So at last found a bit of time to update this blog, as you can see from the photo, taken by my brother, of me tapping away on a terrace in Sicily. I am here taking a break with family. I love Sicily, and the terrace is quick with lizards, and has geckos crawling about on the walls in the evenings. So good to escape the political madness plaguing the UK for a while.
Naturally, there is always time for a quick humblebrag… A poem of mine The House of Hidden Hope, on the poetry village website. This was based on my grandmother who hid things in the fabric of the 16th century granite cottage she lived in Guernsey. She was a practical person who built cupboards, but also secreted things away in case of burglary and so on. This meant wedging objects into the fabric of the house, rather in the way spells were done in older buildings.
I am also continuing with my horror craze, and have two short stories about to be published this autumn, one, The Inheritor, will appear in Supernatural Tales, and is based on Guernsey, in a spooky house also modelled on the one my Grandmother lived in, the other is a nightmarish take on insomnia, called The Dream Home, which will appear in The Frogmore Papers this autumn. I am finding horror stories a rich seam, and have written several over the last few months. I am loving it.
In a Bloomsbury bookshop last October, two days after the death of a close friend, I found myself in the store’s horror section. On a whim I bought a collection of disturbing short stories by Robert Aickman called Compulsory Games. Only on the train home did it occur to me that choosing to read horror fiction in a moment of bereavement was a bit odd. Nevertheless Aickman’s ‘strange stories’ (I went on to read four volumes of them) sparked a concerted foray into horror and a dozen or so writers — from E Nesbit to H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson to William Peter Blatty, Grady Hendrix to Thomas Ligotti and many more. These are some findings from the weird world of horror.
Glimpsing larger worlds
I want to draw a parallel, briefly, with poetry. I respond to poems that slap you in the face like a Zen monk. I love how a line or image can jolt you to a realisation that the world is more beautiful, moving and — this is my point — far larger than before.
It may be why people with little interest in poetry will still resort to it at weddings, funerals or moments of heartbreak. Poetry provides a path away from the hard realities of life by changing our perspective. Take W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues. The poet asks us, in the rhetoric of grief, to ‘Stop all the clocks’ — not just one clock, but all the clocks in the world. Later, the poem says, ‘He was my North, my South, my East and West’. This is personal grief stretched to wrap around the whole world. In my own moment of bereavement, horror did the same job for me. Why was that?
For a horror story to work, it must also allow you a glimpse of something far larger than yourself. If poetry can show us the sublime, horror can shrink us until we feel powerless in the face of vast, unknowable forces. For the readers of both poetry and horror, however, result is the same. The world has become larger and less stiflingly mundane. Horrorstör (2014) by Grady Hendrix, is a good example of this, set in an Ikea-like store whose doors open into a horrific supernatural prison and its terrifying denizens. It’s funny too.
Three entrances into hell
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
The opening sentence of H.P. Lovecraft’s landmark essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) is hard to take issue with. But I also think that there are familiar entrances into this huge realm of the unknown.
1. The Door of Religion
The Case Against Satan (1962) by Ray Russell and, more famously, The Exorcist (1971) by William Peter Blatty both use religious ideas of God and the Devil, to create a vast, menacing backdrop to the action. The plots have strong similarities, in both stories young girls channels wild and hellish forces. These must be tackled by men of wavering faith, who are forced to abandon their rational and scientific impulses in the face of demonic possession.
The famous movie version of The Exorcist (1973) may have influenced the real life case of Anneliese Michel. Annaliese appeared not to respond to psychiatric treatment, and sadly died of thirst and starvation while in the care of her family and two Roman Catholic priests. These priests were later found guilty of negligent homicide.
Another story drawing its horrific heft from religion is Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby(1968) where a woman, under the evil influences, becomes pregnant with the Antichrist, the child of Satan.
You only have to think of the work of poets like Milton or Dante to realise religion and horror are centuries-old bedfellows. ‘I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost’, writes Dante. To escape this entanglement, he needed to progress through the vastnesses of hell and purgatory.
2. The Door of Mythos
H.P. Lovecraft has a towering influence in horror circles. Despite a teenage phase immersed in the stories of his friend and devotee Clark Ashton Smith, I had read very few of his stories until recently. He is a master of horror. He is also a vile racist, even for someone publishing in the 1920s and 30s. He portrays black and biracial people as horrific barely human entities. If you are able to hold your nose enough to overlook this you will discover why his influence is so great. His tactic for bringing supernatural horror to his readers is the invention of a mythology about a monstrous race from the stars, who lived before humans and will persist beyond them. The tentacle-faced Cthulhu (see above) is the greatest of these.
I am hard pressed to understand why The Cthulhu Mythos has become so influential, to the extent that it has become a shared fictional universe used by other writers — in what must have been an early form of fan fiction.
The beginning of the seminal story, The Call of Cthulhu, shows how Lovecraft engineers an immense backdrop, against which the plot about the discovery of clues to an unknown and monstrous race can unfurl.
We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1926)
I would also argue here that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings certainly contains elements of horror and, like Lovecraft, this is rooted in an even richer mythos.
3. The Door of Disillusionment
During my new horror craze, I have become a fan of Thomas Ligotti (b.1953). While I find his prose sometimes heavy going, when his stories are good, they are magnificent. His work has already found its way into Penguin Classic status, collecting the stories of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe in one Penguin volume. Lovecraft’s influence is here, and one of Ligotti’s most famous stories, the Last Feast of Harlequin, is dedicated to Lovecraft’s memory.
Ligotti’s work often derives its power from the conceit that the world is absolutely horrific, and it is only through the collective madness of optimism, that we fail to see the world for what it truly is: huge and terrifying.
An a wonderful Ligotti story, In The Shadow of Another World, the protagonist gains entry to a tower whose windows enable the scale and weirdness of reality to be properly seen.
‘For the visions they offered were indeed those of a haunted world, a multi-faceted mural portraying the marriage of insanity and metaphysics… After my eyes closed, shutting out the visions for a moment… It was then I realised that this house was possibly the only place on earth, perhaps in the entire universe, that had been cured of the plague of phantoms that raged everywhere.’
Thomas Ligotti, In the Shadow of Another World (1991)
This is an act of disillusionment, of the stripping away of illusion to see the vast, terrifying truth behind it.
Ligotti’s pessimism is condensed in a fascinating non-fiction book called The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. It is an idiosyncratic survey of pessimism, and is peppered with grim insights, such as this cheery reflection on the moment of death.
‘And for the first time you feel that which you have never felt before—the imminence of your own death. There is no possibility of self-deception now. The paradox that came with consciousness is done with. Only horror is left. This is what is real. This is the only thing that was ever real, however unreal it may have seemed.’
Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2010)
Ligotti’s handling of this vast reality belittles us into the weird pleasure of fear.
And for me, the penny drops
In my bout of supernatural horror, I realised something that had been staring at me like a creepy marionette half my life. There is a horror in a good deal of my own work. I called my second poetry pamphlet ‘The Nightwork’, I have written poems about monsters, and doubles, and psychological horror. All my plays are comedies, but three of them have a horrific backdrop. My short stories often have been explicitly horror or weird fiction. But only now has the penny dropped.
Poetry can accommodate horror and sublime moments, and horror can do that too. Also horror can reassure you that your life is better than, say, going mad with alcoholism and trying to kill your family as in Stephen King’s The Shining, or turning into a bestial murderer, as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Ultimately, it is not this reassurance I seek. I thrill to horror’s moments of dark and expanding wonder.
And as I detail here, this new horror craze led me to sending a story, to Matthew Rees at Horla who was kind enough to publish it. I find myself in a new phase of explicitly writing horror, and I find I am loving it.
I think I’ll leave the last word to a poet. Here’s Rilke, from the first of The Duino Elegies (as translated by J. B. Leishman and Stephen Spender).
For Beauty’s nothing / but the beginning of Terror we’re still just able to bear, / and why we adore it so is because it serenely / disdains to destroy us.
In my last post I mentioned I had been reading short story collections lately, and particularly the strange tales of Robert Aickman. This prompted me to exhume some of my own short stories from the cobwebby Kenny Vaults. One of these was a story called The Dark Fish. I wrote the first version of this in my mid twenties, and it interested the editor of a magazine called Panurge, who suggested changes. After three lots of changes, it was rejected. After this, and a couple of other rejections, it lay dormant in dusty hard copy for years.
Time, however, is the best editor. When I found my MS last week, a few editorial fixes suggested themselves. These made, I was pleased with the results.
I had recently discovered Horla, the Home of Intelligent Horror, and when I sent it to its editor, Matthew Rees to my delight the story was immediately accepted. I have often experienced long time-lags between having written something, and it finding publication, but 32 years is my best yet.
The story concerns an astrologer, and was grounded in my own experience. For having graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Literature, I returned to London and seizing up the nearest copy of the Evening Standard was aghast to discover the absence of a ‘philosopher wanted’ column in the jobs section.
After a few months lifting and carrying boxes containing electric keyboards and cash registers in the Casio warehouse near Brent Cross, I began casting horoscopes in my spare time. I then left the warehouse to go full time as an astrologer. Briefly things went okay. I had taught myself how to cast and interpret horoscopes in my teens, and found a stream of people asking for my services. Soon my work took a darker turn. I found I was asked to do horoscopes for people who were recently bereaved. More strangely, I discovered that people were investing me with powers and wisdom I did not have. I am pleased, looking back, that I had enough self-awareness at the time not to pretend I had the answers. I got out of the business of astrology sharpish. For more about my brief career as an astrologer and my feelings about astrology itself read this.
Alongside the story, I discovered the Rotring pen drawing below.
My friend Janet Summerton died on October 1st at the age of 79. I was heavily involved in her care during her last two months, and that of her husband Ken who survives her. Janet was a lateral thinking champion of the crafts and craft makers – and a benign influence on a generation of arts managers in the UK. There are plans to celebrate her life and work next year. My own relationship with her, however, started when I was her lodger in my twenties. For the next thirty years she was a wise and affectionate aunt-like figure to me. What I learned from her is immeasurable, introducing me right away to the idea of having a portfolio career and, perhaps most helpfully, she stopped me being a genius.
* * *
Shortly after Janet died I attended a long-booked Writers & Artists ‘How to hook an agent’ day course for writers of Children’s and YA fiction, at Bloomsbury Publishing up in Bedford Square. The agents I heard from were Davinia Andrew-Lynch, Julia Churchill, and Ben Illis, all of whom were generous with their advice, and refreshingly normal and human. Lurking in Bloomsbury’s maze-like offices I kept imagining all the celebrated writers who must have visited there. My fellow attendees were a fascinating lot too, some had flown in from other countries. In the afternoon we all had ten minutes face-to-face with an agent. Pitching is part of what I have done for a living for the last twenty years or so, so the fact I made such an arse of myself was disappointing. Despite this, Ben Illis the agent I spoke to gave me excellent advice. I am acting on it.
* * *
I have been reading short stories recently, after buying two collections from writer friends, both published by Cultured Llama.
In Jeremy Page’s London Calling and Other Stories. I particularly enjoyed the novela-length title story London Calling. Its protagonist, a University drop-out called Eustace Tutt, is brilliantly drawn, and was for me like meeting someone from my own past. Sadly, my past did not feature sharing a squat with two German girls with a propensity for nudity. Jeremy’s stories are funny, touching and very human. I devoured the collection.
Unusual Places by Louise Tondeur‘s style is fascinating, she has an alien’s eye for detail, and observations are made without the expected filters and hierarchies of importance. Louise is writing a crime novel at the moment, and I can’t help thinking the engaging oddness of her characters and description would make her foray into crime something to be greatly anticipated.
My other ‘discovery’ is Robert Aickman, a writer of what he called ‘strange Stories’, who died in 1981. I bought a new collection of his called Compulsory Games full of hauntingly weird stories. The story called No Time Is Passing, is one of the most disturbing and brilliant things I have ever read. It concerns a man who goes out into his back garden in West London and discovers a river at the end of it. I found myself in the middle of the night worrying if I was going mad. I had been obsessing about the story lying awake and wide-eyed for hours. The way Aickman nudges up the weird every few sentences is just incredible. Dreamlike is a word that is overused continually, but Aickman’s stories are properly nightmarish, while rarely resorting to horror tropes.
A mosque with a cathedral bursting out of its roof. Ever since Lorraine and I went to Spain a month ago, I have been haunted by the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.
It is not rare for different religions to use the same holy sites over history, although what makes people originally decide a site is holy or not is an interesting question. The building in Córdoba close to the Guadalquivir river has its roots at least as far back as the mid-6th Century, with establishment of a Visigoth Basilica of San Vincente. It became a mosque in 786 and after the dissolution of the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031, was rededicated as a Catholic temple in 1146, and its strange hybrid life began.
I found the Mezquita exquisite. A forest of pillars, that line up as you walk past them, with the visitors inside flickering between them.
But what held me spellbound, was the the semicircular niche, the mihrab, in the qibla wall, where people orient themselves in prayer. This mihrab, was simply one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. Lorraine and I spent a long time just looking at this beautiful thing, and returned early a few days later so we could spend more time drinking it in with our eyes.
And looking up…
On my next visit, I wanted to look harder at the Cathedral too.
The effect of a almost vertical shaft of light, which is extremely dramatic when you walk into it from the low light levels of the mosque. Walking into the Cathedral after looking at the patterns of Islamic art, the depictions of Jesus, God, Mary, various saints and angels was a stark difference.
It made me think how the holy art of Islam contrasts with Christian depictions of Christ, Mary, the apostles and so on. For me, these depictions, however beautiful, always have a touch of bathos. They particularise and funnel the imagination towards human likenesses. While I found my first impression of the mihrab made me imagine reaching out to something divine and ultimately indefineable.
To me, imposing a new Cathedral which literally goes through the roof of the old mosque seemed almost a brutality, and inclined me to a political reading of the building, that the Cathedral was triumphalist expression of the overthrow of the Caliphate and the reconquest of Spain.
But after a second visit, I changed my mind. The building’s hybrid nature won me over.
I’ve forgotten where I first bumped into the thought that religions could be considered to be fingers on the hand of God, but this Mosque Cathedral reminded me of it.
Through many centuries people have yearned towards the idea of God in so many ways, including eastwards, upwards or by looking within. What strange things we people are, and what beauty can religions draw out of us.
Seven items from the imaginary news desk at Kenny Towers.
Anice, not to mention speedy, review of TRUTHS A Telltale Press Anthology in London Grip. If you’d like to buy a copy, simply get in touch with me through this site. In other poetry news, I have a poem called Commuted on the Amaryllis site, and another War Diary in 1/72 scale accepted by Arachne Press anthology provisionally called An Outbreak of Peace.
Two books of poetry are currently lighting up my life. Eleni Vakalo, Before Lyricism, translated by Karen Emmerich, which drips with timeless vitality and sheer Greekness which I love. One day I must post more about the riches of Greek poetry since Cavafy. And Janet Sutherland‘s Bone Monkey, which was recommended to me by my poet pal Charlotte — I have the sense in reading Janet’s poems that she sees the world a bit like I do, except she has words for what I’ve not been able to say, so for me her poems are revelatory. I am just about to order her other two books now. Some writers make you fall in love with reading all over again, and Vakalo and Sutherland are two of those.
I think I have started a new play, but I don’t want to hex myself by saying more. It seems to want to be another black comedy.
I have lost count of the number of agents I’ve approached with my children’s book. Not a glimmer so far, and the majority are so swamped they simply don’t reply. As the book has been read to actual schoolchildren who have lapped it up, clearly lateral thinking and persistence must now be deployed (after a brief spell of shaking my fist at the indifferent gods of publishing).
In the other part of my double life as a creative, I found out a concept I’d done with my pals in the Paris agency, Life Animal Health, about the animal disease rinderpest, has won a prize in the French Empreintes awards.
I have been learning how to make stained glass windows. My class on a short hiatus before restarting. The design part I find fairly easy, but the practical stuff I find a bit of a ‘pane’. Cutting different thicknesses and types of lead (I love the name of one – ‘wide heart lead’), cutting glass, sometimes overlaying two lots of glass one on the other, grinding glass, soldering (I’d never done this before), and generally getting my finicky hands dirty, have all challenged me. I love it though. My design was quite complicated, so despite working on it for weeks every Friday morning, it is still not finished. The tutor, Ben Conti, a very patient and skilled man and has not let me compromise my vision. My fellow students all lovely. I’m planning a bench at home.
Below… A workbench snap a few weeks ago. Ben seems to think it will be done one day, but stained glass is, for me, a work of glacial progress…. But once the mammoths have thawed out, it could look nice all buffed up and completed.
January and February? Gah! What are they for other than self-flagellation? With festivities just a liver-scarring memory, the nights long, and the days hatefully grey… I usually use the first part of the year to brood like Milton’s Satan on the vast abyss of my shortcomings. But this year I did something different. I tidied up.
It started with a giant Kim Jong-un eraser. Looking into its plump orange face I decided that the Supreme Leader represented an opportunity to chuck out the half dozen age-hardened erasers I’d hoarded. This was just the beginning. Soon I began to see each item of clutter as a decision I’d not yet made, and a ruthless mood fell on me. I gave bags of clothes and shoes to charity, methodically I decluttered my office, weeded papers from files, organised my computer and took dozens of books to charity shops. I even employed a friend to come and lift up the floorboards and sort a joist problem out. For a few weeks there, there was nothing I couldn’t do. The result is the feeling of having a clean desk, but much magnified. There are gaps in my seven bookcases for new books, and new ideas, and I can pretty much put my hand on anything I need. Win!
* * *
Last winter, on a train to work, I was tutting over the ‘brand values’ of a new product I had to do some advertising work on. Millions of pounds had been spent on the product, but the generically aspirational abstract nouns pretending to be values were laughable.
Shortly before this, Lorraine, my headteacher wife, had been refining her school’s values too. So it was inevitable that I ask myself this question: what do I stand for? And, then: what are the values of Brand Kenny?
Rattling back and forth to London I had plenty of opportunity to consider what my values should be. Since then I have asked several people what they thought their values were. It is well worth thinking about for yourself. Here are mine:
Creativity – As this is how I make a living, a life without being creative would be unthinkable. But I have met people with Creative in their job title, who are far from creative. I may live my life doing creative work, but am I living my life creatively? Even though I work in advertising, and write poems, plays and so on, there is always room to apply the creative thinking to other areas of your life.
Courage – Life may not always call for heroism, but there are always opportunities for moments of micro-courage. Having experienced bouts of extreme anxiety, I know that just leaving the house can be an act of extraordinary courage for some. While I was thinking about these values I was planning to take a play to Edinburgh. There were a thousand reasons not to, of course, but deciding to be brave is exhilarating. Even such tiny moments of courage can be life affirming.
Compassion – Wanting to write something to give others comfort drove me to write my children’s novel, currently languishing in slush piles. But I have worked with charities since my teens and done some gritty stuff, as a researcher talking to people with mesothelioma with Nancy Tait, to campaigning against Racism in Children’s literature, to making TV adverts for humanitarian or health organisations such as this experience in Chad. Compassion is important because, as a writer, life can be very inward looking. Goaded by January and February demons, I realise that compassion can also extend to yourself too. For me, compassion also contains the notion of empathy, and without empathy it is impossible to write convincingly.
But can these abstract nouns, Creativity, Courage and Compassion really change anything practical?
I think the answer is that they can, if you want them to.
Every time I make a new to-do list (on a fresh A4 page of my yellow lined notebook in blue ink) I write Creativity, Courage and Compassion at the top of the page. Having listed the things that must be done, I ask myself what if any of these tasks has anything to do with my values. If not, I ask myself why I am doing them. I’m increasingly relying on my values as a way of prioritising what I do, and working out why I am doing it.
Try it. You might like it. So… What do you stand for?
My double life requires me to switch from working in advertising agencies, back to picking up the threads of my creative life and vice versa. My most recent agency stint was with a lovely crew at DDB Remedy in London, which culminated in six days in Austria. The work was a bit full on, however, so all I could do was imagine the foresty, golden Klimts in nearby Viennese galleries I knew I had no time to see. One night I broke away for half an hour and walked randomly from the hotel, looking wistfully at the side streets not taken, but happy that I had at least a few minutes to breathe the cold night air of Vienna and feel for a moment that I was inside a film.
One thing about doing agency work for a couple of months is that it gave me plenty of commuting time to read. I can devour a short novel in a day or two, and I usually take some poetry with me to dip in when feeling the need. I read novels by, among others, Ali Smith, Elizabeth Stroud, Richard Ford, Lloyd Jones and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and poetry by Fernando Pessoa, J.O. Morgan, Adélia Prado, John McCullough and Tess Jolly.
I’ve noticed several agency creatives over the last few years using Instagram and ‘late-adopter’ that I am, I now use it too, documenting lunchtime strolls around the canals of Little Venice near Paddington, London, and a couple of snaps in Vienna.
Now, feeling a bit exhausted, I’m taking stock of my own creative work. Apart from two poetry readings, and some quickly scribbled drafts of poem ideas, I have left everything untouched since October. And not having much on the horizon feels odd and dangling. I have no play in production, no new play written, my children’s novel is waiting for another agent to look at it, with one rejection so far that took over four months to receive.
But poetry, my first love, remains true and I’m always tinkering at some poem or another. I met with some fellow poets on Monday in Lewes, to talk about a forthcoming poetry anthology from Telltale and to drink some beer. This is therapy for me. Chatting with friends Robin Houghton, Sarah Barnsley, Charlotte Gann and Stephen Bone, makes me feel the obsession that has dogged me since my teens is actually a perfectly reasonable response to the world. Writers can be as backbitey and competitive as anyone else, so when you find yourself among supportive colleagues the affirmation is priceless.
I am doing a course in making stained glass windows in the new year, something I’ve always had a hankering to try, despite not being very good with my hands. A poem I wrote in the 80s, The Window Maker was printed on some National Book Tokens. Apparently an impostor went into a northern bookshop raging because Book Tokens had stolen his poem, and he was in fact the real Peter Kenny and wasn’t happy about it. I often think about doppelgängers, because my life contains quite a few incidents like this. Having a twin brother is the worst nightmare I can imagine. But I digress… I love stained glass. I love the way light passes through it. I love the leading too, and how these thick lines allow something to be assembled from fragments into a whole that plays with gorgeous light. What’s not to love? I already have designs in my head that are on the scale of Coventry Cathedral. I might have to reign in my expectations.
So to end this pre-Christmas ramble, I would just like to wish you a very Merry Christmas. I love this time of year enormously. Even looking at a Christmas tree can bring a tear to my eye. Luckily I got to be Santa this year at my wife’s village school. To play a part in the unfurling of Christmas was great fun, and I am always amazed by the intelligence of children. I was plunged into ontological debates about the reality of Father Christmas with three or four nippers, (trying not to feel affronted, for did I not refute their argument just by being there in front of them?) I came out of that quite well I thought.
I’ve spent the last couple of months with little time. I’ve been commuting to London to work in an advertising agency every day (a four hour round trip). The Gods of Freelance then added in more work for me to do on the train, and in the evenings and weekends and through holidays. By chance this coincided with one of my worst-ever bouts of depression. I rarely get depressed. Glum, sure, but that’s usually over in a few days. But being down for weeks on end was unusual for me, and my respect for people who keep on keeping on, despite dealing with repeated depression, is more acute now.
Now, having thawed from that glacier, I feel myself again. Being depressed for me means having myself at the centre of all my thoughts. And you can take it from me, it is a tedious place. Now I can laugh about myself again, I can’t wait to get stuck into being creative on my own projects. The enforced ‘downtime’ has given me unexpected benefits. I am suddenly much clearer about two of my projects. Time is often the best editor. I could have done without pouring tea into my laptop the other day, however, but that’s a different story.
* * *
I attended the recent Telltale Press reading in Lewes, which featured Siegfried Baber, mining his love of Americana to enormous effect, Marion Tracey whose poems have an Apollonian dreamlike clarity. Sarah Barnsley read particularly well I thought. One of her poems, called The Fugitive, I loved. It reminded me of C.P. Cavafy’s wonderful concreteness. I think Sarah’s work is fantastic. Sarah introduced her friend Katrina Naomi who also read excellently, despite being interrupted by the Telltale Stand collapsing dramatically as if some poltergeist had given it a good shake. Katrina’s work seems effortless, both accessible and deep. Everyone lapped up her reading.
I snapped two rather poor photos on the night. One of Sarah Barnsley, and the other of Katrina Naomi. The room was packed, although it doesn’t look like it.
* * *
Meanwhile two of my poetry chums are on the cusp of new publications, and I’m delighted for both of them.
By old pal Richard Fleming is just about to publish Stone Witness, a new collection with the Guernsey-oriented Blue Ormer Publishing. Richard’s box of books has just arrived and his blog captures the moment. It is going to be launched during the Guernsey Literary Festival, and I am really looking to seeing him soon, and owning a copy.
Meanwhile Robin Houghton has had a pamphlet accepted by Cinnamon, called All The Relevant Gods, to be published next year. Robin has an inspiring blog post about the journey to acceptance here. For all kinds of reasons, even for an exceptional poet like Robin, making progress can be tough. But it means getting the breakthrough is even sweeter.
* * *
Beth Symons and I are beginning to sort out our Edinburgh Fringe run. We all have somewhere to stay, which is a start. We are just about to start auditioning for a male actor (preferably Brighton based, or within striking distance) to join the ensemble. So if you happen to be male, in your twenties, and an actor with comedy chops, then please get in touch with me through this site.
My play, A Glass of Nothing, which is directed by and stars Beth Symons, and features Kitty Underhill will be on at The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall, Theatre 2, 9.10pm on 5/8/17, (free preview) 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th August 17 (4-night run). Naturally I hope to be blah-blahing about this more ere long.
I have been working hard on my children’s story The Second Kind of Darkness in the last two months. The end is in sight. Putting the story aside for a few years has really helped. Time is a great editor.
I’ve also been filling in gaps in my reading of good children’s books, including Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, and a book that is going down brilliantly with under 11s at the moment, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I even went as far back as Peter and Wendy, by J.M.Barrie, which I found to be fresher than I expected, and genuinely strange in parts.
Having run earlier drafts of my story past schoolchildren in schools, I have two teacher friends, specialists in the age group I am writing for and in English, lined up to read it, not to mention my wife, who is a headteacher. Bracing myself for feedback soon
Dates have now firmed up for my play A Glass of Nothing which will have a preview in the Surgeon’s Hall Theatre 2 in Edinburgh on 5th August, and then a short run Monday-Thursday 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th of the following week. As before, it will be a Brighton Blonde Productions performance, and star Beth Symons in the central role.
Two deaths in the last few weeks. One in the family, which I won’t write about here, the other of Andy Wilson, a former art director of mine.
I flew down to the funeral in Cornwall, with two other fellow advertising writers Pat and Barney who knew him well too. You get to know your partner inside out when you are working in a creative team, although Andy and I were partners only for about a year and a half, I knew him as a truly gentle soul, who was one of the most original and creative people I have ever met in any walk of life. Sadly his last few years were blighted by demons of addiction. This, as Andy’s death serves to remind me yet again, is a terrible illness that people pretend is a flaw of character.
One memory. When Andy and I were working late, Andy told me out of the blue that to make a party a success (I was thinking of having a party that weekend) I had to get a bucket. He emptied one of the metal bins under the desk, and laughed hollowly into it in a crazy Jack Nicholson style. He invited me to follow suit, and we passed the bucket back and forth until we were crying with laughter at nothing.
I once met the Nobel Prize winning Derek Walcott, who died on 17th March. I admired him as a poet greatly, as I am especially interested in poets from islands (in his case St. Lucia).
With a group of other young poets, I attended a seminar with him back in the 80s in the South Bank. I found myself standing next to him, and when we were all settling in and in confusion about chairs, I made some joke about sitting on his lap. He looked at me very stonily, clearly deciding I was an idiot from that moment. We were all asked to chuck a poem into the middle. And Derek picked one out at random. The whole session was taken up with his close reading and commenting on this first poem, leaving me at least feeling a bit short changed. At least I got him to sign my copy of The Fortunate Traveller.
Got around to reading Jacob Polley’s Jackself eventually. I think it is a worthy winner of the T.S.Eliot award this year. The poems feel very solid and realised, there is a meaty, chewable quality about the language. I want to reread it already. There is an excellent review here from the guardian.
Been haunting the National Gallery in London lately. This picture by Joseph Wright of Derby , which I had never looked at before, has begun to obsess me. It is An experiment on a bird in an Air Pump, a picture which becomes stranger the more I look at it. A white cockatoo, presumably the family pet judging by the cage in the corner, is being suffocated to demonstrate the nature of a vacuum. The two girls are naturally appalled, while the scientist with his wild hair and red clothes looks out at us as if to ask us if the air should be allowed back in to revive the poor creature.