Well, on the weekend when I’d normally be at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival, I’m going to the Lincoln Ukulele Festival instead, for a day of general jollity and thrashing at my Cordoba 15SM. For any other ukers out there, I can recommend the Cordobas as reliable; not only a sweet balanced tone but extremely durable, which is necessary when you’re carting it around and it’s likely to end up beneath a suitcase in the boot. Alas, I’m no musician – I can do the chords and make a noise, but I don’t think I’ll be taking a solo slot any time soon….
I’ve always been intrigued by instruments, yet I’m no good at playing them unless they’re the ones everyone else can do, like the recorder or the kazoo. Back at Middle School I was surrounded by friends who could play all sorts, including one who dragged a fullsized acoustic guitar around which was taller than herself when it was stood up on end. I only had a very shrill Schott recorder made from Bakelite, which wasn’t about to set the orchestral world ablaze. And I believe that a fundamental inability to do ‘proper music’ is the reason why I diverted into poetry so early on – it’s the same wish to unite sound and rhythmic ideas along with sense.
Off to Lincoln then, for singarounds and a lot of cake at the interval. Meanwhile I’ve recently acquired a new jangly little companion, a Portuguese cavaquinho. I can recommend these too, for anyone out there who likes a change from the uke – they’re not loud, but full of character, and ideal for players with small hands. It’s taken me all day to get the strings right (a common problem) but now I’ve cracked it, I can’t put the thing down.
The Much Wenlock Poetry Fest will be back next year I hope; it’s on the poetry calendar now, and run by an expert group of people who’ve gone from 0 to 60 in just a few years. One of these, the founder Anna Dreda, also runs a terrific independent bookshop on the main street, a sort of dream-bookshop with crooked stairways and wooden floors, surprising corners and a warm atmosphere. If you’re over there in Shropshire, call in and buy something, even if it’s just a card or a local map. Without the indie bookshops, without the enthusiasts giving their time, there’s no ‘scene’ for us to feel a part of when we dare to call ourselves poets.
It’s out! The Complete Electric Artisan has arrived – or rather, a small number of author copies are here, while Central Books (the distributor for Shoestring Press) gets the rest. As I will usually have a few copies in for sale, anyone who’d like one can contact me using the Shop Stop page on here, and I’ll get one in the post to you for the cover price of £8, which includes postage. If you’d like to know about Inspector Plank and his curious rural crimes, The Original Captain Boomerang, troubled office situations, and the main problem with being a single woman at work…. here’s a chance to find out. I sent an earlier version of this collection in for an East Midlands-based poetry award; and while I didn’t win, the judging chairman Kerry Featherstone sent me a lovely quote which I’ve used as advertising blurb. Here it is:
‘Brilliantly imaginative, with echoes of Victoriana and the uncanny, but also able to deliver hard-hitting reality,’
Thank you Mr Featherstone, it really helps. Anyone who works on their own material at production stage will know about the dreaded blurb and marketing USP, and how embarrassing it feels to be advertising your own wares like a street hawker back in Dickens’ time. With occasional help from the regions’ literary workers, we can all get to the finish line looking polished and ready.
I have a few copies of Candleshoe still available, and anyone who wants this longer collection and a copy of the Artisan can have both for £15, including postage. You’ll save £2. Meanwhile, I’ll be out on the platform at Lowdham Book Festival in June, and doing Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, on May 11th. Think I’m teamed with Roy Marshall for the Lowdham; he’s got a great blog focussing on all aspects of poetry, which you can also find on WordPress.
An unexpected start to the year, with a brand new p/t day job… closely followed by a welcome acceptance for the next poetry collection, The Complete Electric Artisan, which I’d submitted during July last year. This will be published by Shoestring Press, hopefully in the Spring – although you never know with small-press schedules. I’m hoping to announce any readings on Twitter when the time comes; in the past I’ve had fantastic launch venues like Lowdham Book Festival and Leicester’s Shindig, or the States of Independence Press Fair which is normally held at DMU in March. So here I am battling through the early weeks of a new job, plus making the final adjustments to what will be my fourth for Shoestring, and a fifth collection overall.
Not only that…. in late 2016 I applied for an Arvon grant so I can have a go at musical theatre writing. I missed the course in November, and not being able to do it without a grant, I applied again and – hooray – was awarded one! So I’ll be heading for that old mill-owner’s house in Heptonstall instead of going on my summer hols. I know the area anyway because I’m from West Yorkshire; those folded valleys with long chimneys sticking up above the trees are part of my landscape. But I’m hoping the unique Arvon atmosphere helps me to write some song texts then I can devise a touring show in the future.
I suppose this entry illustrates one thing above all – no matter how much rejection you might have experienced in the past, sometimes the door opens and you can go roaring in. You have to prepare the ground in advance and not give up. It’s the only way. And, when you get a sudden upswing of interest for no apparent reason, you won’t go headless-chicken with the sheer enormity of it all, and what it really means to your deepest self.
Hello again. And it’s new release time, because Part 2 of the Vicarage trilogy is available on Kindle from 6th October. The first book in the series is advertised on here, but of course there’s that handy function on Amazon where you can read a much longer extract before deciding whether to download the whole thing. Part 2 is A Tiny Rural Parsonage, and it continues the story of the trouble-hit Devauden family, this time relocated to a horrible parish in a rural wasteland far away.
As you might expect, things don’t go according to plan, and the unlikely pairing of Alice and Derek struggles onward through a mire created largely by themselves. I’m pleased to say that their children aren’t turning into fragrant middleclass offspring any time soon, and Alice’s dreadful friend Rosemary continues to snipe from the sidelines. I didn’t base the rural location on anywhere exactly, but it’s a kind of parallel Midlands – one of the featureless parts where you step off the motorway and you could be in any of five or six counties. However (sssh!) the Cathedral you hear mentioned from time to time in both books corresponds roughly with Gloucester. ‘Cos it’s lovely, and I imagine most readers will know of it as one of the finest medieval buildings.
I sent part of the Tiny Parsonage script off to the TLC editing/critical read service because I qualified for a free session this time – and I can recommend this service to any nervous novelists out there. I gained a few useful insights and even acted on them before uploading the whole thing. There isn’t much guidance for writers once you’re out in the world marketing your stuff, so if you need that extra push, try the TLC. Our regional writers’ orgs. generally advertise when the free reads are on offer, so you can’t lose if you fall into that shortage-of-regular-salary bracket….
Well, it’s the usual mix of frantic activity contrasted with empty periods when there’s not only a whole stack of rejection notices, but no poems coming from my end! Thankfully the pendulum swings on, and eventually there’s something to show for it all; a set of poems in an anthology, opportunities to pursue, the chance to participate in a festival.
Something Happens, Sometimes Here came out in late 2015, showcasing several of Lincolnshire’s poets – including the Carcanet authors Rory Waterman and Alison Brackenbury, fellow Shoestringers Robert Etty and Kathryn Daszkiewicz, Sam Gardiner (who got into the TLS, no less!) David Cooke and Mike Blackburn. You can obtain a copy of this fine representation of rural strangeness by contacting Five Leaves Press or the usual distributors, Inpress or Amazon.
As a result of the anthology, I was recently recorded for the special collections archives at Lincoln University. On a boiling day in a glass-walled room like a pressure cooker, yours truly performed into a small audio gizmo, avoiding the sounds of students dropping books and scraping chairs next door. It was a whole lot of fun; thanks to sound engineer Mark Mullen and archivist Claire Arrand. I’ve also signed up with Soundcloud, so if anyone hasn’t heard me read (and given the vast number of good performing poets out there, it’s quite likely you haven’t) a few audioclips can be found under my name with poems including ‘The Plaque, The Chandelier…’ and ‘My Tabloid Relationship Hell Scenario’.