Walking, I rake the clinkers
of burned cold stories
from the north, to kindle
flame words, amber voices.

(Colour Catchers from 'Firebridge to Skyshore' Original Plus Press))

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Buds of March

Like early spring flowers, Facebook today is studded with Likes and little thumbs-up Posts of delight. It's the Day After Independence. Or 'States' as we returnees know it. On a sunny Saturday, the corridors of DMU's Clephan Building thronged with book lovers, lit. addicts, small press publishers, editors, readers, printers, writers, friends old and new. The walls were lined with lovingly-crafted volumes and chapbooks, the halls were packed with punters catching words of wisdom or wit from speakers on an array of topics. This year 'events include(d) talks on Victorian women writers, independent publishing, Nordic crime, the 1916 Easter Uprising, women in graphic fiction, David Bowie, the Vikings, and the announcement of the 2016 East Midlands Book Award shortlist.' Not even the unlikely spring sunshine could drag us outdoors.
The annual States of Independence Publishers fair is hosted by a formidable alliance of Five Leaves Press and De Montfort University's Creative Writing department. I've been going to 'States' right since its beginning in 2010 and so can properly be described as a fan or groupie of this annual press-fest. So imagine my excitement at becoming part of the organising team this year! The students were brilliant but it is really the community of writers and creatives who come from around the region and as far afield as Norfolk who make this event so joyful and informative each year.
And here's a few of my personal highlights this year ...
First up, a panel on Writers doing it themselves -  on the challenge and benefits of 'self-publishing'. This featured an author of several aliases - Nicola Monaghan/Niki Valentine - who has recently 'dipped her toe' and then several feet into indie-publishing after previous books by Vintage Books etc. She commented on her surprise at how easy - 'almost too easy in a way' - it was to design and upload an e-book. But then comes the challenge of doing all those jobs a traditional publisher does for you - suddenly you're the legal/ marketing/ distribution/ accounting depts. and more. Niki had found it a positive experience so far and offered lots of tips on good sources of info. out there - as well as 'the sharks'. Another indie-author Russ spoke of writing for a niche market of LGBT fiction and focusing on sales at events as much as via social media. He offered hard-won insider know-how on the complexities and costs of book distribution for indie-authors and there was general agreement that hard-copy products are far less likely to turn a profit for indie-authors. Further invaluable advice was offered by Pippa Hennessy of Five Leaves Press. From her vantage point as a copy-editor, publisher, book-seller and Development Director for the Nottingham Writers Studio, she knows how hard it is to shift copies of self-published books if they don't look 'absolutely professional' and properly edited and designed. But be wary of self-styled 'experts' offering to charge an arm and a leg to do all that for you - do your research first before committing large sums of money.
Next we warmed ourselves on the solidarity and beautiful poetry of the Over Land, Over Sea anthology This book, published for free by Five Leaves, has raised £3,000 for refugee charities in a few short months. As one of the editors, I know the quality of the poems selected was very high. But each time we do a reading, I re-discover new voices, new stories and am moved afresh by the elegance and compassion of the writing.
I moved from this community of poetic voices into a still dark space with one voice only. The almost-whispered, haunting elegies of Simon Perrill's latest Beneath collection had me mesmerised. I love collections that tell a story and this reached far into ancient Greek history to bring us a tale of Archilochus and his lost bride Neobulé . 'The soldier-poet’s scurrilous response (to a cancelled marriage) shamed the entire family into committing suicide. Beneath tracks Neobulé’s arrival in Hades; and voices her gradual understanding of shadehood.' Simon Perril accompanied his reading with a stunning Photo-story montage that evoked a dark, grainy underworld in which Neobulé wanders. Rhythmically cut, it was music for the eyes as much as ears. Utterly spellbinding. And now I have both Shearsman collections featuring Archilocus (moon-exiled) and Neobulé (Hades-bound) in which to lose myself.
After a hasty lunch, I caught up with another celebration of the rich literature of this region at an East Midlands Book Awards gathering to announce this year's short-list. A wonderfully diverse short-list - memoir, poetry, novels, children's picture book - was revealed and the six authors read beautifully. Tom Preston's 'The Boy in the Mirror' delivered a quiet but poetic intensity in his cancer-survivor's memoir. Jonathon Taylor and Steven Dunne both offered mystery and humour in their respective novels. Dunne's crime thriller 'A Killing Moon' and Taylor's magical lit-fic 'Melissa' both summoned up the atmosphere of a whole community in a brief encounter. Eve Makis seduced us with a curmudgeonly great-uncle, his family secrets and the scents of his Armenian 'Spice Box Letters'. And Jess Green set the room on fire with an impassioned and comic reading from her 'Burning Books' debut collection. It's published by 'never knowingly mainstream' Burning Eye Press who are putting together an exciting list of spoken word artists who light up the page and stage. Overall a cracking short-list and congratulations to all six on their well-deserved nominations!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Style Council Estates

And Everybody's Reading 2015 is the festival that keeps on giving. Last night it was an outstanding performance by Andrew MulletProof Graves in GOD SAVE THE TEEN, his new one-man show. The theatre of Upstairs at the Western was a Tardis-like revelation. When did a pub function room ever open into a packed auditorium, blacked-out and spot-lit for the coming spectacle? It proved the perfect intimate venue for this confessional tour of one boy's adolescence amongst the pit-town estates of Nottingham. Like old friends, we accompanied him from bullying flashback to dysfunctional family anecdote, from bus-stops to youth clubs, from just-left-home squats to the adult threshold of moving in with the Girlfriend. You never wanted more for the Boy to get the Girl.
Credit: http://upstairsatthewestern.com/wp-content/uploads/
It was my youth too - minus the testicle-punching at the back of the bus. I'm in awe of the way his monologue swooped on the turn of an 80s Single from gut-wrenching pathos to a broad all-embracing humour that warmed his audience. We laughed, we gasped, we reminisced and along the way we pondered big themes about family, life changes, class war and oppression. None of it preaching, just the home truths of Thatcherite Britain (and Blair's 90's homage to her) seeping through this intensely personal odyssey. Great characters illuminated this quiet epic, especially the beer-bellied single father who between mining shifts and terse one-liners was caught bopping to YMCA and faking a heart-felt Valentine.
Sporting his trademark retro spiky hairdo and wry smile, Andrew MulletProof Graves  delivered an understated nuanced performance with the easy presence of a seasoned pro. His beautifully crafted poems were slipped in to his narrative, so that you just realised the rhythms were a little more musical with pitch-perfect rhymes. I'd have liked the actual music transitions to have lasted a fraction longer - don't be afraid of the spaces - because we were entranced and lost in the moment as those hits kept on coming. The show benefitted from some deft direction by Rob Gees, no stranger to performance poetry storytelling himself.  (You catch his Icarus show tonight at the same venue.) Keep an eye out for Mulletproof Graves' tour dates because this spoken word treat is not to be missed. And while you're at it, treat yourself to his debut poetry collection Light at the End of a Tenner which not only took me down the backstreets of his youth but to outer space along the way. I loved it.


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Red Moon at the Door

A poem to celebrate the big red moon that's going to roll into our skies in the early hours of tomorrow. This one was inspired by the last time I witnessed a lunar eclipse.


Blood Moon


a harvest spider

rolls paralysed prey

in plasma cocoon

a nicotine thumb

intrudes, penumbral blot

on spinster light


old master daubing

rose-gold flesh with umber


earth's basilisk breath

scorching elliptical slices

for amber teeth

till a raw knuckle

exposed, blood-smeared

knocks at our sky
(c) Siobhan Logan 2015
blood moon = red 'totality' of lunar eclipse

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Silent Seas & Talkies

No popcorn but a piano on-stage. Saturday mornings at the cinema just became a whole new experience. Or maybe we've been transported to a Twenties picture-house or 'Electric Palace' as they were billed. We were actually in Leicester's Phoenix Arts Cinema, a hub of local independent film-making in the digital age. But at 9am we settled down in the dark of Studio 2 for an inspired BFI homage to silent film with multiple features and live music.


I'd been seduced by a B&W photo of a 'full-rigged' ship in all its matchstick beauty with echoes of Shackleton'sEndurance from the same era. What I hadn't expected was a dark documentary wrapped in an English comedy. Moreover, this silent documentary filmed by two Australian journalists-turned-sailors had then had 'talkie' scenes inserted by London film studios. Apparently a movie mogul had demanded: 'Don't that ship ever get to no place, for god's sake! 20 seconds of that sea-stuff is enough for anyone!' A comedy writer was hired to pen a fictional script while a cast of earthy 'swabbers' delivered the conflict. Love interest was supplied by various cut-out women pinned by the sailors to their bunks. Open-air deck scenes were pure documentary. But it was the uneasy and quarrelsome comradeship of the sea that the resulting 1930 movie zoomed in on below-deck.

The mogul was wrong about 'the sea stuff' and the writer missed the extraordinary real-life drama of the Grace Harwar voyage of 1929. It was two Australians, AJ Villiers and Gregory Walker, who ditched their jobs on a Melbourne paper to make a cinematic record of the last of the full-rigged grain ships of the era. Indeed it amazed me that long after luxury Cunard liners and WW1 U-boats, these wooden ships with billowing sails were still undertaking a perilous journey from Australia to London via the notorious Cape Horn. Walker and Villiers, both in their 20s, spent their life-savings on two cameras and joined an inexperienced and unlucky crew of 13 for a voyage of disasters. Following a becalming in the Doldrums, near starvation and food-poisoning by piglets, Walker was killed during a storm. The traumatised crew also saw two attempted suicides and one nervous-breakdown before limping into harbour a month late.

Credit:  Ronald Gregory Walker
National Library of Australia
Yet out of this disaster, Villiers salvaged a remarkable film, despite not knowing how to work all the equipment. The two journalists had no movie experience but Walker had had some flair with a camera. They were dedicated to capturing the fierce beauty of the high seas, and shots of giant waves rolling onto the decks and men pinned to the spars above wrestling with heavy canvas sails give the film a unique authenticity. To be fair to the Welwyn Studios who added all the below-deck talkie scenes, they created a claustrophobic atmosphere with constantly dripping bunks and convincing sound-effects of wind, wood and water. But the eeriest moment of the film is when the young hero, standing in for an unnamed Walker, is buried at sea. Real film footage of a harrowed crew grimly gathered on-deck is mixed with shots of studio actors and Grace Harwar's tragedy collides with a movie story-arc. In truth, the reason I found this film so affecting is because a pre-showing introduction by BFI speaker Laraine Porter framed the action with a history of the film's making. The intersection of Walker-Villiers raw footage, the 'sea-stuff', with an ensemble cast performance, made for a powerful maritime movie with a tragic undertow.
The Festival continues on Sunday 13th. Catch these rare cinematic gems while you can. I'll be looking them out in the BFI's store of DVDs along with Villier's book. More reviews to follow ...

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Singing Hairy Star

Josh Barker of the National Space Centre, spatula in hand, promised to unleash his 'inner Delia.' More like Inner Jamie, let loose in a lab - with a dash of St. Trinians thrown in. Starting with a black bin bag and cardboard box, he was soon hurling in metal filings, a jug of Shiraz and vials of chemicals. When he shovelled in frozen CO2, it began to steam like the mad experiments of a Hammer Horror professor. When he heaved in the whole container of dry ice, a 'sublimation' of frozen gases billowed out. Finally with a triumphant gesture, he lifted aloft the newborn 'comet', an icy lump that you could imagine orbiting through the Kuiper Belt.

Meanwhile Prof. John Bridge of the University of Leicester took us right out into space with his animations of comet 67Ps elliptical journey around the solar system to reach perihelion – its closet proximity to the sun. He could even pronounce Churyumov–Gerasimenko without flinching. As a Professor of Planetary Science, involved in the Stardust and Mars missions, he studies cometary samples and opened up the 'bigger picture' of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission for us. We got to see behind-the-scenes snaps of Rosetta's instruments being invented and he scattered in anecdotes and charts like Josh added ingredients. And there was real awe in his voice talking about the 'extraordinary feat' of the ESA landing a space probe on a comet 'at such velocities'.

My contribution was 'a mash-up of ancient myth and modern space adventure.' No dry ice involved. Instead I relied on fantastic Egyptian stories about the sun-god Ra's cyclical journey through our skies and then the underworld Duat. I explored the drama of Philae's own descent into that underworld facing comet 67P's fierce jets of 'dragon-breath' before the victory of its 'reboot' under the sun's influence. I was performing from my new work 'PHILAE'SDESCENT INTO DUAT: An Egyptian Book of Hours for the ESA's Comet-lander.' In the form of a scroll, it features my own illustrations and hieroglyphic symbols and includes some background notes on the mission and the mythology. There are copies still available - £3 each from me at siobsi@yahoo.co.uk.

We were well looked after by our hosts, Leicester'sAstronomical Society, a 'crew of gods' who kept us supplied with votive offerings of juice and biscuits. When all the spells had been chanted and we'd reached our own perihelion, we ended with a Q & A. Here's what our audience said afterwards:

'A stunning alchemy of myth, science and poetic genius!'

'An out of this world adventure.' 'Excellent evening!'

'Exhilarating … one of the more unusual spoken word events in the known universe.'

We also had two great reviews of our event – one by theatre critic SallyJacks for SabotageReviews – and the other by Margaret Penfold of Leicester Writers' Club. Take a look at where the event transported them to. Many thanks to our two thoughtful reviewers and to Carol Leeming for snapping these pics during the evening. Hopefully you may be inspired to dip into the ESA's excellent website to see their stunning photos of the 'Singing Hairy Star' and to follow the next episode of the adventure as Rosetta tails the comet till next September.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Perihelion Poetry in Motion

Today is PerihelionDay! Scientists at the European Space Agency and beyond will be popping the champagne and donning party hats to mark 'Rosetta'sDay in the Sun'. And many ordinary punters like myself will be joining them on-line as this extraordinary space mission reaches its zenith. What this all means is that comet67P has travelled around in its orbit to reach its closest point to the sun in 6.5 years. As it does so, the sun's heat melts icy deposits in its body or nucleus and so the comet is firing off jets of dust and gas that create the comet's distinctive tail.

Credit ESA: http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2015/02/11/new-perspectives-cometwatch-6-february/

As in ancient times, astronomers on Earth can now track the flaming ball with its streamer of light across our night skies. But for the first time in history, we have a spacecraft sitting right on its tail, hitching a ride. And if that's not wondrous enough, there's our trusty Philaerobot snuggled into a cliff wall on the comet itself while all this mayhem kicks off around it. Vicariously, through our machines, we have been getting a front row view of the fireworks show with mesmerising photos of this alien world beamed back every day from Rosetta's cameras. I can't resist the 'we'. Partly because the Rosetta mission does feel like a feat of human ingenuity and curiosity that we can all revel in. And partly because the ESA have been so generous in sharing their data on their website that its possible to feel like you're with them every step of the way. In fact, they recently won an award for their educational programmes around this mission, working with schools and teachers.

Credit ESA: http://www.esa.int/var/esa/storage/images/esa_multimedia/images/2014/02/philae_descent/14277309-1-eng-GB/Philae_descent.jpg

They have also inspired artists like myself. Back in November I was riveted by the unfolding drama of Philae'slanding. Would it smash on the rocky surface? Would it more likely just bounce off and drift into space given the comet's low-gravity? Would it be able to talk to us or be just another dead machine on an alien world? As it was, although it bounced three times and disappeared from view, it managed to lodge under a cliff-face that sheltered it from the heat of advancing perihelion and the fierce jets of material. The scientific mission was highly successful with nearly all its instruments working. For three days Philae ran an on-site laboratory and up-loaded all its packets of data before going 'to sleep' when its solar batteries ran low. 'I'm tired' it tweeted. And then silence. A storyteller could hardly wish for more of an Act One plot point.

Credit: http://www.egyptartsite.com/myth/raboat.jpg

While Philae slept, maybe for good, Rosetta was busy mapping the comet's surface in a series of fly-bys, yielding these spellbinding images. I was fascinated by the ESA's choice of Egyptianmythology to name its '19 regions' as well as the mission itself. When I began to research the old Egyptian stories, they seemed particularly apt. Here was Philae descending into a cometary underworld where it vanished from view, lost in the darkness. And the comet itself was travelling back towards the sun, like the cyclical journeys of the sun-god Ra moving across our skies only to disappear into Duat or the underworld each night. I was moved to write a new poem sequence tracing Rosetta and Philae's adventures on the other side of the solar system. And my narrative is a mash-up of modern space science and the ancient mythology. Here's one of the verses from my 'Egyptian Book of the Hours' for Philae.

9 Duat

'I'm tired,' you twitter
a tin-foil chick alone in the dark
and packets of data dispatched
you burrow into the hide
of a frozen mammoth haunch;
dormant not extinct, you're
descending by robotic barque
into an underworld cyber-space
where a lab-coated Anubis
will weigh your feather-heart.

Two weeks hence, on 1st September, I will be joining scientists and astronomers for our own celebration of Rosetta's mission. 'To Perihelion and Beyond!' will be staged at the NationalSpace Centre in Leicester. Our event will feature poems & performance, science and story, and a 'Build Your own Comet' demo. And my Book of the Hours will be available as a scroll, papyrus style, to cast a spell as we re-live Philae's Descent into Duat. Hopefully it will honour the storytellers of old as well as today's space adventurers.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Sun Spot Singing

My first ever solar eclipse and since we won't get such a full-on show again before 2090, I'm surely unlikely to repeat the experience. So here's a special poem it inspired. We've been entranced all week by the BBC's Stargazing Live coverage. Unable to get hold of the necessary glasses, I enlisted my father-in-law David Thomas to help me construct a cardboard viewer. As it turned out, Leicester was in a corridor of sunshine with ideal conditions. While the street darkened around us, we peered at that tiny reflected circle. Awesome.

Credit BBC at: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/81787000/jpg/_81787003_proba-2_view_of_europe_s_solar_eclipse.jpg


pin-hole sun
a speck of fire
chromosphere spark
piercing cardboard sky
unstarred & solitary
a solar particle
bitten by dark
moon smile
on cue
dusks the morning
chills a lunar breeze
from bird-muffled trees
but planet hushed we
squint on twilit street
catch that lidded
furnace eye

(c) Siobhan Logan 20th March 2015