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.


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?

Sunday, 4 July 2010

#46 Dear Birthday

Dear Birthday,

You have been strange this year. I mean you are just the anniversary of a day 37 years ago, but somehow our culture has made this a really important day.

Some years I like you, especially when I spend a lot of time with family and friends. This year, has been quieter than most, and hampered by car problems that meant I stayed home on my own, and then a slight kitchen accident that almost led to a fire, which is not a wholly bad thing as I found out my smoke alarm still works.

I have to confess that this year I didn't like you much. I liked the days leading up to you, I got a lot of lovely birthday wishes sent my way from afar, and the early part of the day was lovely, but you went downhill after that and I kind of wish you had just been an ordinary day.

A friend of mine recently told me that he didn't know when his birthday was, that in his country it's not the same, so he didn't understand birthdays in the same way that many people do. This kind of helped me put it in perspective.

Birthday, I think perhaps you have been overshadowed by other things happening in my life, and maybe next year you will be better, or different, or maybe it just won't matter as much

A x

#45 Dear Weekend...

Dear Weekend,

I am so pleased you arrived, and marked the end to a partly yeuchy and stranded week. I love you. Really I do, because so far you've been not but almost perfect. So, I want to say a big speech of thanks to you: for a lovely curry and casino on Thursday with the girls from work (so, Thursday is the new Friday in Manchester), for getting my car back (hopefully) fixed, for a lovely two hour dig down at the allotment on friday evening when it was lovely and warm, for the little jar of sweetpea flowers on my windowsill, for a harvest of courgettes, spinach, onions, garlics, lettuce galore, for a handful of strawberries and raspberries that I ate straight from the plant, for late night pottering about, for books through the post, for a lovely barbeque at the plot yesterday, for stuffed courgettes, for a lovely bath, for tons of birthday cards, and for not being over yet, there is more to come, and I don't go back to work til Tuesday, so you're longer than all the other weekends, hurray!

A xx

Thursday, 1 July 2010

This Road We're On

So, why was I in Lancaster? Was it worth the hassle of breaking down/being stranded/being towed back to Manchester by a lovely lad called Jake who had a smell of diesel about him?

Yes, yes.

It was the launch of This Road We're On, wonderful new short story anthology which is a free digital book online NOW!

It was at the gorgeous literary venue The Storey, in Lancaster. It's the first time I've visited, and I was impressed by the gorgeousness of the little auditorium we were in to read from and launch the book. All five of the writers were there: Chris Witter, Me, Amy Prodromou, Naomi Kruger and Emma Bragg.

In summary, there was wine, strawberries, chatter, milling about, a lovely introduction by editor Sarah Hymas, projected images from the anthology on the wall behind the readers, five very different readings from these little short stories which all feature relationships and love, free postcards scattered around with an excerpt from each of our writing, clapping, more milling about, meeting of people I've only previously met on the internet (Hi Ron), meeting of people I've not seen for ages (Hi Pauline), and a surprise appearance by my publisher (hi Ian). I thought it was a friendly, laid back and lovely launch.

So, now, I urge you... read This Road We're On

Actually maybe I should really say, read browse and explore, because there are stories, recordings from each writer, profiles, photos.

And let me know what you think...!

#44 Dear RAC

Dear RAC

I'm very grateful that I am a member of your breakdown service. The RAC man who came out to me last night was very lovely and helpful, even if he was not able to fix the problem with the gasket on my thermal heating thingy. I was an hour away from home, and so without your services I wouldn't have got towed and might have been stranded there all night. The man you sent to me with his towtruck was kind, friendly and made a difficult night seem less fraught. I felt very relieved when he arrived, and I say a big THANK YOU that I got home safely, with my broken car dropped off at the garage.

However, I wonder whether perhaps you might need to recruit more staff. I'm just wondering, because it took over five hours from when I called you out to when I got home, which is a bit of a long time, and I was sat in a dark empty car park, next to a closed pub for an hour and a half waiting for the tow truck, and it was a bit scary waiting on my own, and maybe if you had one more tow truck working in the area, then it might have avoided me feeling quite vulnerable.

Just saying. I mean, you're great, but maybe just maybe you could have been a but more timely with your greatness