the Water
Monday 8 March, 11am - 5.30pm

Readings and discussions from Northwest writers, celebrating the strength and diversity of the region’s wide-ranging literary output, covering poetry, short fiction and novel writing.

Events during the day include:
• POETRY SHOWCASE – Flapjack Press presents Jackie Hagan, Gerry Potter and Helen Thomas
• SHORT STORY SHOWCASE – Comma Press presents Zoe Lambert and Annie Clarkson
• NOVEL SHOWCASE – Literature Northwest presents Jenn Ashworth and Brigid Rose
• SURVIVING AS A WRITER – To round off the day, publishers Ra Page and Paul Neads lead a discussion on the pitfalls and practicalities of surviving as a writer, finding an audience for your work, and most important of all developing a voice.

So, you see, I will be reading a short story, answering questions and sitting on the panel at the end about surviving as a writer. A wonderful day of interesting northern writers reading their stuff, some lovely northern accents, and I would imagine the opportunity to chat to readers and writers, grab some tea and a bite to eat and gaze out across beautiful Derwentwater.

It's happening at Theatre on the Lake, a BEAUTIFUL venue, tickets are available at their website... and here's a little glimpse of Derwentwater to show you what beautiful views you're missing out on if you can't come...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

this month in a blink

Gosh, February is zooming by.

Here's what I am doing this month. Just so, I remember it actually happened.

I've been watching these films...

Reading this book...

Building this cold frame at the allotment

As well as digging out weeds, planting rhubarb, planting gooseberry bush, chitting potatoes, chatting and drinking tea.

I've been working hard. Making pie. Eating icecream oh yes. Eating in Arabic cafes. Actually eating a lot. Been to a beekeeping meeting. Been to a 1950s tea party. Been to the garden centre. Been to a girl's only party with lots of singing, dancing, and yes more food.

and been with Sally to see this lovely lady sing...

Ah, lovely February, what a treat you are xx

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Book Review:Mary Caponegro's All Fall Down

I can't remember whether I linked to this review on Bookmunch. I read it in January, I think she is some kind of genius, but perhaps not my kind of genius. It's a good book, recommended, although comes with a health warning ha!

I will be winding up my reviewing this year (for a little while), just so I can do some reading for sheer pleasure. Part of my 'living for now' thing. I have a few more books to read and review, and I'm finding it slow going, *smile* but will post links to reviews as and when they are published.

Sunday, 14 February 2010


One of my allotment friends sent me this today:

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. - Buddha

It ties in nicely with my last blog, don't you think...

Thursday, 11 February 2010


This year is turning out to be about other things than I imagined it might be. This year is about being. It is about now and not the past or tomorrow.

I've stopped writing lists. This is a positive move for me because without lists I can't worry about things I haven't done yet.

I'm shrugging off life's difficulties instead of trying to control them or prepare myself for them or worrying about how I would cope if this happened or that happened.

When the unexpected happens, like snow or my sister coming to live here, like the submission of my book not working out or being offered information about a beekeeping course, I'm taking note. I'm trusting that the unexpected is teaching me something or bringing some new way of being into my life that is what I need at that time.

And these unexpected changes or events have been easier than I thought to adjust to. They have made me think that perhaps there are many more changes possible or available to me, and suddenly the unknown or the difficult seems interesting, freeing in some way and more positive than it has ever seemed before.

Losing my phone with my whole calender and contacts in, was actually a positive experience rather than a stress. I suddenly felt free of everything.

Same with a few negative things that have happened to me recently. Nothing terrible, just disappointments etc. It has made me reflect.

For example, last year I spent a lot of time and energy trying to 'push myself' as a writer. Writing reviews, writing my blog, writing short shorts for the purpose of working towards a collection, organising readings, getting involved in events and writing projects, growing a network of other writers I could talk with/exchange work with, sending out poems/stories to as many magazines as possible, trying to get more publications, sending a collection to a publisher, posting links to everything I was trying to do, trying to 'market' myself.

Through a series of experiences, being a writer suddenly seems less important than it was before. If I never publish another poem or story, I can still write for myself. Perhaps my writing will become more interesting, more useful to me, more therapeutic again (where it began), perhaps I will love it more, perhaps it will lead to another kind of writing, a new wave of writing that needs no publisher or audience. Perhaps it will become intimate again, my personal enjoyment, remain a hobby instead of a career. It's very freeing.

Towards the end of last year, I started to become tired of always working towards other things, always developing, writing lists, working out what I needed to do to get somewhere else, instead of perhaps just being here, enjoying what I have. It was like I needed to stop and breathe, not just with my writing, but everything really.

Lists of what I needed to do on the house. Lists of books I wanted to read, films I wanted to see, places I wanted to visit. Things I want to achieve in my career, how I can become a 'better' writer, a better person.

For over a month now, I have stopped all this. I'm working on accepting life as it is right now, not worrying about what I haven't got or striving for it. I'm trying to be more zen, if you like. For a while now, I've been working on some emotional issues, and I want to focus on this for a while, let go of some old patterns, and just be myself, not working towards a better me all the time.

I've decided not to push my writing, in fact I'm taking an open-ended rest and once I've completed some commitments I have, a reading in March, some reviews, that's it as far as I'm concerned. No more trying to develop myself as a writer. I want to write crap, write anything, write a diary, write a poem if I wish, write for writing's sake, no ambition, no pushing, no chasing, no submissions, no presenting myself to the world as a 'writer'. I want to stop being all of my constituent parts (writer/social worker/friend/etc) and just bring it all together and if I feel like writing one day I will, and if I don't write anything for a year, then fine as well.

There are many wonderful things around me, and I want to enjoy them, allotment, cats, work, friends, walks, food, house, cooking, reading, taking photos, working on little projects, sleeping, and I want to do whatever I want to do at that time (or not). More spontaneity. Embrace the difficult and the strange. Observe more. Listen to everything around me. Enjoy small pleasures.

So, I might be around less (or more), I'm not sure. I intend to nurture the important friendships I have, strengthen what is good in my life right now, and we'll see if this new approach helps/works/lasts.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


At the weekend, we watched the film Precious. I've been thinking about this film for days now, and wanted to find some way to talk about why I thought it was one of the most amazing films I've seen in a long time.

Claireese is a 16 year old, very obese, black girl living in Harlem. She lives with her mum who is possibly the most horrible woman portrayed in film. She beats her, treats her like a slave, has a mouth like a sewer and is one scary mother. Claireese is pregnant with her second child, and I won't give the details in case you want to watch it, but let's just say they were not the happiest of conceptions. She gets A- in English in school, even though she can't read, and gets sent to an alternative education programme.

There are plenty of shocks in store, one of these for example is that her first child is called Mongo, which Claireese explains to the welfare lady is short for mongoloid, because she has down syndrome. One of many uncomfortable moments in the film, but in my mind brilliant because there is no flannelling over such details. In my work, I have heard many people say the most uncomfortable things, and I like the way this film portrays this. It's not nice to hear, but there is a lot of ignorance out there, and real gutter ways of talking and seeing the world.

I like the way that, when things get tough, she disappears into fantasies of being in a music video, or a superstar, or with some gorgeous guy. She looks in a mirror and sees a reflection of herself as a pretty, thin, white girl. She imagines photos in an album talking to her.

The casting is interesting. I thought Mariah Carey played a very good social worker actually. There are some interesting moments when Claireese tells her about the realities of her life. The last such scene is extremely powerful, and shows up some of the naivety of the social worker (we hear things we don't expect to hear all the time, sometimes things we wish we hadn't heard), and this scene was strong. It is very clear that much of the scene was improvised, and there is some of Mariah in the social worker's reaction, I thought (in a good way) because how could a person acting such a part fail to react to what Claireese's mother says in this scene. It's honesty is brutal but authentic. There are no holds barred, it is not what anyone might expect, but from my own work experience, this is authentic. Sorry, but this is more real than fiction. The details might be made up, but it's not make believe, this shit happens, and not just to 'other' people.

The fight scenes are scary, when the baby is dropped and then a TV is dropped down the stairwell. Phew. I couldn't help but let out a little scream.

And there is hope, not other people coming in and rescuing the victim like a lot of films about abuse. This is sheer resilience. There is no heroism or glorification. It pisses me off so much when a film portrays abuse like this, or goes for the thriller-type revenge angle, or doesn't explore how complex it is, the dilemmas, or takes the line of 'oh well we saved this poor child, so now everything will be fine' bullshit.

People just do the best they can to help Claireese, on a basic humane level. But it's Claireese that does the surviving, beyond all expectation, because that's what people do. They get on with things, even after the most horrible of crap.

I've seen this a lot. People who drag themselves through the most awful things (most people pottering along in their nice lives wouldn't have a clue), and they do well for themselves, they still have the capacity for love, they achieve.

Ha, so as you can see, this film made me very thoughtful about many things. It was hard, challenging, not perfect, but it raised so many issues, confronted them, confronted us, I think.

I haven't read the book, but would be really interested to know what you thought of book or film or both. I want to hear other views really, to help me process my own thoughts and feelings. Did people love it/hate it? Think it was badly done/well done? The casting? What did you think???

And for those of you who haven't seen it, here's the trailer

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Ailsa Cox and The Real Louise

My latest review is online now at The Short Review. This time I've review Ailsa Cox's The Real Louise and other stories... there is a really interesting interview with her too, and as usual some damn good reviews of other very exciting short story collections...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

the joy of muck

Well, now that the snow has melted and Manchester has warmed up a little, I have been back to the allotment after a month of nothing.

It's been good to get back to it. Last weekend I went down there both days. On Saturday, I spent just short of 6 hours drinking tea, untangling netting, turning a car tyre inside out to make a plant pot (mostly done actually by two fellow allotmenteers), digging, pulling out spaghetti like bindweed roots, composting, taking photos of coldframes to get inspiration for when I build mine, chatting... It was a wonderful allotment clear blue sky day and I was utterly mucky and EXHAUSTED when I got home. But, oh, did I deserve the lovely hot soak in the bath when I got in. I tell you, a bath is so much more enjoyable when you're covered in muck, and with aching muscles...

I went down on Sunday as well, but not for long. I was digging out weeds in my raspberry/blackcurrant patch. Only it was a bit wet (yes more than mucky again), and then I broke my specs.... and today, I went for an hour or so, and shovelled top soil into wheelbarrows to fill up one of my raised beds, and cut back my raspberry canes (a little late maybe, but better late than never).

I only have half an allotment, not sure how many square metres or yards it is. I will get back to you on that one. I have about half of my plot in a fit state to plant or grow. perhaps a little less than half. I drew out a little plan this week, trying to work out what I might grow. I have one patch where I'm going to grow potatoes and some beetroots, maybe parsnips. Another patch where all my fruit is (or will be when I sort out some strawberries). And a small patch for onions, garlic and shallots. I already have some globe artichokes growing. Then I have two raised beds... where I want to plant all kinds of things, and I know I can't grow everything, so I've been going through seed catalogues and browsing at Hulme Community garden centre, trying to decide what I like the most...

so far on my list... courgettes, french beans, leeks, sugar snap peas, sweetcorn perhaps, purple sprouting brocolli, savoy cabbage, kale, pak choi, squash, spinach and salad leaves, hmmm

over-ambitious for such an as yet small space. I need to whittle this list down, because I also want to grow herbs... salad things... and flowers... Ha!

I'm intending to be organic if possible, but am not 100% strict about this... and I have been reading about companion planting... ie planting flowers etc that encourage bees, distract birds, and discourage pests... so maybe sunflowers, marigolds, geraniums, nasturtiums, comfrey...

oh, the list goes on.

It's only my first year, so I need to tone things down a lot, and focus on just a few things. I still have half my allotment to dig over, get rid of weeds etc. I want to build a cold frame using some scaffold planks and some old windows (and I'm not well known for being miss practical DIY). I still have bloody loads of jeruselem artichokes to dig up, and weeds to compost, and paths to sort out...

I might do different things from the ones I have in my mind at the moment...

But, I like it. I like having a project. I like getting mucky and tired. I like the others on our allotment site, who chat and say hi, and offer advice, and make tea, and help out with wheelbarrows of horse shit, or lend me a rake or just make me laugh. There's a really nice feel to the place, and it's grounding for me, stops me thinking and gets me doing, gets me out of my head, and hopefully I might even have some veggies at some point to show for all the hours I put in...!

hurray for getting mucky...