The 31st October is not just Hallowe’en – Happy Birthday John Keats…

keats-charcoal1218 years ago today a wonderful Romantic poet (who still unites and interests the literary world) was born.

So for John Keats’ birthday AND for Hallowe’en,  I give you this chilling fragment…

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you….

Some have thought this written to Fanny Brawne (how cruel that seems) but now I believe scholars agree it was written for a poem or play that was never completed. This fragment was not published until much later in the 19th century.

I love it. Happy birthday John.

 

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Hallowe’en horror – why we love a great ghoul & the scary art of self-publishing

MarrowScoopWell I did it. I doubt anything All Hallows Eve could throw at me could be more frightening. My admiration for all those out there who regularly self-publish their fiction is immense – putting work that has been part of your life, perhaps dredged from your writing soul, out to strangers is terrifying.

Yesterday I published three of my ghost stories as The Marrow Scoop and other Stories, on Amazon for Kindle (knowing now that anyone can download it via a Kindle app for pc or iPad etc). I love writing spooky stories and think I write best in a tone that anyone who is a fan of M.R. James and the writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries would recognise. Two of the stories pay homage to that great writer and in my opinion it is much harder to write a really chilling ghost story set in the 21st century. Is it because we are now so used to the special effects on television and in computer games perhaps? Are we more cynical and less ready to believe in spirits? Have shows like ‘Most Haunted’ and the NLP and illusions of Derren Brown convinced us that we are always being fooled by photographs of ‘ghosts’ and contact of any kind with the dead?

Brown_ladyAt a time when many of us are struggling to deal with the world we live in; the speed we must work at and the loss of control; the horrors we are faced with from local issues (here in Somerset I have been horrified by both a badger cull and the development of a new nuclear power station for example) and from across the globe, I am surprised at this lack of belief. I am not talking about clanking chains and white sheets or pumpkins and vampires but this reluctance to embrace the possibility that there is another dimension to our lives. I am not convinced of one faith over another but I would love to have some faith in the worth of us all beyond this mortal coil.

Perhaps that is why I am drawn to the mysterious art of the supernatural story. Or maybe it is simply a way to express that darker side of my nature that must generally be repressed, in the same way I love a good crime novel? I have included antique artefacts and a little of the paraphernalia of the classic ghost story, but hopefully with a little sprinkle of originality.

Who knows…. But putting The Marrow Scoop together I felt increasingly aware that some of my stories were simply not quite ‘right’, and good friend and fellow writer Vivienne Tuffnell (who has her own volume of eery stories available as The Moth’s Kiss) was honest enough to mention some weaknesses. So they will have to wait until I have a break from my non-fiction writing (Shell Shocked Britain is due at the publishers in eight weeks time) before they make it into print.

So hopefully the three stories I have published will offer you a shiver as you sit in the warm comfort of your Halloween homes tonight. I found it a hard volume to price, but it is £1.53 (Amazon do funny stuff with VAT) and I hope it is worth it….

What do you think about our continuing love of being spooked? And if you are a self-published author, which is more frightening – the idea of being in a room with the most ghoulish ghoul or pressing that ‘publish’ button?!

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Georgian Circus from a Georgian Gentleman – Mike Rendell on Philip Astley – the English Hussar

Mike Rendell

Mike Rendell

Today I am lucky to have a terrific guest blogger on No wriggling. Mike Rendell, author of a wonderful book based on the writings of his  4x Great Grandfather Richard Hall, The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman and keeper of the fabulous Georgian Gentleman blog. Here he writes of his fascination with the story of Philip Astley , one of the original circus impresarios and the subject of his latest book.

If you had suggested to me six months ago that I might write a book about the origins of the circus in the 18th Century – a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing – I would have assumed you were a trifle unbalanced. Yet here I am about to publish a 145-page book about Philip Astley – the guy who made the modern circus possible. The bi-centenary of the anniversary of his death is on October 20th next year and I thought I would mark the occasion!

It is not as if I have ever been particularly fascinated by the circus – here is one person who never dreamed of running away to try my hand on the high wire, or juggling. But having heard about Astley, and delved into some of the material about him, his life and achievements quickly became an obsession. He was one of the greatest showmen of his Age – indeed of any Age. His name is now almost forgotten – but why?

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On World Mental Health Day – Dandelions, Depression & Desperate marketing

Book Cover resize (2)(Please note – this is not just a sales pitch for a great cause! I include some poems to add value so bear with me…..)

I am proud to say that today is the first anniversary of the publication of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, the book of wonderfully creative and heartfelt life-writing, poetry and photographs on the subject of depression and anxiety. More than twenty people allowed me to use the pieces they had provided for the monthly mental health blog post I ran on No wriggling and I am terribly proud to be its editor.

To celebrate World Mental Health Day (the launch of the book was planned to mark it last year) I have reduced the price of the Kindle version of the book by half to raise awareness and get it up the charts and royalties on the ebook mean that even with a price of £1.53 more than a £1 goes to mental health charity SANE. To go direct to buy (please!) click HERE. If you would like a copy of the paperback (and a chance to see Nettie Edwards’ great photos which we couldn’t replicate in the ebook) it is just £5.99, but I have a few copies I can send at a reduced price of £4.50, dedicated if you wish. Just leave a comment below for more details.

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Poetry Please! – Paul Mortimer guests on Talking Books, with Yeats, Keats, Duffy et al

world-poetry-day4Well, no surprises – my most recent Talking Books show on 10Radio was one of my favourites. For a change, I hosted a poetry request show, with Devon poet Paul Mortimer who read his own work and poems that listeners, Facebook and Twitter friends and others asked for. Roger McGough presents a wonderful programme on Radio Four that I wish I could even vaguely emulate, but the pleasure that this show gave me was immense, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Paul read his own work -

Sheep spine

Storm rider

You can read more of his work on his blog at Welshstream. I heartily recommend it. Paul is inspired by landscape, both rural and urban and also uses photography to reflect his work. Wonderful stuff.

The requested poems included :

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats (read by Anthony Hopkins)

Words wide night, by Carol Ann Duffy

Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas

Do not stand at my grave and weep – Mary Elizabeth Frye

To Autumn by John Keats (read by Ben Whishaw)

Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The wild swans at Coole – by W. B Yeats

As our bloods separate by David Constantine

You can hear the whole show here (the photo is of Paul…):

Do take a listen. We talk much of landscape and how it can affect our emotions; of Roger Deakin and Robert McFarlane and of our love of poetry in general. Many people say ‘I don’t ‘get’ poetry’ or acknowledge they love just one poem – perhaps because it has been read in a favourite film, or at a wedding or funeral. But there is, genuinely, poetry for everyone – it might just take a little time to find a poet you can relate to.

Keep trying – read some poetry, please!

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The many faces of autumn….

keatsbabe:

How do you feel about autumn? This post from ‘let’s talk’ (the blog of The Terrace Counselling & Complimentary Therapy Centre in Taunton) is a great excuse to listen to gorgeous Ben Wishaw recite some wonderful poetry by John Keats and read one of Edward Thomas’s poems entitled ‘Digging’. How do the seasons affect our mood? Personally, I love autumn, but I know others feel the onset of dark evenings and the dying of the year. What do you think?

Originally posted on let's talk!:

Autumn Leaves, by Millais

On ‘let’s talk’ we occasionally look at the way we sense our feelings are reflected in the work of artists, poets, film-makers and writers. Creativity and mood are very closely linked and many who find no other way to express their feelings find an outlet in creative expression.

The season is now definitely changing. We have temperatures in the late ‘teens, gentle warmth still lingers and any sunlight seems to glow across the landscape in a gentler fashion than in the height of summer. But there is little doubt that dusk is coming earlier and more of us are waking up for work before the sun has risen above the horizon.

Autumn means different things to different people. Many love it – the smell of bonfires, of the earth and the ripe fruit. Others find it lowering, having a sense of things dying and of the coming end of yet…

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What does it mean to dream? On Victorian thoughts & the 21st century soul…

VBODWhilst on holiday in Suffolk a few weeks ago I bought a small book at a second-hand stall at the market in the lovely little town of Framlingham. Called The Victorian Book of Dreams, it is clearly a forerunner of the little books you might have picked up at the till in Past Times as a desperate last moment Christmas present for someone who has everything (other than a book about Edwardian manners or tips for husbands).

The picture on the front cover is magnificent and reading through it has been fun; but it has made me realise that the interpretation of dreams has come a long way in the past one hundred and twenty years or so.

For example, one entry in the book states ‘Bagpipes – to dream of this musical instrument is always unfortunate; it denotes extreme poverty and you will have to labour hard all your life.’ I can’t help feeling there is some stereotyping involved in that meaning. Another suggests that should you be unfortunate enough to dream of a butcher cutting up meat, ‘some of your friends will be hanged and you will experience much misery and poverty’. However, if you dream that you or a friend is being hanged, it means you will become very wealthy. Work that one out.

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