Friday, February 24, 2006

An excellent day all round

I've just come back from the Burn FM interview - Birmingham University's very own radio station - and it was really fun, I enjoyed it immensely - no nerves this time, or so few that after a few minutes of chat on air with the lovely Tim and Naomi I felt relaxed enough to start putting on funny voices and doing my Elvis Presley impersonation. No, seriously, it was a great interview and I'm delighted they asked me on. If you like radio, you don't need to be in the immediate vicinity of the university to listen to Burn FM. Wherever you are in the world, you can listen live by clicking here. Their poetry and spoken word show is on between 3 and 5pm on Thursday and Friday afternoons.

Plus, when I got home today, I found a very encouraging email waiting for me from an editor, giving me the green light on some work I submitted a few weeks ago. So it's been an excellent day all round!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Burn FM, Birmingham University's radio station

I'll be doing some more live radio this Friday - the ultimate adrenalin-pumper! - here in the Midlands. If you can pick up the station and would like to hear some of my poetry on air, do tune in. 'Burn FM', Birmingham University's radio station, has invited me to come in and chat about my poetry career, plus what's going on with poetry in the Midlands. I'll also be reading some of my new poems.

I always get nervous before doing live radio, imagining I'll dry up or make some dreadful faux-pas on air. But then I find it so friendly and intimate once in the studio, I quite forget I'm speaking to anyone but the person interviewing me, and breeze straight through it. I find stage performances nerve-racking too - not healthy for someone who does so much stand-up! - but live radio is probably the worst for me, in terms of sheer fright five or ten minutes beforehand.

My old drama teacher, the infamous Colleen McHarrie, now sadly no longer with us, always used to say that you could only perform to the best of your ability if you felt as sick as a parrot before going on. So I should be okay ...

I'll be on Burn FM on Friday 24th February, from about 3pm onwards.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

the good news about morris

We had some great news today about one of my twin sons, pictured below. Morris has been undergoing a series of regular hospital assessments for the past eighteen months, trying to discover if the various developmental problems he suffers from are related to autism.

We had the last in a long round of consultations today, and finally got the all-clear from the hospital; in the team's opinion, Morris is not suffering from an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, which was the grim diagnosis we had all been expecting. However, the doctor did stress that Morris is quite clearly having the sort of developmental problems which, at puberty, often lead children like him to be referred back to the hospital - with a diagnosis like Asperger's Syndrome as a future possibility.

So it's not a complete all-clear, but it does mean Morris should be able to overcome his difficulties with special needs help at school, and eventually live a normal life as a grown-up, having a job, relationships etc and children himself.

He's such a darling and we're all very relieved here. Not least Morris, who grinned broadly on our return from the hospital, hearing that the doctor had said he was 'OK'.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

lazy days

It’s been good to spend time with the kids this half term; as someone who works from home, but also has to look after small children for most of the day, there are always times when I find myself saying ‘Go away, I’m busy’ and feeling torn between getting work done and being there for the kids. It’s tough, especially when my commitments as a performer mean I have to go out in the evenings more, often travelling long distances, so sometimes I don’t get to say goodnight to them at bedtime. Because of that, I’ve dropped some work this half term to just hang with the kids and my husband ... that’s one reason I’ve been blogging less over the past few days.

And the kids wanted to see themselves on the net, so here - by popular request - are my twin sons Morris (in the stripey top) and Dylan. They are three and a half now, but these pictures were taken by me last summer in the Isle of Man, when they were just three.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Library Theatre series of readings, Birmingham

For those who may be following my poetry career, I’ve recently been named as one of the top spoken word performers in the West Midlands, and will be taking part in a series of poetry performances later this spring in connection with that. The Midlands project is called SIX OF THE BEST and is being run by Richard Grant (aka Dreadlockalien), the current Poet Laureate for Birmingham. Most of the events will take place at the Library Theatre, Birmingham, from April onwards. I'll have details of ticket prices and dates etc nearer the time.

My audition piece for SIX OF THE BEST was a three poem set based on my creation, Darwin Duke, originally published in my first collection with Bloodaxe Books (see Links column). Here is an extract from the poem, which is strongly narrative in form and seems to translate well into a performance setting:



What’s a boy to do with a mother like mine,
a woman who never ran away to join a circus in her life,
though she wanted to
once or twice, but never spoke it out loud
in case I took her at her word: saw her,
sequinned, hanging from a rope
in that billowing canvas,
the death-wish of a golden mane
bunched like a fistful of corn beneath her,
two steps back from the raised chair of a tamer
but herself untamed
in that great tide of people roaring
the foot-stamp ring of their clapping.
Yet she blinked that thought at me
three times under her eyelids,
on her knees in the dust of the yard, praying
or just scrubbing the doorstep.
She baked it into her meat and potato pies
and the rise of her home-made bread, like a secret
written in flour on her shining forehead,
bright and coarse from the heat of an oven
or the long slow slop of water on a scrubbing-board.
‘Darwin,’ she would say,
though my father christened me Albert,
‘it’s a short hard fall from the top
of the wash-house step,
so mind you never take it in the dark
or leap across it like your father did,
god rest his soul, carrying two chickens
and not thinking where his foot might fall.’

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Poets On Fire

It's now just over a month since my new blog site Poets On Fire went active and I've had some really exciting responses so far, with new articles in the pipeline and many people signing up to send in listings on a regular basis.

Poets On Fire is an online resource for British poetry in performance, which means it lists regular and one-off live poetry events of any kind across the UK, plus interviews, reviews and articles on any subject connected to live poetry. Listings include traditional mainstream poetry readings as well as cutting edge Spoken Word events, Poetry Slams, and free entry Open Mic nights in your local area.

If you'd like to send me something for Poets On Fire, an article, review or event notification, you can email it (no attachments, please) to janeholland@poetrycornwall dot - with a brief biog, if possible, for articles. There's no payment for contributions but since the site is beginning to be linked to the larger UK poetry sites, it should reach a substantial number of browsers.

To jump to Poets On Fire and check it out, click here.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Ursula Le Guin's 'Earthsea' books

I’m starting work on a new children’s novel this week - past the ideas stage now, just thrashing out the basic structure - and, wanting to inspire myself, I’ve been looking at those novels I read as a child which have stayed with me into adulthood. They are mainly fantasy novels, and of those the most important to my development as a reader - and now writer - of fantasy fiction would have to be Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.

When I was about ten years old, I was given a small portable tape recorder which I used to record my thoughts and snatches of poetry and extracts of prose from my favourite books. One of the extracts I particularly remember recording on that machine, trying repeatedly to get the ‘voice’ right, were the opening lines to A Wizard of Earthsea.

I don’t know why I chose to record that particular extract - there are far more powerful passages further into the novel - or why my memory has chosen to give such significance to the recording of those opening lines, rather than to any of my own thoughts or poems from that time. But certainly those opening lines - which describe the island of Gont where Ged, the young wizard-to-be, grows up as a goatherd - must have held some special significance for me when I was ten years old ... and still do, in fact, nearly three decades later.

Perhaps those words are special to me because of their position in the novel; after all, they are the opening lines of a story, which means they can take us - like that magical phrase ‘Once upon a time’ - into a different world, a special new world where our fears and worries and terrible inner secrets still exist but are somehow transformed by the actions of the heroes and heroines into problems which have become manageable. Reading complex psychological stories of heroes battling terrible demons, as young Ged is forced to do in A Wizard of Earthsea, may help children - and adults - find the courage they need to combat their own inner demons.

One of the major threads in my own new fantasy novel for children is fear: fear of the unknown, fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of hurting others, fear of change. It’s a contemporary story, set in a real city, but with strong fantasy elements which appeal to my own tastes in children’s fiction. In that way, at least, I always write for myself.

When starting to test out ideas for new stories, I ask myself what sort of book I would like to find in the children’s section of my local bookshop, and then set out to write that story. As an adult reader of children’s fiction, I tend to prefer powerful young characters that I can identify with, a fast-moving plot with gripping action sequences, elements of the supernatural or spiritual which empower the main characters to rise above their fears and limitations, and a story which doesn’t allow problems to be too easily or simply resolved. Our problems are not easily or simply resolved in real life and I don’t think we need to pretend that they are.

If you haven’t yet read Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series of books, I recommend them as beautifully written works of fantasy that I come back to again and again as an adult reader, not just for inspiration but also as a delightful means of temporary escape from the real world. Read some Amazon reviews or buy the books themselves by clicking here.