Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Review of 'Word of Mouth' in LeftLion

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

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Reading at Nottingham Writers Studio's November 'Word of Mouth'

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'. 
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)
Escape a cold November night with an evening of spoken word wanderings as Nottingham Writers' Studio celebrates Journeys and Free Expression...
Pussy Riot on Beach at Burnham Overy Staithe (Pussy Riot by Igor Mukhin)
...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!
Prepare to be transported!

Hosted by our very own travel agent and three-time novelist Megan Taylor.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Review in '630 Miles' - Newsletter of the SW Coast Path Assoc.

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   

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Conversation with Megan Taylor

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? 

I applied for an MA in Creative Writing (online, distance-learning so it could fit around family) with Manchester Metropolitan University.  On the back of some short stories, I was accepted, but then all our fee money fell through.  I deferred a year, began writing what was to become ‘How We Were Lost’ and in the summer of 2006, just before my MA’s new start date, it was placed second in the Yeovil Prize (I didn’t win!) but things began then.  There was the course, which was amazing, and then in 2007, the offer of publication from Flame.  I was incredibly lucky.

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 (clich├ęd 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

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Presenting at the Wirksworth Festival Fringe - September 2012

(15/8/12 update - TICKETS NOW ON SALE - see bottom of flyer)

I have been very fortunate to team up with Graham Sellors, a highly talented local playwright, and to be accepted for the Festival Fringe here in Wirksworth

Sunday, 22 July 2012

'While Giants Sleep' - Contents Page & Amazon Reviews

Hey you! (1964 – 1970)

And all who here ....

Early morning snow

The rat

Explanations and interpretations



A friend from way back


Hanging in the balance (1984 – 1988)

Hanging in the balance

Domestic violence

If I could take the pain away


Men and women and the rock

Purchase on renewal

Arriving at this

The local climbing club is ten years old

Conversation points

Christmas alone – a beginner’s guide


Away and away (1989 – 1999)

Around Annapurna

Whistling down to Jomsom

Ogwen, November 1989

Too far, too steep

Two glasses

Before the workshop

A taste of life

The cove


Attempting to interfere

Northumberland, 1996

Lions and minnows

Lost to the night

Above grit

If you see him .... leave him be

Peninsular days (2004 – 2006)

Peninsular days

Way to the west

Around Land’s End

Days of the Lizard

Amazon Reviews

Megan Taylor:  "Whether discussing climbing, travel or relationships, Andy Miller's unique collection is consistently lyrical and thought provoking, and often gripping. A book to repeatedly return to and to treasure"

Victoria Lewis:  "This collection of stories and poems vividly paints a picture of the author's experiences in life and love. Inspiring and entertaining, sometimes painful, but ultimately optimistic, this is a thoroughly good read"

Alastair Walker:  "Andy Miller has created an eclectic mix of prose and poetry that uses writing over a forty year period to illustrate some of the most important influences on his journey through life. Each piece is different but helps to represent a coherent set of attitudes and feelings. He is adept at bringing landscapes to life and the impact of those landscapes on people struggling to traverse them. He is even more adept, with a very light word-sketch touch, at introducing us to the character of those whom he meets. The book is both unique and excellent"

Monday, 9 July 2012

Extract from 'Whistling Down To Jomsom'

We come into Kagbeni, crowded, closed, Tibetan streets, a river through the road, a complex, a jumble of lanes, dark alleys that narrow beyond vision, openings out onto the wide flood plane of the Kahli Gadanka, figures on the stones moving against vast stretches, the mesa-hillsides, the flanks of interwoven mountains crumpled into a landscape that becomes Tibet, a magical place, lunch in the cool upstairs of a rest house, chapattis, peas fried in onion, tinned chicken slices, and tinned fruit, decorations formed from an old Colgate tooth powder tin prominent among the iconography, our boots cracking the new mud floor, a puppy crapping among us, Susie bringing in a ten week old baby, his mother’s jumper folded under him as a nappy

...  and out into the valley, all in scarves and bandannas, against the winds coming up from the south, and into the Kahli Gadanka, the wide flat valley, the beach between the feet of mountains, the muddy wanderings of the split river, the laughter at the slippery stones, the sight of an old woman piggy-backed by her husband along the narrow side track,
smashing rocks in the search for ammonites, and the beginning of trees on the hillsides, and yellow flowered gorse and a purple clover in the stones and the dust rising up like a cyclone in the distance gathering momentum before dipping and then setting off towards us

...  and the five Nepalese girls travelling back home to Jomsom, arms swinging, shawls over their faces, and the huge curving rock faults, and the thunder colours further up, and the Eiger-wall face on the north east of Nilgiri appearing in the clouds that take on dust haze
layers of shade above the ever-darkening hill ridges, while a wild, drunken Nepali attaches himself to us, reeling through the canyon waving his stick until we shake him off, and we join the Nepalese girls who giggle at my attempts to sing through my bandanna, then they sing to us, leaning forward in earnestness and against the wind, and on across the pebbles and packed earth, white everywhere with surface salt, and into the bumpy mud mainstream of the town, an ugly mixture of Western influences, but not before we have seen riders in the valley corralling horses and the relations walking out into the wild land to meet the girls

(nb. 'While Giants Sleep' does not contain photographs and images used in this post are from Google and my notebook)