Poetry readings with Pighog and Telltale coming soon

I have two poetry readings in the pipeline in about a month’s time. In Brighton, and London. Here are the deets:

N.B. DATE CHANGE Wednesday October 25, 2017 7:30 pmThe Nightingale Room, Grand Central, 29-30 Surrey St, Brighton BN1 3PA Pighog poetry evening with Charlotte Gann, Peter Kenny and another guest TBA – Tickets on the door £5, £4 concessions, £3 for open mic participants.
Wednesday November 1, 2017 7.30 pmThe Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton St, London WC2H 9BX  Telltale Press & Friends with Catherine Smith, Abigail Parry, Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny – FREE

I’ve fan-boyishly blogged on this blog about Charlotte Gann  who is an amazing poet, and I loved her book Noir.  We are reading at one of the Pighog events in Brighton on Oct 26th organised by Michaela Ridgway. The excellent Clare Best  was also due to read with us, but has had to pull out as the date of the reading had to change.

Then, the following week on November the first, there’s another Telltale & Friends reading. I’m keen to hear Abigail Parry, who has been a magnet for poetry prizes. Her highly-anticipated collection Jinx will be published by Bloodaxe next year. I’ll have another opportunity to hear the extremely accomplished and sometimes saucy Catherine Smith, as well as my pal Robin Houghton, who has a new pamphlet All the relevant gods, out from Cinnamon next year. There are a few more details about the Telltale reading on the Telltale Blog.

I like the flyer Robin put together for the Telltale Reading below. I am pleased I asked Innis McAllister to do a decent shot of me.  I think Robin looks like she has something really important to tell you. And what’s more, she has. But you’ll have to come along to hear it.

Telltale reading

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Learning from children for ‘The Second Kind of Darkness’

So I am now in the ‘seeking representation’, (agent-beguiling) stage for my children’s story (age 9-12) called The Second Kind of Darkness (more about it here). After donning my imaginary pith helmet, I selected an agent to target. Mostly this was done on gut feel having seen her in the new Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook and liking her profile on the website.

The reality is that there are bazillions of people out there writing children’s books, and only a tiny percentage will be taken. So statistically it seems unlikely that the book will emerge into the world.  I can’t stop, however, feeling weirdly and uncharacteristically positive. I think The Second Kind of Darkness is the best thing I have ever written.

As it is a children’s story, trying it out on children seemed a good idea.  Fortunately my wife is a headteacher, and one of our teacher friends Dawn Daniel has been an enormous help. Dawn has fixed it for me on several occasions to read early versions to children in class. (Note: arriving at this version took ten years of bloody-minded rewrites.)

To begin with I found this a bit nerve-racking too, and my already sky high respect for today’s teachers climbed even further.

I found children quickly let you know what’s working – and what isn’t. I was soon reminded how smart ten year old children are, being hawkish about detail and continuity. Some of their questions were surprisingly technical too, such as the use of  first and third person narrators. I came to see the children’s feedback as a kind of highly useful collaboration.

Just before the summer break Dawn read the opening chapters of this final version of the story to her class. I was delighted to hear the majority of the class were engaged and keen to read on. If children are loving it, at least that’s a hopeful start.

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Fibula, the six legged cat, colour sketch by my mother Margaret Hamlin

 

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‘1,000 miles from sea’ in London Grip

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Me standing by withered crops in a drought-ridden Chad, Oct 2015, photo Matthew Hunt

My poem ‘1,000 miles from sea’ is published in London Grip this morning. I wrote this after visiting Chad, and seeing its struggle against drought and hunger. This poem is about how the conditions there brought my personal struggle with religion to a head.

I’m very grateful to Michael Bartholomew-Biggs the editor at  London Grip. As ever, it’s well worth a visit, and includes this storming response to Grenfell Tower by Naomi Foyle. A must-read poem.

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‘A Glass of Nothing’ still half full

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Beth finds somewhere quiet to apply makeup in the Surgeons’ Hall

So… Edinburgh. Blimey, it was an exhausting. In fact so exhausting, it has taken me two weeks to get around to writing about it… Edinburgh utterly dwarfs the  Brighton Festival, and the competition for bums (on seats) is ferocious. Nothing beats first hand experience of publicising and flying for your play, sticking together as a unit and delivering great performances to all kinds of audiences. Not to mention getting into the rhythm of gulping  post-performance beers and discovering late night Edinburgh delicacies such as the macaroni pie.

We learned lots. Next time we take on Edinburgh we’ll do things a little differently. My biggest learning was that putting a short run play on at the beginning of the festival is disadvantageous when seeking reviews. Luckily we had some corkers from the Brighton Festival, so we did okay. We had a couple of quiet nights but luckily this improved towards the end of the run. I’m always surprised at how different audiences can react so differently to the same play. Lots of laughter on one night, a serious absorption into the dark side of the play on the other. While one night, we were all surprised how everyone took against Kitty’s character to side with Beth.

We all made time to see some other shows of course, but I found it hard to see as many as I’d have liked. Shows had tiny audiences were often excellent too.  We took in several women comedians, and I particularly liked Jane Postlethwaite whose work was full of imagination as well as being extremely funny.

All in all, however, it was a hugely positive experience. We left Edinburgh proud of ourselves. And I was bursting with pride in how brilliantly everyone had done. Beth was magnificent, pouting and flirting with the audience.  Kitty and Matt were sensational, and delivered excellent performances every night.  And a big shout out to Amy who did our tech, and for my wife Lorraine who was our bedrock (plus stagehand). We all lived together in a top of a tenement flat in Leith too, like a thespian Walton family. Maybe next year? Hmm…. Now there’s an idea.

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Amy Freeman on tech

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Matt Colborne, Kitty Underhill, Beth Symons August 2017, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh

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Edinburgh: dress rehearsal and preview night

Tickets here for A Glass of Nothing – a show where dreams come true

Friday 4th open dress rehearsal. At our team breakfast we decided that whatever happens in Edinburgh, we are already winners by being part of it.

For a winner, however, I felt twitchy. Doing things helped. Flyering and dropping posters of at various venues, and collecting stuff from printers, takes your mind off the existential horror of it all. The rain fell greasily on us and the luvvie legions running around town. I noticed one or two had Sandwich boards. A new game:  match the rain-bedraggled figure with their photos on the board.

Our performance in the Surgeons’ Hall was excellent. Matt, our new boy, killed it. Beth and Kitty at their best. We came in at 50 minutes on the nose too, and managed to dress and undress the stage in the five minutes either end. Amy did all the tech faultlessly, and Lorraine ran front of house perfectly.

As it was unadvertised, we weren’t really expecting an audience, luckily a large cast of Swiss actors attended, who chuckled a lot. Confirmation that the play’s three wish format works well, even if everyone didn’t understand the wordplay. All of us on a high afterwards.

Saturday 5th — Preview night. Beth and I off to the meet the press session at one o’clock. It was advertised as a chance to pitch your piece to the press. Naively I had seen this as a few minutes to a room full of journos etc. The reality was an enormous queue snaking out of a university building down the length of a street. After an hour or so, you made it inside, and then each publication had a desk, at which there were fifty deep queues like an airport when all the flights are cancelled. After hours of standing about, we managed to get to speak to people from a few publications. Beth and I split up after the first one, to double our effectiveness. Fascinating to see who else was there and chat to a few people.  Talking to two young women from Ireland, talking about ticket sales. Last night they had two people in their audience. The reality is that with hundreds of shows going on at any time, you’re lucky to get any kind of audience. Gender and identity seemed to be on the majority of performer’s minds. Lots of student age folks doing Edinburgh, apparently with enviable bullet proof confidence.

While Beth and I were doing this, Kitty and Matt were flyering their hearts out.  So it began again. To the Surgeons’ Hall. I didn’t feel quite as nervous as last night, but still, as a card-carrying  nervous. Heartened by seeing a few friends and relatives.

The performance itself was nervier than last night, but I was very proud of Beth, Kitty and Matt. It’s easy when the audience is fully behind you and you’re coasting along. This was one of the nights when the tough got going, and we learned lots from it.

Afterwards a really cheery night. We went to a bit party for theSpace performers, which started at 11:30, and heard the band Blueswater, performing. Huge amounts of fun, and a late, late night for all.

Sunday 6th — this was a day off before the run next week. Gradual recovery from the party the night before. Into town to actually see a show, Nasty Women on the Fringe, which was a cabaret of women stand up comedians. Really funny stuff.

Below the foyer of theSpace Surgeons’ Hall, and then a couple of snaps in those twitchy seconds before the audience to comes in, Amy Freeman, doing our tech, in the corner.

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Brighton Blonde Productions arrive in Edinburgh to stage ‘A Glass of Nothing’

Tickets here for A Glass of Nothing — a dark comedy about the selfie generation.

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Above Matt Colborne spots one of our posters outside the Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh.

Up at an ungodly ten past five, a taxi to Brighton station to catch the 06:19 up to St Pancras. At King’s cross we met Kitty and Matt at Kings Cross zoomed through downpours and sunny spells for four and a half hour up to Edinburgh. Amy Freeman, an old friend met us on the platform, and we cabbed to our digs in Leith, an air b’n’b flat at the top of rather posh tenement buildings. A nice smart interior, but the sixty timeworn stairs leading up to the flat.

So our tech rehearsal at the Surgeon’s hall this afternoon. This is all about sorting out the light and sound cues, meeting the Space team at the venue, and being talked through safety stuff.  A nice little venue, and just perfect for us. The Surgeons’ Hall is really near the heart of where the fringe action is. And already Edinburgh seems stuffed to the gills with luvvies and really buzzing. Our taxi driver said there was a yearly invasion from England for the month.

The tech was fine, but there was only just time to get everything sorted.  The Space crew really helpful, and it is a kind of military operation, with each theatre being used multiple times during the day. It certainly helps you keep a sense of perspective when you see the bazillions of posters for events. Still, Beth and I schlepped about after the tech and distributed our posters and flyers to other Space venues. It is a bonus that in effect each space venue is able to advertise your show.

I’m really happy we decided to take the plunge and go for it this year. I’m chuffed to have a play on, and be part of this huge cultural event.

A quick, discounted once we showed our lanyards, beer at the Surgeon’s hall then eventually back home to Leith where we are staying. We found an Indian restaurant nearby called Shri Bheemas, with good food. Then back to our air b’n’b, home and happy to be there. Loads to do tomorrow, everyone crashed out early.

Below a snap of a nervous-looking Beth, Lorraine and I at ungodly-o’clock on the train, a selfie outside the Surgeons’ Hall, one of our posters (yay!) and Beth on stage during the tech.

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Final preparations for Edinburgh

So we’re taking A Glass of Nothing to Edinburgh. Exciting, yes of course, but the truth has dirtier fingernails. Our previous shows have all been close at hand, so organising a run in another country is harder.

Only one final rehearsal to go now down in Brighton. Beth and Kitty now imperious in their roles. And our new man Matt, has worked his socks off to get his part down. We’re proud of him. Due to our slot timings, we have had to trim the play by five minutes. I made the cuts a couple of months ago, of course. In this week’s rehearsal, however, we did a full and fluent run through. Argh! Still five minutes over! It is mystifying. Beth and I did some extra last-minute trimming, not easy on something already greyhound lean. Then the next run-through squeaked in under the desired 50-minute mark. Whew. When you think of how even Shakespeare gets cut and refashioned, there is absolutely no room for writerly flouncing about this sort of thing. But how you can cut loads out of a play only for it to stay the same duration is a bit weird.

So it’s up with the sparrows next Thursday. We are training up to Edinburgh from Brighton, laden with a cases and a few props and some costumes via Kings Cross. No mean feat in itself, especially as we’re off to my stepson’s wedding in Leeds immediately after we’re done in Edinburgh, so we’ll be carrying wedding clothes too.

We aim to hit the ground running in Edinburgh. There are props to be bought, a tech run at The Surgeons’ Hall shortly after we arrive (meeting old friend Amy who will do our tech for us), the press office to visit, flyers and posters to collect (I have bought outside and online  advertising, sent out dozens of press releases etc.) and do other bits.

We have rented a house twenty minutes away from the centre, where Beth, Kitty Matt, Amy, Lorraine and I will be a Theatrical Walton family for a week. The next day, Friday, we have our open dress rehearsal, where folks can come in at a reduced rate. The Saturday is our Preview, the following week our run.

Worst fear? Playing to an empty house. In Brighton, where we know people, we sold out a 70 seater three nights in a row. Playing to one person and a dog would be a challenge. Greatest hope? That we all come home having learned lots, and made audiences laugh and think — and that this isn’t the end of the road for the play we’ve worked so hard on.

So wish us luck! And should you find yourself in Edinburgh, do come along.

Here’s a short monologue from the play performed by Beth…

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