Sunday, 29 November 2009

Every Day Poets Celebrates St Andrew's Day with 'Arthur's Seat'

Happy St. Andrew's Day!

I am chuffed that my poem, 'Arthur's Seat', is the Scottish-themed poem celebrating St. Andrew's Day on Every Day Poets today.

I went to university in Edinburgh and used to climb up Arthur's Seat, a hill just outside of the city, when I was feeling contemplative. It is one of the best views of Edinburgh.
There was a tradition during Freshers' Week that you climbed up to watch the sunrise. I remember staggering up in some very impractical shoes at 3am having just left a club. By 4am we were very cold and very sober. It had also struck us that sunrise in Scotland in October might not be till around 7.30am and we could really do with some better coats. Still, that's what education is all about.

The sharp-eyed amongst you will notice this picture is of St Andrews cathedral. It was taken last Spring when I was up there for a wedding. Unfortunately, all my university pictures were taken before the days of digital cameras and are in storage so I can't show you the Arthur's Seat view; you'll have to read the poem to get a sense of that. Or look it up in Google images.

Have a great St. Andrew's Day, wherever you are. My thoughts will be in Scotland today.

I Won a Book Today!

Strictly Writing had an interview with Gavin James Bower recently. If you left a comment you could win a copy of his book, Dazed and Aroused. I was the lucky recipient!

Here is the blurb from Bower's novel:

Dazed & Aroused
Gavin James Bower

For six hectic months, season to season in the High Fashion calendar, twenty-something male model Alex hurtles between London, Paris and Milan, absorbed in the ruthless world of the catwalk. His long-term girlfriend, Nathalie, is desperate to rekindle their love; his oldest friend, Hugo, though regarding Alex’s so-called career as frivolous, continues to urge fidelity; while his father, reduced to a voice on an answer machine, nevertheless persists in seeking his estranged son’s approval. As his stock as a model soars, Alex is increasingly drawn into a world of predatory sex, drug-induced infatuation and a growing bewilderment with the alluring, seductive shallowness of all he sees around him. The centre cannot hold ...

The novel is based on Bower's own experiences as a model. He has also worked as a journalist, and a screenplay and second novel are in the works. As I am guessing he is still only in his mid-to-late twenties he is only just getting going.
Watch out for this one!

Click here for the link to Quartet Books' website.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. What a wonderful, inclusive festival: taking time out to give thanks... and eat big piles of food.

It is also my first proper Thanksgiving in the States and 12 real, actual Americans are coming round to our house where they will be getting a slightly British twist on the whole thing: turkey, roast potatoes (Americans don't do roast potatoes, which is just plain wrong), Bisto gravy, mince pies and brandy butter (why not?), stuffing, and all the usual trimmings. They'll be bringing such legendary dishes as green bean casserole (possibly with marshmallows?), yams and various pumpkin-related fare. Don't expect me to be able to move for the next few days.

I've been thinking of things I've been thankful for over the last year. Obviously, I got married and came out here, which was all very exciting.

Writing-wise I realised that this time last year I had never had anything published outside of work-related magazines and university newspapers. In fact, this time last year I was feeling decidedly despondent that my novel was deemed 'not commercial' (but well-written, which I took hope from).

I only had my first piece of fiction published in The Pygmy Giant about six months ago. Since then I have been scribbling away at flash fiction, short stories and poetry and have had some successes, with more in the pipeline.

I am thankful for the sharing environment and constructive criticism of my lovely online writing groups at WriteWords, as well as for their incredibly high standards that have pushed me and pushed me.
I am thankful for everyone in my life who has encouraged me to write, or at least not laughed at me too much.
I am thankful to everyone who has published any work of mine. They certainly didn't have to!
I am also thankful for tea and cake.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! What are you thankful for?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Bewildering Stories: Eensy Weensy

I've always been suspicious of the spider that lives under the bath. What does he do there all day? Plotting and planning, organising his kingdom come the revolution, I imagine.

So I wrote a little story, Eensy Weensy, about this evil wee beastie, which Bewildering Stories have published this week.

Also, check out Oonah V Joslin's poem, Whatever Happened to Tea - and Sympathy?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Writing in America

Inspired by Tania Hershman's recent posts about ex-pat writers (or in her case, recently repatriated ex-pat writers) I decided to think a little about how the move has affected my writing.

I am currently sitting in my study in my house just outside Washington DC. I put up a photo of this room a few posts ago, but that was before the clutter arrived with the shipping. It is now filled with books, pictures, printers, bits of miscellaneous paper and my trusty Leonardo da Vinci action figure.

Out of my window I can see typical neat suburban houses. A couple of times a day a yellow school bus comes round picking up and dropping off kids. The families here are a complete mix of colours and religions; it’s far more multicultural than where I’ve just left in the West Country. The kids all look like your typical American kids: climbing onto the bus in jeans, sweaters and sneakers… do they realise that most of the rest of the world have to wear school uniforms? It’s a million miles from my old tartan skirt and tie, with regulation bottle green woollen jumper.

So that gives a little snapshot of my surroundings.

Since leaving Leeds in 1998 I have lived in Edinburgh, New York State, Australia, Bristol and Gloucestershire. And now back to America. I have travelled in South East Asia for several months, Central America, Europe, and once did a road trip across America. To say I have itchy feet is an understatement.

It felt quite natural to up and leave to another country. Much of my writing is influenced by places I have been and I was excited to think of the inspiration my new surroundings would give me.

The speech patterns are different in America. It isn’t just the words and phrases people use, it’s the whole rhythm of speech. This also varies hugely by state and by cultural background. I know the language is the same but I feel like a fish out of water every time I go up to someone and ask for something, or speak on the phone. I rehearse what I am going to say. It’s not like you can get away without speaking, everyone talks to you in shops, queues (lines!), lifts, etc. Then there is the slight double-take, pause and, “where is that accent from?” Most people say they “love the way I talk,” which is probably a different reaction than other immigrants might get and maybe I should be grateful for that, but it would be nice to not have to think so much about interactions.

So how have my experiences so far affected my writing?

I am far more aware of speech patterns when writing now. I have written various pieces set in America and I try to make the ‘voice’ authentic.

The landscape, cities, countryside, urban areas, all slip into my writing. I am more respectful of trees now. Forests, rather. Trees here go on for hundreds of miles. There are so many of them. Even in my civilised little suburb I never feel too far from some very wild trees. Nature is bigger here. Everything is bigger! I would like to get a sense of than expansiveness into my writing.

I have started writing more poetry here. Poetry happens when I am feeling introspective, which is not surprising. I have started my second novel, too. Somehow new projects and new beginnings go well together. Or maybe I have just picked up on that infectious American spirit. Yes, we can!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Is it too late for a Halloween poem?

Californian Pumpkin-Carving Party

“Bring beers and a pumpkin,” called Jeff
as he pulled away from the kerb.
I watched him go, dreading the party
but knowing Hot Amy, Jeff’s girlfriend,
(pretty eyes, great ass) would be there
and Jeff said she’d be bringing friends.

Jeff was a big kid: he’d gone to town at Target,
buying armfuls of pumpkin crap
and wheeling the cart out to his car
under the luminous, sun-bleached sky,
sweating with the effort.

Orange scoops and plastic-handled knives,
books with themed transfers and skeleton-
design beer smothered the table
with their kitchness. Hot Amy had taped
a bat transfer on her pumpkin and her tongue
stuck out a little with the work of carving.
Her friend had a thick waist and coffee breath.

My pumpkin was the stray no-one wanted,
left on the shelf as the Christmas decorations
flooded in to take their place.
Too tall and thin to fit a transfer,
I freestyled (after three beers I had
more enthusiasm) and carved a bat like Amy’s.
But not like Amy’s. “Looks like a palm tree,”
said Jeff. So a sawed a trunk.
“That’s not scary,” said Amy’s coffee-breath friend.
I took the little knife out of her clammy hand
and made a couple of raindrops.
“That’s my idea of scary,” I said.