Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my faithful readers, and even to those who have no idea who I am and only landed on this blog by accident!

My wish for 2011 is to exceed 100 followers.

If you can help me, either by following me or spreading the word about this blog, that would be great!

If I manage to attract over 100 followers - see sidebar for details -  I might even undertake to update this blog more often than I do currently.

Though I wouldn't want to bore people by blogging too often. There's only so much a writer can say about writing before they begin to sound like a scratched record, after all.

But even if you turn up and there's no new entry, you can always feed the sidebar fish. ;-)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Feed Their Minds: Give Kids Poetry This Christmas

Everyone's hitting the shops this weekend, both online and on the High Street, to round up all those elusive Christmas presents. I've now bought, on the telephone, all my kids' major presents. (Shh, in case they're reading this over my shoulder.)

However, I like to feed their minds as well as cater for their sometimes unaccountable taste in leisure pursuits, so there will be BOOKS wrapped up under the tree as well - as there are every year in this household. We live by books here, and a few more never hurts!

Yet even those kids who prefer DVDs may find flicking through a little poetry book more fun than perhaps they imagined.

Especially if you buy NEW poetry for kids - not the old anthologies of lovely but antiquated Victorian verse that most people stumble across at some point and think, 'Ah - poetry for children!'

No, there is new, freshly-written poetry out there now for kids. Relevant, fun, and not always necessarily rude. Creative, and often stunning to read aloud. Memorable, witty, intelligent, sensitive poetry.

So, in between forking out for the gaming equipment and the Barbie doll accessories, pause a moment and think about buying a few smart and attractive stocking fillers as well - a few books of children's poetry from Salt Publishing.

These small books are brand-new, modern, aimed at a younger audience, and with fabulous colourful covers designed to entice kids.

And the poetry inside them is pretty fantastic too!

Try John Mole's All The Frogs and Angela Topping's beautiful The New Generation for starters.

Then there's Philip Gross, John Siddique, Phil Bowen, Robert Hull, Rupert Lloydell ...

And in the New Year, come back and let me know what your kids thought of them. This is how you seed a new generation of poets.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mark Goodwin's SHOD reviewed

My review of Mark Goodwin's SHOD from Nine Arches Press is now up at Hand + Star, for those readers who are interested in poetry.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy Birthday: Sold!

Yesterday was my birthday, which made it doubly exciting not only to travel down to London for the RNA Winter Party, but also to be called by my literary agent in the morning, quite out of the blue, and told that a potential deal was on the table for the huge Tudor historical I've been writing most of the year. Transworld had only received the full manuscript a couple of weeks before, so I hadn't been expecting such a rapid response.

An astonishing phone call. And what followed was my most memorable birthday ever!

Ten minutes after our little group of novelists was due to leave our Waterstones Picadilly pre-party 'tweet-up' and move on to the winter party proper, my mobile went. I dashed off to answer it somewhere quiet, and returned glowing, to let the others know my book had sold, as part of a three book deal, to Transworld for a very generous six figure sum.

Still processing that information here. It's so exciting and such a marvellous birthday present.

Though, perhaps needless to say, my youngest kids are all busy drawing up their hurriedly revised Christmas lists.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Another Year, Another Party

It's my birthday this week, and I've never been busier. It's odd though, how time seems to expand to fit everything in. At least, most of the time. There are still days when I don't quite get everything done that I'd hoped, or drop the ball on some activity.

There was freezing fog out there today on the school run. I had been intending to travel today, to go fifteen miles down the road and get a job done that's been pending for a while. But the fog persuaded me to stay home and do it another time. That's the beauty of working from home. You can be flexible and adapt to the circumstances.

It's the Romantic Novelists Association Winter Party in London tomorrow. I'm looking forward to that, always a sparkly affair, and have my party outfit all picked out. Plus the obligatory very steep heels.

Around my birthday, I always look back to see what I've done in the past year, and ahead to guess what might happen in the future.

2010 has been a massively busy and eventful year for me in professional terms. I got involved in writing my vast Tudor historical, which is now finished and with my agent. I stepped down from the editorship of Horizon Review, and became editor of a digital fiction imprint instead. I joined the RNA again, after a lapse of several years, and have made efforts to go to events and meet more novelists, get more involved in the 'scene' - which is very different from the poetry 'scene'!

But I have a feeling I've only been laying the foundations this year, and that 2011 will see me reaping the rewards for my hard work. That's the theory, anyway.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The End of the Novel

Well, at the weekend I reached the end of my Tudor historical, which is over 120,000 words long, did all the usual twiddling and fiddling today, then emailed it off to my agent.

What next?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Torbay Poetry Festival: Saturday, October 30th

For those in the South West region of England, I’ll be on a discussion panel at the Torbay Poetry Festival this coming Saturday, October 30th. The event starts at 10am, in the Grosvenor Hotel, Belgrave Road, Torquay, and is a discussion of the different ways in which poetry can be presented to a readership.

With me on the panel will be Carole Baldock and Anne Stewart. Carole Baldock is the editor of Orbis, a well-established hard copy literary magazine, and Anne Stewart has been running 'poetry pf' since 2005, an internet showcase for poets. I am there in my capavity as former editor of Horizon Review, an online arts journal.

To buy your tickets for this event,visit the torbaypoetryfestival website. Tickets are 4.50 full price, and 3.50 concessions.

It’s been several years since I was at the Torbay Poetry Festival, which is chiefly organised by Patricia Oxley, editor of the long-running poetry magazine Acumen, and her husband and stalwart of the small press scene, the poet and editor William Oxley. So I’m very much looking forward to being back in Torbay for a few days, meeting up with some old friends and enjoying the much-missed sight of that cold Devon sea rolling in – ‘Thalassa! Thalassa!’

Thursday, September 30, 2010

National Poetry Day

I'm not doing anything much on NPD this year, but if you're in or around London on Thursday October 7th, this free poetry event is going on most of the afternoon at the Southbank Centre. 

Poetry Society and Southbank Centre presents
National Poetry Day Live
Thursday 7 October 2010
Free event
For the second year running, the Poetry Society has organised this lively event for National Poetry Day together with the Southbank Centre. Once again the event is entirely free. All welcome, including groups.
Discover poetry in the foyers and hidden corners of the Royal Festival Hall, and make yourself at home in the Clore Ballroom for live performances by a host of poetry’s famous names and rising stars. The day’s events are hosted by Ross Sutherland & Caroline Bird, featuring:
  • Simon Armitage, Jane Draycott, Ian Duhig, Luke Kennard, Daljit Nagra
  • Lemn Sissay performing Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’
  • Joelle Taylor & SLAMbassadors
  • Former Foyle Young Poets: Jay Bernard, Swithun Cooper, Holly Hopkins, Sarah Howe & Laura Seymour
  • Forward Prize Poets: Robin Robertson, Fiona Sampson & Jo Shapcott
'Getting Published’- a Poetry Review workshop ♦ Foyle Young Poets of the Year ♦ ‘Pick a Poem’ ♦
Folk in a Box presents ‘Poetry in a Box’ ♦ Screening of Postcards from Home ♦ Prescriptions & quizzes

Venue: Royal Festival Hall foyers & Clore Ballroom, Southbank Centre, London SE1.

For more information visit

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Longhand v. Keyboard

Working on this Tudor novel, which is longer than anything I've written since an unpublished psychological thriller I grew, almost under laboratory conditions, in the early noughties, I've been returning to earlier ways of generating inspiration.

In other words, I've started writing new sections longhand, and then transferring them to the computer later in the day. I also rather cunningly expand and revise as I type up, so that 500 words by hand develops into 1000 on screen.

This seems an ideal solution to keeping up the daily word count, which does feel inexorable at times, especially since I occasionally become inexplicably blocked at the sight of my laptop. Association of object with activity.

It just seems nice and undemanding, kind of old-fashioned, writing a few carefully-chosen words by hand into a notebook. Those then grow, line by line, into paragraphs, and then pages ...

I couldn't write the whole book like this, of course. It would probably kill me, and take over a year to do so. Let's face it, I can type much faster than I can write longhand. Legibly, at least. But when it's cold and damp outside, as it is today, and I can curl up on the sofa with a notebook and ink pen, there's a Virginia Woolf feel to the process of writing a novel.

Shh, if you listen carefully, you can hear the birds singing in Greek.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The grim beauty of a deadline

I was chastened to see how long it's been since my last blog post. Many thanks to writer Talli Roland for leaving a comment on my last entry and reminding me that people do actually read this blog.

It's been an astonishing summer, work-wise. Things have just blossomed and ballooned, on a number of fronts. That's partly why this blog has been so silent, as I've been trying to spend some quality time with my three youngest children over their summer holidays at the same time as getting up to speed on some rapid developments in my career as a writer and editor.

I'll confine my comments today to my novel, since that's the least complicated situation. It's a long Tudor historical, set in 1575, and features Elizabeth 1st as a point-of-view character. Though the novel is not actually about the queen, per se. It's about one of her court entertainers. More I am reluctant to say at this stage. But the book is just over halfway through, and I've agreed to finish it by the end of the first week in October.

That's a tall order. We're talking roughly 60,000 words in just over 4 weeks. But it's not an impossible task. I need to knuckle down to a serious daily word count, improve my time management, and say 'No, thanks' to nearly all offers of other work.

What's brilliant in all this is that I'm up against it so severely, and have so many other things revolving about in my head whilst writing, that I am very unlikely to suffer from 'can't finish it' syndrome. That tends to strike when you have nothing else but the novel to consume you, and it's so large in the window the thought of waking up one day to an empty view begins to terrify you.

So you put off finishing for as long as possible, and keep polishing instead, or making 'necessary' changes, or suddenly get absorbed in some other non-writing activity that takes you away from the keyboard, or obsess about other, far better stories you could be writing.

Thank goodness for deadlines, that's what I say. The sine qua non of novel writing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Penguin open their doors to unsolicited mss - for 3 months only!

Just spotted that Penguin UK is allowing unagented writers to send unsolicited email-only ms queries to them through August, September and October 2010.

So if you have something they might be interested in publishing, and you haven't yet netted an agent to do all the approach work for you, this could be your big chance.

You can find out more details on how to submit your work by email here at Penguin UK.

Good luck!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Oft him anhaga ...

I was deeply flattered a few weeks ago when an old acquaintance and fellow lover of Anglo-Saxon poetry, Chris Jones, who lectures in the School of English at the University of St. Andrews, contacted me about my versions from that antique tongue. Chris was in the final throes of an academic article on modern poets who use or are inspired by Old English in their poetry, and wanted to include references to my various translations and other bits and pieces on OE.

His request is the kind of thing which reminds me why I became a poet. The thought of people out there reading about your work, and maybe going on to buy a book or two of it, or at least look you up on the net, is a very satisfying thing. I certainly didn't become a poet so my work could go unread. So any article which might flag me up to people with similar tastes and interests is excellent, by my reckoning.

If all this has whet your appetite for some Anglo-Saxon poetry, there are some odd pieces by me scattered about in various places on OE topics, but by far the largest example is my version of The Wanderer, a very famous Old English poem about a warrior adrift without a fixed abode, which can be found in my Salt collection, Camper Van Blues.

My version caused controversy when first published because the original was written in the voice of a man - or possibly several men - but I changed the narrator's gender to female, to match my own. But what are new versions for if not to test the ability of a poem to endure and reflect society's changes?

It took me well over a month to write that translation of The Wanderer, managing just 4 lines a day on average. But it was a highly complex piece of writing, and I wanted to try and reproduce at least some of the rhythms and alliterative sounds of OE verse - not just write a translation or even a version, in other words, but a poem which would work in its own right.

Anyway, I was very flattered to be included in Chris' article and hope it will lead other writers in the future to write their own versions, keeping OE verse firmly alive in the twenty-first century.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Embrace Books

For those who don't know, I recently accepted an invitation to edit Embrace Books, a new digital romance line coming out of Salt Publishing in the UK.

While I wait for the website to be ready, I've launched an Embrace Books blog so that prospective writers can find the necessary guidelines and details of how to submit work.

I'll be keeping that side of my career separate from my writing, so don't expect many posts here about my work as an editor.

Indeed, I write this surrounded by research materials, reference books, my thesaurus, and a rough handwritten draft of my latest chapter. Yes, the great Tudor novel continues to grow apace.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Warwick Writers Open Mic Night

I'll be hosting an open mic tonight on behalf of the Warwick Writers group, and encouraging local writers to get up and share their work at the microphone.

I'll be reading a short set myself, to kick things off, and probably one or two at the end of the evening too.

The open mic takes place at the old Kozi Bar just off the Market Square in central Warwick, across the road from the museum. I have a sneaking suspicion it may begin around 7.30pm, but I shall be there rather earlier, of course, to set up and get comfortable.

In case anyone here is going, I shall be taking copies of my brand spanking new paperback edition of Camper Van Blues to sell. So bring extra cash!

I'll also be reminding any poets in the audience to enter the Warwick Laureateship competition, for a shot at the title. The position is unpaid, but as a former Laureate, I can assure people that there are always a few well-paid poetry commissions and workshops available to you during the year-long stint - if you want them. I published an entire book of poetry off the back of my Laureateship - 'On Warwick', available from Nine Arches Press -  so it's well worth entering if you like public poetry.

Plus, of course, the wonderful fun of being Warwick Laureate, which is part of the package. See the Warwick Words festival site for more details.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SALT: Just One More Book

These are lean times for publishers, and my own publishers, Salt, have put out an appeal for people to buy some of their books - just one, in fact, could make a difference. Sales have been greatly reduced in recent months, probably as a knock-on effect from the continuing recession, and they very much need people to buy some of their excellent wares.

You can read their Just One More book appeal here at the Salt blog, with a link to Amazon and the Book Depository, where I believe Salt prefer you to buy their books.

Other writers and bloggers are supporting the Just one Book campaign across the internet. Here's one example from Tom Vowler.

This appeal comes just as Salt announce a brand-new imprint called Embrace Books, to be edited by me. Embrace Books will publish romance ebooks in various categories; we plan to launch the first titles in Spring 2011.

Anyone who was thinking of submitting a category romance manuscript to Embrace Books (first 3 chapters and synopsis to jane AT, but is now uncertain, should understand two things.

  1. Salt has weathered this kind of storm before, using precisely this kind of appeal to its readers.
  2. Embrace Books is a new imprint, a digital fiction imprint, and will be run almost entirely separately from its parent company, Salt Publishing.

The poet Andrew Philip, on his blog Tonguefire, makes the valid point that independent publishers like Salt are vital, and that buying a book from them now, to help them keep afloat in this recession, is 'about you – the reader — and making sure that you continue to have the opportunity to expand your imaginative horizons in fresh and unexpected directions, directions increasingly denied you by the chain bookstores.'

I recommend Wena Poon's brand-new 'Alex y Robert', a brave and stunning novel about a woman who wants to be a matador, against all the odds. It's also a very beautiful looking book.

Support exciting, independently published fiction and buy Wena's novel ahead of the crowd here at Salt (not available from Amazon until its official launch in 2011).

Monday, July 05, 2010

RNA Conference, Greenwich

Like a typical fiction martyr, I've been writing solidly for months now, on one project or another, and saying 'No thanks' to invitations to escape the house.

This coming weekend, however, I'm off to Greenwich, London, to attend the annual RNA Conference. It's a three day extravaganza where romantic novelists congregate and exchange advice and industry news, and spend rather a lot of time propping up the bar in ludicrously high heels.

This will be my first time as a residential attendee, though I've dropped in before for day-only events. I'm massively looking forward to it, and have even bought some new clothes in honour of the occasion!

My mother was one of the best-known romantic novelists of her time, and I do love romances myself, though the historical I'm working on right now is straight fiction. So there's a strong family connection. But it's also a great excuse to escape from the house for a few days, as I've become something of a virtual hermit in recent months, only talking on the internet.

Anyone else going to the conference, do please come up and say hi if you see me wandering about - looking or actually being lost. I know plenty of novelists online, of course, but have only met a small number in the flesh. That's all going to change this weekend!

Ridi, Pagliaccio, ridi!

I was born with a strong inner critic, so I'm never surprised or offended when someone says 'Actually, this doesn't work' about my writing. I'm usually there before them, already wondering how to fix it or improve it, and I'm often grateful to have those doubts spotted by someone else in the trade, as it demonstrates that I'm not imagining things.

If they tell me such things with a laughing sneer, or an obvious agenda, or if they have almost no experience in that line, then I probably have a right to be suspicious. But if they are experienced and have no reason to speak up except in the interests of helping people understand the work better - and that includes the person who wrote it - then why should I not take what they say at face value and examine it with an equal mind?

Sadly, that response to criticism is beyond some writers. They would rather believe the person pointing out the fault is wrong - either incompetent or deliberately nasty - than believe they might need to correct an imbalance in their work.

It's like throwing a line to someone who's in trouble in the water, and having them flail about angrily and question your motives in stopping to help, rather than grabbing on.

I am convinced that this aching sense of self-importance and rightness is connected to an inability to laugh at themselves.

Self-mockery is a necessary correlative to success as a writer - or a lack of it. Without humour, you rapidly lose perspective on yourself and become either an egotistical monster, convinced of your divine right to crow from the top of the dung-heap, or a twisted creature in the dark, bitterly blaming others for your lack of success.

Naturally, the opposite is simultaneously true.  A strong writer must have an absolute sense of mission and purpose, and be able to shrug off criticism at will. But without perspective and humour to temper that side of the creative process, all that is created is more ego.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Mothers, wives, poets.

Horrified today to see, via Arc poet Jackie Wills' blog, that an 'unknown' - as Jackie puts it - American poet called Eleanor Ross Taylor has been recognised for her talent with the Ruth Lily Award.

What horrified me was not the poet herself, or her poetry, or indeed the award, but the apparent equanimity with which some people seem to accept without question the US critic Kevin Prufer's description of her work (taken from a recent blog entry on the NBCC Award shortlisted finalists):

Her speakers are most often mothers and wives thinking about their grown children, the complexities of marriage, and (increasingly in the later poems) their responsibilities to the dead and their own impending demise. Sometimes these voices emerge from an ostensible past, as in “My Grandmother’s Virginhood, 1879” or “Motherhood, 1880.” More often, they take place in an undefined domestic present.  Occasionally, they rise from more surprising places, as in “Kitchen Fable,” where the flatware itself takes on the consciousness of a frustrated wife.

Wow, and there I was thinking we'd got past the ludicrously sexist 'Look, a woman who writes about domestic issues! Quick, let's give her an award and encourage other women to steer clear of politics and the 'big' issues, and write about their children and husbands instead.'

Granted, for some women, writing about being a wife and mother is all they want to do as poets. And for some women, writing a poem about being a woman is a political act in itself.

But let's at least stop and examine why Eleanor Ross Taylor has been so suddenly plucked out of obscurity to be given this award, if it isn't to suggest - perhaps at a subliminal level - to female writers that good girls who keep their heads down and only write quiet, domestic poetry will be recognised for their modesty and humility in the end.

Even if it's only with a pat-on-the-head style encomium from some highly placed male critic.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New Paperback Edition of CAMPER VAN BLUES

Yes, the moment you have all been waiting for has arrived!

Salt have just reissued CAMPER VAN BLUES as a deliciously glossy paperback, priced at £9.99 - though it appears to pack a 20% discount if you buy it from the Salt website, rather than Amazon.

So if you held back from buying the rather more expensive - though equally delicious - hardback version, now is your chance to own my latest book of poetry for roughly the same price as a modest round of drinks in a London pub.

There are also a few available at Amazon, along with some very kind reviews.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fifth and Final Creative Redrafting Workshop up at Mslexia

I had some absolutely fantastic and heartwarming feedback today via the women's writing magazine Mslexia - people finding my recent series of Creative Redrafting workshops on the Mslexia website useful and full of practical, hands-on advice for reworking those old and abandoned poems.

The fifth and final workshop in the series is up now at Mslexia, a special series run in support of their annual Poetry Competition, to be judged by Vicki Feaver this year, with a first prize of £1000.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pulling Aside the Curtain: The Beginnings of Story

Being faced with further revisions to my novel, I currently find myself rewriting the opening scenes. In fact, I have to completely change the opening scenes of my novel and begin from a different character's perspective or narrative point of view.

This may sound simple, but the character in whose mind or presence a novel opens is utterly crucial in terms of the narrative skew of that story.

If we open with the internal monologue of a brick, the whole novel becomes brick-flavoured from that point on. Whoever else speaks, be it air, dust, stream, periwinkle, dog, human, alien - everything comes to us served alongside that underlying idea of brick.

Hardy understood that when he opened The Return of the Native with a lengthy description of 'heathy, furzy, briary wilderness', a landscape as much metaphorical as real.

An opening scene needs to introduce a world and a narratorial mind-set, not merely a character in a situation.

It might also suggest what lies ahead through the idea of conflict and opposition, i.e. if our opening character is naive to the point of absurdity, she may have grown cynical by the last page of the novel. Or if cynicism was her abiding state, then her faith in human nature may have been restored. A violent man may find death - for each world has rules, and consequences for breaking them - while a peace-loving man may stand over the body of his enemy blowing smoke from the barrel of his Smith and Wesson.

In other words, this is the reversal we hear talked about so much in writing classes and manuals. The reversal is inherent in the 'ordinary world' in which the story begins, built into the trigger or 'inciting incident' which signals the start of our plot. For a story is not a plot. Plot only begins when something actually happens. Until something happens to knock that first domino into its neighbour and so set the whole row tumbling, the story remains inert.

And within the visual and mental picture conjured by an opening scene should lie the seed or kernel of the plot. The opening narrative should be, or at least come to represent, the story as metaphor.

That's what I'm trying to do right now. Find the correct metaphor for my story, and open the prologue or first chapter with it. I had the perfect metaphor in my original first draft, but the story has moved on from that point in terms of character development, so I can no longer start there. It has to be something which perfectly unites all my ideas about theme and character and conflict, and which also points ahead to the resolution of the story without giving any details away.

The opening scene in the movie Twilight - also a kind of prologue in the book - is of a fawn, or young deer, running innocently through a fairy-tale forest, with the underlying sinister implication that it will soon meet a violent end, as all such vulnerable, beautiful, but ultimately mortal creatures must in their journey through the dark forest of life. It's a clear metaphor for the story, and combined with a heavy-handed voiceover by the main character Bella, it points ahead to the dangers and possible consequences of her choices in Twilight without giving away the details.

This metaphor has no connection with the next few scenes, however, and so feels clunky and out of place. It's not until later, when the real-life forest with its dangerous, unearthly inhabitants is encountered, that it becomes more acceptable to the viewer as an opening scene. In searching for my opening metaphor, then, I'll be looking to avoid that slightly awkward join to the rest of the novel.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Making the Century?

No, not years, but followers on Twitter.

I only have a piddling 56 followers to date - though thanks to all of you who have clicked Follow! - and am really keen to get my first century.

I can offer my followers wit, comment, information, and regular retweets. I can also follow you back if you're looking to build your own community of followers there.

Genuinely interesting content is not guaranteed, of course. But that's Twitter for you.

If you're on Twitter, or would like to be, or think you maybe ought to try it, and you're not already following me, I'd be thrilled if you'd go to:

and click Follow. Thanks!

Monday, June 07, 2010

More Mslexia Workshops now available

Interested in Writing as Genetics?

Or redrafting your poems as Building a Family Tree?

My third short article based around the theme of Creative Redrafting is now up on the Mslexia site.

Get it while it's hot!


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

"Didn't we have a luverly time the day we went to Bangor?"

Off to Bangor in North Wales this afternoon, to pick up my second eldest from university ... along with all her bags and general rubbish.

It's a long trip, but I shall be driving along with several happy thoughts in my mind:

  • How I'm going to open the next intrigue-ridden chapter in my historical Tudor novel
  • That I now have a most excellent literary agent to represent me in fiction.

We were in rainy Folkestone over the weekend, visiting my father and his sister's family down there in Kent. Tonight I'll be staying in a hotel near - hopefully sunny - Rhyl. On Friday and Saturday, Steve and I will be in Hayle for his daughter's birthday party, staying in a caravan near the sea, not many miles from Land's End.

That's three coastlines in one week. Not bad going, for someone who lives at the dead centre of England.

Mslexia Poetry Workshops

Just spotted that the first two instalments of my series of five linked articles on Creative Redrafting are now live on the Mslexia website.

Some of my weary but faithful regular readers may remember my first tentative blog posts on Creative Redrafting a few years back. Some may even have survived one of my workshop sessions using the technique. Well, this is an updated and expanded version of the same theory of poem revision, which will hopefully be useful for someone out there.

This particular incarnation of Creative Redrafting is a poetry workshop series specially commissioned by Mslexia to accompany their 2010 Poetry Competition, the idea being that you hone your competition entries by working through my suggestions - and those of fellow poets whose advice I solicited for this series - and improve your redrafting skills at the same time.

Experienced poets, writers and editors who contributed their know-how for these articles include Helen Ivory, Alison Brackenbury, Sophie Mayer, Annie Finch, Zoe Skoulding, Anne Berkeley and Nuala Ní Chonchúir.  

Many thanks to you all!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Small Publishers and the Prize Machinery

Elizabeth Baines, fellow Salt writer and blogger, discusses the latest problem to face the world of small publishing.

This discussion all came about after some Facebook posts by various people in publishing - including my own Salteeny Jen Hamilton-Emery, and Neil Astley, editor of Bloodaxe Books, who published my debut poetry collection - criticised the introduction of fees for publishers to enter publications for the Guardian First Book awards.

Prizes and Book Club recommendations: are these more of a curse than a benefit, at least for the publishers, who end up spending huge sums on providing the books involved and accepting vast discounts on sales at the same time?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Horizon Review issue 4

For those who haven't noticed yet, the fourth and most splendid issue of Horizon Review is now live on the Salt Publishing website.

As a tempter, here are the opening paras of my Editorial:

Are British poetry institutions failing poetry?
That is the controversial accusation levelled at the poetry establishment by long-time poet, editor and literary commentator, William Oxley, in this latest issue of Horizon Review. Authoritative bodies such as the Arts Council, Poetry Society, Arvon Foundation and Poetry Book Society are examined for their roles in this ‘establishment-centred’ problem as Oxley suggests that the teaching of creative writing now dominates the poetry world, with few outside poetry actually buying and reading the finished product.
In addition, we present the usual array of in-depth essays on art and literature: Colin Fisher discusses the publication of the first English translation of Kafka’s 'The Trial' in June 1937; poets Craig Raine and Jean Earle are brought under examination; an interesting theory of Beckett’s affinities with Buddhism is put forward by John L. Murphy, while Jon Stone expertly introduces us to the global lit-art phenomenon that is Manga.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Holland's Miscellany

A brand-new site, taking my name in vain, has sprung up overnight at

It will feature posts on politics, sci-fi, humanism, secularism, and 'whatever else crops up'. Unlikely to be much there about poetry or writing, though you never know.

I'd be really pleased and grateful if anyone interested in any of the above topics would support Holland's Miscellany by telling other people about it - maybe by linking to it on your own blogs, or on Facebook or Twitter, just to give it some momentum in these early weeks as it emerges into the blogosphere.

First few posts so far discuss the new Doctor Who, the paralysing effects of depression, and the ramifications of a hung parliament:

'This is how the LibDems die, not with a bang but a lapdance.'

Hope you will find time to support this new blog, and perhaps leave some comments?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hard Times

Very disappointed and worried today that Labour failed to get a majority. We stayed up nearly all night to watch the results coming in, and it's hard to describe the despair that comes over me when I consider what may lie ahead for us with the Tories potentially back in power.

This isn't a political blog, so I won't go on about my reaction here. But I was writing something tonight on the Poets on fire forum in defence of Labour and the many good things they have done for our country - as well as their appalling mistakes like the war in Iraq - and I found myself recounting an anecdote about my life in the 'blocked' gap between my first novel and poetry collection and the day I started writing again, some five years later.

It was a time in my life I had almost forgotten about, my quality of life having improved so much since those dreadful days, back in the early years of the noughties. But that experience came back to me forcibly as I wrote about it, so I'm going to share it here as well:

In 2002-03, we were living in a tiny two bedroom rented house in North Cornwall, with a living room barely larger than a bathroom. We shared that space with four children (including baby twins) and had another child on the way, while my partner worked from 6am till late at night in a truly grim job and was too exhausted at the end of each day to do much more than sleep, just so we could afford to keep that roof over our heads.
I had no one to help me out, no relatives in England, and when I went to try and get a night shift in a meat-packing factory - one of the few night jobs available - so I could help with the breadwinning side of things, I was turned away because I was 'over-qualified'. All I had was three A levels, and I was over-qualified for the kinds of jobs you can do at night in a rural community.
Around that time, I got really sick with flu. I remember one day feeling too sick and delirious to look after the twins, but knew I had to, since there was no one else to do it. My other kids were at school, my partner was at work, and the babies were crying. I lay down on the floor next to their bouncers and started to feed them - I was pregnant again at the time; a difficult pregnancy, for we had been warned the child could be Downs - and actually passed out. When I came round, I felt completely alone and in despair, not knowing how we were going to survive.

I'm not wringing my hands over that awful time. We climbed out of it. But guess how? Child and working tax credits were introduced that year, and they made the most incredible difference to our lives.
Thanks to tax credits, we were finally able to afford to move away from that rural area in search of better work for my partner. We got a bigger place, I had my last baby, who was not a Downs Syndrome child but perfectly healthy - thank goodness I never agreed to the abortion I was automatically offered after the test results! - and I started to earn money from writing again.
I cried the day we got our first tax credits payment. That was how bad it had been for us, and how relieved I was to have money in the bank again, to be able to breathe. And I shall never forget that a Labour government did that for us.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

New Poem at Stride Magazine

I have a new poem up at Stride online magazine, entitled 'Adventure Sky!'

Those of a delicate or very conservative disposition should sit down before reading it.

The long-awaited fourth issue of Horizon Review is due out very, very soon. Or so I am assured by Chris and his team at Salt.

I also feel it may be time for a facelift at Raw Light. Trumpet chorus. This writing blog has been going since early 2005, and has only had two changes of decor since then. I'm not thinking of anything radical at this stage. Just some light colour and sidebar design changes, perhaps. I shall see what's readily available on Blogger and do some tinkering.

Anything to avoid writing my novel!

And now, here's a very short YouTube film of my youngest daughter, whom I sent out last summer with a camera and instructions to do some filming at Richborough in Kent, one of the earliest Roman ports. Here, she demonstrates a cheerful, journalistic disregard for historical accuracy ...

At the time, she was five years old.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Horizon, Sunshine, and the Creative Writing Generation

I've heard that the fourth issue of Horizon Review should be out soon. Can't wait to see it, though the issue is running a little late now. Since I'm hoping to take a short break after this one, I'm not sure when the next Horizon will appear. Or what form it will take. More on that anon.

Meanwhile, it's been a lovely sunny spring day, and despite two fiction manuscripts of mine being rejected on the same day this week, I'm feeling quite up. Still got a partial manuscript being prepared for submission, and this may be The One!

Spotted another interesting review of Identity Parade on the Irish World website. The phrase 'reference book' seems to have come up in several places now in connection with this new poetry anthology. I was also fascinated to see the attendance of Creative Writing classes singled out as a kind of common denominator for many new poets.

When I first started writing, back in the mid-nineties, there were not many poetry-only classes or courses about. Now, they seem to be available everywhere, and I'm one of those dissenters who feel that people have always written well without being 'taught' how to by some well-meaning tutor, so why are these courses now considered essential training for a poet?

Good to see someone else calling this worthless discrimination into question.

It seems British poetry is turning into a 'This person learnt how to write in X's masterclass or Y's BA course' system, with anyone who either failed to get into those classes, couldn't afford them, or doesn't give a toss about formal training ending up in the Ignored and Unpublished box.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How old is Jane Holland?

This is genuinely disturbing. Found it today whilst trawling the net in search of insults. Who asked this question ... and why?

Identity fraud, here we go ...

Still, this 'True Knowledge' site was completely stumped when I asked it, 'how green is a frog?'  Ha!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Won't Let You Down

One of my favourite songs from the eighties, Ph.D's I Won't Let You Down was a Top 10 UK hit in April 1982, when I was a highly suggestible fifteen year old.

Thankfully, I'm still pretty suggestible. Just not fifteen anymore.

By the way, if you can't remove the ad strip when watching this, click the arrows (bottom right) to watch it on full screen.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Polesworth Poetry Trail, Warwickshire

Off to the pretty town of Polesworth in North Warwickshire tomorrow, to read some of my poetry and celebrate the opening of the Poetry Trail there, with which I was involved as Warwick Poet Laureate two years ago. Fellow poet John Siddique will also be there, as guest poet, and probably some of the other poets involved in the project. There may be music, dancing, a knees-up, perhaps even booze. Well, music anyway.

My commissioned poem on the River Anker has been set into several matching blocks of granite positioned beside the river itself. So human civilisations may rise and fall, an ice age may cover the earth and then thaw away, but Jane Holland's poem will remain etched in granite beside the River Anker in Warwickshire - no doubt much to the bemusement of future inhabitants.

"The Poets Trail, which was funded through the Advantage West Midlands Better Welcome programme, provides a series of poems showcased on small-scale sculptures.  The ten bespoke sculptures are dotted around Polesworth and up onto the canal towpath.  The poems were sought through a competition which saw entries come in from around the world.  The poems were decided by a panel of judges including the then Warwick Poet Laureate, Jane Holland."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bad Dates and Toothache

Sounds like a comic novel, or perhaps a cautionary tale told by a dentist, but my day has been all about bad dates and toothache. Last November, my dentist extracted several teeth. One root refused to budge and was left, with the proviso that if it started to 'bother' me, I would have to go to hospital to have it removed. I had some nasty pains for a few months, but slowly, things got better. Until yesterday, when the kraken finally awoke ...

My toothache increased over the course of the morning. We had a session with a consultant for our twin sons, who are being investigated for a whole range of behavioural problems, and emerged with a diagnosis of ADHD for both, and a formal diagnosis of autism for one, whose previous unsatisfactory diagnosis had been of 'autistic tendencies'. It has taken us five long years to get him that full diagnosis, so that was the big plus of the day, and means he will now be entitled to specialist help at school.

They will now be able to start medication for ADHD. However, there's more to come for the other son, whose diagnosis will take more time, and may be more complicated, as he has a range of other symptoms.

So that was my morning. Toothache cranking up gradually. I acquired some ibuprofen and some paracetamol with caffeine, and started alternating them for maximum pain relief.

I got on a train and headed off to London for my poetry gig at the Poetry Cafe.

My first stop was the National Portrait Gallery, as I wanted to see the original Elizabethan portraits I'd only seen in books so far, in connection with the Tudor historical I'm writing.

Next I went to Foyles, flicked through Robin Robertson's new book, The Wrecking Light - and felt a little disappointed, because it read too similarly to his previous book, Swithering (which I very much admired), and if you ain't pushing ahead with every new book, you're just treading water, and we've surely got too many poets doing that at the moment - and then I spent some time over a coffee there, doing some revisions to my current ms.

Naturally, once I've forked out for RR's new book and had a chance to read through it at leisure, I may feel differently. Don't forget the nagging toothache.

After a quick meal in Chinatown, I trolled off to the Poetry Cafe for my gig, and was somewhat taken aback to find a small group of enthusiasts playing what appeared to be Israeli folk music in the basement there. 'No poetry tonight,' said the cheery lady behind the counter. 'You must have got the wrong date.'

My toothache now throbbing like the devil, I sloped back to Euston for the long train journey home, unable to believe how stupid I had been. Bemused and not a little annoyed, I paid up for the WiFi Hotspot internet service so I could check which date I had been given. But no, there in my Inbox was an email from the organiser, sent only this morning, apologising for the lateness of her warning and letting me know that she'd got the date wrong. The correct day is NEXT Wednesday.

I think this must be an abscess that's developed under the root left in by the dentist last November. The pain is now simply excruciating. I can barely think of anything else, it's so bad. I'm maxed-out on painkillers, and am dreaming of large whiskies, and maybe a mallet with which to knock myself out. Under such circumstances, not feeling in a very forgiving mood is perhaps understandable.

Monday, April 05, 2010

New poem in Ink, Sweat & Tears ezine

A new poem of mine is now live at Ink, Sweat & Tears, which is a literary ezine currently edited by poet and all-round groovy person Helen Ivory. (And Charles Christian, she adds hastily, having looked at the site and thoroughly confused herself over who the editor actually is.)

The poem is called 'Collision', and accordingly involves a head-on collision with a coach.

It was a collision which I survived, obviously, but not unscathed. Ten years on, my wrist, thanks to my impatience with my cast, is still broken. Though I only notice it when asked to carry heavy shopping, or in damp weather.

Of course, when I say 'new poem', I mean never before published. It's been lurking in a To Be Revised file for more than five years.

I always intended to expand it. But I never did.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Could this be the kind of Face-Off we need in poetry?

Tricky Fourth

I can't put it off much longer. Camper Van Blues, my third poetry collection, came out in late 2008, in an absolutely gorgeous hardback edition, but alas, it's now spring 2010 and I really ought to be putting some new poems together and considering how my fourth collection will shape up.

I doubt that it will be ready to publish within twelve months. I've been working almost exclusively on prose for the past six months, and new poems have been a little thin on the ground. But mid-late 2011 or sometime during 2012 would suit me fine as a publication date. That would give me a good year to build up a core of individual poems for my fourth, without putting undue pressure on me to spin them out too rapidly, but equally it won't be so long since my last collection that people have entirely forgotten who I am.

Besides, I'm sure poetry books must sell better if the poet isn't constantly chucking new collections out to a less than enthused readership.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Loose Muse

Just briefly, I'll be performing alongside Aoife Mannix at Loose Muse on April 7th 2010, which is a Wednesday.

Loose Muse hosts readings only for women, though men are allowed to attend (but not perform), monthly at the Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, London.

It usually kicks off around 8pm, I believe. I'll be reading a selection of old and new poems, and should have a few books on hand to sell.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Don't like the book you're reviewing? Too bad, you'd better praise it anyway.

I join the growing number of people who are quite rightly disgusted and appalled by recent online attacks on Todd Swift, whose review of the new Bloodaxe anthology Identity Parade - which was not a negative review, but did ask important questions about the selection process - has attracted some astonishingly hostile and aggressive reactions.

See the comment threads at Eyewear for examples. There are plenty in the post I link to and in other posts on the same blog, and on Facebook, Twitter etc.

The fact that most of these people know each other in person, and are almost all key players in the book under review makes the whole thing even more disturbing. Would you see such a public and widespread attack being allowed to happen in the film industry, in theatre, even in book reviewing?

What does all this mean for the future of poetry criticism? As Graham Hardie points out on Eyewear: 'it begs the question are we not allowed as editors to express our thoughts and opinions in our publications without fear of reprisals/witch hunts/obnoxious e-mails etc?'

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Horizon Review 4

Marvellous to have finished all the work on Horizon Review 4. The new issue should appear online sometime in the next week or so; the timing is up to Chris at Salt Publishing, and I know he's always very busy.

But the magazine's all done from my side. Some exciting stuff in there, too!

If you've never visited Horizon, there are three issues already online here.

Now, I can finally start work on the rewrites to my new historical novel. It's been frustrating, having that work in the back of my head while having to ignore it, push it away, and crack on with my job as editor. But tomorrow is a new day, and I'm extremely excited to be writing prose again.

Don't get me wrong. I love poetry, but she's not an easy mistress. Novelists, quite wisely, tend to stay home and ignore their peers whenever possible; not so poets. Yet writers are often the hardest people to get along with. So it's with a sigh of happy relief that I can finally retreat to my metaphorical ivory tower and bury myself in a book.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Identity Parade

Found this excellent and thoughtful review of the new Bloodaxe anthology, edited by Roddy Lumsden, Identity Parade at David Green's blog, dated March 13th 2010:

 '... moving from poem to poem one is perhaps overawed by the sheer weight of work on offer and the wide selection of poets with only a few poems each might begin to look like an unwillingness to select more rigorously. Eventually, many of the poems could in fact have been written by roughly the same poet or at least by poets who all studied for the same creative writing MA. One becomes accustomed to the choice adjective, the erudite lexis (intaglio, ingleberried, periphrasis) and the well-read references worn like a casual off-the-shoulder number. Some of these writers are trying a bit too hard. '

There was a more recent glance in its direction at the Times Online site, but since it failed to engage with the actual poetry, it was next to worthless as a review.

Todd Swift was more positive at Eyewear than David Green, but also spotted an absence of obvious frontrunners in this motley pack:

'Also missing are the show-stoppers - the lightning-strike poems - that mark a poet or generation as great. While there are hundreds of good, solid, well-written and often genuinely dazzling or inventive poems included, it is hard to actually recollect a dozen or more whose lines are so memorable as to represent a genuine threat to Ted Hughes, Larkin, or Mahon. As such, it may still be very much a provisional period, not yet fully formed - and the leaders of the pack have yet to fully dominate the minor figures.'

Disgusted of Berkshire

Seen the news story yesterday about the gay middle-aged couple, turned away from a Berkshire B&B because it went against the proprietor's beliefs to allow two men to share a bed under her roof?

Absolutely disgraceful.

Wouldn't it be a shame if hundreds of gay couples now descended upon her without warning, demanding a room for the night?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

13 Teeth: Peacock and Pig

From Jane Smiley's '13 Ways of Looking at the Novel' to Mark Gwynne Jones' '13 Teeth: Peacock and Pig'.

The brand-new issue of Horizon Review will be up on the Salt website in a few weeks. Can't really guarantee when, as my role ends when I transfer the files over to Salt.

However, before issue 3 is superceded by all that lovely new material in issue 4, I want to draw people's attention back to one of my favourite items in the last issue, a short film of the extremely talented and mesmerising Mark Gwynne Jones and the Psychicbread, performing

13 Teeth: Peacock and Pig

It's nothing short of miraculous. It's also a tiny bit slow to warm up, so give it a good minute or two if you're not used to live poetry performances. And if you ever get a chance to see this band live - or Mark Gwynne Jones performing solo - do please take the opportunity. Excellent, mythic stuff!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Writing a novel is easy

Looking at revisions to my historical, I dug out 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel (What to Read and How to Write) by Jane Smiley this week.

Some real gems here, but this in particular, since I'm dealing with the necessary awkwardness and imperfection of openings and beginnings, caught my eye:

No novel can be written perfectly because perfect spatial balance cannot be achieved word by word. At the same time, though, writing a novel is easy because there is nothing simpler than adding word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and then going back and reading and writing it over again. To do it, the author simply has to remember that it can't be done, that the ideal edifice that exists in his mind may not be, and cannot be, and will never be communicated, but something will. That something is the novel you don't know you can write until you get it written.

Available from Amazon.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dove Release: New Flights and Voices

I'll be reading this Thursday night at the launch of the poetry anthology “Dove Release: New Flights and Voices”, edited by David Morley and published by Worple Press, which contains work by poets connected to Warwick University.

The Poets: Toby Aisbitt, Katie Allen, Vicki Benson, Peter Blegvad, Zoë Brigley, James Brookes, Phil Brown, Claire Bunyan, Peter Carpenter, Nick Chen, Swithun Cooper, Nicola Davidson, David Devanny, Rebecca Fearnley, Chloe Todd Fordham, James Harringman, Emily Hasler, Luke Heeley, Jane Holland, Gavin Hudson, Thom Hutchinson, Poppy James, Sholeh Johnston, Charlotte Jones, Luke Kennard, Gwenfron Kent, Will Kerr, Sam Kinchin-Smith, Anna Lea, Emma Lowe, Ailie MacDonald, Liz Manuel, Jack McGowan, Michael McKimm, Jennifer McLean, Glyn Maxwell, Peter Maxwell, Jennifer Mellor, David Morley, Jon Morley, John Murray, Ruth Padel, Kathryn Parratt, Siavash Pournouri, Sarah Rabone, Rowan Rutter, Fiona Sampson, Nima David Seifi, Sam Sedgeman, Nicola Seth-Smith, Bethany Startin, George Szirtes, Cari Thomas, Claire Trévien, George Ttoouli, Simon Turner, Jonathan Ware, Hilary Watson and Andrew Webb.

The launch takes place on Thursday 18th March starting 8.00 p.m. in The Capital Centre, University of Warwick. Star poets at this event include David Morley, Glyn Maxwell, Luke Kennard, Jane Holland and Peter Blegvad. Peter will also be MC’ing the launch with readings from students. Drinks in the foyer from 7.15pm.

Free but a ticketed event.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Literary agents, celebrity spotting, and surprisingly small toilets

I went into London today. To the infamous Ivy Club in the West End, which is for members only - no, I'm not a member, but the literary agent I was meeting does enjoy that distinction, which is apparently by 'invitation only' - and having dismissed tales I'd heard of dot-to-dot celebrities hanging out there, was actually rather astonished to find that it was no exaggeration.

I had a lovely conversation in the ladies toilet there - just the one rather small toilet, albeit with beautiful decor, as they obviously expect even celebrities to queue - with someone whose face I recognised instantly. But the name, of course ... well, it will come to me, but she's a well-known actress ... or maybe presenter ... or ...

I obviously need to start reading Hello magazine or something. I'm useless at celebrity-spotting. Should get my head out of a book and watch more telly.

Anyway, following my hour-long conversation with this chap, which was tremendously jolly and involved words like 'exciting' and 'excellent' being applied to my latest writing project, I can now announce that I have a literary agent again.

Some revisions to do, then I may have further good news. For now, it's enough to note that I am a very happy bunny.

By the way, I read somewhere that entering the Ivy Club is like stepping inside a giant iPod. It is. Though an iPod with a very hushed and elegant atmosphere. If it's possible to imagine that.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Dark Horse: a new website

Wow, a whole month between posts. Inconthievable!

And here's a totally impersonable return to Raw Light, taken from an email I just received from fellow editor Gerry Cambridge at The Dark Horse, a Scottish magazine launched in 1995, the same year as my own modest Isle of Man-based poetry rag Blade, but which has successfully stood the test of time and is now boasting a brand-new website!

The new Dark Horse website has just gone 'live' and is viewable here:

Please update your bookmarks. The old site, which was hosted for us by Edinburgh University, will still be online for ten days or so but will then be taken down. The new site is designed to be quickly updated and contains new material as well as a blog and an online subscription facility. So if you're one of those who hasn't subscribed or renewed your subscription because of the hassle of writing a cheque, now's your chance. Subscriptions are the Horse's life blood -- subscribe or renew and help us keep The Dark Horse the singular forum for poetry we believe it to be. Join the conversation!

Issue 24 of the magazine has just appeared and can be viewed here:

Two fine pieces, David Mason's consideration of Michael Donaghy and Julie Kane's review of the recent British Women's Work anthology, are available to read from the issue in their entirety, as well as poems by Amit Majmudar and Elizabeth Burns.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

On Reviewing and Lying

Just reviewed ten books all at once, which was quite an epic undertaking, trying to be fair to each within a narrow word allowance, plus flag up weaknesses and strengths. Only one collection really made me want to throw it across the room, and I hope I've made that dislike clear in my review.

You know, I read these puffs on the backs of poetry books and my god, some of them are just jaw-droppingly untrue. You read them as a kind of introduction to the work, and you think 'Aha, okay, sounds good ...' and then you open the book, and it's like they were describing another book entirely. Another poet, in fact. Probably on another planet in a completely different solar system. And not even a poet, but a yellow-striped geologist-cum-lugworm, with three heads and a tendency to spit when conversing.

I know it's hard when a friend, or the friend of a friend, or someone you owe money to, or who's having a nervous breakdown and needs all the help they can get, or who simply gives good head, comes along and says 'Can you write a few words about my new book?'

But do you really have to lie? That much? Like, Tony Blair proportions ...

I didn't lie in my review. That may cost me in some instances. But what the hell. It's not like I've ever been popular! And I was at least circumspect. I didn't say 'Wow, this is shite' - though I wanted to at times. I tried to be kind, which runs contrary to my nature. I also tried to give credit where it was due, for books which were, at least, not actively offensive. I had a strong urge to write 'Mostly harmless' next to some titles, it's true. But I'm being paid to give my expert opinion (stifle your sniggers please, I have been doing this for well over a decade now) so I bore that in mind and wrote accordingly.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sad News

Sad news here. Following a short illness, my mother-in-law Doreen died in the early hours, aged 83. Doreen had been suffering from Alzheimers for several years and was in a specialist home when a respiratory infection struck a few days ago and proved too strong for her.

The usual talk of flowers and funeral arrangements here. Things to keep us busy.

Not wholly unexpected, as Doreen had been very frail for some months, but always a shock when it finally happens.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Took the kids to school in the car this morning. Had been planning to walk through the snow, since the side roads here are so treacherous - Warwickshire - but couldn't find boots for one idiot son, who, as soon as we started off down the road, managed to trip over and get his trousers soaked. So back in we went, and by the time we reemerged, the car was the only option.

On the way home, a journey which usually takes about three to four minutes but which took a majestic twenty-five minutes this morning, I took a right turn and found myself - and the car - sliding swan-like across a sheet of black ice. Luckily no one was in front of me, because I had no control whatsoever.

I ended up, thanks to the dodgy camber of the road, on a downhill slope, thudding to an abrupt stop against a high grassy kerb - where my first thought was, how the hell am I going to get out of this?

I eased it into reverse, and thanks to the foresight of the car driver behind, who had left me plenty of room for my spectacular skid, managed to back up the slope out of the black ice, and onto the infinitely safer slush at the centre of the road. From there, I limped home at 5 mph, a little shaken but happy to discover only a scratch on the front bumper at the end of it.

I'll be walking the kids home this afternoon though. Wet trousers or not.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

The better the line, the more likely it is to be somebody else's.

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

Poet is another way of saying unemployed.

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

lattice, fishnet, hessian, careen, gunny, hopsack ... the poem began to totter under the weight of its own pretention, searching in vain for the modesty of table, chair, pomegranate, sex.

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

No writer is ever 'blocked'; they're just on their way to becoming someone new. Like a postal worker.

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

Studying the classics is the quickest way to kill off a writer's last lingering hopes of originality.

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

If you can explain a poem, then it isn't a poem. If you could explain a poem, you wouldn't have to write the damn thing in the first place.

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

The truer the statement, the more you get kicked in the teeth for it.

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

Writing a good line is like setting fire to your heart and watching it burn. That's why so many experienced writers keep a marguerita on hand.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

The best advice is always about as welcome as goat droppings in your bathroom. If it sounds good to you, don't trust it.

A Short Season of Aphorisms and Other Nonsense

There is no such thing as a disinterested reviewer. The chief responses of the reviewer, in order of likelihood, are apathy, loathing and enthusiasm. Beyond those parameters, there is only a desire to get paid.