Monday, 22 August 2016

Summer Poems

from Nina Milton

The Scent of Honey  

In whirls, whorls and slender smells, this scent of honey

In tantalizing whiffs, this scent of honey.

We’re walking by the little brook when it pervades,
Your hand curled over mine, this scent of honey.

Traced by our noses, we search like pigs for truffles
I have the trail you say, this scent of honey.

You tug me up the wooded rise, our faces red,
Air hot with August bakes this taste of honey,

Saplings propel like ski poles, our sandals grind with soil,
When we sniff, it’s growing strong, this scent of honey,

We dream of buzzing meadows, queen bee hives;
Waggle-dances, combs dripping this scent of honey

You lift me, hands huge upon my waist, over the wall.

Not a bee in sight, but still, this scent of honey.

It overwhelms us now, like love, like mystery,
We walk across the grass, breathing this scent of honey,  

See, you say, see that tree, the one shaped like a heart?
That’s the source, the centre of this scent of honey,

 Leaves of bottle-green and corrugated bark,
Limes; golden in our minds, this scent of honey,

The scent we craved, we sought, is here, inside the lime,
The aphids make this smell, this scent of honey

Microscopic eggs beneath the leaves, you laugh.
You say my Nina-lips taste like this scent of honey

Spanish Song

 Heat virgin olive oil in a heavy pan,
Chop onion and gently fry
Crush garlic, but add later in case it might burn.
Heat the grill for the sweet peppers to sear…

 To sear in thirty degrees, 
Lay out the tropical towels 
Smear with factor ten in case we might burn
Add four thin bodies to the heat swirled beach.

Add four thin pork boneless steaks to the pan.
Seal juices while peeling red peppers
Once they have blistered. Slice finely. 
Grind in black pepper, oregano seasoning…

Season for the murmurs of summer, 
For the glitter of the wide sea,
The screech and splash as the children leap,
For the sleepy Spanish tongue; those sun-dried sounds…

Drain and slice a jar of sun-dried tomatoes
Toss into pan the tomatoes and the peppers. 
Cover and simmer for twenty minutes
After which add twenty olives to salt the dish…

Salt in your hair and the feel of sand
Where the bar of your flip-flops grinds between your toes
Coming up the hill from the beach, stepping over wild thyme
Under the acacia trees into the marble chill of Los Arcos.

Chill the wine in the marble cooler,
As you lay out the ceramic you bought in Valencia.
Sweet pepper skins lift; gift-wrapped in scarlet tissue 
Spoon out the cerdo espanol and fluff up the rice

Long evenings, filled with fast guitars,
Smells of ceno from the next apartamento 
Twirl round the table to Flamenco,
Fast guitars and Spanish song.


Morning glories bloom
 early now,
before the the pollen sneezes start
and ice cream sweet-melts on the tongue. 
Strawberries are red as lover’s kisses,
the roses are in thrall to their own perfume,
And on the hornbeam, a chaffinch
sings out his power.

It is honeysuckle hot,
butterflies flirt and foxgloves
charm bees to enter,
opening like willing virgins. 

Bats flit as the summer night calms,
still half-lit with long sun. 
Under the hornbeams,
the beckoning grass is cool…tall…

Faro Island, Algarve.

She said; 
It’s a long road, straight, you can’t miss it once you’ve turned the roundabout.
She said;
Go over the bridge. That’s what makes it an island. 
 She said;
You’ll see where to park. You can buy an ice cream.
She said; 
 No one stays long.

She didn’t say;
Walk along the leeward side, facing the mainland, you won’t see a soul all the way.
She didn’t say; 
Climb over the brackeny dunes and stroll the beach, the Atlantic wind in your hair.
She didn’t say;
The moored boats are like jewels and the birds are wishes that can fly.
She didn’t say; 
You’ll think the little houses are shuttered against the winter until someone cries ‘Carlos! Comida!’

 She said to tell her what we thought of Faro island.
 We told her we liked the ice cream.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Juggling with Story

I’m personally hopeless at juggling. Can’t keep balls in the air, let alone knives or chainsaws. But juggling words – characters – plots – themes – settings – the entire extent of storyland…that comes more easily. Maybe there really is a ‘storyland’ where lost and lonely characters are searching for the right setting, theme and plot. What writers need to become are  dating agencies, who juggle their clients, mixing and introducing until they get the perfect match.

So, what happens when this clearly isn’t happening in the story you’ve just begun, or the story you’ve been plugging away at for some time? Recently, a student wrote a personal observation of their writing, which they’ve been kind enough to allow me to pass on…

“I’m not very good at getting back into my writing after a break and this seems to happen frequently at the moment. So this story acted as a sort of warm up session tomy main one. I think this was a really important part of the process for me; that one story evolved into another. I always start writing my stories in a sketch book. Writing with a pen always feels more comfortable and I just try to write down as much as I can before I start thinking too much about characters or plot. I have tried it the other way around but it usually slows me down. I start putting the story onto the computer sometimes before I’ve got to the end and this seems to spark off more ideas. I then seem to go between the two – sometimes when my head is full of the story, I’ll jot a line or two down in my book – sometimes I’ll sit and tap away.”

I was rather impressed when I read these words. For a start, the student is writing down how she feels about the writing process. This is something I always recommend, but I know from personal experience that it is hard to ‘write about writing’ and this often it takes a back seat. However, writing in this way often gets to the nub of some of the hardest things about becoming a writer. For a start, watching and reflecting how one’s own psychology ‘works’ is extremely effective and can often break through problems like ‘creating a routine’, ‘gaining the confidence to write’ and ‘facing the blank page’. But actually recording these thoughts, as part of your writing life not only prevents you from forgetting them, but actually helps consolidate them and implant them in your mind and allows you to work on them.

What the student has done here, is observe herself writing a story that didn’t work, allowing that conclusion to be drawn (always a very hard one), then picking out of the ‘non-workable story’ the themes, emotions, characters and ideas that could still be used (or reused), and creating something new and more successful with them.

A..S Byatt
Courtesy of

“A good short story knows its ending before it is begun, it is always working towards its end”…so said A.S. Byatt recently in the Sunday Times Culture section. This may sound impossible to live up to, but she softens the blow a little… “A good short story establishes its own rhythm at its very beginning, and the reader has a sense of the rhythm reaching ahead, towards the end”…

Byatt suggests that we should ‘know’ when the rhythms of a story aren’t working…when, however much hard work we put into it, never come right, that is, “work towards its own end”. My student cleverly understood this – that you didn’t have to write ‘the perfect story’ first time round. Sometimes an embarrassingly fruitless version has to be ‘hatched’ first. I’m trying to think of an analogy that would fit this process – the only thing that springs to mind at the moment is that it’s like ‘creating’ a caterpillar, then allowing it to become a chrysalis and reform over days, weeks, months…before emerging as, yes, cheesy I know…a beautiful butterfly.

An awful lot of professional writers create their stories (for children and adults) with this try/miss/hit method. Many a successful novel started life as an unpublishable short story or metamorphosed from a play into a piece of crime fiction…or whatever. Many a colourful character began life as something very different, almost as if they were waiting for the right story to be part of. Famously, Tolkien’s Strider began life as a kind of hobbit. Tolkien had written the first draft of ‘Fellowship’ all the way to the Prancing Pony at Bree without actually knowing that Frodo and pals would meet any kind of king there. But once Strider stopped being a hobbit and became Aragorn, the way ahead must have been clear; the rhythm of the story assured.

Good systems include asking ‘what if’ after the struggle with the first draft is over (as well as before it begins) as well as ‘which bits’ and even ‘which story’? Moving, slotting, juggling and slicing chunks of story are also common strategies, along with ditching. Ditching, for the writer, is not a farming pursuit alongside hedging…it’s the heartbreaking knowledge that something must go. The first chapter is often the part that has to be ditched, because all it does is explain things too quickly, too openly. The great ‘dinner party tale’ of writers is that William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected by dozens of publishers until one actually read past the first chapter and told him they would take the book if he omitted it. Not many people have ever caught a glimpse of that first chapter.

Luckily, it’s almost never too late to come to these realizations. Even when you’ve finished a story and put it away (especially if you’ve finished a story and put it away because no one has wanted to publish it) you can return afresh and ask these questions of it:

• Does it know its own ending?

• Does it have a satisfying internal rhythm?

• Does it relentlessly moved towards the conclusion?

• Have you asked ‘what if’ in the right way?

• Would it work if you swapped the beginning, end and middle around?

• Would it work if you ditched the first paragraph, or even the first page?

• Are the characters still in search of the right story for them?

• Can you ‘talk’ to yourself about this story – writing down a reflection of what is wrong with it, as if you are your own mentor or tutor?

I'm one of the Bristol Women Writers
who contributed to this collection of
great stories.
I think this has to do with the 90% perspiration part of writing. The ‘brilliant idea’ does not flow out of even established writers like an endless, muse-controlled fountain. The secret trick that allows someone to finally come up with the ‘brilliant idea’ is knowing how to utilize what you’ve got – to look, think, go away and cogitate, then look again. I don’t think I am quite saying that every idea you have for a story is usable in some formt - that all you’ve got to do is search and find it - but I do believe that it’s worth trying, just in case.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard, starring Emily Watson

Louse Doughty in London. Photo: Andrew Crowley, The Telegraph

I love it when a favourite read of mine is set to become a film or TV drama because I can bore everyone to pieces by droning on about how the book is so much better than the film, while secretly enjoying the story all over again.

I recently reviewed Susanna Clarke's book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell in this way, and now can’t wait to watch
Faber & Faber UK
Farrar Straus & Giroux US
Apple Tree Yard
the steamy psychological thriller by Louise Doughty, on BBC telly. I call this a thriller, but Doughty herself says…the weird thing is, I don’t think I’m writing thrillers, but quite a lot of other people seem to. I thought Apple Tree Yard was a feminist indictment of criminal  justice…
Emily Watson, one of my favourite actors, will play Yvonne Carmichael, a middle-aged woman who falls heavily in lust…I am both relishing and daunted by the prospect of taking on this role…she’s already been quoted as saying…it’s grown up, steamy and of queasy moral complexity

Watson in Gosford Park
Photo by
If you’re not already familiar with Watson’s work, try her early films. I first saw her as Maggie, in the TV adaptation of Mill on the Floss, but then caught Hilary and Jackie, in which she plays the cellist Jacqueline du Pre. She was brilliant in the star-studded film Gosford Park, and most recently, she was wonderful in The Theory of Everything, the film about Stephen Hawkin. 

The BBC describes Apple Tree Yard as…a provocative, audacious thriller that puts women’s lives at the heart of a gripping, insightful story about the values we live by and the choices we makeBut what I recall most vividly about the story is how quickly I was hooked. Doughty shows Yvonne Carmichael's well-ordered life plummeting into the ground. At the outset, Yvonne is a happily-married, eminent geneticist who, after giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee, meets Mark (who’ll be played by Ben Chaplin) on her way out of the House of Commons. Her fall to earth begins as they indulge in raunchy sex in a crypt chapel. 

Yvonne thinks she can keep her marriage and her red-hot affair in separate compartments, but, from the start of the book, we know she is on a downward spiral because we’ve already caught a glimpse of her future – and it’s not good. Or, as Hilary Mantel says…there can’t be a woman alive who hasn’t once realised, in a moment of panic, that she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man…A compelling and bravely written book

Something I always relish in a novel is the use of place to bring the right atmosphere to the writing. This almost always involves good descriptive skills…the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster beneath the drowned saints and the roasted saints and saints in every state of torture

I read the book after it was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Steel Dagger (for best thriller), in 2014.  Like most readers, I was gripped, not just by the heat of the read, but also by the varied styles Doughty uses. Yvonne has sex with Mark in seedy locations; a broom cupboard, a disabled toilet, the secretive doorways and back alleys of London. In between these scenes, written in the difficult and arresting 2nd person point of view…I don’t know it yet, but the man is you…Yvonne writes long letters to Mark which deepen our emotional connection to her, which she hides on her computer in a file marked VATquery3. Every so often, we return to the trial. The two of them are in the dock at the high court. All that illicit passion, betrayal and deceit has led to murder. A perfect story for a four-part television drama, in other words.

Before reading the book, I knew Doughty had already written, between her other novels, a book called A Novel in a Year, originally a series of articles in the Telegraph. Writing a book in a year isn’t necessarily a good thing. The writer may end up with something less than perfect, too hurried. But on the other hand, knowing you are going to write every day for 52 weeks
(a chapter a week, perhaps, or a first draft in 6th months, leaving half the time for research and revision), concentrates a writer’s mind wonderfully. I read A Novel in a Year in 2015 because I was about to do just that. The third of my Shaman Mystery Series Beneath the Tor was delivered to the publishers precisely one year after I’d agree the contract date, and I used the Nanowrimo method, to kick-start the process –

Louise Doughty has already managed that…My first, Crazy Paving…took me 18 months. By the time it came to writing my second, I was theatre critic for a Sunday newspaper, which meant I had all day to write before going to the theatre in the evenings: as day-jobs go, it was a corker. Dance With Me was written in seven months. Honey-Dew… about a girl who murders her parents…was written in eight months while I was sick with exhaustion…

Doughty’s most recent book, Black Water (Faber & Faber UK, Farrar Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton Books US) was published a full 3 years after its predecessor, Apple Tree Yard, but it is very different, with a new direction again. She’d gone to Bali, where the book is set, for a literary festive, and came back with the seeds of an idea.

I was lying awake…and a really strong image came to me of a man lying awake at night in a hut in Indonesia, mortally afraid. Why is he so afraid? In the opening pages, he decides that men with machetes are going to come and kill him. But I didn’t actually know who he was, I didn’t know how old he was, I didn’t know why he was there. But what I did know about him was that what he was afraid of wasn’t what was going to happen; he was afraid of something that he himself had done…Of course, he’s a metaphor for Indonesia itself. Because a military dictator came to power in 1965, there was never any truth and reconciliation, there was never any coming to terms with this massacre.

Likened to a John LeCarre, and described by The Bookseller as…a meditation on guilt and responsibility…I can’t wait to get my teeth into a new Doughty story, while I’m waiting for Apple Tree Yard to appear on the small screen.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Playing at Shakespeare

My father, on his 21st birthday
My father was a Victorian, born before the century moved from 19th to 20th, but he had modish ideas about playtime. When I was quite small…five, six, seven…and my mother wanted a day out shopping in town, I’d stay with Dad and we’d play together. He was in his fifties and already retired when I was born, so he was always there, in the house, a ready-made nanny when my mother needed a break.
If it was sunny, we’d go for a steady walk together, maybe to the local farm, where we could see the animals and pick up eggs, but I didn’t enjoy that. Dad was not a well man. He’d stop all the time, resting on walls while his breathing steadied and his colour returned. And I was shy of the farmer’s wife because I knew Dad had told her a lie on our first visit. She’d looked down at me, kicking my sandals against the doorstep, and asked him if this was his granddaughter.
“Yes,” he’d said. 
Now, as a grown-up, I understand that little fib. We’ve all told them, when the truth is just way to complicated to go into with a stranger. He could have said, “This is my daughter by my second marriage. I have a son in Australia, a married daughter with children of her own and I lost my eldest son in the war,” but of course, he wasn’t going to go into all that. Even so, the little fib rubbed on my young conscience and on my guilty distaste of having such elderly parents, whom I loved, but wanted to hide away from my friends. 
So it was when it rained, that I enjoyed our times together best. I much preferred to stay in the house and play at Shakespeare.
Print by Charles Sherwin (1764-1794)
after an original work by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825).

Shakespeare was my favourite game to play with my father, and of all the versions, the Three Witches of Macbeth
was the best of all.
Firstly we’d have to find the props. I’d rush round the house and garden, collecting a cauldron (usually Mum’s old enamelled washtub), plus evil things to throw into it. Building the fire was the most challenging, but usually I sneaked into my parent’s bedroom, because there would be soft silky things in scarlet. Once we had the fire lit in the middle of the dining room, with criss-crossed sticks from the real pile of kindling and the soft silks peeking out between, the cauldron was balanced on top. Then we dressed ourselves up, draping counterpanes and old curtains round our shoulders and making pointed hats from newspapers or cereal boxes. Dad would start the game, reading from a copy of the complete works that long ago had fallen into disrepair.
“Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d!” He used a cracked, high-pitched voice which instantly hit me in the stomach, dispatching me into a dark wood, to the mouth of an even darker cavern. When it was my go, he mouthed my words at me (we only had one copy) – “Tis time, 'tis time!” I screeched back, and we circled the fire, me skipping, him taking his usual steady pace.
“Round about the cauldron go; 
In the poison'd entrails throw…”
I had all the entrails in one of Mum’s forgotten shopping baskets and we took turns to throw them in, choosing items which at least vaguely resembled the original.
“Toad, that under cold stone…swelter’d venom sleeping got. Fillet of a fenny snake, Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and owlet's wing…”
And then, my favourite bit, which we’d cackle out together.
“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
When we ran out of things to throw in the pot, and I’d have to scamper off again, searching anew for something that, with a bit of imagination (and we both had plenty of that), could represent the next batch of magical ingredients.
Scale of dragon…waxy laurel leaves usual did the trick. Tooth of wolf…a sliver off a tallow candle. Witches’ mummy…an unfortunate rag doll.  Maw and gulf of the ravin'd salt-sea shark…frankly, if there had been fish in the fridge, we’d’ve commandeered it, but mostly we managed with a cut-out fishy shape. Root of hemlock was nice and easy, a weed pulled from the flowerbed (least, we hoped it was a weed), and slips of yew even easier as we had a hedge full of it. In fact, not much stumped us, certainly not nose of Turk and Tartar's lips – I had saved a set of grotesque plastic lips and false nose from a cracker, just for this purpose. Even finger of birth-strangled babe, however macabre that was, however much I shivered at the thought of it, was easily got – there was always an old wine cork in the pantry somewhere. But liver of blaspheming Jew…that was tricky. For a start, I wasn’t sure what a blaspheming Jew was, and Dad never precisely explained, and liver, which I utterly hated the taste of, was not something I fancied handling. Dad usually dealt with this by throwing in the soft, round red cushion that he used for the back of his neck. Once all of these were in, we’d set off again.
“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
Then Hecate would appear. Dad would swap his witch’s hat for one of my mother’s best ones, further raising his voice so that it trilled out. “And now about the cauldron sing, live elves and fairies in a ring, enchanting all that you put in.”
This was my cue; the best line in the entire game. “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes. Open, locks, Whoever knocks!”
Dad would throw off Mum’s good hat and put on his trilby, transforming into Macbeth.
This game could happily take an entire rainy afternoon, but, despite the deep love for Shakespeare it gave me, what I recall most about it are not the words – powerful and iconic though they are – I had no idea that this stuff had been loved and studied across the world for almost five hundred years. My happiest memories are searching for the cauldron’s ingredients, scabbling in the cupboard under the stairs, at the backs of kitchen drawers and in my mother’s wardrobe, where odd-looking items like corn pads could always be uncovered. Playing The Three Witches of Macbeth grounded me in my own home in a way the other Shakespeare games couldn’t do. Hamlet only required bedsheets (even so, the ghost frightened me to the core), and Romeo and Juliet, although needing pretty things for me to dress up in, was a bit long-winded, in my view, and Dad never attempted climbing to the balcony, he merely took the stairs to where I stood on the upper landing. R&J was generally a bit of a let-down compared to The Witches.
Naturally, my mother never knew about the game of Shakespeare; she was always out when we played it and the entire thing was rapidly cleared away before she returned – silken petticoats (probably snagged) back upstairs, the washtub stored outside, and the pointed hats smoothed down, ready to screw up for the fire.
I would love to be able to thank my father for his introduction to the Game of Shakespeare, but I’m sure he was well aware of the long-term results. And anyway, he loved our secret afternoons together just as much as I did. They remained our secret, until I shared them with my own children.
The original Complete Shakespeare, in tiny print on wafter-thin paper, had fallen  apart long before my kids were
old enough to dress up and dance around cauldrons, so I bought a three volume edition, embossed in a dust-proof slipcase, which I’ll still get out and read, before a trip to the theatre.

My father died shortly after my eleventh birthday, and he never had the opportunity to take me to a Shakespeare play, but when I did finally see one – which was not until I took my English Lit exams – I instantly fell in love with them. I cannot, to this day, hear the words, “round and round the cauldron go,” without being winged back to that old house, the rain drizzling down the windows, the smell of the drawers by my mother’s bedside, and me and my dad playing at witches.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Further Adventures at the Hay Festival

I'm not the only one with happy, if quixotic memories of a day at the Hay. Photographer Amano was out and about with his camera, trying to get pictorial imagery of the world of book festival;

 … an official accosts me. Perhaps he saw me taking a photograph of the bus stop outside where people were queuing up or maybe he just noticed the camera, a small one hardly bigger than a phone, strung around my neck. Of course, I am used to being challenged as a photographer but am still surprised to be told that no photography is allowed on site and that if I am seen with a camera, I might be asked to leave since cameras are not actually allowed on site unless one has permission… 
Read more of Amano's adventures at the Hay Festival here

Friday, 8 July 2016

‘We Need New Names,’ by NoViolet Bulawayo

 NoViolet Bulawayo
 a Guardian first book award nominee for
We Need New Names.
Photograph: Mark Pringle
Novels sometimes grow out of short stories. In a previous blog, I talked about Jonathan Strange and Mr Morrell the 900 page fantasy that only got noticed after its author, Susanna Clarke, had a short story published. NoViolet Bulawayo has experienced something like this; she won the Caine Prize for African Writing with Hitting Budapest a short story which tells the story of poverty-stricken children on the hunt for food at any price. Now she’s been shortlisted for the Man-Booker with what feels like an expansion of this tale; We Need New Names. A great title, by the way, as it both demonstrates the major theme in the book but is also uttered by one of the children in the story as they play their games around a grim shanty town ironically named Paradise. Bulawayo uses the eyes of ten-year-old Darling to portray everything she believes is wrong with government policies in her home country, Zimbabwe. Her characters are destitute – and desperate – they no longer have a school or a house, or even enough food, since the police bulldozed their township.

Darling, and her gang of friends, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Stina may be children, but they have experienced a lot of life. Chipo is pregnant after being raped by her grandfather - later in the novel we watch her childhood disappear as she matures into a very young mother.

Playing in the scrubland, they see a body suicide hanging from a tree. They steal the woman's almost new shoes to sell for bread.Then  Darling's father returns from South Africa with AIDS and she empathetically describes how the children respond to a terminally sick person. 

In the Guardian, reviewer Helon Habila, does raise the issue of cramming into the novel every ‘African’ topic” …as if the writer had a checklist made from the morning's news on Africa…  ( this is a good point, new writers should always do well to avoid the temptation to ‘tell all their world’, but I think she pulls this off using a brilliant combination of continued action with a fine sense of rhythm and use of language. Bulawayo uses original images to portray her scenes of Darling’s world…the bulldozers appear boiling… constructing a powerful ‘voice’ for Darling’s narration, which imbues her with dignity, resilience and a fighting spirit. In a tense chapter, the gang are ‘scrumping’ for guavas in a posh neighbouring suburb, when, still up in the trees, they witness a pro-Mugabe attack by black partisans on the whites living in the huge houses, binding their hands and taking them away, chanting "Africa for Africans!”

Darling has been promised that she will be sent to America, where her aunt Fostalina lives. This move is needed in the novel – Bulawayo clearly wanted to contrast Darling’s two lives – but I enjoyed the first half of the book a lot more.

Being a very real pre-pubescent girl, Darling soon reinvents herself as a typical US kid, and this weakens the link with the core themes of the novel. Even so, we’re reminded just how much work that might take…“The problem with English is this: You usually can't open your mouth and it comes out just like that--first you have to think what you want to say. Then you have to find the words. Then you have to carefully arrange those words in your head. Then you have to say the words quietly to yourself, to make sure you got them okay. And finally, the last step, which is to say the words out loud and have them sound just right.
But then because you have to do all this, when you get to the final step, something strange has happened to you and you speak the way a drunk walks. And, because you are speaking like falling, it's as if you are an idiot, when the truth is that it's the language and the whole process that's messed up. And then the problem with those who speak only English is this: they don't know how to listen; they are busy looking at your falling instead of paying attention to what you are saying…

Darling naturally begins to forget her old land and previous love of her old friends, although not so completely that we can’t keep tabs on them in the book; during a Skype call Chipo tells her, “Darling, my dear, you left the house burning and you have the guts to tell me, in that stupid accent that you were not even born with, that doesn’t even suit you, that this is your country?”

 NoViolat Bulawayo is the pen name of Elizabeth Zandile Tshele. Born in Zimbabwe, In 2010, she gained a fellowship after completing her MA in Creative Writing at Cornell University.  This short, very readable book that bravely recounts a life in a country we’re usually allowed to know very little about.

Friday, 1 July 2016

An OCA Excursion into Literature

Marlon James, 2015 Booker prize-winner,
with OCA alumni, Pat

A  Day at the  Hay with the OCA

A day in the sun at Hay…it’s one of the selling points of the Hay Festival – photos on the website are focused on people under sun umbrellas reading their latest purchase and drinking cool lager. This is a risky ploy for a Welsh summer event, but it paid off for the Open College of the Arts posse that arrived at the festival grounds on bank holiday Saturday. We’d come for the culture, of course we had. We’d come for the literature, naturally, for the heightened conversation we’d enjoy with each other after sharing events. But the fact the sun was out certainly helped. We'd come to see the stars of the literary world, and they turned out to be really nice people as well as great writers...
A Nobel Laureate, a Man-Booker winner,
the Samual Johnson Prize winner...
no, not us in the selfie, the great writers we'd come to enjoy
to read the rest of this blogpost, follow the link to weareOCA

Friday, 24 June 2016

Join me at the 10th UK Shamanic Gathering

Thursday 8th  – Sunday 11th  September 2016

If you feel you have a leaning towards shamanism, as a spiritual path or as a spiritual tool within your own path, then why not join us at the biggest gathering of shamans in the UK? Each year the gathering acts as a meeting place for those interested in shamanism as a living path of spiritual wisdom. It is open to anyone – with any level of shamanic experience – and is held within a friendly sacred circle
Shaman Nicolas Breeze-Wood,
editor or Sacred Hoop and
Doris, our shamanic clown
at the 2015 gathering.
You don't have to have had any formal shamanic training to join the circle - just a willingness to be open-hearted to the spirit world which is all around us. A fine feast of ceremony, workshops, discussion groups, dance and teachings from many traditions with:

Maria Runningwater • Christiana Harle & Martin Wilford • Sika Rose • Amir Korvalian • Trisha Mulholland • Jonathan Weekes • Michelle Easton • Rosemary O’Toole • Annie Spencer & Howard Malpas • Supi • “Doris” The New Age Guru • Nina Milton • Derek Gane • Kate Merriwether • Catherine Brew & Angie McLachlan • Leo Rutherford • Sarah Howcroft • Moira Lake

 check their website here 

The Conference will take place at the green and peaceful venue of Earthspirit, just outside of Glastonbury in the tiny village of Compton Dundon. Lovely accommodation and delicious food are always part of the Gathering experience.  I was there last year, when over 70 people gathered together for this event and found it one of the most happy, friendly and fulfilling experiences I've recently had. This year I'm back with a workshop for participants who also write (or want to) creatively; Writing over the Rainbow Bridge.

listen to a shamanic chant here

the 4 Day Programme includes…

Workshop for those new to  Shamanic Journeying 
or those wishing to Recap: Mari Runningwater 
Lighting the Conference Fire and Opening the Gathering in a traditional
International therapist and profession gardener
 Carrie Thomas
Mongolian/Tuvan way: Christiana Harle and Martin Wilford

Workshops include;
Shamanic Drum Birthing Ceremony: Jonathan Weeks
Gratitude and Sacred Plants as Offerings: Michelle Easton
Wand of Dreams: Rosemary O’Toole
Rites of Passage and Initiation: Annie Spencer and Howard Malpas
Free Me: Unbinding the Gender Binaries: Catherine Brew and Angie McLachlan
Choosing the Right dream: Supi    
Dancing the Dream Body Awake: Trisha Mulholland Plant Spirits and the Sacred Dream: Moira Lake
Shamanigins: “Doris” The New Age Guru                           
Writing Over the Rainbow Bridge - Write Creatively with help from your Spirit World: Nina Milton
Discover the Magic of Ceremony: Derek Gane
The Heart Beat of our Ancestors: Kate Merriwether
Colours Without Names:  Sarah Howcroft
Trance Dance: Leo Rutherford and Sika Rose

Ceremony of Gratitude and Connection: Annie Spencer, Trisha Mulholland 

Regular Discussion Groups, meetings in Home Groups and Meditation and
Movement workshops

The yew tree in Compton Dundon Churchyard