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/

Monday, 24 February 2014

My Writing Process - the Blog Tour

I was delighted to be invited to join in the 'My Writing Process Blog Tour', having always been fascinated to hear how other writers go about their business. My lovely Leicester poet friend Jayne Stanton asked me to follow her in the chain.  You should check out Jayne's posting but here is my own take on the 4 basic questions asked of writers about their 'process':

1) What am I working on?

A collection of poems about the Space Race and the rocketeers who made it happen. Tentative title: Desert Flowers by Moon-fire - The Men Who Raced to Space. Of course, that's really two titles - because I want this book to straddle the poetry and non-fiction divide, as my two previous books did. Having completed a sequence of 32 poems, I'm now working on some prose essays to sit alongside the poetry. My notion is that this is the first of 3 books because I'm itching to get out into space with the astronauts next - and then the Voyager space probe now travelling beyond our solar system. Journeys feature heavily in my work so far from indigenous peoples of the Arctic to Edwardian polar explorers, all navigating extreme landscapes. So it seemed natural to move out into that ultimate wilderness of space ...

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, if my main genre is poetry, mixing it with non-fiction seems unusual. Fortunately, my editor at OriginalPlus, SamSmith, is a man of many genres himself. In my first book Firebridgeto Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey, he enabled me to combine lyric poems with travelogues, essays about mythology and science and woodcut illustrations by my sister. My Northern Lights book appealed to aurora enthusiasts as much as poetry lovers and feedback showed the mix of material was appreciated. I'd like my current book to be picked up by space geeks as well as those who want their poetry to transport them in time and place ...
3) Why do I write what I do?
Some novelist friends asked me recently if I might return to writing fiction which is where I started. But I seem to be addicted to themed poetry collections, each relating an epic tale rooted in history, in 'fact' and biography, in geography and science. In the world of modern poetry, narrativeverse seems rather old-fashioned. But I like to write in sequences which offer a story arc as well as the 'intense moments' and 'micro-universes' of a lyricpoem. It's a challenge to let each poem breathe and not be overwhelmed by the narrative function. But poetry was once THE vehicle of choice for storytelling. Think of those fantastic story-poems by the Romantic poets - TheRime of the Ancient Mariner or Keats' Eve of St Agnes - or go right back to Beowulf or Dante's Inferno. It's the immediacy of voice, the rhythms of the bard 'singing' the story, as well as the intricate patterning of metaphors across a large canvas that I enjoy.

4) How does your writing process work?

With poetry I found myself released from the 'work' of fictionalising into the accessibility of the 'real'. I love the excavation of the historical, the scientific, the biographical - the total immersion in a specific time and place. On reading Hilary Mantel's WolfHall, I realised I too am trying for that richly textured world, the smells and sounds of a culture going about its business. In that 'other country' of the past, I find my imagination breathes differently. So an initial wave of research comes first - books, films, SpaceCentre visits or You-Tube clips. It's amazing what you stumble across on Google Images. I'm writing a poem about the Russian engineer Korolev's childhood - and I find photographs of a museum in his home-town where they've reconstructed his mother's house. These borrowed details become the movie set of my poem, now 'dressed' for action. A poem needs that 'right-there' quality.
After research, there follows a quite intense, rapid period of writing first drafts. I've picked out 'moments' in the story arc that I want to zoom in on, stretching from 1902 to 1977. It takes a few months to get 20 or so poems mapped out. I read them aloud at LeicesterWriters' Club; I need to 'hear' them with an audience of listeners. Then lots of editing. I find poems benefit from being 'left in the dark' like a tray of seedlings for many months. When I return I re-enter the world of the poem afresh and see that it's about something else or has to arrive at a different place. Here dissatisfaction is my best friend. I need to listen to it and stop settling for quick fixes; I need to worry at some of these poems like a dog. Others I need to woo, circle with sidelong glances. Editing is creative too. It takes me in at a deeper level of the excavation. Sometimes all I can see is the rim of the trench, the glint of a coin ...

More research follows - the beauty of the specific often illuminates a poem. I assemble a new palette of words, a semantic field bringing its distinctive music. Yesterday, researching sedan cars from the 30s, I found vintage car dealers onYou-Tube lovingly detailing the selling points of restored models: white-wall tyres, split wind-shields, headlamp buckets and 'suicide doors' now enter my language. Sometimes ready-made metaphors leap out at me. I came across an account of the Cuban Missile Crisis where Korolev's wife served up watermelon to his anxious men. That detail became my 'Martian Watermelon' poem. And that is how poetry can offer a path into history that is wholly different from non-fiction.


I also consider how one poem interacts with another elsewhere in the sequence. Recurring themes and imagery offer a wider textual cohesion that needs tweaking across the collection. Reviewing the story arc - I write new poems to fill in gaps. But by now, the poetry is nearly done and I am turning to prose and even ideas for illustrations. And I am beginning to enjoy the wholly different rhythms of writing non-fiction, the elasticity of this after the compressed music of poetry. Eighteen months on, I am still in the throes of an obsession and I am writing for people who are likewise passionately curious and who love how words sing even in the darkest of stories.
Watch this space for news of the 3 writers I've chosen to pick up the baton on this Blog Tour ... First up is  New Romantics 4 novelist Margaret Cullingford:

Margaret Cullingford, Mags to her friends, escaping the rumpus of a university department, decided to generate uproar she could control. She realized a long-term ambition to write fiction, and published her debut novel LastBite of the Cherry [eBook and paperback] in October 2012. Publication of her second novel, Twins of a Gazelle is imminent. Mags lives in Leicestershire with her long-suffering partner and their cat.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

FLTH - Guerillas in Love

'From Leicester to Hollywood' is a wry comedy about the urgent realities of independent film-making - and also a love story. In this Blue City we know about the power of stories. What with our king buried under the car park and our 'fairytale' football triumph in 2016. This film has also bided its time in post-production limbo. But with some nifty footwork by HIVE Films, it has come back stronger and with a special added ingredient. This mockumentary-with-charm now boasts a voice-over by Warwick Davis, a long-term fan of indie cinema. It's a perfect fit. A veteran of this genre, he brings exactly the faux-earnestness and genuine warmth needed.

Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2013/lifes-too-short-vid.html?lang=cy

This is a low-budget/ NO budget movie. Its story-within-a-story is an 'under-dog' narrative of guerrilla film-making. A down-at-heels director, (formerly a logistics manager) is persuaded by his charlatan producer to make a movie for the record-breaking low of £43 to get 'guaranteed PR'. In the real world, the support of Leicester's Phoenix cinema seems to have helped - the arts complex features often as a location in the movie - offering the right vibe for this 'from-the-ground-up' indie film. In places, it evokes fond memories of that bio-flick about the legendary B-movie director Ed Woods - such as inserting a snow scene into the film just because it happened to be snowing in Leicester that day - 'a backdrop' money couldn't buy' intones Davis' voice-over.

Credit: https://twitter.com/rodduncan
I enjoyed the pastiche/homage style of filming. The snow-scene is shot as a colour-tinted music video, camera circling our woolly-hatted heroine. Other episodes include an art-house love scene with heroine in red dress wading through a rape field ablaze with yellow. But the dominant style is that of shambling mockumentary realism, a little dog-eared and smoke-stained, shot in empty pub function-rooms and warehouse floors. Writer Rod Duncan has revealed that actors' improvisation was crucial to the film's naturalism. Sometimes his writerly bon mots needed to be cast aside in favour of a muttered-in-the-moment authenticity. But scenes always had their 'through-line' which the actors could hold onto when letting loose - as in the wonderfully expletive-strewn 'Not the Blue Ray' scene. So glad that scene makes it into the trailer.

The film-within-the-film is an 'epic romance' shot in Leicester's side streets and by-ways. Rhys Davies, the real RD, coaxed beautiful performances out of his actors. In the 'talking heads' documentary interviews, Olwyn Davies evinces a sweet fresh naturalism and James Murton totally nails a gently self-mocking portrait of an up-for-anything student actor who sheds clothes at the drop of a clapper-board. His performance is unself-conscious but deftly comic throughout, as understated as The Office's Tim. But a comedy needs its grotesques. Sylvana Maimone's Producer is deliberately stagey. A woman always performing herself, she could have stepped straight out of the PR-spun world of Twenty-Twelve. She also reminded me a tad of Frasier's agent Bibi, whose voracious amorality I always adored. A rather more tortured soul is the film's protagonist, the mock-Director played by Christopher J Herbert. He serves up the cringing realism of a character whose ambitions for his hand-crafted film are 'epic' but who cannot bear to be fixed by the camera's gaze himself, delivering his CU lines into his straggly face hair or faux-leather hat. Yet he carries the film by making the viewer care about his 'journey' from pitch to premiere.

Credit: http://hivemedia.co.uk/video-production-leicester-about/

Indeed the film has a lot of heart as well as hip indie wit. It conveys the underpaid, possibly never paid, passion of guerrilla film-making. And it even draws us into the fictional romance of the two 'leads', cast  because they have the vital 'chemistry' of  just-found-each-other lovers. In Duncan's clever script, their passion waxes and wanes in inverse order to the scripted romance. But the film creates a genuine lump-in-the-throat moment in a moving climactic scene between Olwyn Davies and James Murton. Although Duncan jokes about the script being mangled and tossed away in the editing room, in fact, the shaping of the story arc is one of the film's most satisfying elements. It is beautifully patterned, working through an elliptical orbit which perfectly counters the mockumentary's air of shambolic realism.

Can I also mention that this film was a 'crowd-funded' venture in which local people invest in home-grown film-makers and where the production calls in favours and conjures small-daily miracles to keep the cameras rolling? Suresh Dippy's suitably dour Editor literally eats, sleeps and lives on the mixing board in a 'borrowed' editing suite. It's a precarious business as this indie-comedy explores but HIVE productions have by now mastered their guerrilla art. FLTH more than re-pays the investment and offers a finely crafted indie gem that will tickle your funny bones and make you care not only about its lovers but the guerrillas behind the cameras. All we want to complete the story arc is a carpeted procession of director Rhys Davies, writer Rod Duncan and actor Warwick Davis to pick up the Oscar. What are the odds? 5000-1? Bring it on.