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a writer's life Blogging Blowing my own trumpet social media Theatre

I should introduce myself (at last)

Why on earth would you want to visit this site? This is a question that has been plaguing me lately. Personally I find ‘me me me’ blogs tiresome. Worse, I know I’ve been guilty of them too. So I thought it was about time I said what this blog was about, using that tried and trusted Internet favourite: a list snappier than a crocodile sandwich.

Five reasons to visit peter kenny : the notebook

  1. You can find out what a working writer’s life is like. Somehow I have made a living as a writer for over 25 years. When I say this I try to sound deeply impressive, and I adopt an impressive face. People think: J.K. Rowling. Then I have to tell the truth. And I can tell you that the reality is most of my income comes from working with advertising agencies as a writer and creative director. Occasionally this gets interesting, such as a recent trip to Chad. So this blog has a bit about marketing in it. If that’s your bag, then dip in.
  2. If you’d like to lead a double life too. How does a person go about balancing work with being creative? I had my first poems published in the early 80s when I was a handsome young devil of 21. Overnight I became a genius (more about that here) who worked in warehouses, did manual labour, and took depressing temporary office jobs for ten years while I struggled with my muse. Now I balance writing poetry, plays, libretti, etc. while not living in poverty. That’s genius!
  3. If you want to be surprised. It seems to me most successful blogs focus relentlessly on one subject. This makes perfect sense. If you want to get your twice weekly fix on nose flutes you visit the nose flute blog. Trouble is I’m not a ‘one subject’ kind of person, though I often wish I was. So if you visit here, you may find yourself reading about eclectic things that surprise you.
  4. Get an insider’s view of staging a play. I have been finishing off an exhausting writing assignment for a humanitarian organisation. My next major project is the staging of my play ‘A Glass of Nothing’ at the Brighton Festival Fringe this May. I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve not finished writing the first full draft of it yet.
  5. And because I make mistakes and take risks. Sometimes I get it hopelessly wrong, overextend myself, fail to correctly prioritise and generally make a mess. I want to be open about this too. So please come along to read about successes (and I’m hoping there will be a few) and what can be learned from falling flat on your face.

I used to write journals last thing at night. Trouble is those little books often became a repository of miserablist whining. Reading through them it seemed that my life was one dismal episode after another, which was far from true. As soon as I began blogging back in 2003, my perspective changed. The idea that others might be reading what I wrote allowed me to reframe not only the ‘how’ of what I wrote, but how I saw my life. So blogging has proved a healthy experience too. One which allows me to look at my own life in a more positive way.

I hope you find something to enjoy on this site in the coming months. See you soon I hope.

Below here is a recent shot of me in Moulin Huet Guernsey, where I first learned to swim as a child. I live in Brighton UK now.

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Categories
A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Poetry Theatre Working

Life in splinters

All work at present with a forest of deadlines. This mixed with unpleasant things like a house flood and the death of an old friend, means my life is being lived in weekend splinters.

So a few of the splinters:

My play with Beth Symons, A Glass of Nothing will be staged at The Box Theatre, The Warren in May as part of the Brighton Fringe. There is lots to be done between then and now, casting starts in a few weeks. More details here when we, quite literally, get our act together.

Had the Telltale Poets AGM two weeks ago. It’s a privilege to be know such a talented group of poets. More news about forthcoming Telltale announcements shortly. I did a reading with them at the beginning of January. I felt the force wasn’t with me that evening, however one of my poems Ernstophilia was filmed by Robin Houghton which can be watched here… along with a performance by the splendid Jack Underwood.

I finally read all of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen having been very taken with her performance at the T.S. Eliot wards. It seems to me to be concerned with how history amplifies everyday slights and unfairness, and gives them a resonance for people of colour in the US and elsewhere. A legacy which will take a lot of healing. This is illustrated through chunks of elegantly  anecdotal prose, an essay on Serena Williams, photographs and so on. It is an interesting miscellany (and IMO only poetry if you cast your modernist net wide enough). An important work, but did I enjoy it? Frankly not much. When poetry is dealing with really difficult subjects it can make the heart soar and affirm life. I personally didn’t get this from Citizen. But I am certain there are loads who will – and I am pleased I read it.

As usual I’m reading several things at once. Life, the biography of Keith Richards, I’m listening to as an audiobook. I’m not a massive Rolling Stone’s fan but as a glimpse into hedonistic life lived with gusto it is bracing and strangely cheering. And quite funny too.

A Year with Swollen Appendixes by Brian Eno is a book I return to when I need to refocus and remotivate. For those who have not read it, it is essentially Eno’s diary for 1995. Or to look at it another way, a prototype blog. His engagement with creativity is utterly inspiring, as well as his friendships with so many amazing people. Including David Bowie. But Bowie is another blog post, bless him.

Enodiary

 

 

Categories
a writer's life Autobiographical Working Writing

Omega day

The-Omega-Man-1971

Long ago I decided that the last day of the year should be treated with the sort of extreme caution owed to a snake in a sack.

And at this time of year I often think about The Omega Man (1971) a film starring Charlton Heston and based on the enjoyable novel I am Legend by Richard Matheson (as was the 2007 Will Smith remake I am Legend). The last man alive is not alone, and has to contend with the undead.

In my case, left alone to brood, the zombies of self-recrimination can lumber out of the dark at this time of year. Give them permission and I can hear them muttering through cracks in the windows about how my objectives for 2015 were not all fulfilled. Not to mention the persistently mystifying absence of a J.K. Rowling level of success.

The only thing to do is to seize my imaginary infrared light rifle and fight all these undead miseries off. The bloodless clumping ‘should-have-dones’ do have a purpose, however. They help me refine my plans for next year, and inspire me to keep trying. But as soon as they get too negative, they have to be culled.

So join me in slaughtering a few zombies. It can be quite therapeutic. Once I thin them out a bit I  can notice my actual achievements. Nothing extraordinary, but a  year perhaps that lays the foundations for a stronger one next year. My blessings are many. My personal life is fantastic, my business is going strong, I continue to find joy in reading literature and the friends I make through it, my own poems are finding new audiences, and I have a play in the offing. Everything is great apart from a few pesky zombies.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day. An opportunity for a fresh start that’s literally built into our calendars. I’m looking forward to it already. I hope you are too. Cheers, and I wish you a zombie-free new year.

Categories
a writer's life Autobiographical Charity Marketing Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd.

More reflections on Chad

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Village child, near Oum Hadjer, Chad.

A month or so has passed since I returned from what was a particularly intense experience in Chad. I spent a day this week sitting with filmmaker Brad Bell tweaking the edit of some of the shots from our trip so I found myself reliving some of my experiences.

Some impressions take longer than others to surface. I find myself often gratefully thinking about my sheer luck of being born where I was. In Chad the average life expectancy for a man is 50.8 years. I’d likely be dead already if I had been born there. The situation in Chad is dire and this drought will trigger a major hunger crisis across Africa’s Sahel region. People in a community we visited hinted that they were already quietly burying children due to the effects of malnutrition.

Normality is an amazing thing. It is stronger force than we think.  Near the village we were working in during the day, was the town of Oum Hadjer. It seems normal enough. You can buy a cold coke if you can afford it, go to the market and trade and drive around about your business in cars and on scooters just like a normal town. Women from the village went there on donkeys to trade the mats they wove attempting to replace some of their lost income due to the failure of their crops. The fact is they cannot sell their mats at a high enough price to justify the labour. It takes them, for example, five days work to earn enough money for two days food. But they go anyway. What other choice do they have?

Common sense alone says some of these women going to the market were grieving recently-lost children. But people carry on, supported by the comforting fiction of normal life. In times I have been in grief I have noticed how everyday life can seem strangely banal and on the other side of a veil. You wonder why people can’t seem to tell that you are full of misery. It makes me wonder about these women carrying on under the burden of their grief.

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Women returning from visiting Oum Hadjer, Chad

They carry on because there is no alternative, and there were other children to take care of. My friend Catherine Pope reminded me that infant death in the UK in the nineteenth century was far more commonplace than it is now. When many infant deaths are the norm, perhaps there is comfort in knowing your peers are likely to have experienced it too. Like in wartime when people lose their sons, if death becomes commonplace does it lose something of its sting?

Although I realised it was an inappropriate metaphor for the dry Sahel, I kept thinking that if we looked up above the dusty land we would see a tsunami of death and starvation racing towards the village instead of the wide sky and unrelenting sun.

The people we talked to lived in earthen huts but were every bit as intelligent as us, and could see plainly what was happening all around them. One woman told us a little about plans she had to expand into cattle farming and take on more land in a kind of franchise, but now her life is reduced to thinking about where she can get food from for the next meal. This is the grimmest end of ‘normal’ life, when the routines of daily life shrink to abject necessity. As the lack of food hits you, you can’t think properly. Simple things begin to seem impossible. The fiction of normality can’t help anybody then.

Currently, with terrorist attacks, entire populations being forced to move in fear of their lives, we are clinging, ever-more tightly, to rigid ideas of what we consider normal life. What is normal is a collective hallucination. We have to wake up from it sooner or later.

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Girl carrying water on a donkey, Chad

 

Categories
a writer's life Marketing Poetry Travel

Preparations for Chad

Map_of_the_Sahel

Planning now well advanced for the trip to Chad in two weeks. For me this has already meant several jabs, and the final one, yellow fever, will be done privately next week. I’ve also had to buy some lightweight, UV and mosquito-resistant clothes and urgently renew my passport.

Africa, then. I have never been there before. We will land in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, stay overnight, before setting off the next morning. Chad is in the centre of the continent, and we are going to travel to the centre of Chad. Across the middle of Chad, and south of the Sahara, runs the central semi-arid belt called the Sahel. This belt extends three thousand miles from the Atlantic to the Red Sea and is a region that is experiencing increasing desertification. I’ve never really looked at maps of Africa with such interest before, and I find myself horribly fascinated by the size and spread of the desert.

I was pleased to learn security is to be tight, and we will be led by an in-country expert. Mobile phone coverage is good there, as Chad has skipped landlines and gone onto mobile. I like the idea of being able to phone home.

Meanwhile I’ve been refining the DRTV script which we are going to shoot. There is a strange dislocation about sitting in a home office in mild-mannered Brighton writing a treatment for filming in the heart of Chad. We may be taking a drone, which suggests we can shoot some aerial shots too. But above all the reason for the script is clear, which is to raise money for those most in need, so it’s not quite as impossible as it might seem.

Other than some work I am doing with colleagues in France on a preventing the spread of rabies throughout the Balkans by encouraging vaccination, this Chad project is edging out all other writing. The poet in me, however, is excited. I went to bed the other night wandering how bright the stars might be in what is for me a remote part of Africa and felt nervousness converting to excitement. It’s a fine line.

I’ve been thinking of Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was for a time the Senegalese President, among his other accomplishments. His gorgeous poem Night of Sine made a massive impact on me when I first read it in my early twenties. And I shall certainly be stowing his Selected Poems with me for the trip. Here is Night of Sine, beautifully rendered into English by Craig Williamson in the long out of print Rex Collings 1976 edition.

Night of Sine

Woman, lay on my forehead your hands of balsam, your hands
softer than fur.
High above, the balancing palms hardly rustle in the high
Nightwind. Not even a cradlesong.
Let it rock us, the rhythmic silence.
Listen to its song: listen to the beating of our dark blood, listen
To the beating of the dark pulse of Africa in the haze of
forgotten villages.

See how the tired moon slips to its bed of slack water,
See how the laughter drowses, how the tellers themselves
Nod their heads like babies on the backs of their mothers.
See how the feet of the dancers grow heavy and heavy
the tongues of alternate choirs.

This is the night of stars and the night that dreams
Leaning on this hill of clouds, draped in her long milk gown.
The thatch of the huts gleams gently. What does it say so
secretly to the stars?
Inside, the hearth grows dim in close, bitter and sweet smells.

Woman, light the lamp of clear oil, let the Ancestors gather
and speak like parents when the children have gone to bed.
Listen to the voice of the Ancients of Elissa. Like us, exiled,
They feared to die, to lose their seminal flood in the sand.
Let me listen, in the smoking hut, to the murmur of favorable
souls come down;

My head on your breast like a couscous ball smoking from fire,
Let me breathe the smell of our Dead, let me gather and tell
their life-voice, let me learn
To live before going down, deeper than the diver, into tall
fathoms of sleep.

Categories
A Guernsey Double a writer's life Guernsey Literature

Genius Friend

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Edward Chaney’s long-awaited book on G.B. Edwards, Genius Friend is being published and launched at the Guernsey Literary Festival today. And I’m very sad that I’m not there to see it.

G.B. Edwards wrote The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, which is by a country mile the best book written about Guernsey.  It is essentially Ebenezer’s long life story, and is the most authentic representation of life on the island from the late nineteenth century till the 1960s. It is a tour de force of storytelling.

There is a remarkable connection between author and subject here. G.B. Edwards was a friend of the author when Chaney was a young art student, and Edward was struggling to finish the novel. With Chaney’s encouragement the old writer completed the task, and left the manuscript to Chaney who, after a struggle, was able to find a publisher for it in 1981.

I was lucky enough to meet Edward Chaney through mutual friends Jane Mosse (now Fleming) and Richard Fleming in 2010. Jane has helped Chaney with research for the book. And Edward Chaney was also kind enough to write the introduction for A Guernsey Double, the book of poems by Richard Fleming and myself.

Click through here to read what Richard has written about it the publication of Genius Friend on his blog here.

I can’t wait to read Edward’s book, whose lovely title was taken from this sad portrayal of G.B. Edward’s life in The Spectator in 1982. But more I personally love this book because it ends in the sixties, when I lived as a little child on the island, and reminds me of my Grandfather and other family members. It is a kind of pre-history to a part of my own life. Most of all I empathise with the pervading feeling of sadness present in the book, written by a man in self-imposed exile from the island he loves.

Categories
a writer's life Autobiographical

Writer’s limbo

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An Eeyore of a week. I was invited to talk to a writer’s group on Monday, who simply weren’t there when I arrived at the appointed time and place, which was fortunately a pub. The meeting had been cancelled and the email telling me of this went astray into that clown’s pocket in cyberspace stuffed full of messages never received. I nursed a pint of Harveys bitter in a writer’s limbo for a while, rueful and realising that I would have to blog about not having anything to blog about.

Eeyore quote

In other news I have been getting a manuscript to a kindle-ready state. The subject is how the imagination is used in marketing. Each time I look at it, however, I see fresh errors or spot yet another outbreak of gobbledygook. There must be a particular ring in purgatory where writers are forced to revise the same manuscript till the end of time.

And as for poetry… Every poem I’ve worked on this week I have contrived to make worse. Sometimes the Muse is not with you, but instead is looking at its watch and waiting for you to arrive in a pub, or having fun with Christopher Robin.

Off now to chew some thistles.

Categories
a writer's life Autobiographical Genius Poetry

How I stopped being a genius

Let me tell you that until the age of 29 I was a tortured genius.To help other people understand this, I lived in a squalid bedsit. I was also permanently unhealthy in that way typical of geniuses, and I spent my nights barking my tortured, misunderstood poetry into the smoky fug of doggerel-filled rooms.

Don’t let anyone tell you that being a tortured genius is easy. It’s not. It demands things of you, such as drinking lots, drug taking, and unsatisfactory relationships. It also creates a persistent idea that the world owes you a living because you are far too absorbed in your lofty contemplations to think about filthy lucre.

Of course I worried about money, but being permanently broke contributed to a vortex of hypochondria and depression. This led me to create more tortured poetry, which only confirmed my conclusion that I was a genius. Another thing about being a genius is that you end up talking about yourself incessantly. For a few months I had the good fortune to be the lodger of Dr Janet Summerton, who has remained a firm friend. I was talking to her about genius (over a glass of wine and a pate-smeared water biscuit) hoping that she would join the dots and reach the inevitable conclusion that I was one too.

Imagine my surprise when she asserted that there was no such thing as a genius. For how could this be? Did I not refute her assertion just by sitting there, drinking her wine and worrying about my pulse rate?

Janet told me that genius is a fairly modern notion. For me this was an eye-opener. I thought that geniuses had always existed. Surely, for example, when Shakespeare sprang up in the morning with the glorious filthy tang of London drains in his nostrils (and worrying if London was getting a bit too plague-ridden to stay) he was certain of his genius? Well… No actually. He wouldn’t have thought any such animal existed.

Janet pointed me towards Keywords by Raymond Williams. This told me that Genius entered English in the C14 from the Latin.  It meant a guardian spirit. It was then extended to mean ‘a characteristic disposition or quality’.  Only towards the end of the eighteenth century did it acquire its modern meaning of ‘an extraordinary ability’.

If you allow the idea that genius is an invention, then it follows that we do not live in a world populated by a race of demigods possessed by an otherworldly ability to which ordinary mortals cannot aspire. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no denying the fact that some people have extraordinary gifts, but to simply suggest that this is the result of divine inspiration, or being the winner of a genetic lottery, ignores the hard work that went into their achievements.

Secondly on a personal level, once you start to view genius as a social construct, you wonder why you or anyone else feels they need to conform to the ridiculous stereotypical behaviours associated with the idea of genius. For the troublesome idea that gifted people should behave in certain self-harming ways has claimed many lives. In poetry I think of Dylan Thomas who drank himself to death. And for what? He wrote most of his best work when he was young. It’s only when he started to be the very image of the Romantic tortured genius did he and the plot part company.

Of course there are numerous counter examples in poetry. T.S. Eliot working at the bank instantly comes to mind. Maybe not as exciting or “poetical” a life as Byron, who fought and womanised his way around Europe – but this doesn’t make Eliot’s poetry any less authentic than Byron’s.

I like this double-edged Oscar Wilde quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray, spoken by the character Lord Henry Wotton:

“A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.”

Pop music has a roll of honour of self-harming caricatures of genius – contributing to the dozens of suicides, overdoses and the rest. I never understood why self-destructive behaviour somehow equals authenticity. That these people are so overwhelmingly possessed by the spirit of their art that they are driven to do mad things seems absurd.

As onlookers, why exactly do we need to feed vicariously on the excesses of stars? To watch Amy Winehouse descend into a tragically early grave? Why does a sense of onrushing doom, lend authenticity?

Anyway thanks to my friend Janet I stopped being a genius. Gradually I moved out of the bedsit, and came to a series (of then) painful compromises that allowed me to take full time work and earn some cash.

After all Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Mozart all managed to keep the wolf from the door.

Not that they were geniuses mind you.