Archive for December, 2009

My first success!

Life Class by Glyn HughesI won a competition on Tuesday! It was the Christmas open mic evening at the Flying Goose in Beeston, and the competition was to write a triolet about liquid soap… yep, you read that right.

The Flying Goose poetry evenings are excellent – run by the wonderful John Lucas of Shoestring Press, they’re great value at £3 for a glass of wine and some wonderful poetry (and prose) readings. They run Oct-Mar on the third Tuesday of each month, and I was introduced to them this spring when Anne Stevenson read – wow.

So far this season we’ve heard Nicola Monaghan, Wayne Burrows, Derrick Buttress and Cathy Grindrod, all of whom were fabulous.

And then came the Christmas Special. I don’t remember much detail of the poetry readings, as it was the first time I’d read in front of so many strangers and I was very very nervous (the mulled wine possibly didn’t help much either). I was quite overawed by how brilliant everyone was though.

We read our triolets after the break – I wasn’t quite so nervous, as the first poem I’d read seemed to go down ok. Judgement was by public acclaim, and Eireann (bless her) bolstered my applause by cheering and clapping wildly, so I won joint first prize along with Deidre O’Byrne (who deserved to be the outright winner, but I’m not complaining). My prize was the lovely Life Class by Glyn Hughes, which is an autobiographical poem that is a pleasure to read.

So, I thought I’d give you the pleasure of reading my PRIZE-WINNING (!!!!) triolet.

Liquid Soap

I never saw the point of liquid soap
You may frown, I don’t care what you think
Perhaps I’m just a grumpy misanthrope
But I never saw the point of liquid soap
It’s yet another way to push the envelope
And I can’t abide the dribbles in the sink
I never saw the point of liquid soap
You may frown, I don’t care what you think.

See, it isn’t very good, is it? Must have been the way I read it – I put everything I had into performing it!

As it’s nearly Christmas, here’s another triolet just for you. I like this one a lot more.

A Prayer for Love

Barefoot on the grass with the pigeons, praying.
Your dark eyes held mine as you passed. Over
a shared banana split we first kissed, cleaving.
Barefoot on the grass with the pigeons, praying
our spring would last for ever, dreaming
of summer. Through six seasons you were my lover,
barefoot on the grass with the pigeons. Praying,
your dark eyes held mine as you passed over.

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Why I Like Poetry

So much for all my good resolutions… haven’t written a blog post for days and days.

An Anthology of Stress

I’ve been busy getting the student anthology properly off the ground (it’s quite nervewracking when you go to a meeting with a potential source of funding and she says, ‘They’re assessing bid proposals this afternoon, can you write one for us now?’ This being 75 minutes before a meeting half an hour’s drive away, and you’ve left the car five minutes’ walk away and you promised to collect a friend on the way… AAARGH!

Still, I got to the meeting on time, the bid proposal was accepted, and I’m now waiting for information about submitting the actual bid. And fretting about whether we’ll get enough submissions, and worrying about the design of the blasted thing, and being very very thankful that other people on the team are being active and constructive and Getting Things Done.

Be my mentor, Jo Shapcott!

The Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank

The Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank

Between then and now I’ve been trying to write a 1200 word statement to persuade Arvon they want to fund me to be mentored for the next year. Three options – scripts (not my thing, I don’t think, despite excellent ideas about gravediggers and pandemics), fiction and poetry. Fiction – well, I’m 1/3 of the way through a first draft of a novel and went on two Arvon novel-writing courses last year, so one would have thought that would be obvious. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go for poetry. I love writing poetry. I really love writing poetry, and I really want to be good at it.

I wrote all sorts of stuff, all of which I believe, but none of which really gets to the bottom of why I love poetry. I think it’s the most visual of the creative writing disciplines in a strange kind of way. A good poem will make you see not only the image represented by the words but all the links and associations and history and future and everything that goes with it. And that will be stuff that’s in the poet’s mind and stuff that you add for yourself as a reader, to make the poem yours for the few minutes it takes you to read it.

Damn. Wish I’d put that in. (in flowerier words, of course)

I don’t really hold out much hope of getting this mentoring thing, but you never know… I do know my poetry is getting better all the time, and I can’t pass up a chance to help it improve even more.

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It’s epic

Epic theatre, that is.

This is a story about how Della Galton rescued me.

One of my courses this term is Writing for the Stage. A lion also attends classes, although he hasn’t said much:

The B6 Lion

The B6 Lion

The course manages to be really enjoyable and a hard slog at the same time. Our tutor is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that each lecture has been fascinating and stimulating, and has left me fired up with ambition to write the next Mother Courage or Hedda Gabler. Then I sit down to compose sublime dialogue and riveting action, and I realise that while I love watching plays, writing them really isn’t my thing.

But… it’s my first diploma-level course, and as such the mark will contribute to my final degree grading, so I really want to do well…

The first assignment wasn’t too bad, but I’ve been struggling with the second one for weeks. I have to write a fifteen-minute epic play. Now, epic theatre aims to make the audience think about the message of the play, which is usually political or social in nature. It is about ordinary people trying to do their best in extraordinary situations. The audience is aware at all times that they are watching a play, they don’t engage with the characters, and the playwright, director and actors all go to great lengths to ensure this is the case.

So not only do I have to come up with a story to tell, but it has to have a message, and it has to be set in a context of external upheaval of some sort. And on top of that, I’ve got to write the characters so that the audience doesn’t identify with them.

This is different to just about everything I’ve ever written! It’s very scary… and I was floundering. I just couldn’t come up with anything epic enough. No message, no characters, no desperate situation, nothing. So I trudged into Caffe Nero this morning and snuggled into my usual corner with my usual two diet cokes, and stared at a blank page of my notebook for a while.

Then I started writing. I didn’t want to set it in the context of war – no real reason, mainly a matter of principle. What horrible things are going on outside people’s control at the moment? Ah, I know, recession. So let’s have an Ordinary Bod who’s been hurt badly by the credit crunch, and then maybe an MP who tries to help Bod out, MP discovers he can’t do anything because the system is corrupt and evil… ta-da…



That’s rubbish. I know I’m not supposed to emotionally identify with the characters, but I can’t even rationally work out what’s going on and why. And the message is so cliched. And I’m blowed if I can come up with any flesh to put on the bones of this deformed monstrosity.

So I stared at my now-full page, and scribbled it out in a fit of pique.

Time to go back to basics. Rather than start with a global context, let’s start with a character and a problem…

Hang on a minute, that rings a bell. At Caerleon, Della Galton gave us a fantastic tool for generating short stories. Come up with a load of random characters and a load of random problems, pick one of each and go. And the character we had to write about was a gravedigger – which is ultimately appropriate for epic theatre, isn’t it?


So I wrote down ‘Gravedigger’. Then I thought, what would give a gravedigger a problem?

I sneezed. Snot, yuck. People looking sidelong at me to make sure I caught all the germs in a tissue which I then discarded before disinfecting my hands and every other exposed bit of skin.



I have my story. Well, at least I have the beginnings of one. So I’d better go and write the play now. I may regale you with a scene from it in due course, as long as you promise not to become emotionally involved with any of the characters.

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My good friend Adrian phoned me yesterday and berated me (don’t frown like that, Adrian, you know that was a berating!) about not keeping up with this blog. I hemmed and hawed (people didn’t half look at me strangely, I was in WH Smith at the time buying book tokens) and was forced to agree that I have been somewhat dilatory. What’s the point having a blog if you don’t post? No-one will read it, and indeed, why should they?

So. This is my New Pip Resolution – to write a blog post at least twice a week from now until the End of Never.

What I did on my holiday

Not exactly a holiday…

When I last posted, a couple of months ago, I was on the way down into the gloomy depths of a recurrence of my perennial depression. I didn’t get all the way there, thank goodness. Or I should say, thank the generosity of my therapist, who gave me a couple of free sessions and reminded me I do have the tools to kick my own ass into gear.

I’ve been thinking about depression, I wonder if it’s a common writer’s affliction… I suppose it must be. Good writers, anyway. I have to say, most of the blisteringly self-confident writers I meet aren’t brilliant, it’s the insecure ones that question their own worth and eternally strive to improve. Or give up and fall by the wayside, which is something I’m determined not to do. Maybe I’ll turn out to be a good writer, maybe I won’t, but either way I want to look back in a decade or two and be able to say I tried my hardest.

Anyway, things I have done:

  • Spent a week on an amazing Arvon course at Totleigh Barton.
  • Kicked off and am now running a project to publish an annual student anthology for the Creative Writing degree course I’m on.
  • Lots of poetry writing, which I think/hope is getting better.
  • Been involved in a fantastic new (ongoing) project at my writers’ group.
  • Got quite enthused about <luvvie voice> the theatre </luvvie voice>.
  • Analysed the English Patient to death and loved every moment of it. Good job he was dying anyway.

So considering I’ve been thoroughly miserable at times, that’s not a bad list! I shall write about at least some of the above in more detail over the next couple of weeks.

Oh, one other thing, I’ve fallen in love with this cutie – a new arrival at a friend’s house:

Polly the Puppy

Polly the Puppy

I’m glad to be back. Hope you’re glad to see me 🙂

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