My latest guest post for the Huffington Post on the subject of climate change
My latest guest post for The Huffington Post on the latest trends in self-published writing.
Just in time for all those setting off to Spain for the Easter Holidays !
I was asked last month by Samantha Verant to write a short story for Valentine’s Day. Samantha published her book, Seven Letters From Paris last year.
My story is a true one and you can find it here
“The rose is a rose and was always a rose”
My latest blog is a guest blog for ALLI- The Association of Independent Authors and describes my journey as an indie writer.
Thanks to Chris Tuff Photography for the stunning photo http://ctphoto.moonfruit.com/
Latest Blog Post published in The Huffington Post
The End of the Road
Today is a landmark day for me, a day towards which I have been working for over two years. My book As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee is officially published today and available on Amazon.co.uk as a kindle/paperback.
Laurie Lee would have been 100 today.
There has seen a plethora of articles and broadcasts in celebration of the writer, including an article by me on one of the Book Industry’s leading trade websites Book Brunch. I tell the story behind the research and writing of my book and the journey that I made following in Laurie Lee’s footsteps down across Spain in the summer and autumn of 2012.
Crowd Funding Site Still Live-10 days to go
My crowd-funding appeal at Pubslush.com is standing at 34% with just 10 days to go, if you would like a signed and dedicated copy or a selection of other extras, check out the site and support me in raising money for good causes.
The Wheel Has Come Full Circle
In a strange and magical way my journey has now turned full circle. In my book I mention a lost love of mine that still haunted me as I made my journey down through Spain. We shared a life in Spain in the 1980’s. This is us then….
Just a few weeks ago, through the book, we were re-united and everything just fell back into place as if it was meant to be !
It looks like I have my Indian Summer, my little summer of the quince after all.
A New Dawning
To cap a lovely day I received a small gift from a friend of my mother’s who had just received a signed copy of my book. Pam had heard on the radio that Laurie Lee, who loved plants and nature, always had his favourite rose climbing up and around the front door of his cottage in Slad. It was called “New Dawn” and Pam just happened to have one growing in the garden. She sent my mum back with a cutting for me and here it is…
A new dawn for me beckons…
It is the beginning of a magical sunny day as I drive across the Cotswold Way, high up overlooking the Gloucestershire countryside, lovely views once the early morning mist burns off under the gentle intensity of a warming-up autumnal day.
It is a real “Veranillo del Membrillo” day, as the Spanish in Andalusia say, “a little summer of the quince” – an Indian Summer day – and the English are out en masse to enjoy it.
It feels like a moment snatched away from the inexorable march towards the darker days of winter and I am looking to enjoy it to the full.
I am on my way to the inaugural “Walking with Words” event, inspired and led by Kevan Manwaring, a quiet, gentle Gloucestershire poet. The collection of guided walks and tours stretch from late summer, through the winter and into spring 2014. They celebrate Gloucestershire’s links with classic English writers who took their inspiration from the natural beauty of the county. The collection of writers range from WH Davies, Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, Ivor Gurney through to John Drinkwater. Today though It is all about Laurie Lee, who would have been 100 next year. He is a hero of mine and I am writing a book about his Spanish Civil Wars years, that shaped him as a writer and a man, and a walk that started, well it started from here in Slad, a tiny village in a sumptuous English green valley on the edge of the Cotswolds.
We assemble in front of Rose Bank cottage where Lee grew up, we gaze down the steep bank to the cottage and imagine the scene of little Laurie Lee, only three, being set down from the carrier’s cart. It is 1917 and the Great War is still raging on the once-green fields of France. Laurie recollects his arrival in the village in his first memoir “Cider with Rosie”: “The June grass, amongst which I stood was taller than I was and I wept.”
There are no tears from our slightly surreal group, but I think it is close. Chantelle, a trained archeologist – IT boffin in the public sector by day, a backing vocalist for a progressive band at night – is distracting herself by knitting socks as she watches on. She is not digging up dead bones today, just gently sifting the earth and the air for traces of the spirit of a dead poet. Sylvie, a retired classical violinist who toured the world and once played with the Grateful Dead and taught Joni Mitchell’s daughter, is imagining a stained-glass commemorative centenary piece of Lee flailing against the grass much like a young Don Quijote acting against the whirling blades of the windmills on La Mancha. Sylvia, as vivacious as the uplifting vowel at the end of her name implies, another singer and a poet to boot, whose muse was Joni Mitchell herself, would be in grave danger, I think, if an older Laurie were to appear, armed with his charm, silver tipped tongue and come-to-bed eyes. In the words of the great American singer, that could have been written for Lee, he was all about “Court and Spark.”
We are an eclectic group, many, like me, looking for something, a second chance in life perhaps, after bereavement, divorce, the ending of first careers. Some first lives move into a second phase seamlessly, others end abruptly. Perhaps we are all looking for some of Lee’s alchemy to inspire and transform our lives. Anything is possible, I think, on a day like today, with grasshoppers chirping and apples, both red and green, ripe for the picking.The opening words of Lee’s second memoir “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning” also have Lee standing where we are now. It is 1934, he is 19 years old and he is leaving home. He has no plans other than to walk to London, he doesn’t know that after a year in the capital, his feet would feel restless again and he would walk out again, this time down from the Atlantic coast of the north west of Spain to the Mediterranean…
“The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world.”
We walk for about five miles and circle the valley, like the red kites above us, stopping from time to time to admire views, relive scenes from “Cider with Rosie” and to read extracts from the book. Sylvie reads a piece about Peace Day and the annual blessing from the squire, a man always close to tears on these occasions apparently. Somehow Sylvie creates a more evocative scene than intended when she speaks of the party being welcomed by a “wet-eyed squirrel” on the steps of the manor house. I feel this is in keeping with the spirit of our pilgrimage and that Laurie would have loved the slip of the tongue.
The highlight of the day is visiting the newly christened Laurie Lee Wood, acquired recently by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and now protected from the threat of redevelopment. I had heard recently a BBC Radio 4 programme on the wood and had been touched by the many lovers of nature and Lee’s words who had raised £36,000 in just six weeks to ensure that this particular bit of the Slad valley, immortalised in Lee’s writing, was now secure for generations to come to enjoy. Lee’s daughter Jessy had led the fight to save the wood, continuing the work that her father had started when purchasing the wood when it was threatened by those that know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
We finish back at the church opposite Laurie’s favourite pub,The Woolpack, at his graveside, but not before Chantelle had taken centre stage and with knitting put away and with a glint in her eye had read a few lines from the climax of “Cider With Rosie”, “The first bite of the apple,” Laurie’s first tryst with Rosie who was even prettier than Betty Gleed:
“Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time…never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again.”
Chantelle, for me, had now been rechristened as Rosie and she leads us on to our lunch that we had all earned in the enchanting grounds of the Hawkwood Centre. Our lunch, like our morning, is organic, biodynamic and utterly delicious. No cider though, just apple sauce on the side.
I linger at the end of the lunch and then go back down to The Woolpack and look over the valley again to Laurie Lee’s Wood. I fell in love with Laurie Lee and his writing many years ago when I was drifting on the cusp of manhood, recently he had helped me negotiate a crisis in my life. I am writing a book for Lee’s centenary year that starts on 26 June 2014 and I realize now that on that day too, when Lee would have been a 100 years old, the wood will be one. I am not sure how yet but I want my book, its due date of birth falling at around the same time, to play its own part in conserving the enchanted wood. I resolve to speak to the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust soon.
Norwich is in the news at the moment due to the launch of the latest Alan Partridge film, Alpha Papa set there. For him a sad city so easy to parody. And yet for me, the city and its literary heritage has come to define my attempt to create a Second Chance in Life, the theme of this blog over the last two years or so.
I was entirely unaware of my Norwich links until recently.
As for making headlines recently Norwich was also nominated by Unesco as England’s first City of Literature.
It was only when I was asked to write about Malcolm Bradbury, as part of a project to celebrate this nomination, that I came to appreciate the role of the city in my life. Bradbury was one of the founding fathers, in the 1970s, of the iconic Creative Writing Department at the University of East Anglia on the edges of the city. The university department has been in the vanguard ever since of Norwich’s growing status as a crucible of emerging literary talent.
The commission to write the article was linked to a project to commemorate 26 writers with Norwich connections, from 1094 to the present day, by asking contemporary writers to write about them and the Norwich of the time that inspired them.. A new website 26 for Norwich launched this week, presents the 26 pieces along with the creation stories of how and why the stories were framed and written. My piece is entitled “Say Hello to my Giacometti.”
I am a writer drawn to writing about my literary heroes. Currently I am writing about Laurie Lee and how his life was shaped by a few years in the 1930s by the Spanish Civil War. My book, As I Walked Out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee (seeking a publisher for the run up to Lee’s Centenary year that starts in June 2014), tells the story of how, last year, I retraced Lee’s journey, much of it on foot, across Spain on the eve of the Civil War in 1935. At a time of personal crisis, I was looking for inspiration from Lee and from Spain to try and make sense of my first life which seemed to have become stuck.
I discovered a lot about Lee and about myself. I came to realise that Lee,a heroic figure and constant companian in my adolescence and throughout my life, although on the surface, a successful and fulfilled writer and man, was actually a somewhat tortured and secretive individual. And yet for me, I discovered a new empathy with my erstwhile literary hero, I discovered that failure is a most universal of human conditions and to experience it and be challenged by it, does not always mean the end of the journey.
When I set out to research Bradbury I came upon a number of links that have shaped my own journey towards being a writer:
Susannah Marriott, my non-fiction writing tutor for my book which I started on the MA Professional Writing at the University of Falmouth, started her own journey towards becoming a successful writer and editor by studying at UEA. She taught me to be bold and audacious in style and voice.She also gave me my title for my Malcolm Bradbury article “Say Hello to my Giacometti.“
Richard Holmes, Director of the UEA Lifewriting MA from 2001- 2006 and successful author and biographer, provided the inspiration for my book on Laurie Lee through his innovative book Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. He showed me how immersing yourself in the sense of a place can connect you with people who have been there before and find, in Chatwin’s words “a trail of words and musical notes along the line of the footprints.”
Kathryn Hughes, Professor of Lifewriting UEA , chaired an academic conference on the future of Biography, Turning Points, at UEA in February 2013. The conference inspired my MA Paper on Biographical Writing Trends which was accepted for a possible post conference publication.Hughes introduced me to the Turning Points of Biography, “the event, the collective and the return of the life in parts.” To capture the essence of a biography you have to freeze the crystallising moments of a life and start from there. For me the start and end of Lee’s life turning points was his first step on to Spanish soil in Vigo off the boat from Tilbury in 1935 and the moment in which, as an enlisted International Brigade soldier he killed his one and only Fascist in the Spanish Civil War or did he?
Kashuo Ishiguru who studied for an MA at UEA in 1980 wrote a novel The Remains of the Day that struck a chord with me when I was researching the life of Laurie Lee. The book chronicled the unravelling of a man’s life underneath the novel’s perfectly still surface. A portrait of a wasted life, with 1930s Britain and the movement for appeasement always in the background. A man suddenly sees with clarity the wastelands of “the remains of his days.” He has let his life slip by, a life wrecked not by tragic flaws but by adherence to ideals. “Ideals” Ishiguru shows us,“can corrupt as thoroughly as cynicism.” Ishiguru underlined for me the complacency of my first life and pointed me towards the need to live a second life, before entering “the remains of my days.” Sadly, as I show in my book, Lee also seemed entrapped in a stultifying nostalgia for the England and Spain of his youth, his first and only active life stalling at the age of 23. He saw out his days through a haze of alchohol and drew his last breaths choking on the bitter taste of disappointment and unfulfilled potential.
All roads lead back to Bradbury and his History Man, Professor Kirk, who leaps off Bradbury’s pen like Bram Stoker’s draculan big black dog, stalking and prowling the pages, turning them and people over. The anti-hero Kirk epitomized the amoral tone of the 1970s, the decade when I went to a Polytechnic to study Spanish Literature in an old Lorry Depot in Portsmouth and where I took my first steps in my first life towards becoming a writer in my second life. In my second life I was drawn to the sea to study for an MA (Distinction) Professional Writing at the University of Falmouth and started my book on Laurie Lee.
For Bradbury, the last word falls to him:
He wrote once that ” A landscape comes to life through what has been written in it; writers come to life when we follow in their steps.”
Getting it Right First Time Round
Swimming Home is the title of Deborah Levy’s latest well reviewed novel, her first for 15 years. She was speaking about the novel at an event, hosted by University College Falmouth Department of Writing, last Thursday 25th November 2011.
For me one really interesting story emerged from the Q and A session that followed the reading of an extract from the novel. This told of a serendipitous encounter that radically changed the course of her life as a writer.Levy had been asked what had been the most critical step in her finding her true voice as an author and becoming the writer that she is.
This is what she told us: during a gap year before she was due to go to a traditional English university to study mainstream English Literature , she had been working at a small art house cinema in Notting Hill, London. One week it was showing films by the illustrious director,Derek Jarman.Jarman had asked Levy what she was planning to study and Levy had shared her plans. He took her under her wing for the day, a remarkably kind act by the distinguished director and took her to an art exhibition by Joseph Beuys a performance and installation artist.
The exhibition switched a light on in Levy’s head and she, as a result, decided to change course and study Performance Writing. She ended up studying at Dartington College of Art , now incorporated into University College Falmouth and the rest, as they say, is history.
So: what’s this story doing in a blog devoted to grasping Second Chances in Life?
Simply, I guess, that it illustrates that getting it right in the first place can save an awful lot of time further down the line.
We are not all as lucky perhaps as Levy, which is where” Second Chances in Life” come in.