I'm still buzzing from a magnificent evening at the National Space Centre in Leicester. We were actually in the adjacent Challenger Learning Centre but what a perfect venue for an event about the Northern Lights! The room was packed to the rafters with enthusiastic star-gazers, thanks to an article the night before in the Mercury. I promised my audience a dizzy cocktail of auroral physics, poetry, arctic stories and stunning pictures, courtesy of the Norwegian photographer, Bjorn Jorgensen. And we began with an extract from my book, Firebridge to Skyshore, that relayed my own excitement at this 'Northern Lights Journey':
'Frost is riming the grass and the wet road already glistens with crystals ... Every sense is more distinct as we walk, wait, watch. We’re in the Arctic on an October night and we’re trawling for Northern Lights.'
And then we roamed around the Arctic Circle, exploring ancient stories from the indigenous peoples of the Far North. This was a very responsive audience. They oohed and aahed and clapped and laughed in a way that can only warm the heart of any performer. Together, we crossed:
'this no-man’s corridor where ravens fly ...
particles firing a frost-light mazurka'
I've been lucky enough to meet some top auroral scientists here and in Norway. Both the Radio & Space Plasma Physics Group at Leicester University, who sponsored my visit to the Arctic, and the EISCAT team at the Tromso research base were generous in their support of my work. So I performed a number of poems last night about the extraordinary story of the aurora science has pieced together and the inspiration of the professional 'Skywatchers'.
'Do Not Adjust Your Set
- if it’s sci-fi you’re channel bopping for
that auroral corona was only the trailer...'
It was also fascinating to hear local people share their experiences of witnessing the Northern Lights. Ann Bonell of the Leicester Astronomical Society, recalled the dramatic red aurora that erupted over Leicestershire skies during the great solar storms of March 1989. Another woman had seen the lights from the window of a plane, as in the poem:
'grazing an ionosphere ablaze
with burning colour, oxygen green,
nitrogen blue ...'
I'm very grateful to the Astronomical Society and especially Ann Bonell for the invitation to do this talk. It's been the most fun I've had since the gig at the Science Museum in London. And lovely to see there is just as much of a hunger for stories of the Northern Lights here in Leicester.
Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.
Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:
My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:
Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:
- Leicester, East Midlands
- As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring.