In which Talking Books is ‘Blessed by Magpies’, and poet Paul Tobin

blessed by magpiesIt has taken me a little while to post up my last Talking Books show. There are no excuses other than a few pressing deadlines and much time taken up with experimentation with a new way to manage my time…..

Anyway, the show on 31st January was a terrific one. I was joined by poet and author Paul Tobin who shared his love of the written, and spoken, word with me. Paul grew up in Widnes in the 60′s and has lived in Somerset for over thirty years. His poetry draws from his childhood in the north and he reads aloud with an intensity that picks you up and takes you into the world he is describing. He read two of his poems on the show – do listen and let me know what you think. We talked of many things but not least the impact of reading poetry aloud, the importance of revision and the poet’s ability to distil an experience and make it real for others.

Paul is frequently found reading from his work at festivals and is a member of the Juncture 25 group of writers and although he was quick to correct me – he would not describe himself as a performance poet by any means – if you see his name on the bill do join the audience if you can. Another member of the Juncture 25 group. Paul Mortimer, was on my show last year and remembering the other Paul’s poems I can sense a certain comradeship in their work.

Paul Tobin’s most recent book of poetry is called Blessed by Magpies, a bird with whom he feels a spiritual connection. He has given me a copy, which I shall enjoy reading. But I read his blog before the radio show and one poem on there struck me – I hope Paul doesn’t mind my copying it here..

In the pub with my mate Jon
In the pub with my mate Jon,
Drinking red wine and soda.
Overhearing the biased tones
Of three armchair soldiers,
Discuss the merits of each
Gun, bomb and plane.
Laughing at the enemy,
Mispronouncing every name.
My drink seems blood,
Bubbles burst and ripple,
There is no talk of brotherhood,
Only of the dead and crippled
 

Do go to his blog -magpiebridge.blogspot.co.uk to find more fascinating stories and images – he peppers his writing with intriguing photography. He has also written a steampunk novel, The Jowler, which is available from Amazon. Paul also drew the winner of the competition Martine Lillycrop set last week – the answer to which was Bladerunner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. He also set a question of his own, but really it is a matter of names in the hat so to enter, just comment below with your own favourite contemporary poem…. The winner will be drawn on my show on the 28th February and the winner will receive a signed copy of Blessed by Magpies.

And listen to the show on the link below. I think you will enjoy it.

Posted in Author interviews, Book, Books, Poetry, Radio Show, Reading, Talking Books, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Editing as the ‘last act’ of writing: Louise Bogan on taking words to heart

editingPoetry, for me, offers an opportunity to live within another’s thoughts as if they were my own. On this blog I have, from time to time, shared a poem that I have come across as I sit at my PC attempting to work at my own writing. Procrastination has led me along paths to poems I might never have experienced if it wasn’t for that moment of ennui – and the internet, of course.

I have no idea what took me to Louise Bogan last night. A visit to one of my favourite sites, the Poetry Archive, always offers a new poem or poet to explore alongside a recording of the poet reading their own work. It is a strange experience sometimes as not all poets read in a way one might expect and the musical tones conjured up in the mind are rarely replicated in the often scratchy audio. But it is still a website of the very best kind – one that takes you on an adventure in words and lives.

Anyway, tonight one poem spoke to me, stuck as I am in my chair in front of the computer editing my book Shell Shocked Britain before it goes into the proof reading stage (when I will visit the Poetry Archive even more regularly I suspect). I have read the three stanzas through a few times, and although I haven’t yet grasped the full meaning (if I ever do) the poem struck me as appropriate to my mood.

My book is written, yet not complete. As I read and re-read the words I have written over the past year the familiarity is such that the work becomes comfortable, yet tedious. The first excitement of the work is over and whilst I can now recognise it as good enough, at the same time the power of the words I know almost by heart is fading. I know that to ensure it is really successful (in the sense that it is as I intended it to be) I have to look at it again and really see it. Having pulled it apart, discarded, re-written and re-built I am, at last beginning to understand it as a whole – a physical book that will, I hope, be read for the first time, fresh, by as many people as can be convinced to buy it.

This poem, with its strange and contrasting images of beauty and decay, of fear and darkness and of journey’s end reflects my current mood. A scythe hangs, harmlessly now, in the apple trees, as the cursor sweeps across the document in front of me and as I sit, as leaden as the statues in Bogan’s garden, watching the book take shape. The words ‘shake and bleed’ before my eyes and it is beginning to feel like ‘a voyage done’. But it is a voyage during which I have fallen even more deeply in love with writing and at times have had to come to terms with some truths about my self as I go on to start a new commission and involve myself in a new subject.

Song for the Last Act

Louise Bogan

Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd’s crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music’s cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat’s too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

I will read more about this poem, but it seems to me that it has at its heart the story of a love affair – an unsettled and difficult one, perhaps coming to its natural end. The poet is troubled and darkness is never far away; beauty is brief and images and words ink-black.

lbogan

Louise Bogan

Lousie Bogan was an American poet, born in 1897. In the 1930s she suffered her first serious depressive illness and was then vulnerable to depression until the end of her life, in 1970. She was reclusive and disliked confessional and overtly political poetry but was admired as both poet and critic of other’s work. I want to learn much more about her now and read more of her poetry. Poetry can do that – inspire you to a little more detective work and a whole realm of new experiences.

So as I continue with my edits, then undertake the first, second and maybe third proof-read of a book I know so intimately,  I will recall Louis Bogan’s words

Now that I have your face by heart, I look. Now that I have your voice by heart, I read. Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

This may be the beginning of the ‘Last Act’ in the writing of Shell Shocked Britain, but it marks the beginning of a whole new performance as I begin on fresh pages for the next book….

Posted in Book, Books, Poetry, Random musings on family life, love the universe and everything, Reading, Work, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tie a yellow ribbon round your own Barnaby…

yellow dogFirst things first – apologies for the pun, but when I made the joke (paraphrasing the Tony Orlando & Dawn song circa 1973) to the nurse at our Vets she thought it was rather good. In fact we discussed how our lovely black lab/collie cross Barnaby (AKA Barney, AKA Mr B) could be a promotional tool for the Yellow Dog UK scheme.

Yellow Dog UK is part of an international scheme to ensure that the public become aware that ‘some dogs need space’. How many times do we hear that someone has been injured by a dog that is ‘usually very friendly’, ‘a poppet at home’ or who has ‘never bitten anyone before’? I think we forget that dogs are pack animals, with some instincts that are still wild and who can, if circumstances allow, cause serious injury to others. We may love them, but not everyone does. Some dogs have been rescued, with backgrounds unknown. Others have had a lifetime of abuse until someone intervened to give them a better life.  Some are still in training, or in season (it isn’t only humans who have hormones) which can affect their behaviour or make it unpredictable. Some are old and arthritic and have become the proverbial ‘grumpy old’ dog.

Barnaby

Barnaby

Barnaby was diagnosed with arthritis and a bad back at the age of just three. He is a wonderful dog and great company for me as someone who works from home. He is gentle and loving, if a teeny bit chaotic – but as I have been told many a time, the same can be said of the home he lives in. On his home patch he is wonderful. Once you have been welcomed into Chez Grogan you will be overcome with love, licks and numerous toys and chewy things. However, the pain he has suffered with his back and the arthritis kept at bay with supplements has resulted in a suspicion of strangers – human and canine – that sometimes (and it is seemingly random) results in a display of aggression quite unlike his ‘real’ self. He barks and bares his teeth, his hackles rise and as a large black dog, looks like the Hound of the Baskervilles. Scary, but there is something in him that wants to protect himself, and us as his family (or pack).

Some might say such a dog should be put down. But that isn’t necessary if the owner of such a dog is responsible and takes proper precautions. If Barnaby hurt a child I would never forgive myself and we would have to take expert advice on whether he could be kept safely.  But if I ensure he is walked where it is safe and other walkers, dog owners and the public know that he ‘needs his space’ all is well. That is where the Yellow Dog Project comes in. Their website explains that the project means that:

 when you see a dog with a YELLOW ribbon, bandanna or similar on the leash or on the dog, this is a dog which needs some space. Please, do not approach this dog or its people with your dog. They are indicating that their dog cannot be close to other dogs. How close is too close? Only the dog or his people know, so maintain distance and give them time to move out of your way.

Barnaby will be wearing his bandanna with pride. He is a good dog who is trained, performs lovely tricks and looks after the Grogan clan to the best of his ability. Life has given him a bit of a battle to fight – he is young to have such pain and it isn’t fair. With caution, and the help of schemes such as the Yellow Ribbon, we can make sure he has a happy life without intimidating other dogs, or their human companions, needlessly.

Take a look at the website for the Yellow Ribbon. It is a great scheme and more people need to know about it to make sure everyone recognises that a dog in yellow is a dog who wants to be left alone. Remember – it is not often the dog’s fault. We have a responsibility too.

Posted in Charities, Family, Parenting, Random musings on family life, love the universe and everything | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Science fiction? Or is that cyberpunk? – Talking Books talks the future with Martine Lillycrop

220px-Brown,r_time_macine60Competition alert!!! At the end of this email you will have the opportunity to win books! (Hope that grabs you and keeps you reading!)

I have never been afraid to admit that science fiction has never been my ‘thing’. I never really understood the appeal of predicting a future of gadgets and gizmos or space travel to other planets populated by furry tribbles and The War of The Worlds courtesy of Jeff Wayne (and Justin Hayward) and 1960 film version of H.G Wells The Time Machine  - complete with Eloi and Morlocks – was, I thought , the extent of my knowledge of the genre.

How wrong I turned out to be. Even before last Friday’s edition of  my Talking Books show on 10Radio I been put right by friends on Facebook and twitter. What about The Day of the Triffids? Surely you have read John Wyndham? Indeed I have (albeit many years ago). What about Douglas Adams? I had always assumed that was humour. And then there is the blurring of the lines with fantasy – how about Neil Gaiman?

Instead of being a genre purely devoted to scientific imaginings it turns out to be far more mysterious and varied than I imagine. Yes there is Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke and perhaps I find too much gadgetry a turn off, but after Friday’s show I can no longer assume that there is nothing in the genre to interest me.

I am certainly going to read some of Martine Lillycrop‘s work – starting with her latest book High Tide in the City, which one reader describes as ‘Butt-kicking noir science fiction. This is Raymond Chandler and Bladerunner rolled into one. Superb cyberpunk detective thriller’.

Martine was my studio guest last week, and if you listen on the link above you will hear her bravely working with a host who had professed total ignorance of the book shelves upon which her works sit. We had a really interesting chat about what inspires her, how she works and who she found inspiring as a writer and she read from the very beginning of High Tide. But we also talked of why most of the famous names in the genre are male (with me getting on to a bit of a sticky stereotyping wicket) and how much work has to go into science fiction as the our real world leaps forward, technologically speaking, ahead of even the sparkiest imagination. We may not be driving hover cars, but with Google developing strange contact lenses that can read the health of your eyes, it is surely only a matter of time before we are all born with a bar code on our bottoms.

Do listen to the show; I really enjoyed it and have to thank Martine for providing the very first competition prize for the show. I have three of her books - High Tide in the City, Blightspawn and Under Verdant Skies -  to give away if you can answer what is, I am promised, a question that science fiction buffs will be able to answer (I hadn’t a clue).

Name the author who created the character Richard Deckard and the book and film in which he appears…

OK? Now I have never run a competition on my blog before and as this is not a ruse to get more people to flock to my blog to flog stuff given away by PR firms I am not requiring you to ‘like’ things or tweet stuff (although it would be great if you did.) To enter just comment on this blog and just to make sure you don’t take the easy option and just copy the entry above yours I would like you to tell me what gadget you would like a science fiction to write into your life story. I will pull entries out of the hat anyway but will be sure that whoever wins the books gets their gadget at least mentioned on this site.

So get those entries in! Martine has had some really good reviews and I think we need a few more female writers on the list for Talking Books talks Sci Fi in 3014…..

Find out more about Martine and her work on her website  - www.martinelillycrop.wordpress.com

Posted in Book, Books, Radio Show, Reading, Talking Books, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Comic-book Keats – a new way to prevent the ‘end of poetry’?

labelledame11I may be coming late to the work of Julian Peters. It is possible his illustrative work has been bringing young people to poetry for some time without me realising it. However, there may be some others out there, like myself, who have not yet come across an artist who, in my opinion, has found a way to ‘re-package’ the poetry of the 19th and 20th century in a way that might just convince  the cynical that there is life in poetry yet.

Julian Peters is based in Montreal and has translated a number of familiar poems into comic-book recreations so striking that they have been widely exhibited. However, even though I am a member of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, I missed Peters’ inclusion in the 2012 exhibition ‘Illustrating Keats’ at the House in Rome. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is wonderful, with a young man  (looking, purposely I am sure, rather Keatsian) recounting his seduction by the beautiful woman – ‘La belle dame’ – who casts her chilling spell over him, as she has done many another ‘pale knight’. See the whole piece here on Peters’ website.

couverture1On that site you will also find his other work, which includes Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe,  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot and a terrific manga-style presentation of  When You Are Old by W B Yeats.

I read an article recently in The Skinny, in which Bruce Sterling & Jon Lebkowsky discussed the apparent ‘death of poetry’.  Bruce Sterling said:

“If you’d asked John Keats if there was any ‘truth’ in the journalism of his day, Keats would have said no, that all the newspapers were organs of party faction, and that the ‘truth,’ and also the beauty, was in poetry. Our own society doesn’t have ‘Poetry.’ Poetry is already gone. We don’t miss it any more than those un-novelled societies miss novels.”

That statement feels like a punch in the stomach to me. I disagree so forcefully that I could shake Sterling (although in the article he is really expressing his views on the future of the mass-media and there is at least some recognition that poetry is older, and more ‘needed’ than journalism as it is practised at the moment). There is much to be enjoyed and gained from reading poetry, even if poets are no longer the Byronic celebrity super-heroes of the 19th century.

I really enjoyed browsing Julian Peters’ website and seeing some of my favourite poems in a new light. The comic strip versions are utterly different from the Pre-Raphaelite representations of Keats’ work but they are striking nonetheless. What do you think?

Posted in Art, Books, Keats, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Back to blogging with a big, fat bang….

dv1554019I have been subject to a ‘blogging malaise’ over the past few weeks. Trying to think of a subject to cover; a poem to recommend; a book to discuss etc has seemed too much trouble. No more wriggling out of writing was the title I chose for this blog three and a half years ago now, before I could really call myself a professional writer. Now I am one. So why need I blog?

Well today I thought, at last, of a reason to get on here and say something and it struck me that perhaps I had forgotten how important it is, even as someone lucky enough to have commissions to work on, to simply WRITE. No wonder I am feeling low – I haven’t been writing much at all. I have been reading a lot, but as an escape and as procrastination. So I am grateful that Radio 4 and Any Questions actually got me sufficiently riled to put finger to keypad once more. Here is why.

2013 was not a good year for my insides. I started suffering acute stomach pains and was sent for all manner of scary tests at the hospital. Many of you will know that as someone who has been treated, successfully, for breast cancer, I find the words ‘because of your medical history we just need to check’ are words that strike the fear of the Almighty in me. I had a few of those moments in 2013, but eventually it was discovered that my gallbladder was as a bulging bag of lead shot, overflowing and requiring urgent removal. The stress here is on ‘urgent’ as I had narrowly avoided one hospitalisation and was fearing another at any moment. So the surgeon saying ‘we should have you in here in a month’ seemed like good news. Our local NHS hospital, Musgrove Park in Taunton, has always seen me right. Saved my life even. But as one month went to two, and then to three, I was getting worried. But a strict low-fat diet and regular, gentle exercise was seeing a weight loss of 2lb a week. By the time I was called in, I was two stone lighter and although still suffering from the shot in the gut, I felt much better for it.

As is so common, I have struggled with my weight for years. I have been slim, fat and somewhere in between. It IS hard for me to lose the flab; I have lymphoedema in my legs that makes them heavy and prone to serious swelling and I am on cancer and anti-depressant drugs that make it even more difficult to shed the pounds. But never was it more obvious to me that I had been using these things as an excuse than when I was waiting for my gall bladder op. I could do it if I tried, and I did because I knew my health could be seriously compromised if I didn’t. I took control.

Andy Burnham-of-the-lovely-brown-eyes - on the Any Questions panel

Andy Burnham-of-the-lovely-brown-eyes – on the Any Questions panel

Over the past few days, and on aforesaid Any Questions, the subject of the obesity epidemic in the UK came up again. Last week it was said that some 2 million people in the UK could be eligible for NHS gastric band operations in the next few years. Should we regulate the food industry? Teach kids what a vegetable is?

Now, at last, I get to the point. When I did at last get my appointment, after weeks of nice phone calls with helpful appointments staff, I found myself on the ‘gastric band’ list and was told that they often ‘squeezed’  a gall bladder removal (or choleocystectomy) on to that list. I was surprised, not least because I had no idea there was a ‘list’ for NHS gastric band surgery but also because those who were in the waiting room had not struck me as very different from your regular ‘Taunton tummy’ type, in which classification I would, two months before, have had to include myself. Overweight, possibly obese, but still a pretty common shape.

bandAs I slid down the day’s operating list to accommodate those with Type 2 diabetes who had to go before me to ensure their blood sugars didn’t spiral out of control, I had one of those wicked thoughts that creep up on us occasionally and cause us to judge others more harshly than we might otherwise do. Why had that woman just gone in front of me to have her gastric band, accompanied by her two sons who had had the same operation eight weeks before? She was no more overweight than I had been. Why couldn’t she, and her two sons, have done what I did and controlled their diet and exercised a bit more? Wasn’t that gastric band fitting a dangerous operation to control appetites that simply needed more self-control? If they needed it, then half the UK would qualify surely?

Perhaps. What worries me most is that since I had the gallbladder operation, for all my good intentions, the surgeons words ‘well you can go back to a normal diet now’ have inveigled themselves into my subconscious and eaten away at that very self-control I bemoaned the lack of in the woman and her family in the hospital. I must have put half a stone on since Christmas. Being overweight, for me, means a long hard road to fitness but it can be done. Surely I have no right to expect the NHS to sort me out just because I can’t pass a chocolate bar or a bun without cramming it in my mouth? Surely, if an NHS doctor can’t find it possible to tell me that, without my gall bladder, I still have to eat carefully, he is making work for himself and our cash-strapped health service?

I am a greedy pig and I know it. But it seems I have long term medical conditions that could qualify me for this radical  surgery. Why should we offer gastric bands as apparently ‘preventative’ medicine? Diabetes may be a silent killer, but tell us about it, have us in to your office and tell us we will die if we don’t cut out the pies and walk round the block. Tell us we are neglecting our kids if we encourage them to eat in the same way. Take adverts for McDonalds and KFC off the telly and sod corporate anger. Anything, but DON’T fit us with something that could kill us and will certainly not teach us how to live our lives in a healthy way. Who knows, is it far-fetched to think that we may end up fitting young girls with gastric bands just to help them achieve some ridiculous idea of ‘body-image’ that the madness of the media and big business would have us believe is the only way to be?

Put the money into treating those with life-threatening illnesses unrelated to gluttony.

There, said it. And perhaps you wish I had kept this bile to my duct, where it belongs….

Posted in Breast cancer, Food, Mental health, Random musings on family life, love the universe and everything, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Poetry for Mindfulness – I go among trees and sit still…..

keatsbabe:

I love this poem by Wendell Berry. If it wasn’t STILL raining here in Somerset I would take myself off and ‘go among the trees and sit still’ to calm my rather tangled and fraught though processes….

Originally posted on let's talk!:

treesOn ‘let’s talk’ we occasionally like to post a favourite quote,  a poem that strikes us as relevant to the work we are focusing on or simply words that mean something to us at a particular moment, on which we can focus our minds and enjoy ‘quieting’ our mind.

Today we thought our readers (and thank you – all those who follow us) might enjoy the following poem, by American poet, environmental activist and author Wendell Berry. Berry is a man often quoted by those who practice ‘mindfulness’, a subject we have discussed in recent blog posts. He is a man who believes in many things that relate specifically to living what he considers to be a ‘good’ life. He is a farmer, and supports rural communities, sustainable farming and the wonder of feeding our bodies with healthy food.  He is anti-war,, concerned about globalisation and the ever-growing industrialisation…

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