Sunday, 14 April 2013
Wednesday, 20 February 2013
When I submitted a proposal to the Nottingham Festival of Words last summer, I had wanted to present a selection of pieces from my anthology ‘While Giants Sleep’ but in a different format from its previous excursions. At the Wirksworth Festival last September and at other outings, I had acknowledged the ragged and diverse nature of the collection and read a sample that reflected the range of styles and subject matter.
Here's the gist of my Nottingham presentation with the rather ponderous title above which I tried to organise around a set of questions:
· Is there a link between demanding physical activities like climbing and walking and the process of writing?
· Do both of these help us develop a sense of well-being and do we use metaphors drawn from climbing more frequently than we recognise to help us get through life’s difficulties?
· Finally, is ‘wilderness’ more of a psychological concept than a geographical one?
I had also wanted to refer to other writing to help illustrate why I thought these were interesting questions to ask and to point towards some possible answers.
So, my hour’s talk ended up looking something like this:
· A new piece of writing, not included in ‘Giants’, about my first ever rock climbing experiences back in 1965 as part of a church youth club in my home town of Weymouth. In this piece, 'One Step Beyond', I tried to convey the ‘hook’ that climbing buried in me, the sense of the wider world it opened and the escape it offered from a seemingly pre-ordained and rather dull path through life.
· I then read some extracts from Lakoff and Johnson’s 1980 book ‘Metaphors We Live By’ and focused particularly on the extent to which, in our culture, the ‘orientational metaphor’ of Up – Down is so deeply associated with health, control, wealth, virtue and happiness (Up) as opposed to sickness, death, lack of control, poverty, depravity and sadness (Down). If we accept this pervasive metaphor, then it isn’t hard to see why the act of climbing up can acquire such a range of positive associations.
· Next I read my poem ‘Northumberland, August 1996’ and turned to a discussion of the concept of ‘wilderness’. The four day walk that inspired the poem had felt delightfully remote despite passing through and spending the night in little villages. When I revisited by car a few years later, I was really surprised by the fact that there was a road running all along the far side of the sand dunes and that I had been little more than a quarter of a mile from this for most of my walk. In one sense, I had always known this from the map but the act of walking, the tiring and glorious process of keeping going, had allowed me to experience a strong and satisfying sense of wilderness nevertheless.
· I referred at this stage to Robert McFarlane’s book ‘The Wild Places’ and particularly the passage in which he describes swimming off Chesil Beach out into West Bay. It is a place I know well (the beach not the actual watery wastes of the bay) and I found it really interesting to think of this as a form of wilderness. It wasn’t that far from busy caravan parks as the crow or the albatross flies, but it was stunningly inaccessible and any visit such as McFarlane’s depended on courage and considerable physical exertion.
· This discussion was followed by my prose poem ‘Whistling Down To Jomson’, an account of walking through the wild lands of the Khali Gadanka valley on the circuit of the Annapurna massif in Nepal.
· Then we briefly explored the concepts of wellbeing and resilience, the latter being defined as the ability to cope well in the face of adversity and the maintenance a positive sense of self.
· Next, I read a section from my piece ‘Men and Women and the Rock’ which attempts to demonstrate the resilience-building effects that rock climbing can have. In this particular section, I described an ascent of the Bastille Crack in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado at the time of a relationship break up in mid-life.
· The final injection of ‘theory’ was taken from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s 1990 book ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’. ‘… The mystique of rock climbing is climbing: you get to the top of the rock glad it’s over but really wish it could go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…’ (I had been worried that I wouldn’t be able to pronounce the author’s name correctly but, no worries, a fluent Hungarian speaker popped up completely unexpectedly from the audience, as they do, and put me right).
· My final selection was ‘A Taste of Life’, a piece written after the deaths of two friends in a mountaineering accident in 1989. In the context of this tragedy, I was attempting to illustrate an aspect of climbing that motivates enthusiasts, that of the pure concentration developed and refined to an almost ecstatic degree during the ‘hard move’ on a climb – pure Flow.
It was a busy hour but there was still some time for audience participation and it was during an early discussion that somebody pointed out that, although the ‘Down’ pole of the ‘Up – Down’ metaphor had such frequently negative connotations in our culture (e.g. falling from grace, falling into depression, economic decline, etc. etc.) we do also nonetheless treasure greatly our human capacity to fall in love!
Posted by andy at 01:53
Sunday, 27 January 2013
At Nottingham's first ever Festival of Words there will be a diverse range of author talks and readings, children's events, panels, workshops and activities involving words in one form or another. Taking its inspiration from Nottingham's lace industry, an important thread in the city's heritage, the festival complements the Lace Season events occurring throughout the city.
A programme outlining all events, which run from 9th-24th Feb 2013, with details of how to book can be viewed and downloaded at:
I have been fantastically fortunate to have been selected to present an hour session on Sat 16th Feb which I am calling 'Climbing Through Life'. It will begin at 4pm. I’m intending to read relevant excerpts from While Giants Sleep and other pieces to develop the themes of climbing and long distance walking as metaphors for some of the big challenges that life throws at us all. And by challenges, I don’t just mean physical ones, the arduous or the risky, but also events like growing up and growing old, adult relationships and those between parents and children, living fully and living well.
Hopefully, the content of the pieces will be interesting enough to enable them to stand alone. But I also hope to engage the audience in discussion about the types of metaphors they themselves draw upon when considering life’s challenges. And these challenges need not necessarily involve getting one’s boots on. Caring for an elderly relative could, for example, provide as equally a striking example of application and persistence as an arduous alpine trek.
I have been given a superb opportunity by Elaine Aldred to develop these themes and talk more generally about my writing on her excellent blog:
If you visit Elaine's blog you will be able to read interviews with a range of writers who will be appearing at the Festival and so get a much more detailed idea of the wide range on offer.
Posted by andy at 03:01
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Nottingham's leading cultural, art and sports magazine and website, LeftLion, has just published this very positive review by journalist Oliver Clark of last Wednesday's Word of Mouth. I found it a very enjoyable evening to be a part of and the review below is copied here with permission. .
The full details of LeftLion's publications can be found at www.leftlion.co.uk
Antenna played host to another enticing writing event on Wednesday 21 November. A variety of authors, poets and scriptwriters came together for Word of Mouth – Journeys, to celebrate themes of travel and free expression.
It had been nine months to the day since three members of the feminist punk group, Pussy Riot, were arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment for hooliganism. On February 21 2012, five of the members staged a performance on the soleas of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Their protest was directed at the Orthodox Church leader's support for Putin during his election campaign yet it was perceived as having the means to disgrace the church. Word of Mouth – Journeys was therefore part of a larger celebration across the country to acknowledge the right to freedom of expression and openly disagree with their prosecution.
Nottingham Writers’ Studio was in partnership with organisation PEN for the event. PEN has 145 centres in more than 100 countries and fights for writers around the world who are imprisoned or persecuted for sharing their writing. There was an opportunity to become a member of English PEN throughout the evening for a small fee of £3.75 a month.
After purchasing a much-needed glass of white wine to overcome the bitter November cold, I parked myself down and got ready for a series of inspirational readings. Three time novelist,Megan Taylor, greeted us warmly on the stage and encouraged any Twitter addicts in the room to “tweet” their thoughts using #womjourneys. Incorporating technology into performance is something that the Writers’ Studio have been experimenting with for a while, a previous WOM included Skype readings from around the world.
The journey began at Grandma’s house as Alison Moore indulged us with her short story,Sleeping Under the Stars. Recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 for her first novel, The Lighthouse, Alison captivated the audience with her heartwarming story. As soon as I heard the words “fat coils of licorice,” I knew her imagery alone was enough to keep me hooked. On this reading alone I’ll be looking forward to her first short story collection next year with Salt.
Richard Goodson picked up the pace shortly afterwards with a reading of two short poems. The first described a train journey that incorporated the harsh world of cosmetic surgery. His second poem on self-awareness of the human body during a long distance run really captured my attention. I distinctly remember lungs compared to ravenous dogs and the saltiness of sweat alike to a joint of ham. If I was to shut my eyes for just a second, I could experience the exhaustion he described. It’s safe to say that I don’t exercise that often so it was a challenge to relive those moments. Richard is also known for setting up the Word Jam network for writers in Nottingham. (See above for a previous WOM performance by Richard)
Winner of the 2011 Yeovil Literary Prize for Poetry, Andy Miller, was next to take his place on the stage. His poetry gave us an insight into his own travels on the Northumberland coast and as far as the Himalayas. His prose poem captured precious snapshots of family interactions, aromas and detailed surroundings. I found myself picturing similar details from my own travels, details that I had taken for granted. Andy certainly opened a portal for us to enter and walk alongside him.
Laura Grevel ventured through this portal during her own reading. Her animated performance had her literally running on stage as her character did in her short story. Every change in pace was contributed with a gesture so we could experience the urgency of her character. Laura’s writing is complimented by an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and an example of the diverse range of writers homed up at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio on Stoney Street.
After a short interval, I found myself avidly tweeting my thoughts (making sure to hash tag of course) when poet and poetry producer, Robin Vaughan-Williams, opened the second half. Sound effects of the A52 alongside his poems on the perils of road travel had me cursing the rush hour traffic I endure on Clifton Road. Talk of wet tarmac, slow lanes and the illumination of lights left me reliving my own hellish road experiences.
Leftlion’s Aly Stoneman soothed my temporary road rage with her poem on the journey of redemption. There was an array of beautiful imagery such as “shimmering helicopters” and “shining stars” throughout the piece. Andrew Kells set the audience up for an interactive finish to the evening when he read his short story, Five Minute Warning. It’s safe to say he was a brilliant speaker and he really pulled me into his literary world. I remember his description of the relationship between the narrator and his grandad. It was carefully constructed so that we grasped a real sense of characterisation throughout the piece. Andrew gave up writing commercials five years ago and decided to start writing stories, which after his reading, I’m grateful to hear!
Wayne Burrows is a writer based at Primary Studios and introduced the political motivations behind the collaboration of PEN and the Writers’ Studio. His contribution was a poem from the anthology Catechism, whereby poets from around the world have written verse in support of Pussy Riot. He read a Czech song recorded by Marta Kubisova and banned by the Soviet authorities in 1969. It was certainly one of the most powerful segments of the evening for me. Wayne brought together the themes of travel and free expression by describing them both as “rights.” He commented on how it wouldn’t have been possible to develop the night’s readings without the freedom to travel but also the freedom to write to begin with. He completely hit the nail on the head and justified the evening’s importance.
James Walker added to Wayne Burrow’s contribution with a cheeky response to Pussy Riot called 'Slap and Sickle' written from the perspective of Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. James has just completed a six-month project called The Sillitoe Trail for The Space which is featured as the November Writer of the Month by Writing East Midlands.
It was a photo essay with Jason Williamson (Sleaford Mods) the gravely voiceover. But the technology failed after a minute and there was a chorus of “NO’s” throughout the room. This was quickly resolved and I found myself chuckling at the characterisation of Arthur as he addressed an imaginary brunette by the bar and then at myself for turning around expecting to see her. The evening couldn’t have finished with a better piece of literature.
There is so much I could add about every individual writer’s contributions to the evening. Every piece certainly echoed the themes and ideas surrounding the event. I also think that everyone at Antenna did justice for the members of Pussy Riot when ensuring that free expression should be accepted across all countries. My own ‘journey’ continued afterwards as I hunted down the works of these talented writers.
Word of Mouth ‘Journeys’, 21 November £4/3
Many of the writers who performed tonight will be appearing at the Festival of Words in February 2012. For more information and early tickets please see the NottWords website
Posted by andy at 11:48
Sunday, 11 November 2012
I'm delighted to have been selected to read at Nottingham Writers Studio's 'Word of Mouth' on Weds 21st Nov. Will be sharing a platform with a number of notable Nottingham writers including Alison Moore whose novel The Lighthouse was recently shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. I'm going to read my prose poem 'Whistling down to Jomsom' and the poem 'Northumberland'.
Here's the offical blurb:
Word of Mouth: Journeys
Word of Mouth: Journeys
Wed 21 November, 7.30pm
Antenna cafe-restaurant, 9a Beck Street, NG1 1EQ (how to find Antenna)
Tickets and Boarding Passes: £4/£3 (NWS members & concessions)
Antenna cafe-restaurant, 9a Beck Street, NG1 1EQ (how to find Antenna)
Tickets and Boarding Passes: £4/£3 (NWS members & concessions)
Escape a cold November night with an evening of spoken word wanderings as Nottingham Writers' Studio celebrates Journeys and Free Expression...
...with readings that range from the British countryside through Europe and on to Russia and Nepal, writing that flies in the face of repression and out into the future, before returning home to our very own Notts. Enjoy!
- Poetry by Richard Goodson, Andy Miller and Robin Vaughan-Williams
- Prose from Giselle Leeb, Andrew Kells, Laura Grevel and Alison Moore
- Wayne Burrows on PEN International's reaction to the Pussy Riot convictions, and Arthur Seaton's own unique response via James Walker.
Prepare to be transported!
Hosted by our very own travel agent and three-time novelist Megan Taylor.
Posted by andy at 08:07
Wednesday, 31 October 2012
This review appeared in the 2012 Autumn edition of '630 Miles', which is the bi-annual newsletter of the South West Coast Path Association. It only comments on the final quarter of my book which is quite understandable given its specific focus. I'm very pleased with it nonetheless.
And, while I'm at it, this is me at the end of the SWCP in Sept '12 - 8 years, 13 trips, 630 miles, 114,930ft of ascent (four and a bit Everests), wonderful walking companions and also solitary stretches completed alone, stunning scenery, this must be one of the world's great walks
Posted by andy at 04:39
Sunday, 16 September 2012
AM: Megan, we’ve known each other for nine or so years, ever since you joined the reading group that I had set up in Nottingham a couple of years earlier. Since then, I reckon we have as a group discussed the best part of a hundred novels. But you have also published three of your own in that time. What’s the latest one called? And can you tell us a little about it?
MT: ‘The Lives of Ghosts’ was released in April by Weathervane Press. It’s about a woman returning to the scene of a childhood tragedy in order to finally confront the reality of what happened there. I wanted to play with the idea of being haunted, and about the stories we tell ourselves. I also wanted to write about a loch. And about pregnancy. And so I did J
You’ve been writing for nearly your whole life too Andy, and of course, aside from your academic books, have had your own brilliant collection published since I’ve known you. For me, writing and reading provide an outlet like no other. A sanctuary, a salvation at times (aside from being just totally enjoyable). Can I assume it’s similar for you?
AM: That’s a really hard question for me. It is only very recently that I have begun to construe myself as a ‘writer’ and to have any sense that what I have been producing could in any way be seen as ‘a body of work’. How do you bundle together academic and professional papers and books with the occasional poem and fairly autobiographical prose piece, and then with a daily diary kept fairly regularly since 1967? The nearest I can get to seeing a coherent emotional response to it is in terms of a craft. I get a real buzz and always have from ’making’ something with words. I maybe should have been a sculptor, when I write I feel as if I am initially hacking something out of a formless bulk of material, shaping and fashioning it, first with fairly blunt blows until eventually finishing it off with some fine-grained polishing and dusting. I enjoy holding the finished product in my hands and always love the sense of mystery about my part in its coming into being. There’s obviously a large psychological dimension to this ‘authoring’ business but it is the labour of shaping and fashioning that I love (and, almost at the same time sometimes, hate).
But the one area in which I am an absolute beginner is fiction which is very much your forte. You have been remarkably prolific of late and I’m wondering about the origins and development of this aptitude and hard work ethic. I’m guessing you may have been creating stories since childhood? Am I right? Can you say a little about the beginning and early stages of your development as a writer?
MT: Yes. As so many children do, I was making stories with pictures before I could read (I was quite a late reader, about 7, I didn’t mind, I really liked playing with those sentence-makers, though once I uncovered the reading trick, I couldn’t stop). There were a lot of pictures, I loved drawing and quickly began creating comic strips – mostly involving the secret life of my cat. When I was ten, I thought I’d write a novel. It was called ‘Villa of Fear’, and was of course graphically illustrated and involved a wide variety of body parts, mostly ‘hanging by fleshy threads’ (I watched a lot of Hammer House of Horror - this is quite an embarrassing interview). Basically, alongside reading, I was addicted to making stories (however rubbish) too. It’s almost a compulsion, and definitely a comfort and what you said about the ‘sense of mystery’ twanged very true for me…
I kept writing throughout my teens, but it was all pretty secretive. Having children in my early twenties, writing became even more important, most probably in a selfish way. It was my time, my escape – but also I tried sending pieces out for the first time. I can vividly remember dancing around my council flat with my first baby (now 16!) when I had a story shortlisted in the London Writers’ Competition.
AM: Gosh, what you have said triggers some very early memories of my own. I don’t think I spent a lot of time writing as a child but at around 8 or 9 years of age I did start producing a comic that I intended to sell to my younger brother for 2d (old money) on a weekly basis. I ran out of patience, and presumably ideas, two thirds of the way down the first page of the first issue so cut my losses and coerced him into paying 1d for a page with some empty frames at the bottom and an incomplete story. And I too started a novel, a little later than you at about 12, a murder mystery set in a country house. I don’t think my style was particularly impressive, certainly nothing to match those ‘fleshy threads’. But, by cunning authorial manipulations I was steering my readers to all dump the blame for the murder onto the gypsy encampment just beyond the edge of the country estate and away from the outwardly oh-so respectable killer in the very midst of the country house guests. I gave that up too, after about 4 pages, so I never got the chance to relish the fruits of my cleverness in the final denouement.
That’s where the similarities between our journeys begin and end though. Before we get on to your published novels, I wonder whether we can just fill any remaining gaps first. I like the notion of your dancing round your flat, babe in arms, at the news of your London short listing and I know that you won a Yeovil first novel award in 2007 for ‘How We Were Lost’. What other writing did you do in between these two events? Was there a series of steps along the way, were there any other publications?
MT: Haha! I love your early endeavors, your blank framed comic sounds positively post-modern, and your novel where the gypsies didn’t do it – revenge on Enid Blyton maybe?
Between the London Writers Prize and Yeovil, I wasn’t published, mostly just pre-occupied with children, jobs, and trying to understand the idea of growing up (I was in my twenties, I’ve long ago given up any hope of comprehending that one). I did attempt a novel though, ‘Milk’, which will stay happily holed up in the roof space forever.
I never stopped loving writing, it was frequently my escape - but it was only when I moved to Nottingham from London that I thought this is it, I’m going to go for it. I was suddenly not working, my youngest was still in nappies, we’d chased my then-partner’s dream job and I started wondering what do I really want too?
AM: I’m incredibly impressed. I remember hearing Lesley Glaister, the Sheffield-based author, talk some years ago about how she got her small children ready for primary school and then took them there before returning home, getting back into bed and writing for a number of hours each day. She contrasted the simple, nurturing activities in her role as mother with the fiction she was creating, stories that sometimes examined very dark elements of human nature. Also, Anne Tyler has given a very rare interview recently and voiced the view that balancing writing with motherhood probably leads to ‘different looking brains’ as a result of the thorough ‘compartmentalising’ that has to take place.
What are your thoughts on these matters (not necessarily the brain morphology bit)? How have you managed to be so prolific? How have you organised your time so that you can put the hours in and how easy has it been to step into and out of the world of the imagination?
MT: In terms of the practicalities, I have long been getting up early (often in the dark) in order to outfox the children and the general expectations of each day. This works very well for me as I find writing easiest in the mornings – I’m a terrible fiddler and frequently become impatient if I’m working in the evenings; I’m too tired and full of the day by then. There also may be something in the whole idea of being a bit half-asleep when writing early, in that your dreams are closer and possibly your imagination sharper too…
I’m also fortunate in that I work part-time so usually have about an hour after I’ve dropped my youngest at school before I need to set off for my job. Now and then I’ve been able to escape on writing retreats too. Scotland’s wonderful Cove Park http://covepark.org/residencies/fielding-retreats
with its cubes and solitude and sheer stunning beauty has provided some amazing space over the last couple of years.
Having said that, I do carry a notebook with me all the time (clichéd writer that I am) and spend a lot of time daydreaming my novels – in that way, I don’t think I’m very compartmentalized. The stories frequently spill into everything else.
What about you Andy? Do you need solitude for writing? Escapes? Have you established a routine?
AM: Hmm, early mornings, you’re another one. There’s a conversation with David Duncombe on this blog, posted in March, where he describes having been able to get up at 5am and write for a couple of hours before setting off to work as the head of a busy comprehensive school. He also informs me that Trollope had a similar schedule. I’m full of admiration for all of you. And, in your case Megan, for also being able to seize and make productive use of an hour here and there and for keeping your notebook beside you all the time. Cliched or not, it’s an approach that is certainly working, given your productivity over recent years.
You ask about my approach – and I wish you hadn’t. I don’t think I have ‘an approach’ really, it feels like rather chaotic fits and starts. But as I reflect on it, I suppose it has varied depending on the type of thing I have been writing. Basically, with shorter pieces such as poems, essays and academic papers, I have usually had one or two sustained sessions to get a structure and some of the first draft down. Then half an hour or so on a subsequent day taking a word or line out to see what it looked like, walking around musing on it for a while, then half an hour or so the next day putting it or something else back in - all great fun. I loved being away with the fairies half the time, or at least away with the similies. Longer pieces, my PhD and the fiction/memoir I’m writing at the moment, I find far more tortuous. They seem to take me forever (I’m talking decades almost rather than years) and, when I don’t get on with them, they assume dreadful, ennui-, and nausea-inducing proportions. So, I remain a deep admirer of you novelists who get the books written and also of many of my past students who have produced superb theses and dissertations in very respectable times.
Let’s change the subject. You have three books published now,you are a speaker and workshop leader and are involved in the organisation of various literary events. What are the next big projects in the pipeline and where do you want to take your writing career next?
MT: Many exciting things coming up! I’m reading something ghosty on October 31st at the Broadway (www.broadway.org.uk), on the first night of their annual Hallowe’en film and arts celebration, Mayhem. I was very fortunate to take part in this last year too – terrifying, exhilarating, I can’t wait.
I’m also talking ‘Ghosts and Stories’ for Nottingham’s Readers’ Day on November 3rd, and will be involved in a couple of events for the Festival of Words next February (Nottingham’s a fabulous, supportive place to be a writer).
Am writing too, of course! I’m currently involved in a fourth novel, although this is mostly for me, without any thought of publication. It’s far more personal than my other books – although fiction nonetheless (I lack your memoir courage!). However I’ve just interrupted myself by writing a short ghost story (though The Lives of Ghosts came out a few months back now, it seems that they’re still everywhere J) There’s a further novel idea kicking about too, which hopefully, should be fun…
So, lots to keep me busy and to be very grateful for. You’ve been doing a number of reading events too Andy – how are you finding it all?
AM: Well done! You have become a notable figure on the Nottingham literary scene and beyond – and it’s well deserved.
I’ve been having fun too since I published ‘While Giants Sleep’ at the end of 2011. As well as a launch that went very well, I’ve shared a platform with Tricia Durdey, a talented local writer, at one of Wirksworth’s annual ‘Meet the Authors’ evenings and have jointly presented two evenings with the excellent playwright, Graham Sellors, at Wirkworth’s Fringe Festival. And, like you, I will be doing something at Nottingham’s Festival of Words next February- a session called ‘Climbing Through Life’. So, all very exciting and none of it imaginable only a year or so ago.
Back in the early summer I heard you and Alison Moore talking about your new novels on a shared platform at Nottingham University. And now, as we are concluding this conversational interview, Alison is on the final shortlist of 6 for this year’s Mann Booker prize. Hopefully, Megan, it is only a matter of time now before we see you up there in a similar position?
Well done again and thank you so much for taking part in this conversation.
Further details of Megan’s publications and readings can all be found on http://www.megantaylor.info
Posted by andy at 02:35