Thursday, April 30, 2009

Post-Baby Book Boom

I was speaking to the poet David Morley yesterday at Warwick University; his wife recently gave birth, and he was telling me how he had been writing furiously ever since the event, poems shooting out of him.

I was reminded by his story of my own experience back in 2002 in North Cornwall when, having just given birth to twin boys, I found myself writing a novel some 100,000 words long. I wrote at night largely, in an annex of the renovated barn we were renting, with one ear open for any squeaks from the baby monitor.

This system worked well for about five or six weeks postnatally. The boys slept in Moses baskets in the living room and I tapped away most of the night. It was the summer holidays and my husband, a teacher, was not at work, so he was able to look after the babies during the daytime while I caught up on my sleep - though breastfeeding meant having to be at least vaguely awake some of the time - and I would take the night shift.

The oddest thing was how little sleep I seemed to require. I've always been able to survive on five or six hours a night for long periods of time without too much trouble, but during those six weeks after the birth of my twin boys, I was almost electric. I would plug myself into a couple of hours' nap to recharge, and then stay awake for the next twenty-two, not only functioning normally, but super-normally, writing thousands upon thousands of words as they just flew out of me.

That novel was never published; it remains one of those bottom drawer efforts that I still wonder about. But I do wonder now, far less electrically charged these days, what it was about the post-birth period - traditionally held to be so exhausting, particularly with twins! - that suddenly lit me up creatively in that bizarre, almost painful fashion, forcing me to write and write as though I were running out of time to do so.

It occurs to me that some kind of adrenalin must kick in at times following a birth - not for every birth, not for every person - that leaves you in that super-charged state. A natural reaction, perhaps, designed to allow you to cope with a three month period of such profound lack of sleep that it would knock most people sideways.

For creative people, it may also result in a period of the most astonishing fecundity.

At the time, I assumed it was because I had been dragging around for nine months with this double burden, this sense of gravity and vulnerability that can occasionally kick in when pregnant. I was certainly vast with the boys, and carried them full term, so wide towards the end that I had to shuffle sideways through doors. So when their birth finally released me, I was filled with such restless energy that I felt I could do anything. Super-human ...

So how to recapture that state of being super-charged, of being creatively electric and lit up from within - without having to produce twins beforehand?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Nine Arches Press Birthday Shindig

You are invited to come and join Nine Arches Press in celebrating their first year in business at a special Birthday Shindig!

On: Tuesday May 5th 2009 at 7pm

At: The CAPITAL Centre, Milburn House, Milburn Hill Road, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL

Readings by a fine selection of Midlands poets, so far confirmed are Simon Turner, George Ttoouli, Matt Nunn and Jane Holland. PLUS: Cakes, music and open-mic slots for up-and-coming poets, not to mention Nine Arches pamphlets for sale too.

This event is FREE and all are welcome.

If you can drop along to celebrate our first year with us, it would be a pleasure to see you there.

Jane Commane

Monday, April 27, 2009

Motion Sickness?

He hasn't been the most popular of Laureates, nor the most scintillating. He has been, at times, both too much and too little in the public eye. Some people I've met have had nothing but good things to say about the man and his work. Indeed, I've met the man myself - but only for thirty seconds, before he dashed off, wine glass still in hand, to another gathering of poets somewhere across London. He seemed rather unengaged in the poetry event I was attending, and who can blame him? Once you've been to one, you've been to them all.

The big question is, how many poets will state in later years to have been 'inspired' by Andrew Motion's term as Laureate?

Well, stranger things have happened at sea.


Monday 28th April 2009, 7.45pm.

The Poetry Society marks the end of Andrew Motion's decade as Poet Laureate. On this historic occasion, Andrew will also be reading from his new collection The Cinder Path.

VENUE: Purcell Room, 7.45pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. £9 for Poetry Society Members, £10 for others. Tickets from or 0871 663 2500.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Email Virus: Apologies

Many apologies to anyone who received a spam email apparently from my email account recently. I have today found many instances of other people online who have suffered with precisely the same spam message coming from their accounts, quite innocently, and why.

"This is due to a worm virus currently propagating itself through e-mail and instant messaging.

The worm sends various messages that entice users to click on a malicious link that leads to a Web site. Clicking on the said link downloads a copy of worm onto message recipients' computers. Upon download, it then gathers e-mail addresses saved on the recipient's computer and sends itself out to all of those addresses. It also creates e-mail addresses using common names appended with a domain name.

The virus, most likely, has acquired your e-mail address from one of your contacts. The virus then forges the "To" field of the e-mail making it appear that it came from you or one of your contacts. When a recipient's e-mail server rejects the e-mail, a non-delivery notification is then sent to your e-mail address."

I have no memory of clicking on a link to activate this, and I have no real idea how to get rid of it. I've contacted my email provider but so far no reply. My main question is, is that it, or will it strike again? Is it safe?!

Any clues?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Just been listening to some Harlequin podcasts (romance series fiction) on the e-Harlequin site, and thought it might be fun to put up some podcasts on this blog.

Podcasts are pretty simple to make with an MP3 player or on a laptop - I could probably even manage a short film, via YouTube, if I knew someone with a reasonable camera - and they would certainly ring the changes from text-based discussions, besides being a more intimate, first-hand approach to blogging.

So, any thoughts about what I could cover in a short writing-based podcast?

I could, for instance, rather than rambling on about whatever I've been doing recently, invite a local writer or two to talk with me. One of the co-editors of Nine Arches Press, Jane Commane and I have been talking about developing a Midlands-based poetry podcast for the next issue of Horizon Review, but I think there's also a possibility there for creating less grand podcasts, in a casual sort of ad hoc style, for Raw Light.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tom Chivers' "The Terrors"

Tom Chivers is a poet based in London, who has just published a pamphlet of poem-emails entitled THE TERRORS. To give you a flavour of his content, here's the short preface:

What follows is a sequence of imagined emails sent from the author to inmates at London's Newgate Prison incarcerated between roughly 1700 and 1760. All mistakes, typos and anachronisms are deliberate.

Tom Chivers promises - and delivers - anachronisms in these well-presented 30-odd pages of poems - poem-emails, prose-poems, email-musings - with an urban twist well-suited to such disturbing subject matter. For instance, in an email to, Chivers addresses the unfortunate Barbara, who appears to have been imprisoned for forgery, as though they are personal friends. 'Thank god you were throttled before you were burnt', he writes, then leaps straight into another stanza: 'The burger vans hum as I wait for the nightbus, onions caramelising on the grill, faggots and all.'

This is contemporary elegy, then, for the long-dead, the unknown, many of them victims of a clumsy, unjust and barbaric legal system.

Geoffrey Hill in his Mercian Hymns phase is, surely, an influence in these poems, structurally at least, if not in tone as well. This is from one of several emails to William Dodd :

I snared the gaping crowd, Will; told Akerman you once danc'd into the living grave wherin we're food for worms. I'd love to see your homely porter, clad in bespoke skin of wolsey grey; strange choirs, guttural outpourings.

I'm what you'd call a fellow traveller; terrestrial stranger with my twin-pack scriptures, ghostly doctrine tagged along the walls. Watch for the pattern and the source, you said.

The pattern: infamy!
The source: infamy!

But not all these email-poems run along such expansive, discursive lines. Some are elegant with impressive one-liners - 'The Chinese say a person with a bad name is already half-hanged' - while others try a different tack, short clauses and place names run together in mini-sentences, creating a breathless, accusatory charge into the past:

Hooded in a whimple. Skirts up to here. It was you, wasn't it?
Gun Street. Spitalfields. Drab or tom.
Findy sides open to the fog. Bundle of kid.

Even though some of these poems are difficult to read, and must have been even worse to write, Tom Chivers does not shy away from the unsettling or the genuinely horrific detail in these quasi-historical accounts; indeed, his outraged sense of injustice permeates THE TERRORS. Here are the opening lines of 'To: Elizabeth Brownrigg/Subject: Murder by inches':

1. The subject is tied up naked, beaten with a hearth-broom, a horsewhip, or a cane, til she is speechless.

Some of the rest of this poem is so horrific, I don't feel able to quote it here. But it conveys, swiftly and eloquently, the atmosphere of Newgate Prison in the eighteenth century, or how we, looking back on such times from the present, can only believe or fear it must have been for the inmates.

Nine Arches Press is to be congratulated for publishing this short collection by Tom Chivers, which is both innovative and disturbing, and which gives a voice to the voiceless, albeit an imagined, anachronistic one. I was extremely pleased to be present at the launch a few weeks ago in London, and to be able to read alongside Tom. Hearing his introductions, and the poems themselves, left me keen to review such a fascinating, experimental collection.

If I had one minor criticism to make, it would be that, on reading these poems, I felt curious to know more about the people to whom they were addressed, including crimes they had been accused of and how they were sentenced. But it's only a minor point, and perhaps a list in an appendix could be added in a later edition.

THE TERRORS is a bold, dark, and deeply unsettling collection which introduces a strong new poetic voice in Tom Chivers. You can buy the book online from Nine Arches Press via Throckmortons bookshop (which will directly support this bold new publishing house).

There is also a short poetry film by Tom Chivers reading from THE TERRORS on location at Newgate, available here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Doctor Who and the BBC Writing Room

Doctor Who and the recent Planet of the Dead episode.

Like many people, I'm a fan of Doctor Who and am eagerly looking forward to the last few episodes with David Tennant (stagger, swoon) before he bows off our screens - as Doctor Who - forever.

Today it was brought to my attention that Raw Light is now listed on British Blogs, which I promptly visited and found this interesting website on Doctor Who, amongst other things.

If you're a writer and fancy trying your hand at writing for television - or radio - as I've said before on Raw Light, your first port of call must be the marvellous BBC Writers' Room website.

There you will find many examples of real BBC scripts - for Doctor Who, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, etc. - and thousands of tips on script-writing and other useful stuff, including their free ScriptSmart software download (not available for Mac, when I last checked, so sadly I can't use it) so you can concentrate on the dialogue, not the formatting.

It's great to have samples of these scripts online now, and to be able to watch missed episodes online or buy the DVDs. But it wasn't always that easy for writers - or fans, for that matter.

When I was a teenager, two of my school friends - Lynn and Sheila - used to send off specially for BBC scripts of Blakes 7, learn them by heart, then shoot barrages of dialogue at me relentlessly to check if I knew the episodes well enough to fill in the blanks (it was an all-girls' school and we were odd like that).

Lynn got married, Sheila died tragically young in a riding accident, and here I am, 42 years old and still able to quote vast chunks of Blakes 7 from memory. Just a pity it's kind of pointless knowledge ...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hopkins' "Easter Communion"

Easter Communion

Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast:
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips,
Those crooked rough-scored chequers may be pieced
To crosses meant for Jesu's; you whom the East
With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips
Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships,
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,

God shall o'er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

This is one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' lesser-known poems but perfect for Easter Day. One of my favourite poets and most in-built poetic influences - encountered young; forever present - Hopkins whirls from word to word, almost delirious at times, careless of convention, his alliterative criss-crossing of sounds deeply Anglo-Saxon, seemingly lost in religious ecstasy yet never out of control, leaving the faithful reader breathless and dizzy.

For further reading, his most beautiful and achieved poem is "The Wreck of the Deutschland".

Happy Easter/Spring!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Enough Reading, Start Writing!

It can be a lonely life, being a writer, and rather low on feedback. So it was a pleasure to catch up today with the kind words a few people had to say about my poem 'Day Tripping' on the Peony Moon site earlier this year.

Reading the comments, although fairly short, was a reminder that I need to do more writing and less reading - which is all I seem to have been doing in recent months, apart from the odd essay for my studies at Warwick. (Hence the long silence on Raw Light.) Reading is fabulous and utterly essential, but there comes a point as a writer when you have to say 'Basta!', lay the books aside and pick up the pen. Or pencil, in my case.

Which is precisely what I shall be doing, later this week and next, despite my pressing need to revise for forthcoming exams.

Though this week must also involve a quick trip down to Cornwall to see my eldest daughter. An important visit, since the latest news is that I'm going to be a grandmother!