Archive for November, 2011

How do you read?

Helena Nelson and Lynn Roberts

Helena Nelson listens to Lynn Roberts read her third-prize-winning poem, "Entropy and the Maiden"

Before I get into that… the results of the Nottingham Open Poetry Competition were announced on Saturday, along with interesting and informative adjudication notes from the wonderful Helena Nelson of Happenstance Press. It was lovely to hear the best thirteen poems read aloud, selected from 664 entries in a process that sounds like it took an inordinate amount of time. In fact, Helena blogged about it… it makes for fascinating reading.

CJ Allen

CJ Allen reading his second-prize-winning poem "Likeness"

I was pleased to be asked to read a disturbing but quite brilliant poem on behalf of Princess Monrufat Ayelofan, who won a merit prize but was unable to attend as she lives in France. It’s called “Nobody Will Bury My Dog With Me”… the dog in question turns out to be a philandering husband, who is chopped up and fed to all his women. I loved it!

Carole Coates

Carole Coates, first prize winner.

Carole Coates won first prize for her poem “Reading” (no, not the town, I’ve already established to my own satisfaction that there is nothing poetic about Reading), a faintly sinister yet beautifully realised poem about a boy who wants to improve his reading so he can progress faster through Huckleberry Finn.

So anyway, I was chatting to Carole about something or other, and she said something which made me ask her how she processed the material she reads. I discovered she, like me, doesn’t get images in her head at all. This has been bugging me for a while… I first really noticed it when Daniel Radcliffe seemed wrong as Harry Potter. Not wrong as in different from the way I imagined him, but wrong as in he actually had a face.

Now, I could bang on about this for hours, and I fully intend to do so in future blogs. For now, though, my question is How do you read? When you read a detailed description, do you conjure up the images in your mind? Do you have to try hard to visualise what the author has written about? Or do you just skip over the descriptive passages to get to the next bit of plot?

Think about it…

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Giving Thanks

I went to a thanksgiving dinner yesterday at a friend’s house. It was a delicious meal, and a lovely evening spent with some of my favourite people in the whole wide world, for which I give thanks.

Light over Lundy

The professional-looking book (the other one shall remain anonymous).

When I got home, I had to write a 1000-word essay discussing the design of two books, one of which was self-published and awful, the other was professionally published and lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed researching and learning more about book design, and putting all this knowledge into practice. I love the way my brain works, for which I give thanks.

This morning was beautiful. The sun was shining, University Lake was speckled and calm, and the birds were friendlier than usual (perhaps because they’re not turkeys, I dunno). I took nearly a hundred photos on the way to my class, trying to keep every precious image. It was a wonderful start to the day, for which I give thanks.

I’ve spent much of the last five years in the pits of a deep episode of depression. With the help of some amazing people I now feel healthy, confident and happy, for which I give thanks.

Simon and Blake

Simon, me and Blake

Most of all, I give thanks for my sons, who are the most important part of my life, who are the finest young men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, who have saved my life more times than they know, and who will doubtless cringe if they ever read this.

I give thanks for many more aspects of my life. I give thanks to lots of people and to the world in general… if you’re out there and you feel you deserve my thanks, I’m here and I’m giving them.

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Random Editor

Scorpius and friends, in happier days

Scorpius and friends, in happier days.

In breaking news, my car (known as Scorpius – if you don’t get that reference, watch Farscape immediately – I can lend you the DVDs) is in the garage again. I’ve given up asking what’s wrong with it, I just hand my credit card over, stick my fingers in my ears and go ‘lalalalala’ while they tell me how much the repair will cost.

Despite that, I made it to the CPW Monday seminar this evening – the lovely Alison Hennessey from Vintage – Random House’s literary fiction imprint – came to tell us what being an editor is all about. [yes, I know she spells her name strangely, but she’s from London, what can I say?]

In a fast-paced and fascinating session Alison took us through the acquisitions process, what editing a book for publication involves, and a typical day in the life of an editor at a big publishing house. I took pages and pages of notes, so I won’t repeat them all for you here. There were some interesting points though:

  • It really is worth getting an agent – they know exactly which editors to pitch your novel to and exactly when to do it.
  • Editors tend to look for qualities over and above good writing – if you have a ‘platform’, will work well with an editor, are ‘marketable’, and have ideas for further novels, you are more likely to have your work picked up.
  • If you’ve been in a writers’ group, this indicates you’re used to accepting criticism and will therefore work well with an editor.
  • Short stories are selling better now – because of e-readers.
  • Good writing and good ideas are both important, but ideas can be brushed up whereas if an author can’t write there’s no fixing it.
  • People in publishing are expected to do all their reading outside office hours… yes… I could do that job…

At least nobody asked her when one could start sending abusive emails to a publisher after submitting a manuscript for consideration. Yes. Someone really did ask that last time.

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Readings and cobwebs


I need to brush the cobwebs off this blog. So consider this post as a metaphorical broom…

Beeston Cobweb

Beeston, 20-Nov-11

There was an old woman tossed up in a basket,
Seventeen times as high as the moon.
And where she was going I couldn’t but ask it,
For in her hand she carried a broom.

“Old woman, old woman, old woman,” quoth I,
“Where are you going to, up there so high?”
“To sweep the cobwebs out of the sky,
But I’ll be with you, love, bye and bye-bye.”


I’ve done lots of readings lately, and I’ve enjoyed them all.

It was a great honour to be asked by Nottingham Poetry Series and the NTU Creative Writing MA to read at the first ‘Poetry Cafe’ at the Flying Goose. I read in company with Jack Underwood and John Lucas – a fine set of contrasts there – and it felt amazing to be there, although I did feel a bit like an impostor! (what, me, a poet? hahaha!)

Somehow I managed to volunteer to put together an hour’s worth of readings by representatives of Nottingham Writers’ Studio for Oxjam Beeston… this took place in the Barton’s bus garage on Chilwell High Street, with a background of old buses (and chattering teeth – apparently it was cold, although I didn’t notice). That was excellent too – lots of interesting poetry and prose. Jenny and Rosie from Candlestick Press started the session, then DIY Poets took over, and we finished off. I was very proud to be part of a great fundraising day, which raised over £4000 in total. A special mention must go to Lord Beestonia, who capably introduced the readings despite (or because of) being off his head on flu medication! Go read his blog, it’s excellent… and it was lovely to meet the man himself.

Finally, I read yesterday at Ladyfest Nottingham, which I think was one of the best readings I’ve ever done… not sure what made it good, but I felt confident in myself and my poetry, and I absolutely loved seeing the effect it had on the audience. Actually, I think the quality of the other readers (Niki Valentine, Dori K, Sandy Hopton, Melanie Legge, Nicki Hastie, Chrissy Thornhill, Sandra Frost, Terri Lucas, Rebecca Towner, Lynda Clark, Giselle Leeb and Rebecca S Buck) pulled my reading up to their standard. Particular mention should go to Sandra Frost, who had us all in stitches with her account of ‘a routine gynaecological procedure’… I doubt if many people would have realised it was her first reading!

Kicks up the backside

Thanks to Emily Cooper, who reminded me that I haven’t blogged for ages…

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