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:

Visit the writers' development service I co-run at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

About Me

My photo
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. In addition, I co-run The Writers' Shed, a service for writers, at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Sand-marked Paperbacks

Zandvoort aan Zee takes beach-lounging to an industrial level with rows upon row of plastic sun-loungers and tractors that go out to 'clean the sand' in the morning. But if you get down there early, before the sun-worshippers have stirred, the silver-blue sea and honeyed sand are stunning; the shale underfoot of broken shells pleasingly crunchy. You can sit under the dunes and listen to a storm of tidal detonations that are pestle to the mortar of this shore. And after a mesmerising morning walk, treat yourself to a croissant breakfast at Cafe Neuf.

In between house-sitting a menagerie of pets this week, I enjoyed the cool of the garden and finished off a delicious collection of poems by Mark Goodwin, called Else. Goodwin's poems transport you into places you will never find on a map. They leave the reader land-wrecked in wordscapes, tangled in an undergrowth of sounds, senses, images. On the first page, I am already arrested:

'Silas Tarn's willow-agile feet pick
out a code of stones to step on; he moves
with the slime-ribbony
mood of a river ...'

Goodwin is in love with language and its many registers. The river's stones are 'synovially smooth as a newborn's joints' and Silas 'sweats hints of sea zawns'.
I find this word 'zawn' in a glossary of Climbers' terms, meaning: 'Small steep-sided channel of sea ...' It's a West Cornwall dialect word and so its usage reflects not only one of Goodwin's favourite locations but also his own passion for climbing. And the poet is very present here, his hurt knuckles, his 'puzzler boots', his father with the dead dog, his chef brother who loves fireworks, his own children from the womb onwards. I particularly liked 'Three Men, a Boy, & a Four Pound Trout' which takes us through the rhythm of a day's fishing;

'The bloodknot is neat and tightly tied
to a little grappling hook with barbs like

prongs from a shattered star.
And the spinner is the way a boy smiles

years as sunlight swirls through ...'

It's hard to pick out a clutch of lines that do this 8-part poem justice, as it is hard to single out poems in this rich hoard. But I am still entranced by certain images in the early poem, 'Summer Conundrums of Happiness', which tells us that 'happiness hides in ditches'. It evokes the sinister smells and 'spear-beaks' of the 'slow-hot uncoil of blurred summers' before delivering a killer line:

'how our wounds
are frilled with
fibres of being

The gorgeous blue-moon cover with the gold birch leaf gives just the right hint of treasure excavated from the border of human and natural worlds.

And then, on an overnight visit to the beautiful city of Haarlem - but let me digress. I have to mention the Indonesian rijsstaffel we had at Wisma Hilda. We go there every year and without fail, this is died-and-gone-to-heaven food. In the morning we revisited other favourite haunts; the market in the medieval square, the spell-binding shafts of light and stained-glass colours in St Bavo's, the cobbled trails of side-streets. And in the bookshop, I snapped up a copy of Kate Atkinson's 'When Will there Be Good News?'. Atkinson made her name with literary fiction such as 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' and her fiction became ever more playful with novels like 'Human Croquet'. But where I felt her characters got a little lost in the experimentation with form, in her latest series of detective novels, they are the beating heart of the story. And strong, page-turning stories these are. I devoured this one almost overnight, the perfect summer read for a long train journey or hotel room.

Most pleasing of all, on a five-day jaunt to the Low Lands, were the notes I jotted in the new lilac notebook. I got three short pieces written - they might be prose poems, or the raw material for poems. I'm just calling them 'snippets'. All being well, I'll have something to read at my next Leicester Writers' Club meeting. But first, there's a trip to York and then on to that magical seaside town, Whitby, on the North Yorkshire coast. There will be day-trippers and Cod + Chips; there will be Guided Ghost Walks and Dracula trails; there might be plastic rain hoods but there'll be no sun loungers, I'm sure of that.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Seduction of Elsewhere

Ah, the literary life ... posting e-mails, chasing bookings, filing receipts, paying the printers, looking aghast at tax forms. This stuff can and does take up whole weeks. What I need now is a few quiet hours to find my way back to some new writing. A blank page and a world of possibilities. Hopefully, some long hours in terminals and on trains will do the job. John Hegley said he does a lot of his writing on trains and I can see why. The steady hum of the engine, an endless moving screen of landscape and people - and most of all, the lure of elsewhere. Someone asked me recently why so much of my writing seemed to be about other places like the Arctic. My answer was 'I like writing that take me into other people's stories and lives. That has been very liberating ... not to be confined to the 'me story'.'

For inspiration, I shall also take a pile of reading. Today is packing day and I'll be sifting through the pile by my bed. Will it be Susan Richardson's delicious arctic collection 'Creatures of the Intertidal Zone', Mark Goodwin's 'Else' or Brian Daldorph's 'Jail Time' - a collection that certainly reaches into other people's stories? For novels, I have Andrew Sharpe's exquisite African tale, 'The Ghost of Eden'. You can see the titles all speak of 'elsewhere'. I also have a choice of notebooks - my arctic one with the hide cover, a shiny hardback one with the 'Blue Cats & Butterflies' design or the plain but sturdy Sainsbury's hardback with a smoky lilac cover. Sometimes colour can seduce the mind into the 'write mood' ...

And for setting, we have the seaside which is a special treat for a landlocked Midlander. First, Zandvoort in the Netherlands where we get to housesit for friends - Trev (aka Smashy de Clown) and his lovely family. Another chance to inhabit someone else's life - and language even. Then it's Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast - a place which I have a special fondness for. The town that inspired that literary masterpiece, Dracula. We first stayed there in 1995 so it's part of our history too. I have the jet and amber earrings to prove it, the jars full of fossils and a 6,000 word short story.

So back to a morning of e-mails before the excitement begins. I'll be away for most of August and then I'll let you know what the tides washed in.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Filling a Lounge-shaped Silence

The Yellow evening at the stupendous Lyric Lounge did not disappoint as a finale. Lydia was a black and gold star in lace and tulle. John Hegley was a revelation. Just about all his poems were SUNG or spoken to a very groovy soundtrack of live music from 'the Megend Keith Moore' on bass cello - or was it Ken? That's the problem with a 'megend'. There was also his nephew on acoustic guitar. John sang in a wild spoof-bluesy sort of way and the poems were a joy - witty, whimsical but often with an emotional punch too. I think my favourite was about his father - formerly Renee Robert who became 'Bob' to fit in at his English office and never spoke French except when 'Grandmere' suddenly visited after 20 years. Do take a look at some of them on his website.

In addition to the fabulous John Hegley, there was a live band, 4 'talented older men' from Lyric Lounge who dished their own brand of comic poetry and a rousing chorus of Hegley's poem/song dedicated to his native 'Luton bungalow'. The audience was required to sing along, translate French and tap our spectacles in rhythm like an answering morse code. It's impossible to convey how much we laughed and why. Like the whole week, it was generous, fun and in love with versifying. When the circus packed up, what was left was a Lounge-shaped silence.