Archive for July, 2012

I'm going to see the sheep!

I’m going to see the sheep!

I’m going to make some resolutions for my holiday:

  • I will spend at least two days without connecting to the internet (if you see me on Facebook on Thursday or Friday, slap me).
  • I will get into the habit of writing every day (need to establish the habit).
  • I will not worry about how overweight and unfit I am until I get home (want to fully enjoy Mum’s wonderful cooking).
  • I will not spend more than an hour a day working (I’d like to not work at all, but that’s not going to happen).

I never thought I’d end up being a workaholic. But then I was never passionate about my work when I was in IT.


This is what I’ve been doing over the last few days.


The Bookcase, LowdhamWorking on a new website for The Bookcase in Lowdham. I’m very excited about this project – Jane Streeter wants to make a website that reflects the shop itself, including aspects of the service they give in person and giving a feel for the atmosphere of this perfect example of what an independent bookshop should be.


Draft programme for the Nottingham Festival of WordsSorting out the programme for the Nottingham Festival of Words. It’s going to be amazing, awesome, fantastic, brilliant… I know I keep banging on about this, but honestly, it is going to be EPIC. I’m a bit worried that I’m going to mess it up, but I honestly think we’ve got so many top-quality events that even I can’t blow it!


Nottingham and Leicester Poetry Society members at the Huw Watkins memorial eventAttending and reading at a special Nottingham Poetry Society meeting to commemorate the life and work of Huw Watkins, who died earlier this year. I never knew Huw, but I know by reading his poetry that I would have liked him. David Duncombe asked me to read Huw’s poem ‘Heifers’ – having spent much of my childhood years living right next to a field that was always full of cows, I can testify that Huw totally understood the beasts. We had a great audience and heard many beautiful poems.


The Heroes anthologyToday the proof arrived of an anthology I’ve typeset for the Nottingham Writers’ Studio’s ‘Heroes’ project. Richard Goodson and Natasha Picot worked with groups of young people from diverse backgrounds, which resulted in some amazing poetry and stories, not to mention colourful and inspiring pictures. It was a pleasure to design the anthology and help put it together, and I’m very pleased with the result.


Let the Blood RunOver the weekend I worked on a script for a graphic story that Emily Cooper is going to illustrate – we’ve submitted the proposal to Brick’s new project, which is called ‘Drawing from Distress to Recovery’ – an anthology of graphic stories about mental health problems. I hope our proposal (gorily entitled ‘Let the Blood Run’) is accepted, because I’m looking forward to working with Emily. She’s so talented…


… and lots of other stuff too. I love my life. Just got to find a way to work some more writing time into it!

Oh, and I somehow ended up watching the Olympic opening ceremony. I loved the cauldron, and the bouncing punks. I wanna be a bouncing punk.

Bouncing Punks

How could you NOT want to be a bouncing punk?

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OK… I’m thinking this through as I type, so please excuse the stream-of-consciousness nature of this post.

Someone suggested earlier today that people who do voluntary committee work for organisations or clubs shouldn’t use their positions to earn money – for example, if they’re asked to organise an event and that organisation performs at the event, they shouldn’t be paid. Angry words followed this suggestion, and it’s been bugging me ever since.

Why am I blogging about this at all? What does it have to do with my writing or my career in the writing industry? Bear with me, I hope you’ll see my point by the time I’ve finished. For now, you’ll have to trust me that there are important principles at stake here.

This is going to be hard to follow, as (for obvious reasons) I can’t go into any details. Bear with me.

Issue number 1 – let’s get this out of the way

The first issue I want to raise is that the example given to support the suggestion was wrong (assuming I’ve identified the correct example, the person who started this discussion (I’ll call them Person T from now on) refused to elucidate on this (and on many other points)). On that occasion, the person asked to programme the event (Person N) was hired in their capacity as ‘someone who can programme events’, rather than ‘someone on the committee of the organisation in question’ (Org O). The fact that Person N decided to include people from Org O in the event is surely to Org O‘s benefit, and not to Person N‘s benefit? Person N was, after all, going to be paid anyway, and could have completely ignored Org O when programming the event.

Issue number 2 – where it gets complicated

The second issue is that even if Person T was correct in their assumption that Person N was hired in their capacity as an Org O committee member, are they correct in their assertion that Person N shouldn’t be paid for their work in programming the event?

There are three cases that we need to consider:

  1. Person N doesn’t have the skills to do the job.
  2. Person N is an active committee member and has the skills to do the job.
  3. Person N is an inactive committee member and has the skills to do the job.

Case 1

If Person N doesn’t have the skills necessary to carry out the work, they should not be paid for doing that work, whatever the reason they were hired. Again, I don’t see a problem specifically with hiring Person N because they are on Org O‘s committee. This is irrelevant. The problem is that they can’t do the job.

Case 2

If Person N is someone who does a lot of voluntary work to support the activities of Org O and does not begrudge their time and energy, I don’t see a problem with them being paid for a specific piece of work they are hired for, even if one of the reasons they are hired is that they are on Org O‘s committee. As long as whoever does that piece of work would be paid, and Person N has the skills necessary to carry out the work, what’s the problem?

Chances are, if Person N is known as someone who does a lot of useful work for Org O, they’re more likely to be asked to do the job. Would anyone reasonable see this as unfair ‘reward’? I think not.

Case 3

The remaining case gives me pause for thought. If Person N is someone who turns up at committee meetings but does nothing else to support Org O‘s activities, and is given the job purely because they are on Org O‘s committee, but… coincidentally they happen to have the skills to do the job… then I don’t think it’s fair for them to get the job simply because of their position, purely because it seems wrong that they should be ‘rewarded’ for doing nothing.

On the other hand…

I could be wrong to think it’s unfair.

If you have the skills to do a job, and you do that job, and that job is a paid job, you should be paid for it. So the question is whether you should get the job in the first place. (yes, I know I’ve more or less already said this, but I’m just getting it straight in my head.) Several points come to mind.

  • If you’re known as someone who does not contribute to activites of Org O despite being on the committee, are you likely to be asked to do the job? Probably not. So the situation isn’t likely to arise.
  • The reasons for asking someone to take on a job are many and varied, and I would argue they are inherently unfair anyway. For example, I was involved in recruiting programmers for many years, and believe me, interview technique is not a predictor of job performance. So as long as someone who can do the job is recruited, shouldn’t that be a Good Thing?
  • Why shouldn’t someone who needs a job doing assume that Person N‘s voluntary involvement in Org O is a positive qualification for the job? After all, much committee activity happens below the surface, so the recruiter might not know that Person N is inactive.

So again, is there really a problem?

On the other hand… (yes, I’ve got three hands. In fact, I’ve got as many as I need when I’m arguing with myself.)

If Person N gives themselves the job without the agreement of Org O‘s governing body (which, in its turn, must be satisfied that Person N is the right and best person for the job), this counts as exploitation of their position. In that case, and only in that case, do I think there has been a violation of reasonable and fair standards of behaviour.

In conclusion

I’ve just about convinced myself that Person T‘s assumptions and assertions are, for the most part, invalid.

And… surely it’s stupid to refuse to pay (or even worse, refuse to employ) people who are competent simply because they actively (or inactively) are on the committee of a related organisation? If we go down that route, there are two (by no means mutually exclusive) possibilities:

  1. Competent people won’t do voluntary work for fear they will not be able to make a living.
  2. There will be few (if any) competent people available to do paid jobs.

We don’t want either of those, do we?


I feel better for having got that off my ample bosom. Thanks for bearing with me.

Any thoughts?

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When I was at university the first time round, decades ago, there was a period of six months when I was unaccountably grumpy. Eventually I realised it was because I wasn’t reading anything for fun. It’s always been my habit to read before going to sleep (and at other times, of course, but always before sleeping), and for a variety of reasons it wasn’t happening at that time in my life. So I started reading again, and returned to my usual approximation of a reasonable human being.

As anyone who reads my Facebook updates will know, I’ve been quite grumpy lately too. Not because I haven’t been reading. Oh no, I’ve learned that lesson. I thought it was because I’m so busy. I don’t think I’ve had a day off for a month or so now, that includes evenings and weekends. Enough to make anyone grumpy, you might think. I would disagree. I love everything I’m doing at the moment. Everything. How lucky does that make me? The only minor problems are lack of time and money, but they’re small irritations and will sort themselves out. So… what on earth is wrong with me?

The Believer by Francis Upritchard

The Believer by Francis Upritchard

Yesterday I went to Nottingham Contemporary for the first time since the new exhibition opened – I’d enrolled on the Study Sessions series of workshops with Wayne Burrows and Sarah Jackson (wonderful poets and All Round Good Eggs). The aim of the sessions is to write one or more pieces of text departing from the work of the two artists currently being exhibited – Alfred Kubin and Francis Upritchard.

First of all, I was completely blown away by the artwork on display. Kubin’s drawings are grotesque but at the same time intensely human, drawing out the uncertainties and fears we all repress. And Upritchard’s sculptures are also grotesque and intensely human, but in a completely different way. They seem to be open to possibilities, not scary at all. I could have spent the two hours simply wandering around the exhibition and gazing at everything.

Writing notes

Pages from my notebook

That wasn’t the point though. The point was to write something. And I did. I scribbled notes and paragraphs and descriptions and free-writing, I jotted down thoughts and made diagrams with arrows and footnotes, I filled pages of my notebook with ideas for a story. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. I want to finish all my work so I can start writing. I’m cheerful and energetic and bouncy. I want to stop writing this blog so I can write the story, and another story, and a poem or several, and…


Believe it or not, this is a surprising discovery. I knew I liked writing, but I never really understood people who said they ‘need’ to write. I thought I wasn’t a proper writer, because I didn’t share that ‘need’. I thought to myself… well, I’ll just make myself a career around writing, I’ll teach and publish and edit and proofread and typeset. And it doesn’t matter if I don’t have time to write.

How wrong I was.

Now all I have to do is make sure I have that time. It’s a good job I can get by on a couple of hours sleep a night. (I’m lying. I can’t.)

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I’m spending the day at Nottingham University’s Lakeside Pavilion in the company of some inspirational young people. It’s the Youth Heritage Conference – Make History Happen 2012 – organised by Nottinghamshire Archives and the Nottinghamshire Local History Organisation.

So far we’ve heard from Professor Colin Heywood on When Did Youth Happen?, and I’ve attended a workshop where three exciting projects created by young people were presented. Now it’s nearly the end of the lunchbreak and I’m trying to hammer out a blog post in five minutes flat. Not something I’m very good at, I tend to burble on…


Prof Colin Heywood and Cllr John Cottee

Professor Colin Heywood preparing for his talk as Councillor John Cottee introduces the day

When did Youth Happen?

The question isn’t as easy to answer as you might think. In fact, it isn’t as easy to define as you might think either – what is youth? when does it start? when does it end? I scribbled down a lot of thoughts and ideas, which are far too nebulous to turn into anything coherent. So I’ll just list some of them here:

  • Youth is a period of transition from dependence on others to independent adulthood.
  • The form that transition takes varies from culture to culture – how long it is expected to last, how much responsibility you have to take, the particular customs and rites you need to follow.
  • It starts at puberty – easy to tell for women, but how to define this for young men?
  • When does it finish? when you get married? when you move away from home? what about people who ‘never grow up’?
  • Recent ideas suggest it’s a process of ‘looking for your identity’, whatever that means. Judging by my boys, it’s partly about distancing yourself from your parents.
  • Society (and the state) often protects ‘youth’ from making mistakes – too much protection? too little?
  • Youth involves ‘storm and stress’ – GS Hall (1904) saw it as moving from the barbarism of childhood to the civilisation of adulthood. Hmm.
  • I wasn’t sure about the idea of the Abbayes de la Jeunesse – groups of young men who maintained the morality of their neighbourhoods. Only happened on the Continent though.

Lots and lots of questions raised, and like much of history, not many answers. Food for thought in my creative writing workshop this afternoon, I think.

Youth Projects Workshop

I was bowled over by the enthusiasm of the young people who presented their projects in this workshop. The first group was four home-schooled kids (Molly, Iona, Athena and Seirian) who’d been researching the green spaces created in Nottingham as a result of the 1854 Nottingham Inclosure Act – as part of the ‘Olympiad Journals’ project. They’d made a film about the information they’d discovered, and had produced a fantastic display and journals of their photos, essays, pictures and maps. This is all now kept at the County Archives and I’d recommend you go and have a look.

Cultural Olympiad Journals project

Cultural Olympiad Journals project – the McMillans’ journal.

Jenny came next – she said she was very nervous, but her talk was fascinating – about a trail she’d created around Brinsley – an old mining village near Eastwood. She knew so much about the history of the area, she was able to add information to a tour guide’s spiel on an open day at the Brinsley national heritage site. The story of the Brinsley headstocks alone was fascinating – since the mine closed they’ve been taken all over the place – to Retford, back to Brinsley, to Chesterfield, back to Brinsley again… and at some point along the way they shrank a couple of feet, because they were set in concrete and had to be sawn off at the bottom to be moved.

Finally (and I must apologise, I didn’t get their names), two young ladies talked about the Illuminate project which is run by the Nottingham Museums Young Arts group. They’ve worked on an exhibition of silks at Nottingham Castle, with many associated events and activities, supported by professional specialists. I’m definitely going to check out their work.

A Load of Old Rubbish

Strange ObjectsAfter typing away furiously over the lunch break to get the first half of this blog post written, Pete Hammond’s ‘A Load of Old Rubbish’ session was most entertaining. He told us about how he became interested in history after finding lots of strange objects in a local field. He handed some out and asked for ideas of what they were (see the picture on the right). Guesses included bones, straws, tiny water pipes… no-one who didn’t already know guessed their real identity.

After this Pete talked a lot about cesspits and privies and night-soil men. Highlights (?) included:

  • A photo of a three-holer privy in Keyworth, and general agreement that the audience would rather use the privy alone, thank you.
  • Pete said, ‘particularly at nighttime you’d tend to go together anyway, of course… spiders, darkness…’
  • What do you do with what’s in the bucket under the seat?
  • A photo of a village night-soil man with his horse, the latter was called Hyperion, but we don’t know what the man’s name was.
  • Nicknames for the night-soil cart: ‘Ten o’clock ‘osses’, ‘honey-cart’ ‘lavender-cart’.
  • Night-soil men got a free warm bath every week, and Nottingham men had an annual half-day out to Gunthorpe.
  • A cartoon of a couple of archaeologists… “One good thing about excavating a cesspit, it’s stopped me biting my fingernails.”

He also showed us a couple of ointment jars he’d found, which purported to cure such ailments as:

  • gout
  • rheumatism
  • bad legs
  • sore heads
  • sore eyes
  • boils
  • inveterate ulcers
  • broken breasts
  • chopped hands
  • scurvy
  • venereal sores

I think my kids would have called his jokes ‘grandfather jokes’, but everyone needs a good groan every now and then! It was a good session to get everyone interested and thinking again in the notoriously difficult after-lunch spot.

Creative Writing

My creative writing workshop was wonderful. I mean that I enjoyed it immensely – I couldn’t possibly speak for the young people who came along! We started by talking about the last argument we’d had – what better way to find out what people are passionate about? And how about this for brilliance – one of the girls had recently argued with a friend about how it’s daft not to use Standard English! Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no hope for the younger generation. I have yet to meet a young person who didn’t have anything interesting and surprising to say. So anyway… we wrote about how we’d react if a stranger came up to us and was offensive about our clothes, then we wrote Facebook conversations we might have if we’d been trapped in our homes by flash floods. Some lovely words came out of the session.

Billy Richards

The final session of the day was Kathryn Rooke, who’d discovered the diary of a young man who’d written a detailed journal of his life in Sherwood just before the First World War. The story Kathryn told was funny and sad and fascinating. Billy was above average intelligence (he’d been to boarding school) but he had a troubled family life and was somewhat lacking in direction. He was madly in love with a girl called Doris, who treated him appallingly – in one instance she agreed to walk to the Arboretum with him as long as he wrapped a scarf around his head so no-one would know she was with him! I wish I could remember everything she told us about him. I’m definitely going to the archives to read that diary at some point.

Loaf On A Stick

Philip from People’s Histreh, with his loaf on a stick…


All in all, it was a fantastic day, and I was honoured to take part. The young people who attended were inspiring, and I spent so much time chatting to everyone I’m quite hoarse today. I hope it happens again next year.

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Another nice week. Thursday was great for things dropping through the letterbox. First was this:

Nottinghamshire County Council 'County News', July 2012

Errr… this is what our elected representatives think is a Good Thing to put through their constituents’ doors?

Then this:


I knew I’d been awarded this prize, but didn’t quite believe it until the letter came. I’m absolutely bowled over – very very proud. It’s been a hard slog at times over the last four years, not least when I was floundering in the morass of depression, but every single minute of it has been worthwhile, and I’ve been so lucky to have the chance to study on the CPW programme.


Parking Contravention Notice

…didn’t dampen my delight at all!

So, this week has been another good one. Blake and I have just topped it off by making Nigella Lawson’s Bacon Brownies, which are utterly amazing. How that woman isn’t wider than she is tall is completely beyond me. During an exchange of Facebook comments, it emerged that these confections are Blake’s new god. So of course, he had to pray to them.

Blake worshipping his new god

With that I shall leave you, and reluctantly clean my teeth before going to bed. I want to keep the taste of bacon and chocolate in my mouth for EVER!

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How on earth did that happen?


111O/3, with letterpress poem/print insert

I might have mentioned earlier this week that I have had four poems accepted for Obsessed with Pipework. These are not my first published poems – I’ve had some included in the Nottingham University student anthologies, a couple in the Nottingham Poetry Society‘s 70th anniversary anthology, and my poem Horseflies was published (at the editor’s request – thanks Eireann Lorsung!) in 111O/3. But this was my first actual letter that says, ‘Yes, we like your poems and we’d love to publish them.’ So exciting! And it does make me feel like a real poet.


My first non-anthology published poem.

I spent most of yesterday at Southwell Library Poetry Festival. As always, Sheelagh Gallagher and everyone at the library have done an amazing job, bringing some wonderful poets to this neck of the woods. Sadly I had too much work to be getting on with to go to the events during the day, but the evening was magic. More of that later.

At lunchtime I put on my (metaphorical) chauffeur’s cap to take Sheelagh to the Maggie’s Centre at Nottingham City Hospital – I should possibly have taken an amphibious vehicle, there was so much water on the road. I sat and worked while she gave a creative writing workshop, until the end of the workshop when she called me in to talk to the group about ‘being a poet’ and read a couple of my poems. It felt quite strange, a bit like I was an impostor*… but it was fun and they were lovely people who had written some interesting poems themselves.

[* NO! I am a real poet!]

We made it back to Southwell – just. Didn’t stop to look at Lowdham, which was completely closed off and flooded. I then spent a happy couple of hours with Cathy Grindrod and Frances Thimann eating cake (thanks, Frances!). Oh, and discussing the event proposals for the Nottingham Festival of Words. Some interesting ideas, lots and lots of talent… over fifty proposals submitted so far and a few late submissions still trickling in… it’s going to be a brilliant festival. The website is under construction, but you can subscribe to the mailing list on the front page – I recommend you do that if you want to be kept up to date with the news.

Lovely hour or so preparing for my reading chatting to some friends I haven’t seen for a while and incidentally identifying some more opportunities (some people call it networking, I call it fun). Then read four of my poems (along with Carol Rowntree Jones and Simon Kew), which was awesome. I love reading my poems aloud**. It’s even better with an audience! Not so sure about the radio mike though – not used to that sort of thing at all.

[** See! I really am a real poet!]

Valerie Laws

Valerie Laws with her horse skull…

The day was finished off perfectly by a couple of hours listening to Ophelia’s Sistas – billed as:

Prize-winning poets Char March and Valerie Laws are both fabulous and experienced performers and – as Ophelia’s Sistas – they make a formidable team. They take their audiences on an exploration of pathology, wild sex, dementia, lost pigeons, flirting at funerals, dogs in space, insanity, all in poetry which is deeply moving and very funny. […] a high-energy evening of performance fireworks, belly laughs, dirty laughs, and pathos – forging through darkness with wit, determination, and panache.

Char March

Char March (she didn’t wear the Viking headgear for the whole show)

And they didn’t disappoint. Funny, touching, profound, silly, raunchy… sometimes all at the same time. I recommend you catch either or both of them if you get a chance. Clever, interesting, generous women, and bloody good poets too.

As I walked back to my car (my heroic car which took me carfully(? boatfully?) through rain and rain and rain all day) I was accosted by a very strange woman who wanted to know whether the 100 bus stop which said the bus went to Lowdham was also the bus stop for Nottingham. I assured her it was, and as a reward was treated to her life story. It seemed to involve theatre (in a cellar?), a door somewhere in Southwell which just opened for her (which I think was a literal door), travel around the UK (possibly involving London), a son who studied philosophy, and lots and lots of incomplete sentences which ran on and on, punctuated by, ‘I do ramble, don’t I?’ and, ‘I don’t mean to keep you.’ Turned out she’d been to Ophelia’s Sistas – didn’t think much of it as the poetry didn’t rhyme, but appreciated the mentions of allotments and still-birth in the poems. She had very strong views about Char March’s frequent mentions of the fact that she’s a lesbian, but I’ve no idea what those views were! Bless her – I could have listened to her all night!

The sun was losing its grip on the sky as I drove home, without my usual audio-book. For once, I enjoyed the silence and time to reflect on what was a truly wonderful day.

(then I got home and did a couple of hours work…)

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Obsessed with Pipework

Powerful and strange, huh? Works for me!

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Sarah Jackson and Eireann Lorsung, July 19 2012

Serotine’s first event – please come!

I’ve been muttering for a while about setting myself up in business as… something. Small press would be the ideal, but there are lots of other things I want to do. And quite a few things I can do to bring in some money to keep the wolf from the door (wouldn’t want Mr Wolf to eat the kids – most of the time, anyway).

I thought Serotine (bat species, etymology) would explode onto the scene with a big fanfare. The website would be amazing, I’d have a full business plan for the first five years, the publication schedule for the press would be clearly set out, and I’d offer a specific set of services at affordable costs. And the Great British Public would rush to throw money at me.

One of these days I’ll get the hang of how the world really works… I started writing a few years ago with the idea that I’d produce a best-selling novel within a year, and from then on I’d earn my living from writing. Ha ha. Nothing is ever that easy. And Serotine seems to have slowly grown from an idea into a real thing without me putting much energy into it as a discrete entity. I guess Serotine is just me.

Serotine website banner

So, what will Serotine do? I’d love to direct you to the website… but I haven’t finished it yet! These are the services I offer at the moment:

  • Typesetting and layout design
  • Graphic design – logos, posters, flyers, etc
  • Website design
  • One-to-one tutorials on how to use computers and the internet
  • Advice and training for writers on social media and websites
  • Creative writing teaching and workshops
  • Proofreading and copy-editing

Other projects I have in mind include:

  • A six-monthly magazine for creative non-fiction
  • A small series of publications, beautiful words in beautiful books
  • Learning more about hand bookbinding and doing (something) with it
  • Learning more about letterpress printing and doing (something) with it
  • Knowing everything and doing everything

Watch this space… in the meantime please come along to Serotine’s first event. The marvellous Éireann Lorsung (Music for Landing Planes By and a forthcoming collection of poems about her time in England) and the wonderful Sarah Jackson (Milk and Pelt), who organised the Poetry Café at the Flying Goose in Beeston in 2011/12, have agreed to read for us (FOR FREE!) on Thursday 19 July at 7.30 pm. This will be your last chance to hear Éireann read for a while, as she’s moving to Belgium on the 20th (a great loss to the Nottingham writing scene). And it will be one of your first chances to hear Sarah read from Pelt, recently released by Bloodaxe.

I’m not getting anything from this event other than the joy of hearing two awesome poets read their work. Please come along and let me share that joy with you!

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