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, 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.'

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Belling the Quarter-hour

No writing this half-term, or even reading. (Unless you count these blogs, which I do. ) We're just home from a blissful few days in the Derbyshire Peaks, wrapped in mist, frost and snow. Out in the landscape, I've been soaking up the seasonal inspiration. Maybe I could even get a job writing tourist blurbs for the Peaks website. What do you think?

Here's one of my journal entries:

Wednesday 4.30pm

We're lured out again by fat snowflakes whirling past our window. And find ourselves at length in Hathersage churchyard among the slate tombstones. In the stillness of that corner, we're treated to an extraordinary recital. Birds I've never heard before, maybe migrants brought in by these Arctic winds? Two high in a tree send out a rich chi-chi-chirruping song and across the way, another answers. Her call is a muted echo of theirs. At the end of a timeless triplet, she lifts up and away across the valley. Hidden over there is North Lees Hall whose Gothic ramparts and rookery so inspired Charlotte Bronte.

Turning back between the stones, Rik's boots shed patterned cakes of snow. St Michael's interrupts the steady crunching of our feet, its brassy tones belling the quarter-hour. Tea-time. Down in the village, light is fast leaching away. The whole hillside is a study in greys, studded with orange dots - the streetlights suddenly on. A brown smell of woodsmoke escapes.

We're up on the high road now, back to the Booth. The flakes are finer than ever, sparks of wetness hitting the face. A goods train shakes the valley with its tooting and rattling. Around the corner, the Millstone Inn awaits us, fires and dinner. Some days are one variety of contentment after another.

all pictures (c) Siobhan Logan or Richard Thomas

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Shadows of Poetry & Politics

Home from another Saturday afternoon in the padded seats of the Cinema de Luxe. We thought we'd see what all the 3-D fuss was with Avatar. From the first moment of the Shrek trailer, I was thrilled. But actually, the eye and brain soon adjusts to the 3-D effect. I was reminded that Silent Movie spectators in the 20's gawped as trains seemed to roar straight at them out of the screen. In the end, what had me spellbound for two and a half hours was the old-fashioned quality of the storytelling.

Avatar seems to juxtapose the best and worst of human endeavours. This beautifully crafted film weaves imagination and visual dexterity with cutting-edge technology. And the human locked into the mercenary machine, waving its metallic arms, offers a heart-breaking and all too familiar image of American imperialism doing what it knows best. Scorched Earth. Slash and Burn. Shock and Awe.

More than once I was moved to tears by the narrative. Because the luminous fairytale with its light trickery is itself an avatar, a shadowing of our own world. It mirrors the slaughter of so many indigenous and colonised peoples over centuries, including this one. The rapacious, deadly looting of resources - grey rock, black oil, whatever you've got. And how the outnumbered, doomed people are always characterised as the 'savages'. As they gain ground in the inevitable guerilla war, I almost shook my head at the too-easy come-back. But then again, I remembered the Vietcong and others who have humiliated the military machine, if not in 160 minutes.

A review in Empire - well worth a look - said: 'Avatar is a hugely rewarding experience: rich, soulful and exciting in the way that only comes from seeing a master artist at work.' I had a little shock when I saw the name James Cameron in the end titles. Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised that the director of Titanic and Aliens should have produced a box-office record-breaker that's also an intelligent and visceral film experience.

Anyway - if avatars are your thing - take a look at the series Caprica on Sky 1, the closest thing I've seen to TV poetry since its parent-series Battlestar Galactica. For years, Battlestar was the best kept secret on television and an outstanding example of what the genre can deliver. ('Better than The Wire' suggests the Guardian review: 'What really sets the show apart from the original, though, are its politics.' ) Dip your toe into Caprica and maybe you'll want the whole story. And for confirmed BG fans, the Cylon child does not disappoint.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Hunger Down South

Novels, the longer the better, are perfect for this winter season. And the more I feed my hunger for stories, the more I crave. So here's what I've been reading this past month.

From the icy landscapes of December's reading, I stumbled straight into the steamy heat of Louisiana. I picked up the first of the Southern Vampire novels by Charlaine Harris after watching the TV series, True Blood but the books proved far more addictive. Within three weeks, I'd devoured all 9 novels Harris has published to date. What really sustained me through this vampire marathon was the wry, sassy voice of Harris' heroine, Sookie Stackhouse. A young waitress, she's somewhat naive at the outset but quickly wises up. Holding hands with her new date, Quinn, she thinks to herself:

'His own hand was warm and hard. He could crack my bones with it The average woman would not be pondering how fast her date could kill her, but I'll never be an average woman.'

This is because Sookie is a telepath with a thing for Supes - men with a supernatural twist - vampires, werewolves or in this case, a Were-tiger. I read somewhere recently that Sookie is one of a new brand of feisty, modern heroines - women like Bella Swann, Katniss Everdeen or Lyra Belacqua emerging out of the fantasy genre. Or Paranormal Romance as the bookshelves have it. But though Sookie is hard-working, independent and resourceful, she'll never meet the day without paying attention to her make-up, no matter how beaten-up she is. Her clothes too are always described in lingering detail - so appearance really matters to this girl.
Sookie gets plenty of action, in all senses of the word, but I do like that Harris portrays the bone-crunching awfulness of the violence she encounters and Sookie's distaste for it. She makes a New Year resolution in one book to stop getting hurt but loyalty and determination to help others in crisis draw her inevitably back to danger. Would you head for a Vampire conference when you know someone/something is trying to assassinate you? By this stage, Sookie is so embroiled in the labrynthine politics of the overlapping fiefdoms of Vampires, Witches and Weres that detachment is proably as deadly as engagement.

And this is a big plus of the 9-book series. Harris' fictive world is so vivid, so detailed, so interlocking - that I did feel as if I lived in it for weeks on end - a virtual reality. And I am still missing my Sookie fix. I read on Harris' website that she is a great fan of Jane Austen and it figures. She draws out a great deal of humour from portraying the etiquette of Vampire manners and Were rituals, the culture clashes and petty squabbles. It is as finely observed a social hierarchy as Austen's. The latest word on her website is that the next Sookie book is out in May. For now, it's still in the blood and I'm gulping down other stories to assuage The Hunger ...