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/

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. ...