Update, July 2022

I changed dayjobs at the start of June, which was a bit of a surprise; largely because I was rejected after the interview stage, only to find myself being appointed the following week! Stranger things have typewriter with messagehappened when it comes to me getting and keeping jobs – I’m thankful that the decision went in my favour this time. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen a widening gap between income and outgoings, and while a Society of Authors bursary helped me complete the next collection, it’s ultimately me who sorts the longterm income issues. Here we go again. Between 2008 and 2017, I chased an ever-declining number of jobs while stepping from one collapsing cultural organisation to another. And although it’s tempting to imagine that arts contracts are the most desirable jobs for a creative person, in real life they often aren’t. An artist or writer is usually better off with a regular one offering standard terms and conditions, not one where nobody allows you into the staff meetings because you’re seen as a freelance contributor, and where payments can be delayed for weeks on end.lobster  pots

Surely we are all equal in the democracy of letters! I hear you shout. Sadly, we are not. A while ago I watched a reading where a poet scheduled for the list had to pull out because his workplace needed him for a late shift. Did the remaining poets uphold his slot time and read out his work to the allotted minutes? Did they heck. He was given one poem, identified as his day job instead of his work as a poet, and then off they went, reciting their own verse, taking up their own full percentages of time and maybe a little bit extra too. Now, I’m sure they didn’t see themselves as patronising but that’s how it came across: folks reciting from their book-lined studies while their time-harried friend earned a weeks’ pay elsewhere. It positively screamed class divide to this viewer. I’ll hazard a guess and say that nothing much has moved on since the time of John Clare. Spoken word performers do rather better in this respect as it’s a whole different tradition –  the problem seems to arise when poets who are not already incorporated into the chattering classes insist on occupying the same intellectual space.

mastiles-lane3Well, I don’t have much choice over the next year or so –  the live platforms will have to get along without me being there in person for a while. But I have enough material, there’s that novella doing the rounds, and in the absence of selling books at readings like before the pandemic, I am looking at opening an online shop where you can buy previous collections direct. Until I get my act together (reluctant e-commerce user here!) I’m enjoying online events –  such as the excellent Kendal Poetry festival @KendalPoetry where there was a diverse programme of readings over 24 – 26 June and several open mic opportunities. I’d wanted to hear Paul Batchelor and Rachel Mann for ages, and there they were, broadcasting live on the same playbill from the Lakes. I hope in future I can attend in person again, because the Brewery Poets open mic is always huge fun and there’s an independent hostel right next to the venue. The month ended with a lovely chance to take part in a local history session from the area where I grew up. Although it was pretty much in decline when I left it, there is now a healthy number of community organisations and a cultural centre based in an old Methodist Chapel. They run a radio station @ChapelFM which broadcasts throughout the week, while the Centre provides activities for all ages. If the current Leeds arts scene had existed back in 1984 I might have returned there –  although at the time, I was keen to get away. It was no place for a bookish equality-seeking girl back then.

Update, May 2022

postboxWell folks, I had another pile of rejections – including one from a residency I was particularly interested in because it would have allowed cross-artform working and archive experimentation. I knew where to stay, what days I had available, and an outline plan of what I could do. This, however, was not enough to tempt them into interviewing me. I suppose the timetable-creep didn’t help – for, stunned by the apparent large number of applications (why? don’t they want lots of people?) they emailed to explain that their original schedule was delayed by a couple of weeks. Phew, it’s all those pesky people writing in. However, normal life had already gone ahead, meaning that Other Things Started to Happen. A medical appointment in the week they predicted for their new interviews. And my car needed the garage. What should I do? Maybe point out that I now had Other Things Happening and I would like to know early, if possible, whether I would be called in? Ooft. I received a tetchy note the very next day saying that the schedule had been explained to me already…. and, the day after that, a pro-forma rejection which was, ermm, earlier than they had first said. Now I can’t decide whether they were being helpful, or whether it was a case of: don’t dare approach us saying other things are happening and you need to know…. what were you thinking of, when WE are in the driving seat? Haha, look at what you’ve caused!

I include posts about some of the thumping rejections I’ve had because we all get them but everyone sitshull minster 2 in a cell of their own devising, thinking that theirs is worse than the next person’s. We are all clanging about in the kitchen of half-baked recipes, my friends. Show me a writer who hasn’t got an embarrassing boxload of fails, some of them entirely self-caused like mine. Thankfully, I carried on with the poems in the background, pushing on with this year’s main aim as a result of the Society of Authors award I was granted late last year. I can’t tell you how brilliant this has been, knowing I could –  occasionally –  see the right reaction from the bigger organisations out there.

In early April ‘with his shoures soote’  I took part in my first actual online reading. The Medieval Week at Lincoln University had various research seminars, plus a couple of performance events to leaven the mix, and I was the latter. It made me really happy to share some of the Jongleur translations with the audience, and on checking with Central Books I find there’s only 10 in stock now, after a starting point of 33 a couple of months ago. Yippee! It was also a month for a couple of submissions, once I had built up enough confidence about my work again –  followed by a welcome 4 nights in Teesdale. I was way too early for the rare plants, but there were skylarks rising and lapwings swooping overhead as I walked some of the Pennine Way routes near the hostel. I’m always careful to check the weather forecasts and the kinds of isolation I might encounter – the weather changes instantly up there, and what might look like a scenic bit of mist on the hills soon becomes dense freezing fog where you can’t see your own feet. However, the real danger proved to be slippery paths outside the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, which is not best equipped with signs saying ‘do not walk here when the flagstones are wet’. Yes, I came crashing down like a 5ft sack of spuds; many thanks to my bright green puffer jacket, which took most of the impact.bowes

While I was up there at YHA Langdon Beck, I handed over one of my restoration projects – a nice acoustic guitar I cleaned up and revarnished during lockdown. I like the idea of people who have no instruments getting access to them. And what better place to thrash out some songs than an empty valley in front of you, where no-one else can hear your mistakes.

Update, March 2022

Thanks to everyone who responded so positively to Jongleur. As you can imagine, releasing any kind of work during a pandemic is hazardous… although with the warm weather approaching, it’ll be easier to get out there and promote the thing at book events. Like a lot of people, I’ve become very indoorsy as a result of less choice over the past couple of years – not helped by ripoffBritain thinking that any old backroom will do, when re-opening the tourist hostels. Aside: no chair in the room neither, and the place was undergoing the kind of renovation which involved drills and lots of scaffolding. (0/10). This actually happened to me last year so I know whereof I speak. It will be some time before I go there again; maybe in the next millenium.

But, I am feeling positive due to other reasons too. Last year, I was frequently getting through the week by putting one foot in front of the other until I’d achieved more distance from my dad’s funeral and the work involved. I know there’s a ton of people out there who’ve lost loved ones over the same two year period, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. I didn’t want to do too much over-sharing on here, and I was able to turn things around through concentrating on the arts legacy I was dealing with. I was, however, largely pushing on through the murk until I was able to function properly again.

Now it’s back to wondering how I can shoe-horn myself into the upcoming literary season, labouring under the misapprehension that I’ve written material which is audience-worthy. Having seen the literary event process from the other side, I’m aware of how finely balanced the whole thing is – a person says the wrong sentence and everyone hates them now; a book doesn’t sell, a grant doesn’t arrive in time, or a speaker has to pull out due to illness, or the venue is no longer available – it all combines into a seat-of-the-pants experience behind the scenes. When my first collection came out (with Flambard, 2001) I excitedly posted out 14 submission packages to the various regional festivals and you know what happened? Nothing. Nada. Not a sausage. And I lost 14 books into the bargain. So, if you have secured that panel slot on a Monday morning at 9.a.m. or the Saturday teatime shift as an experimental poetry spokesperson – congratulations. You are definitely winning.

As for me, I’m looking forward to running a workshop which was cancelled in March 2020; we’re doing surrealist poetry collage at Market Deeping Library soon. And I’m invited to a Medieval Week at Lincoln University, which promises to be a grand session of performance and discussion, 1st April at 3pm. If you are interested, see the Lincoln University website and look for medievalist events as run by the English Department. I suppose this means I’d better start rehearsing; I wouldn’t want to let Marcabru or the Comtessa de Dia down.

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I finished the last item on the steampunk costume – the hardest one was converting a short swingback coat into a cape, by opening out the sleeves and re-sewing the seams back onto the coat so that the semi-circular effect was obtained. It’s not a magnificent piece of upcycling by any means, but it does the job and this basic cape can be dressed further with clip-on decorations, secret pockets, and so on. I was surprised that my effort turned out wearable, even though it is two sizes smaller than I would normally use. Now I’m looking at the summer festival lists to see which open promenades I can join. Maybe I’d better add a parasol to the equipage!

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At the time of posting, there is war in Europe. We’ve approached the end of the tunnel over Covid 19, only to find the next horseman of the apocalypse waiting eagerly at the entrance. It seems like blogging and poetry are pretty useless things to be doing when cities are being shelled in Ukraine. But everywhere in Britain the donation centres are taking in supplies and medical aid, and the book community is already organising benefit readings. Little Toller and Bluemoose Books are sending out thousands of childrens’ backpacks with emergency items, reaching over 17k’s worth of donations within two days. No-one is impotent who cares about the fate of another human being.

Update, January 2022

It’s out! Jongleur finally made it onto the bookshelves and into the indie outlets of the east Midlands. In fact the only place where it didn’t land was my own front doorstep, because the wholesaler forgot to post my order, and I thought it had been stolen (that’s Stolen, not Stollen, which I’ve been eating rather a lot of during Christmas). It looked as though someone in the UK had decided that translations of medieval poetry were more profitable on the market than fake Rolex watches and Chanel no. 5. But the repeat order turned up on time, and now I’m ready for any readings in ’22. Anyone interested can get a Jongleur by ordering direct from http://www.centralbooks.com.

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I had good news in November, with a work in progress grant from the Society of Authors – many thanks to @Soc_of_Authors and a shoutout for their life-enhancing six-monthly scheme. I had applied once before and thought about never doing it again – Imposter Syndrome looms large every time I see official schemes or anything else I could apply for. Yet I am working my way through a next collection, and there would never be a better time than now, when I could really do with the grant assistance. So I applied again, and this time, dear reader, it worked. Straight away I did what I’d said on the form, and bought a larger broadband allowance to take care of online readings and workshops. I’ve not been able to access anything for longer than a few minutes thanks to 5GB per month at home – but now I’m swimming in the mainstream, and it’s a whole new world out there.

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I’m performing at open-mics again (hooray) and one of my poems features on the Norwich Cafe Writers website this month. They chose ‘The Original Captain Boomerang’s Death-Defying Stunts’, from The Complete Electric Artisan (Shoestring Press, 2017). You can read it by clicking on http://www.cafewriters.co.uk during the New Year, until c.17th Jan. They have some good readings coming up in 2022, and I’m beaming in to hear the one featuring Wendy Pratt during early January. I’ve often been impressed by her work, and it doesn’t surprise me to see her turning up on shortlists and prize lists each year. She has an impact-making style and isn’t afraid to tackle some uncomfortable subjects. While I’m in a promotional mood, I should really mention Jane Burn, whose Be Feared (Nine Arches, 2021) is rightfully getting a whole lot of attention. I watched the launch in late November, and it was a joyous occasion. We were even treated to a uke song at the end, so I grabbed my own uke from the top of the bookshelf here and played along – not that the other spectators could hear me, because I made sure my video and mic were off.

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Soon, I hope to be joining some of the online Arvon Masterclasses – for while I know their residential weeks are an attractive prospect, they are shockingly expensive now. And what I need is more of a quick fix similar to a 1:1 tutorial, where I know I will walk away with new lines written. In the enforced attachment to ‘home’, I find it harder to think of decent connections and creative ideas – most of what I write depends on input from being elsewhere or watching interactions in real life. I’m rarely using a personal identity model; so I’ve had longer gaps between poems during 2021, when normally I would experience the locations which make it all happen. And what else is on the slate for early 2022? I’m hoping to get a response from the novella I sent out, for a start. I followed the schedule required by a regional press, and I’m now in that hopeless limbo of waiting, while not knowing whether it is okay to send the same material somewhere else. I’ll give it a few more weeks, I think.

I hope you’re getting vaxxed out there. I had my booster jab just before Omicron destroyed everyone’s Christmas, and I keep thinking of the weary NHS staff once more going though the fire because of this virus. At the very least, I can wear my mask and stick to essential shopping only, so that the 2.5 people I might have infected are going home covid-free. A Happy 2022 to you all!

Update, November 2021

The Jongleurs raced towards the finish line, with me proofreading like a thing possess’d while emails to the typesetters flew back and forward like Boris Johnson on an eternal joyride. But it was done at last, and now I await the author copies for this most splendid-looking of collections. I am hoping the translations are entertaining enough, of course – feel free to send any opinions this way, if you’re inclined!

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Of all the poets in the collection, I found Arnaut Daniel the hardest and Rigaut de Berbezilh the second hardest to translate. I think it’s because both of them were fully paid-up members in the game of courtly love, which was far more nuanced than anything we have in the 21st century. The nearest equivalent I can think of is the ‘language of the fan’, used by Regency ladies to signal private messages to their lovers in crowded assembly rooms. Another startling realisation was the amount of gender fluidity made possible through the play-acting which some of the poets engaged in; poetic exchanges could involve same-sex respondents, while every writer added another layer of gamesmanship by giving pseudonyms ( the ‘senhal’} to each participant. A courtly poet could have several rivals, each one potentially granting a different name to the same lady, or conversely, the same lady engaged in pursuing several knights, each one with a different pseudonym and possibly writing to other ladies as well. It’s complicated. And you never knew which level of acceptance you were on until the object of your affections gave you the right code words and the permission to become more familiar with their household. This permanent tenterhooks situation is probably why both Arnaut and Berbezilh sound so wrecked and unsure of themselves. It’s bewildering that people living c.1100 should think up these strategies as a serious way of conducting their lives; but I suppose they had to keep themselves occupied. If no wars were on and the peasants were busy doing the household work, that’s an awful lot of testosterone-fuelled knights roaming the landscape with nothing to do.

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Hooray! There was a real life reading after 18 months. On 10th October, 12 writers from the anthology Hollow Palaces converged on Kimbolton Castle near Huntingdon. The weather was perfect, and we were treated to a really warm and entertaining session with delighted poets and a generous audience. I was on near the start, with two short poems from Secret Villages – this meant I could sit back and enjoy the rest without concerning myself over ‘my slot’. For most of us, it was the first time we had been involved in anything since before the lockdown, and the wave of ecstatic social media afterwards showed just how important these live events are, whether or not the poem is intended for the stage. Thanks to @GreeningPoet and @KevinGardner520.

I live in a county with some pretty good steampunk events… and I’m often in the Yorkshire coastal area, where they also have a lot of steampunk events. I’ve enjoyed seeing the costumes, and I know a couple of my friends are into it, going to the themed weekends with great enthusiasm and what looks like an endless supply of outfits. Now, you’d think I would have caught on sooner than this, given that I’ve got form when it comes to thinking up strange stuff and restoring vintage goods. Finally, at long last, I decided to get together a basic Steampunk outfit then I can go and promenade at some of the free outdoor events. First up was a big skirt, adapted from one I found in a charity shop – at ‘tall fit’ it was floor length on me, and it only needed an extra panel fitting on the side. Then came the bodice, easily made from a leather jacket found in another charity shop; I already had a suitable blouse. I’ve gone for an imaginary tram-conductress/motorist c.1910 as the style guide, and yes, I made some goggles too. They’re my old 1980’s ‘harry potter’ style specs, superglued to some lens-caps from a pair of binoculars. Should I ever be in the situation where I really need to wear them, I’ll be fine because my prescription hasn’t changed much. An evening outfit comes next….

Update, September 2021

Pleasant news this time, despite the pandemic and more than one emergency in the world. You might already know about the Art Trove because there’s a separate page this year (see above) and I’ve mentioned it in earlier posts (scroll below). But I was wondering what to do with the rest of the works, seeing as how they’re available to be sold, yet I don’t have the right platform to do it. Now, I knew the name of the gallery which used to sell Dad’s work, but I hesitated to contact them because times have changed and art fashions are not the same. I was also concerned about rejection and the resulting idea that my options were already limited enough. Imagine my surprise therefore, when a photo showing the very same gallery came up on Twitter from one of the northern poets (@ianduhig). The next day would have been the artist’s 96th birthday, so the timing was pretty good. How many hints did I need? So I wrote to the gallery on Dad’s birthday, and (to cut a long story, etc.) a week later I was heading up the A1 with a packet of watercolours and a selection of unused frames. It was a joyful time, handing them over to an outlet which had a real link with the artist and far more business nous than I’ve got. So, if anyone is interested, see: www.headrowgallery.co.uk and look under any criteria like watercolour, original, landscape, or the artist’s name. As I drove back down the A1 with an emptier car boot, I closed a trapdoor on most of the bereavement period too. Earlier in July, I delivered a painting to @thekettlewell as a community give-back to the village which inspired a lot of art and consequently a lot of cheques during the 1970’s. It seemed like the right thing to do, and there will be plenty of viewers as visitors stay in the hostel!

And what’s happening in the literature department, given that I’ve had a summer break to achieve summat solid? Well, the Jongleur collection is about to leap forward as the editorial people at @BookTypesetters get to work (I’m in a holding pattern behind other books) so we’re looking at an Autumn release if things go well. The cover is wow, so if you think the poems are a lot less flowery than medieval verses should be, these are offset by the multicoloured psalter effect of the jacket. Submissions are also taking place: a novella window opened at a Manchester-based press, and I think I have something ready that fits their specifications. I like that the publisher keeps things simple – instead of entry fees and hurdles, one buys any book or e-book from their site. This is a good way of getting around the writers v readers imbalance, and I end up with something I want. While that submission is being looked at, I dragged out the hardcopy folder I keep for the most recent novella, the one described by the Free Reads consultant as having ‘never seen anything quite like this’. I reckon that’s reason enough to carry right on, and I have finally typed up the whole of the second draft so that I have a good working platform for the revision phase, which comes next. I was thankful to finish on the last available day before having three nights’ hostelling in the Dales again. As I didn’t have much time exploring the area in July, I was back there again in August, walking round some of the places I remembered from growing up in Leeds. Linton in Craven was probably the most atmospheric one – it has a William Blake/Samuel Palmer vibe, and it really was ‘where I used to play on the green’! The YHA had an old hostel in the village, and we stayed there regularly.

Only one reading on the horizon, but it’s early days in the late pandemic wasteland. It feels as if we are picking ourselves up after a living a plotline by John Wyndham or HG Wells. But I’ll be near Huntingdon on 10th October, at the the Hollow Palaces launch in Kimbolton Castle, 2.30pm – 4.30 pm. This is a fine old venue, perfectly suiting the subject matter of the anthology, which is – crumbling towers and all things manorial and castellated. The book is published on 1st September, edited by @GreeningPoet and @KevinGardner520. It is available from Liverpool University Press, £19.99.

Update, July 2021

Well, dear reader, I got there. Half term coincided with the best weather so far, and it was 4 nights in Northumberland at last. Believe it or not, a socially-distanced holiday is as good as any other when you’re in the right place and you’ve brought enough entertainment with you! I walked the endless beaches at Lindisfarne, climbed the vertiginous staircase at Preston Tower, explored the delights of Chillingham, and wore out my shoes on the streets of Berwick -on-Tweed. So many mysterious castles and early medieval churches up there, and thanks to having forgotten my OS maps, I have only discovered a fraction of them. I stayed at Wooler YHA, which has shepherd’s huts as well as individual rooms this season. I usually go economy class and get a dormitory bunk, but Covid has halved the bed capacity and everyone had their own room instead. I hope all these excellent places survive the pandemic; any hostel managers who haven’t falsely raised their prices or slapped an enormous ‘weekend supplement’ on their normal rates deserve to be supported. But it is bad enough seeing the effect of lockdowns and no tourism on the small towns. Empty shopfronts and closing down sales, opening hours cut to the minimum, and no choices left in the bakery takeaways when formerly, the chalkboard menus would have everything available. The weather says ‘Summer’, but the local economy says ‘Winter’. It’s going to be a long haul out of this dreadful time.

I’ve been preparing for the next real-life Newark on Trent Book Fest. which happens over the weekend of 10/11 July, shortly after this update has gone out. As the Literature Village has shorter hours on the Sunday when I’m going, I ought not to take so much stock that I’m bringing it all back with me at the end of the day. Realistically, poets only sell a few of each collection at these events. Last time – in 2019, a world ago – I also had open-mic instruments and sound effects with me, things I’d rescued and restored from junkshops and sales during the time when I worked in community arts. Needless to say, these proved more popular than my books… so I’m doing the same again. If I find that restored instruments produce more ‘result’ for a second time I’ll know what to bring in future. Generally, a mainstream novelist or a local historian can sell a shedload of copies locally – but poetry is always a slow seller unless one is fully backed with big performance credentials, or premiering a latest collection with other people at the same time. My next opportunity for the latter won’t arrive until later this year, when Jongleur is released. No details on that one yet!

Jongleur took up the project time I would normally spend on my own poems, which means I’m back on default setting now, i.e. writing assorted material which still doesn’t fit a particular group of themes. I am therefore on two pamphlets at the same level and wondering which one will take the next leap towards completion. As if confirming that problem, I can’t think of a title yet for either of them. Earlier publications came with a readymade title: Candleshoe was written to a design, and so was the earliest pamphlet, Newborough County. No such luck with the current two, although the place and landscape atmosphere continues in one of them and it looks like being the governing idea. Meanwhile, online journal 192 has published a poem in its number 3 issue: thanks to the editor Colin Bancroft for that. He also runs the Poets’ Directory, listing loads of outlets and opportunities. It’s a valuable resource, recommended if you never know where to look and where changing editorships mean that you have to change your outlets. The latter point can’t be emphasised enough. Sometimes it really isn’t your poem that’s wrong; new associates and interns always like to make their mark, and sometimes they are opening a new direction for a mag which isn’t you.

And by the end of June I am rattling with antibodies like a badly co-ordinated jingle stick. After my first jab in March, which produced a spectacular range of side effects similar to all of the menopause symptoms in one go – a more harmonious second jab sends me confidently into the summer. I hope those nasty little covid balls bounce right off. Solidarity to the poets out there, managing dayjobs and home lives as well as creativity throughout the pandemic.

Stop Press!

Two fine paintings from the watercolour legacy are going back to Yorkshire in July: one of Kettlewell in springtime is re-homed at an independent hostel in the village where it was painted, while the same view in autumn is joining the permanent art collection at Craven District Council. Big thanks to the Museum team for their interest and enthusiasm.

Update, May 2021

For anyone still hesitating about vaccination or worried about the media surrounding AstraZeneca, I’d say – don’t wait. Yes, I felt a bit rubbish for a while; but I had a much worse reaction to the tetanus booster jab I once had, when working for an archaeological site. Every day (until 2020, that is) people were getting all kinds of crazy jabs just to go on holidays and work placements abroad. By having your anti-Covid shot, you can help save the lives of whoever you come into contact with, until the general nightmare is over. On with the literature, then.

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W.H.Davies finally turned up – Essays on the Super-Tramp Poet (Anthem, 2021). It’s a good one for a college library, bearing in mind that the cover price is £80 and this is how academic publishing works. And maybe I ought to explain at this point why I’m not publishing in academic circles more often, given that I have a PhD. (Sometimes I’m asked about this, as in ‘why haven’t you done X or Y’ as though I haven’t already tried) It’s assumed – if you have a lecturing job – that you’re willing to write for free; your institution carries on paying your salary as normal, and any publication adds to your research credit score, which gains your institution better marks on the national listings. That’s fine when writing is your job. But look what happens if you’re not a lecturer on the same contract. If you’re a semi-detached freelance worker, or doing a different job entirely, with research journeys on your days off. You end up scrabbling for information while shut out of relevant libraries, and you’re up against tenured folk who can call on research grants and fellowships from their own employers. You are going less than half the distance while your research takes twice as long, and you receive no benefits unless the publisher throws a free copy of the book at you, like a bun to a circus elephant. I’m glad I am in this Davies book; the invitation came at a very welcome point. But I knew after previous efforts that continuing with much academic work was a fast route to negative equity, given that the university jobs scene had collapsed by 1997. There’s other issues too, which come up now and then: the cost of these books, which is clearly unwarranted and can be done more cheaply by any publisher – and the copyright, which some institutions claim for themselves as part of your employment ‘deal’. The moral of this story is of course, be careful who you sign up with… and know which type of essays you are prepared to write.

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My reader’s report came back, hurrah! Weirdly, the report told me how uncommercial the prospect was and how hard it is to get published, which wasn’t on the list of questions I sent in. I think I already know enough about how hard it is to get published, thankyouverymuch. What I needed to know was whether it worked, as a storyline, as a style, as text. They should at least give me the benefit of the doubt over a) maybe not having started writing yesterday, and b) maybe being quite committed, leastways, committed enough to finish something I started a year ago. Heck, guys, just sign me up and I’ll be one of your panel readers, how about that? But on the whole, it was a useful-to-positive response, and I loved the sentence declaring ‘I have never seen anything quite like this’. What, not in all your born days, mister? I can point to at least one 20th century novel where I took a conscious influence. Oh well, on with the show; I can always release sections of it on here once I’ve finished. Thanks anyway for the attention from the organisation behind it all, and I would certainly recommend that anyone should take up a Free Read or its equivalent, if their local literature org. operates this scheme. We need these routes and suggestions, particularly in a time when writers’ groups are not happening in real-life and real-time.

The troubadours are still in Development Hell – I’ve had the collection back, with many edits suggested, and I’ve been batting my way through them like a good ‘un. I was very happy that some versions found their way onto @TheHighWindow, because the editor there has a background in languages and he would have rejected the lot if I’d been wrong. Thankfully, his reactions gave me a great deal of confidence, and I am able to go ahead with the collections edit while feeling on solid ground. There is something about the Middle Ages which editors can’t place – these far-off knights and literate peasants seem to behave like people we can recognise, and yet – there’s the elaborate conventions, the non-standard phrasing, and a distressing attraction to waging war. But their songs are still haunting – there’s plenty of the music available on You Tube – and we owe such mind-boggling cathedrals and decorative arts to their vision and talent. I’m hoping the collection I provide can bring more readers towards an appreciation of their spoken-word literature. Moreover, it will be affordable – remember the £80 academic book above? Well, in searching out material for Jongleur, I came across editions of individual troubadours costing from £250 – £500. You’ll be able to get mine for less than £10.

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Stop Press! Good news. One of the Bernard Parkers (shown here) has gone to a new home in the North West.

Update, March 2021

The collection of Troubadour versions went off to the publishers at last – the title is Jongleur, and I’ll post details on here when there is some solid news on its appearance. At the moment, it’s gone into what the film-makers call ‘Development Hell’, or in medieval terms, a non-specific period of wandering around an unfamiliar landscape, expecting something to happen at any moment, but with no idea when. Meanwhile, several of the poems are available on The High Window’s website edited by David Cooke, who linked it back to an earlier set of translations/versions by Peter Sirr (from Sway). There are also, I believe, soundclips: but not by me, as I was busy finalising the pamphlet text at the same time as the website was being devised. And I pronounce Occitan like someone from the north with a grade 1 CSE in French and a failed German O level (yes, those were my real results). As you can tell, the teachers didn’t put me off Europe; and I’ll be doing some rehearsal effort then I can deliver a stanza in the original once the work is in print. So, if you’d like to read about Na Castelloza’s problems with her boyfriend, or Giraut de Bornelh’s lament for his best mate Raimbaut d’Aurenga (d.1173) head across to The High Window, where the poems will be listed under the Supplementary Posts tab now, after being frontpage news during February.

I did indeed qualify for a TLC Free Read – hooray! Any day now (‘development hell’, remember?) I will receive a report back from their august mandarins, who will be able to advise me on the best way forward with the script. It is no good being under a misapprehension that the novella is publishable or funny or atmospheric, or any of those other desirable things, if it is predictable and cliched and unlikely to go anywhere. I know that writing tutors often say ‘write for the love of it’, and this might be the case with poetry, where you don’t expect to sell hundreds of copies. But I have always believed in taking a more robust attitude to other forms of writing, and if you are spending years on a project that might end up in the bin, I would bin it sooner rather than later. My characters usually feel ‘real’ in that I can imagine their lives beyond the page and the conversations they’re having – I know what their homes and workplaces look like even though I haven’t been there myself. But no matter how real the people might seem, they will just have to sit it out in the world of Otherwhere if no publishers are willing to take a chance on them.

Meanwhile we are all still living in lockdown with nowhere to go and nobody to see it with. I can’t wait to restart the things I was aiming to do last year, and I regularly check the re-opening dates for the YHA network. But I hope they’re not charging £60 for a bunkbed, which is what they attempted last year in the brief period between the covid waves. In these arrested times, it helps to do any kind of creativity no matter how modest – sewing brighter buttons onto an old tunic, turning a collection of beads into a wearable necklace, doing yet another exercise in de-cluttering. I’ve never made so many carry bags out of recycled fabrics. Ironically, this is what people were doing in the evenings before TV and the internet. Quite likely we are all travelling backwards to the time of the Troubadours again, where a metal-plated poet might ride out of the forest on his battle-horse, asking if anyone has seen his manuscript. Stay well and safe, everyone – let’s all be there at the poetry parties and the packed festivals in future, sharing the food and talking across tables without a care in the world. Until then, make every day count.

Update, January 2021

I’m glad to be rid of 2020 and here’s to a better time for all in ’21! Vaccines are on their way at last, and while live events are pushed ever further back as lockdown succeeds lockdown, it has to end at some point, yes really. Be hopeful that we can all get back to hearing our writers at events, and playing our parts at open mics and regional festivals. I’m lucky that the East Midlands ‘scene’ is welcoming and inclusive, with organisations that make it easy to get involved. And when nothing is happening, there’s a wealth of heritage and landscape to help with achieving the right frame of mind for creativity.

If you’re a regular visitor on here, you’ll know I don’t often adopt the hard sell – this site is one of the free WordPress templates so it doesn’t have any e-commerce tech in the background – but anyone who wants a book or a workshop can contact me through the Shop Stop page or leave a comment on the frontpage here, and I’ll be in touch shortly afterwards. Now, thanks to acquiring the arts ‘estate’ which was my late and much loved father’s, I have several watercolours for sale this year, some of which are also available as posters. I’ll be running a proper real-time exhibition (subject to Covid regulations) but anyone who’d rather be ahead of the curve can consult the new page on here, Bernard Parker Watercolours, and I can arrange a sale and delivery as needed. I can send different images too, since not all the available artwork is shown. I’m leaving this page up for 2021 or until I’ve sold the work, whichever is sooner – for although I don’t mind my dad barging in on my site, I’d rather it didn’t become miscellaneous and like someone selling off the contents of the family attic.

I’ve always had a love of musical instruments, so imagine how delighted I was when I saw this construction-kit hurdy gurdy. It turned out to be the best way of spending a lockdown Christmas – it wasn’t possible to visit anyone, which meant a radical change in routine. So I forgot about the turkey and instead, spent my time sticking wooden pegs into pieces of plywood. And it did a great deal to take my mind off the kind of stuff we’re all worrying about; and after three or four days of effort, I had this beautiful item complete with working keys and lots of cogs. It’s about a third of the normal size and the sound is consequently small, but I’m assured that suitable modifications will turn it into more of an instrument. For now though, it’s a lovely piece of decorative art and I’m glad I took the time to build something instead of doom-scrolling and watching DVD’s.

OK, so what’s happening in the Literature department for 2021? I’m nearly at the end of completing the troubadour translations, and this will be delivered over the next couple of months – whereupon I’ll be waiting anxiously for the readers’ report. Meanwhile, I have one of my typescripts already out there in the field, and results are also due in. I’m hoping they don’t all come back in the post on the same day – because believe it or not, I once had a massive rejection on my birthday no less, when I was sitting happily on the Yorkshire moors checking my emails (note: big mistake). At least I had a lot of space to run around screaming in. Then, there’s the TLC Free Reads scheme, which I should be eligible for this year – and an enjoyable (to write!) novella I’ve been engaged on might find its way onto that scheme if I’m lucky. I would love an impartial considered opinion on where it’s at and how it should progress – largely because it’s a new departure for me in terms of style, and while I might think it has an audience, other people might think otherwise. It’s as well to find things out before I sit down to write the next draft.