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.
Friday, 29 January 2010
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spears o'clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire ...'
Do Blake's lyrics sound out a patriotic pastoral hymn or a cry of rebellion to your ears? The rhetoric of a visionary poet perhaps? I can only tell you that hearing Botcheston WI sing last night of 'the dark Satanic mills' in this 'green and pleasant land' gave me a shiver of delight. It was the opening to an evening that featured firebridges and solar storms as well as a candles, cakes and correspondence. So very apt. And I took the role of guest speaker at this friendly gathering in the beautiful space of Botcheston Village Hall.
I was there to give one of my talks on The Myths and Science of the Northern Lights, complete with Powerpoint images and dashes of poetry. And I was trying out my dinky new micro-projector and notebook laptop. Both of which decided to die on me about 10 mins. in. The ways of Technology - and its cryptic error messages - are as mysterious as Providence in this situation. Happily, one of the regulars, Jane, had brought along a spare projector and laptop, just in case. That's my kind of thinking. Not only did she have them assembled in a jiffy, she handled all the image switching on my cues as if we were well-rehearsed. Again, many thanks Jane.
The acoustics were fantastic in the old hall and you could hear a pin drop as we roamed imaginatively around the Arctic, hearing ancient stories and modern scientific accounts of the aurora borealis. One gentleman had brought along his own inspiring photographs of the aurora seen from a plane. And at break-time, as we chatted, I was plied with a startling pink fairy-cake - very tasty - baked by somebody's granddaughter. Full marks for the sugar hit. Given the honour of judging the Unusual Candle Competition, I was particularly taken by the giant sliced apple, complete with pips, and a fetching green fir tree.
We don't sing enough these days - I don't mean in the shower or when the radio's on - but out loud together. So I've resolved to learn the lyrics of Jerusalem next time I'm asked to do a WI talk. And I hope there will be a next time because it was a very pleasant evening and enthusiastic crowd. I'm grateful to Christine Fagan who, asked to find a speaker on the weather, picked me instead. And to her lovely husband Ron who chauffeured me out there.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
I so want to write about space and space travel. To climb imaginatively into that cockpit ( in the real world I can't stand heights) and cross over the edge. To go with the rocketeers and starjourners in a tin can into the astral realm and hang adrift - with or without strains of the Blue Danube in my ears ...
Anyway, I had another giddy moment later when I checked my e-mails and saw that tickets for our event at the Space Centre had SOLD OUT within hours of an article appearing in the Leicester Mercury. All 150 seats. Never underestimate the power of a well-paced press release (all credit there to the Press Office at the University which is sponsoring our Northern Lights Spectacle.)
Where does that leave disappointed punters - including friends of my own that I hadn't mailed yet? The department is taking contact details for people who want to be informed if/when we re-run the event. We're already thinking we'll need a much bigger venue next time so fingers crossed - there might well be a re-run.
As for me, I'm moonstruck, giddy and adrift ...
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Northern Lights Spectacular on Tuesday 23rd February 2010
A magical fusion of poetry, physics and film, revealing the spectacle of the Northern Lights. Marvel at the world's first 3-D film of the aurora borealis, hear ancient Arctic legends and let two auroral physicists unravel the secrets of the lights. Featuring Professor Stan Cowley & Dr Darren Wright, poet/performer Siobhan Logan and film-maker Brian McClave.
The sell-out show from London's Science Museum comes to Leicester!
7.30 - 9pm in Shuttle Suite, National Space Centre, Exploration Drive, Leicester
Free entry but ticket only. Bookings from: Kiri Rhodes (Dept of Physics and Astronomy)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel.: 0116 252 3570 during office hours. Book early to avoid disappointment.
'This event rolled scientific and artistic interpretations of the Northern Lights – both equally beautiful – into one.' (Holly Cave, Dana Centre at London's Science Museum)
Monday, 18 January 2010
You might like to take a look at the interview with Susan Richardson, my fellow Polar Poet, or the one she did with me. We got to share some of the secrets of our separate journeys to arctic regions. There's also a couple of our poems to sample - and piccies of course - plus captions from our guests.
As for me, I'm already getting nostalgic for the snow. I can't believe it's only 9 days ago I was tramping around in it. And I thought I would revive the mood by posting some of the photos I snapped on that magical walk around my local park. If I wasn't snowblind, I was certainly mesmerised by the long tree shadows it threw, mapping the ground with ghost branches and a maze of boot tracks.
So much of the news has reported this as 'bad weather', a catastrophe we've battled through with a 'Blizzard Spirit'. Yet it seems to me we only get to experience this kind of deep winter landscape once in a few decades, if that. And so I hoard every rumour of returning snow, every morning of frost-crusted rooves. Don't even mention spring ...
Saturday, 9 January 2010
In the Japanese garden, red dragons snaked between weeping willows, their writhing forms echoed in the twisted branches of the maples. The mirrored shadows across the lawn had me mesmerised but as I turned, easterly winds were shaking a fine ash of snow from the pines. And then came real flakes, fattening on these icy gusts, whipping across my vision. I heard jingling high above me. It proved to be a rag of cloth flapping on the flag-pole. But it might have been reindeer. She is close by, the White Witch, and I am one of her minions. Specks of glass glitter even now in the sunshine like promises she scattered.
I was urged on this morning by the voices of two writers on the radio, enthusing about how winter landscapes inspired them. The poet Susan Richardson and novelist Margaret Elphinstone, told John McCarthy on BBC Radio 4's Excess Baggage, how they relished the disruption to routines and the usual rush of life. Susan spoke of 're-learning to wait' in the snow and mentioned the Finnish tradition of 'keeping the twilight'. Margaret recalled being snowed in for weeks on end on a Shetland island and how it allowed her to just settle into 'being here and now'. Both of them felt they did their best work in the winter and I'd echo that.
So could there be a more perfect time to launch the Polar Poets website? Yes, we've even arranged the weather. From Monday 11th January, Susan Richardson and myself will be joining forces, to bring poetry and stories of the arctic across the country. We will be going live on Monday and all through the week, there'll be interviews, competitions and blogs, with something new each day. I hope you'll drop in, add a comment, maybe even win a prize! And for this week only, I'll be linking up 'Shaking the Colours' with this sister-blog. Just let the ice enchantment last a little longer ...
Friday, 1 January 2010
All my reading this Christmas has been ice-bound and thermally insulated. I've just finished a thick, heavy wildlife book on 'ANTARCTICA Exploring a Fragile Eden' by Jonathon & Angela Scott (Collins). This wonderful book weaves accounts of whales, wandering seabirds, penguins and seals with stories of polar exploration from the indomitable Captain Cook and later Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott through to modern scientific research bases on the white continent. The impact of whaling and the fur seal trade is set out in painful detail along with the pressures of climate change on polar eco-systems and the prospects for the future. And it's illustrated with a treasure-hoard of stunning photographs and beautiful drawings. A book to lose yourself in without having to wonder where the blizzard blew your tent to or whether the frostbite is turning nasty.
It's New Year's Day and I see that this blog is nearly reaching it's birthday. And blogging, Facebooking and lately Twittering, have all kept me busy this year. But a review of my calendar also told me that I'd packed in far more workshops and courses than I remembered, learning about the job of writing from the likes of Liz Lochead, John Gallas, Mimi Khalvati, Jean Binta Breeze and the editors of Smiths Knoll, as well as a collection of publishers, agents and industry professionals. So that's all helped.
And the past few months have been packed with meetings to get new projects off the ground, in particular two exciting collaborations for 2010. In January, we hope to launch the Polar Poets, a twinning of myself and Susan Richardson, to take our poetry about the arctic around the country. Look out for an on-line launch soon ... And in February, I get to join film-maker Brian McClave and my sponsors, scientists Stan Cowley and Darren Wright of Leicester University, to present an evening show, the Northern Lights Spectacular, at the dramatic venue of our National Space Centre.
2009 was a year in which I enjoyed sharing stories of the Northern Lights with very diverse audiences, from primary school children to writers, astronomers and festival-goers. It's been wonderful to get to meet people who are so enthusiastic about the material. The aurora certainly continues to work its magic. And this will also be remembered as the year I got the thrill of my own book Firebridge to Skyshore - A Northern Lights Journey (Original Plus Press) arriving in the post. It's an extraordinary feeling, to hold the first book and hear the crinkle of the pages. I look forward to seeing how 2010 is going to top that one!