Happy Birthday Laurie Lee – 100 today

 

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.9781781322079-PerfectCover.indd

 

Birthday Wishes

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.

The Radio 4 “Today ” programme carried a headline piece on Laurie Lee, the podcast is now available, see links to other articles carried today.

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….

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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.

 

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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…photo (25)

A new dawn for me beckons…

 

 

 

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An early Easter fair-Books,Books and Books and a chocolate treat !

IMG_2094I am conscious that the blog has been a bit quiet lately.

I have been busy with my new book As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee trying to ensure that it is published before Laurie Lee’s Centenary Birthday on June 26 2014.

 

It will be a close run thing but I am receiving great support from Silverwood Books who are helping me publish, Elly Donovan is helping with advance PR, The Alliance of Independent Authors, ALLI, are providing great support for a first time Indie-author and Debby Young PR is advising on all matters to do with self publishing.

The book is with my editor for a final edit and I am busy sourcing quotes etc

A significant date in my writing calendar year has now become the London Book Fair in April. For the last few weeks I have been asked several times “Are you going to London Book Fair? As it happened I was and I did last week. It is held in Earls Court where in my first life as a Tourism Marketing professional, I would also go once a year to an amazing event called World Travel Market. Over the years I would work on a stand there and promote England, London, the Heart of England, Cheshire, North Wales in competition with the Bahamas, USA, Spain, China and the rest.

It felt a bit like that last week. When I had attended the London Book Fair for the first time in 2012 I had been seeking out mainstream publishers and literary agents to promote my book to them. I got close to securing a deal but the combination of a tight lead in time and not having a track record as a writer, proved too much.

This time I showed up as a writer on the verge of self publishing my book and consciously avoiding the large and not so large publishing houses, apart from a quick chocolate stop at the Choc Lit stand, and discovered a parallel vibrant fringe event happening in a hall at the back of the show. It was much more fun and stimulating and I attended some great talks put on by ALLI, visited the Author HQ area that hadn’t existed the first time I attended. I was also selected to read at a fringe evening event sponsored by Amazon at a heaving and lively Earls Court pub, The Kings Head. Compered by Joanna Penn, it was a great experience and a video will appear soon.

Reflecting afterwards on the Fair, one comment really stuck in my mind. It was Joanna Penn at a seminar that asked her audience of indie-writers whether we felt our books were unique. Many hands were raised including mine. She suggested gently that we might well be wrong to think this and hopefully were wrong. if our books were really unique, she went on to say, we would have no core reader market-a group of people with common interests seeking out books that inspire and reach out to them as individuals. It was a marketing-led comment and one that made sense to me.

It made me think though that as a writer of memoir and biography, I am driven by the desire to give personal stories, or biographical subject stories, a universal relevance. Until recently I thought my forthcoming book was about myself and my relationship with a writer and a country, it was only when I was asked to write a blog recently that I realised that I am writing about the need to have heroes in our lives and the dangers involved therein and the lifelong need to seek the approval of parents, particularly fathers, for our actions-even if they are long dead. This was what I wrote for the Wolfson College, Oxford Life Writing Centre Blog.

So the Fair is over, what’s next for me?

Coming very shortly is a new joint initiative with Silverwood Books. We are launching a crowd funding platform on Pubslush to help market the book by inviting people to pledge to buy a copy in advance in return for some added value benefits like signed copies, invites to the launch etc. Monies raised will also assist in a range of good causes: raising money for the conservation of Laurie Lee Wood (a percentage of book sales receipts will be donated to the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, a not-for-profit body who manage the wood); Pubslush supports literacy projects; the logistics of a sponsored walk by me in September will also be supported. The walk is from Laurie Lee’s Slad Valley home to London, along the Thames Path with proceeds going to a mental health charity.Laurie Lee did such a walk(though not so direct) in 1934 before going to Spain

I have been invited to speak at a British Library conference on Spain in May, Spain Through British Eyes 1898 -1936

June will also see articles by me on the book in Cotswold Life, The Lady and The Good Property Guide Travel Supplement and July will see me at the Penzance Literary Festival talking alongside Kate Lord Brown on writers and artists and the Spanish Civil War.

It is going to be a hectic period with my goal to publish in time for the anniversary.

Wish me luck and any support along the way will be gratefully received.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I Walked Out in Search of Michael Portillo


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I spent much of October over in Spain researching and writing my forthcoming book As I Walked Out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee. The book will be published in the spring of 2014 as part of the celebrations linked to Lee’s Centenary in June 2014. I have to thank Callum Christie who runs a great little Tour Operator “Frontier Holidays” that specialises in walking and cultural holidays in Spain. Callum lent me his home near Ronda as a writing base. Whilst there I met another entrepreneur, Manni Coe, who runs another great little Tour Operation called TomaTours that also does walking, gourmet and cultural short breaks in Andalusia. Manni is a great fan of Laurie Lee too and we had a great evening discussing his books and travels. He tipped me off about a relatively unknown scenic rail route through the Pueblos Blancos region between Algeciras (Next to Gibraltar) and Ronda.

He also told me about meeting Michael Portillo and persuading him to travel the route as part of the opening programme of a new series of Great Continental Rail Journeys that was broadcast last month on BBC2- you can catch it on BBC I-Player though. Michael Portillo does a great job of introducing the delights of Andalusia.

Manni invited me to visit the region and take a ride on the railway. I didn’t need asking twice and spent a great day travelling on Mr Henderson’s Railway and writing about it for Toma Tours. You can read the article here Walking Out In Spain in Search of Laurie Lee

I guess on this occasion I was also keeping a look out for Mr Portillo. I didn’t find him but I did meet him last night at a function in London at the LSE and we did have a quick chat about the programme. He was disappointed that the wonderful meal he had at Caserio ananda adjacent to the Gaucin station platform had to be cut from the programme due to time constraints.

My day spent travelling the railway was a moving one for me and brought back poignant memories.

Knitting socks, wet-eyed squirrels and drinking Cider with Rosie

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.

Malcolm Bradbury-Norwich’s History Man

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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.”