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/

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Listening for Ice

While the post-Christmas thaw sets in here with its slush and grey skies, I've been hibernating in a corner of Antarctica. Mornings huddled over my Shackleton poems, wrestling sea leopards, hauling boats across hummocks, listening to the sounds of ice pressure and Emperor Penguins. Sometimes I don't even make it out of my pyjamas. The opportunity to fully immerse myself in this alien landscape, in the detail of the story, is too precious to squander.

Progress north is good so far. A dozen poems more or less edited, three new ones bashed out to plug some gaps in the narrative. Because it's all about story, this sequence - a staggering tale of 28 men drifting backwards and forwards in the pack ice while another party of 10 braved the worst conditions of the continent to lay food depots for an Imperial Transcontinental expedition that literally never got off the ground. The kind of winter tale you can really lose yourself in.

This afternoon, I'm checking out the scavenging habits of skuas, the blow-holes of killer whales and terms for ships's parts and ice-bergs. Binnacle for instance; and growlers, bergie-bits and brash ice. These words lend a particular texture and even music to the poems. I'm also trying to channel voices that might convey the story from within that tight-bound group of men. My sources, books and films, carry lots of extracts from the diaries that men were required to fill for the expedition. Shackleton was a consummate storyteller as well as a master of the psychology of survival.

And now that the sequence of around two dozen poems is firming up, I'm starting to think that I'd like to try them out for performance. A reading at the very least - hopefully with some pictures and context. Shake out the pages, open up those voices and see how the tale hangs together. Something to aim for in the New Year - we'll see. For now, I'm hunkered down in my tent with the prospect of blubber and dog pemmican for tea. I may be some time ...

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Moon Gold, Solstice Dark

At 6.32 am this morning, I was ankle deep in frost, dancing a jig in the middle of the park. Followed by running in wide crescent lines like a corn-circle faker. Not as part of some archaic druid ceremony to mark the solstice, I should say, but in a vain attempt to bring warmth to my extremities. I can tell you it was colder than the aurora-watching I remember in the Arctic. Frost-bitten fingers much more stinging whenever I removed my two pairs of gloves. But the sight was unmistakeably there in front of us, slipping through ninety freezing minutes - the lunar eclipse we'd been promised.

The poem came later - my mind was too numbed as we hopped around in the dark, swapping binoculars and thermos flasks. But it was after all lovely to behold. And here it is:


bone white moon
spinning icy
glitter-ball bright

stained edge
of brown umber:
thumb smudge

dark rose shadow
on lonely gold:
old master light

frail lamp
in tidal dark
ebbing ink

lunar sliver
last glimmer

(c) Siobhan Logan Dec. 2010

Monday, 20 December 2010

Midwinter Skin

I'm falling in love with Leicestershire's landscapes in this winter skin. Another frostbitten morning today, this time out at Beacon Hill.
Not a whisper of wind and yet it felt as cold as Iceland. My camera kept dying - begging for a warm pocket. But we coaxed these pictures out of it in between ...
The ice and rock looks as stark as anything we saw in the Arctic and the fogbank eclipsed the country below. A very magical morning. How I want this midwinter to last!
To see the whole album, hop to my Facebook photos.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Wintering out, Writing in

Winter seems to have arrived with incredible suddeness this year. So I'm feeling if I don't slow down and really taste it, the season will be gone again in the blink of an eye. And this icy Christmas week seems a frost-wrapped gift, a time that's quite-dream-like to me.

So this morning we rose early, fuelled up with porridge and scooted up to Bradgate Park, one of the loveliest places in Leicester, to catch the dawn.

And a slow burn it was, stretched out over two hours, washing colours from Arctic blue to rose to liquid gold on the water. Here's some glimpses:

It's been bone-achingly cold in air blown straight in from the Arctic. And that's kind of thrilling too for someone who's been undertaking various expeditions to Arctic landscapes in the last few years. An opportunity to layer up in all those thermals and fleeces.

Over by the water, a flotilla of small white birds in amongst the ducks - maybe Arctic refugees themselves.

Of course, it's nowhere near as freezing as Iceland was because the Arctic also has fierce winds that give their winters a real sting. When you see frozen waterfalls everywhere, then you know it's cold! But this will do very well for an old-fashioned English winter.

And I still get giddy faced with a frozen puddle or ice flowers on the grass. In the park, the river was largely frozen over, with great swirls of white on its glassy surface.

I wish I could also conjure up the crunching of frost too, the splintering of ice - or the strange mewling of the deer as they crossed the track in front of us. The shrieking of crows stark in the frozen air.

That sun with its long reach and misted light is already dipping as the solstice day approaches. So tantalisingly short.

I'm hoping to get some hibernating time this week to catch up on writing too. Especially a sequence I'm writing about Shackleton's voyage to Antarctica.

Certainly - I couldn't ask for more inspiring conditions for a Polar Poet! Time to pull on another cardigan and get out the notebooks.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Crossing the Poles

Another Arctic morning - very thematic for this Polar Poet who spends her time talking about the ice-bound aurora borealis. Last night nearly 30 people defied a 'Severe Weather Warning' to attend my talk 'Physics & Poetry of the Northern Lights' hosted by the Leicester Physics Centre as part of their Public Lecture series. I was impressed but maybe we're getting acclimatised to these spells of deep winter now.

A very responsive audience stayed on for a wide-ranging discussion about indigenous arctic legends, Siberian tribes, science/arts collaborations, global warming and something called 'archaeo-astronomy' - my favourite new word. The inter-disciplinary aspects of my talk seemed to appeal to this group of assorted lecturers/ students from different University of Leicester departments, local astronomers and several small children. I enjoyed the chance to chat to such enthusiastic and well-informed people.

We also discussed whether our recent 'cold snap' might be evidence of a slowing-down in the sun's activity, as suggested in recent research that linked low solar minimums to Europe's Little Ice Age in the seventeenth century. But my man in the Radio & Space Plasma Physics Group assures me that though the sun has been slow to 'awaken from its deep slumber', sun-spot activity has now quickened considerably. We may yet see the beautiful aurora this far south come the solar maximum of 2013. Watch this space ...

And the questions also led me to reflect on the science/arts collaboration that has me performing poems in a Physics & Astronomy lecture theatre. Darren Wright of the Radio & Space Plasma Physics Group spoke of how scientists like himself were interested in finding different ways of communicating with the wider community. His group have sponsored a number of artists like myself working on projects related to their auroral field of study. And from the events I've done at science festivals and venues like the Science Museum I can see there are some exciting approaches to engaging both adults and children in scientific discourse.

As a writer, the challenge of finding a language to communicate complex scientific ideas in poetry and performance has proved very stimulating. It's stretched my literary voice and my skills as a storyteller and I love presenting this material to very diverse audiences from primary schoolchildren to astronomers. And the narrative journey of the Northern Lights has led me from the Arctic Circle out into space - a place I want to write about more in the future. From physics to poetry, aurora to story - the cross-overs continue to fascinate me.

Sunday, 28 November 2010


Snow brings out my inner child. The thrill of waking up to a snow day hasn't faded after all these years. Maybe it helps that I'm not a driver.

At 8 am on Saturday morning I prised my partner out of bed to catch this Narnia-moment at our local park.

I loved the way the sky colour kept changing as the sun pushed through the trees sluggishly. This is my Blue scene - light that reminds me of the Arctic.

Another thing that reminded me of Iceland was the way my fingers froze whenever I peeled them out of my gloves. And the sweetness of plunging them back after the frostbite!

Look at all the blacks and whites and the extraordinary baroque curves of this bench. Or the skeletal forms of the trees on the skyline.

I find this kind of landscape utterly unique. Time seems to stand still. Details are etched in vivid monochrome. Sound is muffled but the eye sees everything with an ice-lit clarity.

And here's that fallen sun burnishing the ice on the canal. The trees, arching impossibly in a Gothic gesture, make one of those accidental poems in the viewfinder.

How can I not feel that I've stumbled into the territory of the White Witch? I'm happy to be under her spell, having no impulse to look for the lamp-post and the way home. In the end it was only the prospect of hot porridge and honey that dragged me back.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Sea-dog Shanties

Send a writer to the sea-side and they come home with shells and a bundle of scribbled notes. My birthday treat this year was a weekend in Norfolk. Here's some of my ramblings:

Friday eve, Hunstanton

The sea is dragging its chains tonight
out-of-tune hounds baying in the fog
lunging at broken walls

detonating a salvo of sound-bombs
a trip-wired mine-field barbed with salt
ghostly no-man's land

shaking ruffled skirts along the shore
a ragged chorus-line staggering
into a memory of the can-can

Saturday Morning

The sea is a doubtful rumour this morning. The world beyond the cliffs vanished into fog. The muffled quiet of the strand is unbroken by wandering beach-combers and dogs. Even the rotting of its cast-offs is muted – more scent than stench today. It is a dream-scape in which time drops away: soft footfalls thudding into sand, a flock of birds cheeping tiny as insects. A long-ago tide heaped this border of razor-shells – pink claws of crab, limp star-fish, bloated wrack – dark clods of sea-peat from another epoch. I scavenge a few scooped shells the colour of amethyst, coral, porcelain blue – and a tiger-striped feather. As the winter sun cuts a disc in the gloom, we trudge back to the pier before we too are emptied.

We stayed at a wonderful B&B barely 2 minutes from the sea - Cori House. And Hunstanton's multi-coloured cliffs and endless beaches were no less enchanting in November's fog. Terrific swoops of starlings at tea-time too.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Physics & Poetry in a Test-tube

Here's a thing that's weird and wonderful. In just under a fortnight, I'm doing a talk for the Leicester Physics Centre. Me - who was rubbish at science at school! Who thought it was all test-tubes and Bunsen burners, alarming chemicals and diagrams of electrical circuits. Who just didn't get it.

The talk is 'Physics and Poetry of the Northern Lights' and arises out of my book 'Firebridge to Skyshore' and related performances. I've been lucky enough to be involved in this really interesting collaboration with auroral scientists from the University of Leicester. And they've invited me to give this Public Lecture on Tuesday 30th November (see Events above).

And no-one can be more surprised than me to find myself talking on a regular basis about ions and electrons, explaining diagrams of magnetospheres and solar plasma, and beyond that, translating it all into metre and metaphor. I think of poetry as singing with words so my poem about solar wind is called 'Solar Arias'. In my talk I will be unravelling the science of the aurora borealis from a layperson's point of view. But I will also be taking the leap from aurora to story. For it was ancient legends and voices of the arctic that first drew me in.

I never guessed that my childhood love of stories about icy wildernesses would take me literally to the Arctic to see the Northern Lights but also imaginatively into the realms of outer space. 'If you could put your feet upon pure light/ Walk the trembling Roadway ...' this is where it would take you. I will be relating these extraordinary journeys, real and imagined, in my talk. And I look forward to the company I'll find along the way.

The talk is FREE so just drop in for 6.30. And make sure you wrap up well for some aurora-watching ...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Changing the Clocks

As I dip my toe back into the blogosphere after so many months, I have to ask some questions. How do you juggle the job that pays the bills with the creative work? How do you get any kind of balance? Where does the time go?

Maybe you're lucky and they're one and the same. But lately I've been teetering all one way. For me, the teaching work is technically 4-5 days a week. And I'm supposed to keep Fridays clear for the writing and performing work. I've gotten used to the rhythm of the year and accept that at certain times - start of term, mock exam weeks etc. - teaching just sweeps all before it like a bore-tide. Except this year, the September rollers have just crashed on into November. How did that happen?

Teaching doesn't just pay the bills of course - it keeps me grounded and stimulates my thinking and learning. I love studying new books on the syllabus with the students - this year it's 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. I like those conversations and the shared purpose of it.

And despite the onslaught, I was lucky enough to have a few literary events this autumn that kept me engaged as a writer. Seeing my poems turned into beautiful art objects in Terri Bradshaw's wonderful exhibition in October. Hosting a National Poetry Day event with Leicester Writers' Club as part of the Everybody's Reading Festival in Leicester the same week. And best of all, an exciting Polar Poets gig as part of the Manchester Science Festival at half-term. You can read about that on my sister-blog.

However - it's high time I caught up with making some plans for the rest of the year. So if you're one of those people who's been wondering if I'd dropped off the face of the earth, the good news is I've been hacking my way through that avalanche of overdue emails. Radio silence is about to be broken!

But above all, November is probably my most fertile time for writing and immersing myself in new projects. So I need to get that balance back. As darkness falls and mist and frost push up against the windows, that outer hibernation gets some inner processes firing up. I'm restless to be in that place again. The hush of early mornings in the study before the bell beckons ...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Witching in the Library

What magic was this in Southwell Library? First there was a busy huddle of readers, IT browsers and bookshelves. Then several hours later, thanks to the dauntless efforts of Sheelagh's 'technical wizard Stuart' and the Man from Nottingham Council, Anthony, there was a whole little theatre going on. We had a lighting rig, sound system, projector and screen, raised stage and seating - the works! Even a clip-on mike to lift the poetry over the silent shelves and into the corners. All to bring the Arctic to this midsummer festival.

The occasion was my show Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey, hosted by Southwell Library Poetry Festival. And very hospitable they were! Like the village of Lowdham down the road, this little Nottinghamshire town is steeped with history and charm but also blessed with a nest of people passionate enough about literature to take on the work of staging a major festival that attracts big names as well as local talent and enthusiastic audiences. Yesterday it was Michael Rosen wowing an audience of Nottinghamshire schoolchildren, tomorrow they will have Sir Andrew Motion in the Southwell Minster, and there's still John Siddique, Jenny Joseph, Joan Johnston, Don Patterson and Jo Shapcott to come!

As I suggested, 'all the dreams must have started in the library, because where else as a child would I have stumbled across Narnia or the Snow Queen or any of those wonderful stories of the North that captured my imagination?' So it's almost a nostalgic thrill to be presenting my poetry in this wonderful space. And years later, those stories have led me to visit the Arctic for real (three times!) and create this show to bring audiences into a landscape that I love. What I added to the magic concoction were ancient tales of the Northern Lights, a green sari, a dose of solar physics, beautiful auroral images and music from Norway, thirty coloured glowsticks and a bundle of poems garnered from my journeys. The audience brought the essential alchemy of imagination.

It was a delightful night. Once 'The Last Legend' faded into a mournful Saami joiku, we had some questions & discussion and then a busy book signing session - which always keeps a writer happy! Here were some of the audience comments:

'The descriptions were so lovely and really brought it to life.'

'I liked the way you moved with the poems - it added so much.'

'Thanks for our fabulous visit to the Arctic circle via Southwell! Loved the poetry, colours, photos and words!'

I'm indebted to Sheelagh Gallagher for inviting me to appear at the festival and her whole team - what a friendly bunch of libarians and council folk! One of the most welcoming venues I've been to and the tech. support was really impressive -so hats off to Stuart and Anthony. And Michelle snapped these evocative pictures of the event. I've yet to enjoy my gift of a Bramley apple - which originates in Southwell - but I shall certainly be hoping to get over and sample more of this festival. It runs to Sunday 18th - so treat yourself!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Ledbury: Shall I Compare Thee?

I think I dreamt Ledbury. This wonderful poetry festival set in a gorgeous timber-framed town opened its arms and really hugged us. The sun shone but not too fiercely. Lunch in The Olive Tree was delicious - and you know food really matters to me! I had a very happy hour browsing in The Three Counties Bookshop where poetry texts were heaped high in front of the doorway. And then we met Pat, our Event Manager, in the Poets' Hospitality Room, where drinks, food and chat spilled over. Pat attended to our every whim and the whole thing was so beautifully organised - something else I do appreciate.

We had more than 4 hours in the Market Theatre to set-up and do run-throughs to our heart's content. The technician Stuart was really on the ball and worked the lights and sound throughout our show. I even had a dressing-room and bottles of water provided! I can't tell you how much these little details help.

Suffice it to say that I had such a happy, relaxed afternoon in Ledbury that we delivered our best ever show that evening. This was 'Poetry and Physics Under the Northern Lights', a fusion of solar physics, performance poetry and powerpoint images of the aurora. I was working with Dr Darren Wright of the University of Leicester, reprising a show we'd first staged at London's Science Museum and later in the National Space Centre in Leicester. Darren delivered several well-judged introductions to the causes of the aurora and current research, illustrated by some stunning animation sequences, including images of the aurora seen from space. You could tell how much this captivated the audience by the questions later, covering cycles of solar activity as well as how and where to best see the Northern Lights.

My own strands explored first the mythology of the indigenous arctic peoples and then the story of the sun-dust's journey through space. We had a very warm and responsive audience who were game for a bit of interaction, delivering gusty cheers during the 'Auroral Football' poem. The intimate space of the Market Theatre allowed me to move amongst them too in 'Last Breath Singing' as I travelled 'this stairway ... lit by the torches of friendly spirits.' Afterwards I whizzed out to the stall run by the Three Counties bookshop and they sat me down with a pen to sign copies of my book, Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey. It was lovely to hear feedback from enthusiastic audience members. Here's some of their comments:

'Wonderful blend of the science and the poetry - it worked so well!'

'I'd have loved to buy this on a CD - great poems.'

'You should go on the Hurtigruyten ships in Norway - they'd love this show!'

and from the organisers:

'Many attendees have remarked during the week how much they enjoyed the event and how good it was to have something so very different on the menu. Best of luck with your future efforts to illuminate others on the Northern Lights and the mystical side of science!'

At the close of a really enjoyable evening, Darren and I were presented with our own Ledbury 2010 glazed bowls. This is typical of the welcoming bonhomie of the festival. Ledbury Poetry Festival is blessed with volunteers such as Pat and also Jenny who kindly offered us accommodation for the night. Many thanks for all the hospitality.

I am certainly planning a return trip to Ledbury, with time enough to properly experience the enticing programme of big name poets and interesting poetry themes and activities. But first I will have to wake myself up!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Midsummer Marathon

Notes from a Long Distance Poet

Friday 2nd July 7.49am

A blessedly cool morning as I set off for our first Polar Poets expedition proper. We've had a frantic week of rehearsing and prepping – well, not so much frantic as excited anticipation. Yesterday the powerpoint show of arctic images all went pear-shaped as my computer declared it a 'corrupted file' – not as bad as being stranded in a blizzard with rotten supplies, I guess. But it kept me up till midnight last night putting together a rescue package. That and packing a bag of props: sari, lasso, clipboard, woolly hats, reindeer … And now for the slow train to North Wales.

You can read how this polar venture turned out on my sister blog:


Sunday 4th July

More reflections later on the particular pleasure of collaborating with another performer like Susan Richardson. But right now I'm in the midst of a midsummer marathon of festivals. Friday was the Wrexham Science Festival, a very inspiring place for a poet to be, and next comes the Ledbury Poetry Festival on Wednesday - where I'll be performing alongside an auroral physicist! So a whole different kind of collaboration. Today I'm tweaking the powerpoint show we did at the National Space Centre gig and slipping in a few more poems. Here's hoping the technical stuff is better-behaved today. My tech. support is under a tent at a Bluegrass festival right now ...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Summer Ice

Well, summer has finally kicked in and I'm already melting like a freckled candle. Things are also hotting up on the performance front as I'm busy preparing for three summer festivals in as many weeks. I'm just hoping that the Arctic theme will keep me cool! This week it's off to Cardiff and the University of Leicester for planning meetings and then lots of rehearsing. I love this phase of creating the shows and I'm particularly looking forward to working with Susan Richardson on our first ever Polar Poets gig. See: http://polarpoets.blogspot.com/

So you can catch one of my Northern Lights/ Arctic shows at:

Wrexham Science Festival 2010
Organisers say it 'promises to be more spectacular than ever before. The programme ... is packed with a diverse mix of events ... to encourage the investigation and enjoyment of science and technology.'

Siobhan Logan and Susan Richardson, the Polar Poets, will be presenting their new show Arctic-ulate as part of the festival's EARTH AND THE UNIVERSE theme. The Polar Poets use poetry, storytelling and multi-media performance to evoke the unique appeal of one of the planet's last great wildernesses. Having experienced this landscape first-hand, they explore the heritage of the Arctic from indigenous peoples and Viking women to European explorers. Their show also highlights the fragility of this landscape at a time of climate change.

Friday 2nd July
7.30pm, Glyndŵr University, Plas Coch Site, Wrexham
This event is free and aimed at adults aged 16+.
For bookings call 01978 293466 or email wsf@glyndwr.ac.uk

Ledbury Poetry Festival 2010
The Guardian says ''This celebration of verse is the largest of its kind in the UK and also the most energised, giving a real sense of poetry as an important living, contemporary literary form.' The festival will present some top names in UK poetry, including Fleur Adcock, Mario Petrucci and Jenny Joseph, as well as international figures like the ' iconic American poet' Michael McClure. I will be appearing with a scientist from the University of Leicester in an exciting poetry/physics collaboration.

Dr. Darren Wright works for the University of Leicester's Radio & Space Plasma Physics Group who are 'at the forefront of research into the interaction of planetary environments with the solar wind.' Together, Logan and Wright will blend science, poetry and images of the aurora in Poetry and Physics Under the Northern Lights. This is based on a show they first staged at London's Science Museum in 2008 and in February this year at the National Space Centre in Leicester. Audience members said it was ''Good for the brain and good for the soul!' and 'This show really brought out the WOW! factor in astro-physics.'

Wednesday 7th July 2010
8.30pm - 10pm, 7 July. Market Theatre, Ledbury. £8
Box office: 0845 458 1743

And a week later at the Southwell Poetry Festival 2010

Organised by Southwell Libraries and boasting 'a fantastic line-up of big names' this year such as Michael Rosen, Andrew Motion, Jo Shapwell and Don Patterson, Southwell's Poetry Festival is 'fast becoming a major highlight in the region’s cultural calendar'.

With the aid of music and images, Siobhan Logan will conjure up the arctic wilderness, its people and the magic of the aurora borealis in her own show, Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights' Journey.

Tuesday 13th July
7.30pm - 9pm
Southwell Library
Tickets £5
Bookings by phone: 01636 812 148
By email:southwell.library@nottscc.gov.uk

Somewhere in this whirl of festivities, I'll be blogging to let you know how it's all going ...

Friday, 11 June 2010

Polar Poet at Holmfield Primary

Just back from a lovely morning trekking across the Arctic with the kids from Holmfield Primary. You can't ask for a better warm-up act than a headmaster with a puppet. My thanks to David Lloyd for that. The tots on the front row were shrieking with excitement at an assembly where a long-serving Premises Officer, one Graham Gummage, was presented with the Golden Screwdriver. A hard act to follow ...

When the dust had settled, I was left with 2 classes of 7 - 9 year olds waiting to see the Polar Poet in action. They seemed impressed with my thermal vest - 'really warm' - they agreed. Knew about the volcanoes of Iceland. And were definitely up for some Arctic Warming-up exercises. But they really took off when we did my 'Auroral Football' poem together. In World Cup Week, all the kids were primed for the football chants and lifted the roof when I reached 'and now he SCORES!' I also had some very able 'frost giants' to hold up my magical 'Firebridge' ( a sparkling green sari).

We went on to learn how to say 'hello' in Saami, how many seasons reindeer have and why Rudolf was really 'a girl'! Once shuffled into pairs and threes, they had a pretty good crack at the Reindeer Quiz with some excellent guesses. I ran out of time to take them on a mass reindeer migration but they listened very attentively to the Mansy legend (from Siberia) of the White Reindeer. Another flying, talking reindeer all-rounder. Asked about 'ice melt', someone was immediately able to explain about greenhouse gases - I was impressed - and we explored how climate change is affecting animals of the arctic. The Snow Queen had the last word in 'The Last Legend of the North' and then we were ready for a half-time munch.

They'd been very enthusiastic and involved in the poetry performance but I was even more impressed with their storywriting session. After break, they got to name their own White Reindeer and we talked about what it would feel like to fly for the first time. What does the earth look like so far below? The people are like ants, they said, and cars are like 'mini-beetles'. One boys said the people below looked like 'tiny crumbs'. Another one worked in words like 'tundra' and 'flickering lights'. There were beautiful descriptions of the stars 'blasting light' and the many colours of the Northern Lights. And some lively snippets of dialogue between the talking reindeer and his/ her human friend.

Where did their aerial arctic journeys take them? To the South Pole, to outer space and Mars (whose surface is brown like chocolate) and to the World Cup. We didn't get to hear which team the deer was supporting. Can we guess? For myself I can only hope their imagination was fired in the way mine was when I first read the story of the Snow Queen and Gerda's strange and perilous journey. How could I know back then that stories like that would later take me all the way to the Arctic Circle and back? I look forward very much to receiving some promised letters from the Holmfield kids who proved to be excellent companions for my latest expedition.
and here are the letters which I loved. They show how much the kids used their imaginations and how they really engaged with the writing too, including these letters to the Polar Poet.

'I loved the brige of fire. I also liked the way the poems were said. The way the poems were acted. Now that's what I call Polar Poem DRAMA!'

'The one thing that I enjoyed with her was writting and learning. + especially loning about the norern lites, that was magical!!!'

'Thank you for coming to Holmfield and teaching us all about the North pole! I liked it when you showed us the Northern Lights, the Snow Queen, The Reindeers and the reindeer story. When we had to get into partners, I really enjoyed it.'
'The children in my class loved it. They thort that your were Beautifull. I loved the football poem.'

'And I like the football and all of ower class like the polar poet ... you have been so friendly to us.'
and some lovely comments from their teacher too:

'The children thoroughly enjoyed the visit. They found the stories of visits to the Arctic, and tales related to the Northern Lights fascinating. The poetry was wonderful and the children enjoyed the audience participation element ... It really opened up their world.'
(Holmfield Teacher)

Saturday, 22 May 2010

A Door into Story

If we could open the door into a writer's mind, what would that be like? Perhaps like pushing past those fur coats in the wardrobe and catching the icy blast of Narnia. Or squeezing down that dark rabbit hole into a disturbing surreal wonderland. Or like Salley Vickers' talk to Leicester Writers' Club last Thursday - where we rambled through a labyrinth lit by church frescoes and Renaissance paintings, following a cunningly laid thread that took us back and back. A clue literally means a ball of yarn to lead us through the maze and Vickers has been following her own clues into the dark to stunning effect as a writer.

I know other writers were equally fascinated by her reflections on the creative process - see Rosalind Adams' excellent summary on her blog. Vickers is not only a highly successful novelist and Booker prize judge but also a very experienced and engaging speaker on such topics. She has understood very well that the writer too is a story and she charmed us with an account of her first novel at the age of nine, called 'A Door into Time' (was it?). In this fable, four orphaned children are packed off to live with a reluctant uncle and in his garden see a tortoise and a shaft of sunlight hitting a sundial which opens the door into another time. She tells us this story (surely Narnia-influenced in its beginning) contains all the elements that recur in her grown-up novels.

This thread lead off down a side-shaft to an intriguing account of her first novel Miss Garnett's Angel. A bizarre series of coincidences across different decades led to the impulse to write this novel: 'the experience of something in my past dovetailed with something in the present and that's how all my novels begin'. But I will jump to the story of her novel The Other Side of You which particularly struck me. Vickers found herself drawn to writing in a male voice for this one and her protagonist turned out to be a psychoanalyst, a discipline Vickers herself has practised. So far so good. The man's problem is his patient Elizabeth, a woman set on committing suicide who will not 'open up' either to the psychoanalyst OR the author. Vickers is actually a third of the way into writing this book and knows NOTHING about this reticent woman.

At this point, Vickers goes on a speaking tour of Australia and this gives her the opportunity to attend a series of lectures about 'What Happens when Two People sit in a Room and Do Therapy?' Listening to this, she has the image of two people walking along a road together. And she finds herself thinking of a very old and haunting story - the Road to Emmaus - in which two grieving disciples walk along a road and find a third joins them. Of course they fail to recognise this third figure and it's only later at the inn, when he breaks bread, that they see who is on 'the other side of you' and he vanishes. Vickers has likened this apparition of the third reality to the healing process of therapy.

But to follow my clew - Vickers returned home with this insight and an unfinished novel. As she so often does at this point, she wandered into the National Gallery 'in a brown study' to pursue her thread. And found herself in front of Caravaggio's painting of 'The Road to Emmaus'. This painter turned out to be the missing piece and the silent woman's story now began to unlock. The novel gets finished - and is now waiting on my juicy 'To Read' pile.

And that is just one of the delightful and thought-provoking stories Vickers shared with us. Along the way, we mused on the Darwinesque survival of ancient stories like the Road to Emmaus and how they still chime in our consciousness. Or the connection between the visual arts and her inspiration for narratives. Or how an early love of poetry shapes her approach to editing prose - 'I always hear my books - the sound of the spoken voice is key to it'. I'm looking forward very much now to reading the novel but the threads of her talk will be leading me down sideways for many days to come, I think.

And before I close this rambling blog, can I thank the Abbey Park Over-50's Club for the welcome they gave me on Wednesday when I presented my own talk on 'The Science and Mythology of the Northern Lights'? All were entranced by stories of the aurora, my new mini-projector worked a treat and I was surprised by the gift of a sketch of me in action and a Caramac at the end. My compliments to the artist Kanti. Art and chocolate is always a winning combination!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Vintage and Vimto

In between the May-time madness of mock exams, I got to two lovely literary events this week. If that's not too much alliteration all at once ...

The first was my talk, The Science and Mythology of the Northern Lights, at Leicester's Central Library. Lovely both because of the setting and the people. The staff there made me very welcome, got my powerpoint projection all set up for me and we had a good crowd in for the talk. As usual, images and stories of the aurora worked their magic. And it's always interesting to hear other people's experiences of witnessing this strange spectacle, even in Leicester city apparently!

The Central Library is situated in a beautiful old building. I've enjoyed sitting at their desks to catch up one some writing time when I'm in the city or go on the hunt for research books. Not as often now it's true, but still it's a comforting and creative place to step back into.

'The library building was originally built for the Liberal Party by the prominent local architect William Flint, and later was used as a concert hall, where such musicians as Nicolo Paganini and Franz Liszt performed. The entrance hall was a separate building, built as a cinema.'

I mention all this because the library is the subject of a somewhat controversial proposal to close this building and merge the Central Library with a nearby reference library, almost certainly leading to job cuts and a reduction in stock. Which seems a great shame. Whatever happens, I hope it won't deter the many current users who enjoy amongst other things, a new Knit and Think group, led by the library's friendly Book Doctor, Alison Dunne.

And hot on the heels of my library visit was a book launch in the building next door, Leicester's Adult Education Centre. Hosted by Leicester Writers' Club, my good friend and wonderful writer, Maxine Linnell, was sending her first book out into the world, a novel called Vintage. This is a young adult story based around the snazzy concept of two teenagers who swap bodies - one from 2010 and one from 1962. Nice concept but it's the execution that's so enjoyable - witty, thought-provoking and often moving. It's published by the Nottinghamshire press, Five Leaves.

But the launch also plunged us deep into nostalgia for own childhoods. Maxine's daughter had cannily devised two buffet tables representing the book's two locations. On the 1962 table, we were treated to dandelion and burdock, dairylea sandwiches, Victoria Sponge and cheese & pineapple chunks on sticks - while on the 2010 table, we found glutein-free tortilla chips, fat-free chocolate cake and dips from around the world. It was the 1960's plate that I wallowed in, I have to say.

And this week, as pre-exam nerves reach fever pitch, I will retreat on Wednesday to a leafy corner of Abbey Park to give another talk to their Over-50's club. What era will their refreshments be from? I'll let you know ...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Virgin - A Bundle of Pain

So for three days now I've had no broadband access - ever since Virgin Media just switched it off for no reason. Again. After several tortuous hours on the phone, they can't even admit they did it and suggest instead that we uninstal and reinstal our software. It looks like I'll never get my ntlworld email address back and we'll be looking for another server. Meanwhile I've had to go out and buy a mobile dongle to get on-line.

So if you're thinking of going anywhere near a Virgin Media broadband package, take heed:

As the Big Lebowski's mate would say ... YOU'RE GETTING INTO A WORLD OF PAIN!

As Dante would say ... Abandon Hope - all ye who enter here!

Oh and my main point was - please send all e-mail from now on to siobsi@yahoo.co.uk .

Tuesday 11th May

A curious post-script - after all that hair-tearing and tears before bedtime - I do a tester today and find my broadband and ntlworld mailbox is back to normal service.

Was this anything to do with the twitter mesage - offer of help from VirginMedia - following my on-line rant? I have no idea. But am mightily relieved to be getting e-mail again. Panic over for now.

Monday, 3 May 2010

May Day at Middle Stanley

Sunday May 2nd 6pm

Well, here I am in my little room at Middle Stanley farm, gazing out to a rolling Cotswolds hill and listening to the birds' evensong. And if that isn't idyllic enough, I've just finished typing up a half-dozen new poems at this writers' retreat. I'm here with Leicester Writers' Club for our annual May Day weekend of workshops, feasting and discussion.
We're very fond of this secluded spot with its wonderful converted cottages and barns and grounds that are a delight to explore in this spring weather. But it's as much the chance to socialise and share ideas and resources within our writing coummunity that makes Middle Stanley so special. And lest partners and pets are feeling neglected, here's a run-down of the workshops we ran this year:

Creating Your Characters' Story
Writing about the past
Poetry workshop on the theme of 'Still'
Social Media for Writers
Books in the Digital Age
Voicing Your Work

A Blind Reading
Where is Your Writing Going?

We rely on willing volunteers from our own ranks to provide these workshops (no fee – not even bribed with cake!) and it works really well. My job is putting the programme together and keeping things on track. For myself, I particularly enjoyed the discussion on Digital Books where Chris de Lacey drew on comments from his publishers and agent to give us the inside story; the sharing of writers' stories and tips in Where is your Writing Going?; and the feat of a sonnet in 20 minutes in the poetry workshop. One of my own workshops was Voicing Your Work - great fun with an enthusiastic group. It's now known as 'the Humming Workshop'. I even had them doing Intercostal Diaphragmmatic Breathing (not as painful as it sounds!) and here's the photo evidence.

Unusually, I gave myself sometime out for just writing this year and finally got a chance to dive into some new writing based on my trip to Iceland at Easter. So there's 6 poems for an Icelandic sequence – with an eye on our first Polar Poets gig – and ideas for more. They're rough drafts but it's a joy to be in the flow of a fresh project. Exactly why you sometimes need a writing retreat to get going.
And now it's my turn on the rota to help with preparing our final feast. Liz and Gwyneth, our indefatigable Middle Stanley organisers, have whipped up some kind of Hazelnut Dream Dessert to follow. But I think you'll agree we've earned our treats with 8 workshops in 2 days and a torrent of creativity behind the scenes. Thanks again to all who attended and made it so enjoyable – and to Nick, my unflappable chauffeur!

PS Liz's Hazlenut Bread & Butter Pudding went into my top spot of fave desserts - so much so I snapped a picture of it! - now uploaded with more Middle Stanley pics. ...

Friday, 23 April 2010

Volcanic Spurts & Small Press Melts

What can I say? my hand is bandaged with the first twinges of RSI. Seriously - that's not hyperbole. This is because my desk is piled with towers of pre-mocks marking - my students are doing timed essays left, right and centre.

But SO much news to catch up on!

First, there was an amazing 4 days in Iceland at Easter - yes, land of the smoking ash! We hopped in between eruptions and it blew us away - a breathtaking wilderness of lava and glaciers, steaming geysers, walking through a continental rift, being regaled by Viking stories and another spectacular auroral show to boot. Catch the first instalment of my Iceland blog on:

And then I come home and hear that my publisher, Sam Smith, will be retiring from the small press scene. Original Plus is an example of how small presses on a shoestring budget nurture emerging poets that would never make it into print otherwise. All Sam's books are printed on his own computer and sent on to a low-cost press for binding. That press was run by another poet-editor, Martin Holroyd, who is now shutting up shop after many years service. Fair dos. And my book, Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey, published only last May, will suddenly be looking for a new home. This is how it goes in the poetry world.

But while I'm musing over possibilities for re-launching my book, I want to dwell on the unique achievement of small presses like Original Plus and the special place of poet-editors like Sam and Martin. Here's what I wrote last year when my book took flight:

'My friend Rod Duncan was chatting about whether new breakthroughs in publishing – the digital download, print on demand, electronic 'books' – could mean more and more books appear in electronic form in the future. And would actual paper books, lovingly crafted as Sam's books are, become a niche market for those that can't resist the tangible object? When my own arrived, I sniffed it, listened to it, weighed it in my hand. And the pleasure of seeing the books yesterday fanned out on the table is beyond description. As good as Gloria's plum bread. '

Time to rest this dodgy wrist. Next weekend, I'll be in the Cotsworlds with my writers' group, Leicester Writers' Club, for our annual weekend away. Workshops, feasts and hopefully new writing when the ash clears ...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Polar Poets Summer Gig


First ever Polar Poets gig now Booked for this summer's festival - see:


see my sister blog for more details on the adventures of the 2 intrepid Polar Poets - myself and Susan Richardson - as we bring our new show Arctic-ulate to science festivals and other venues this year.

can't wait now to start rehearsals - somewhere in the ether between Wales and the Midlands ....

Sunday, 21 March 2010

States of Independence

I don't think I've ever been to an arts event quite so well organised as States of Independence at De Montfort University in Leicester yesterday. It came as something of a shock. A website that actually spelt out the whole programme in advance. Lunch vouchers for the stallholders. And for the punters - stalls by dozens of independent publishers, workshops, readings and book launches - all for FREE! I'm still pinching myself.

This event was a very successful collaboration by Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham and the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort University. Let's hope we see more from this pairing. Ross Bradshaw, of Five Leaves, is a force of nature let loose in the regional world of literature. A force of something anyway. He also organises the Lowdham Book Festival in the summer. And this event has the same passion about it. Bringing together regional publishers, writers and readers in one whirl of excitement, the building buzzed all day.

Every meeting I went to was packed out and the bookstalls were thronging. I enjoyed the panel discussion by my own group, Leicester Writers' Club; the launch of the latest snazzy literary magazine, Staple; readings by two authors from Birmingham's Tindal Street Press, and an introduction to the work of Crystal Clear Creators, an innovative arts organisation promoting writers across a range of media. If I could only have cloned myself, I'd have sampled more. In between times, I met so many friends and fellow writers, followed up contacts and caught up on news from across the region.

And I got some free exercise carrying home a bag groaning with new books ....

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Word Count Funk

So I've just printed out my 2 copies of the finished story. My last writing session was spent revamping that crucial first paragraph so that I had an opening line with a hook to it. Amazing how one paragraph can use up several hours. Final tweaks done and I'm patting myself on the back for being well under the word count at 1878. I gather up my notes to file away and notice ...

word count is 1,500 max. - not 2,000. DOH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Talk about a nail-biting finish! If I ditch the marking I've a couple of hours before I'm in class.

How the heck am I going to lose 378 words? Time to slash and burn.


Whew - down to 1482 words. Tight as a drum now and just in time for lunch!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Babbling in Fog

I've been in a story haze this week since the Sunday crunch to meet a deadline. But three early mornings later, my rough draft is hammered into shape - still under the word count - and it's finished. Till the next time I look at it, of course!

This is my entry for Leicester Writers' Club's latest competition on the theme of Metropolis. Without these competitions, it's doubtful I'd ever get around to writing stories these days. I need the theme or genre and I need the pressure. Only that pushes me through the foggy stage of creation where all seems hopeless and contrived. I once heard a writer say, 'all that doubt and despair - that's like the weather - you just have to ignore it and get on.'

I've had to be obsessive and uncommunicative to get it written this week but there is also the pleasure of it. Discovering images that appear from nowhere and knit the story together. Finding it's taken you somewhere you never expected. Inhabiting the voice and skin of another person - who sees the world differently to me.

Once these stories are done for a competition, I'm very bad at submitting them anywhere else. So I was delighted to have one of my stories, The Chatterbox, selected for a spoken word evening last night. The Short Fuse monthly event at the Y Theatre in Leicester is great fun, a cocktail of themed stories in a cabaret setting with a live audience.

So - 4 storytellers babbling beautifully on the Babel theme & the Last Mango in Paris was superb - warm funny sad surreal endlessly entertaining - till the last train beckoned. This performer, Shane Solanki mixes song, stand-up, slides and banter to draw us into his stories of life on the cultural rift. Mad e-mails from relatives, India's top skin whitening cream Joleen and a mesmerising rap-poem all featured. Believe the hype - he's not to be missed!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Anatomy of a Short Story

I'm up against a deadline for a story. Four days and a bit to go and so far I've only typed about 150 words. I do have a pile of notes I've scribbled in bed during my recent spell of illness. Some sheets I've copied from my Google searches. Yesterday I cut out photographs from the local newspaper of faces that would do for my characters. Names from the captions and classifieds - I find names really hard. It must be nearly 2 years since I've written a story and I'm well rusty. But the clock is ticking. Can I pull it off and make the Thursday tea-time deadline?

The title, since you're asking, is 'Metropolis' and word max. is 2,000 words. Gulp! And today is the only full day of writing I can spare. So I need a rough draft by evening. In my early morning sessions before work, I'll then have to edit it. Find out what it's really about since I'm not yet sure. I have a mess of a plot and a heap of problems. The blu-tacked faces of my characters are staring at me from various corners of my computer desk. One is made of stone. Today I find out if their voices will speak, if they can shrug into the bodies I've assembled and walk into their own stories.

Hmm. I've gotten out a yellow highlighter pen and marked up the snippets of conversation and narration from my notes that most interested me. Trying to seek out where the energy of the writing is. I'll try typing these up and see where it goes. I'll let you know ...


So 979 words typed up and it's still a mess but there's sticky raw material. The characters haven't really taken off yet and the dialogue's very one-sided. I wonder if other people are as rubbish at writing stories but I also know that this doubt and fog is part of the process for me. Part of my difficulty was working out whose story it was. Two women on a bus. My narrator's story is missing so far and I think she's the one who's going to arrive somewhere. So she gets the afternoon. Let's see what boiled eggs and crumpets can do for my back-brain ...


Up to 1737 words on paper. A rough draft of sorts. Time to print it up, walk away from it and see if I'm any clearer tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Auroral Magic at the Space Centre

All night long the blue glowstick shone out in my room - a souvenir from a wonderful evening at the National Space Centre. When we kicked off at 7.30pm by lighting the Shuttle Suite with glowsticks in pink and blue and green, it gave us just a glimpse of Northern Light enchantment. So maybe there were kids - and adults too - still enjoying that glimmer of memory this morning.

The event was the Northern Lights Spectacular, a show that had its première at London's Science Museum in 2008 . This fusion of poetry, physics and film about the aurora borealis was sponsored by a group of auroral scientists from the University of Leicester, the Radio & Space Plasma Physics Group. And despite the sleet and ice, the Space Centre's Shuttle Suite was packed out with families and auroral fans who came to enjoy a taste of the Arctic lights.

Brian McClave, an award-winning photo-video artist, also travelled to Leicester to introduce the world's 'first successful stereoscopic video of the Aurora Borealis', a film he'd created with physicist George Millward. Donning spectacles to watch his 3-D films of the aurora and solar flares, we saw a green aurora unfurl itself in the dark and watched eruptions and storms on the surface of the sun. As Brian said, these fiery images were somehow 'chilling' to see in all their ferocity and beauty.

Meanwhile I performed ancient stories of the Northern Lights as told by indigenous Arctic peoples. (See: Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights' Journey published Original Plus 2009). I particularly enjoyed Last Breath Singing where the audience become 'friendly spirits' waving coloured glowsticks in the dark to re-create the eerie spectacle of the polar lights.

The Space Centre provided the perfect setting for this other-worldly phenomenon. Where Inuits and Saamis saw the 'Land of Day' as a realm of spirits, science reveals the dimension of space opening in our skies.

Dr. Darren Wright unveiled the story of how the aurora are created by solar plasma interacting with gases in the earth's atmosphere. Dr. Jon Nichols was able to show film clips shot from space of the aurora. His presentation included a recent film of images of the aurora on Saturn he collated from the Hubble Space Telescope. Our audience reacted enthusiastically to the mix of physics and imagery and poetry. Here are some of their comments:

'Good for the brain and good for the soul!'

'This show really brought out the WOW! factor in astro-physics.'

'Beautiful poems, and so well performed.'