a writer's life Art Blowing my own trumpet Book Launch Children's fiction Fiction Prose

Magnificent Grace, by Skelton Yawngrave

If you happen to know a child of 9-12 who likes reading, and want a tale set in the run up to Halloween and Guy Fawkes night… then I have a full length story (a.k.a. my kindle experiment) for them. It’s creepy, funny, magical and dystopian and is about trying to bring together a divided populace.

Grace is a heroine for a troubled age. The story was complete before I came to know about Greta Thunberg. Grace would love Greta.

It can be found here on Amazon. It’s on kindle at the moment — at a snip — turning into a paperback soon now looks likely.

The cover painting is by the splendid young artist Ellie Francesca Watson. Ellie happens to be the daughter of Carl, one of my oldest and best pals, which makes it doubly nice for both of us. Also I would like to thank Charlotte Norman who edited the manuscript and helped me recognise, and then eliminate, some bad habits in my prose style. What I learned from her was enormously useful, and I have carried these learnings into my short horror fictions.

Thanks are also due to my chum Tracey Middleton who, tired of my whining early this year, put a rocket up my derrière to get this done.

Being married to a headteacher is a wonderful boon too, and Lorraine’s patience, encouragement and knowledgeable guidance has been invaluable. Our friends in education Rosie Taylor and Dawn Daniel have given me essential feedback and the opportunity to go into schools and try it out on real life children.

Several years ago, my mum painted pictures of some of the characters, and this was extremely useful in focusing my ideas.

I decided to publish this story under a pseudonym. It has had an unexpected psychological boon. I struggle to promote myself, but I adore Skelton Yawngrave, however, who is a character in the book as well as its author, and I would do anything to help him.

So this is my kindle experiment. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Art Photography

Innis McAllister and the fate of photography

Dog in Snow ©Innis McAllister

I am in an early cups-of-coffee-and-exploring stage of a new project with my photographer pal Innis McAllister. Innis is most familiar for his work with models and in fashion. He also has a rich archive of other work in a huge variety of subjects.

It is a challenging time to be a photographer.  In 2019 it is likely there will be 2.7 billion smartphone users on the planet, all able to take photos. So what, if anything, distinguishes the photographs of ‘real’ photographers like Innis from those taken by the smartphone snappers? As a writer, one answer seems fairly obvious to me. Most people are able to write sentences in their native language, but very few will go on to be published writers.  Just because billions of people have a camera in their pockets, they will not necessarily become photographers.

Some photographers accumulate images by going to exotic places or challenging environments. I like looking at these photos as much as the next person, but I am also drawn to photography that can make me look at the strangeness and beauty of commonplace things.

There is something about time too. Taking a photograph is an act of seconds, but the skill of the photographer can takes years to accumulate. Photographers, if they want to eat must be able to skilfully produce consistently good imagery, not just get lucky.

But there is more. The eye of a true photographer is easy to spot. Take the image above,  The dog in snow has an absolute timelessness, as if the dog had just trotted out of The Hunters in the Snow by Bruegel, here the photographer has the confidence to be simple, to let the beauty and contrast of the dog’s form rejoice in its landscape.

While the image below is from early in Innis McAllister’s career. Here a man is waiting for a train. See the squareness of the lines and how they progressively depart from true, gently winding your eye into the object of attention. A man reading a paper with a lurid headline about drugs. I used to sit with people on tubes that looked like him all the time. Now he seems a vanished creature from another time.

The tidal wave of imagery will become a defining feature of the early 21st Century. But I think artists can stand outside time. One of the jobs of ‘proper’ photographers is to find the images that do just that.

Daily paper
Man waiting for train ©Innis McAllister


Architecture Art Design Marketing

Eno installations at the Montefiore Hospital

I’m not given much to hero worship, but Brian Eno is as close as I get.  His ambient music is often the backdrop to my work, and his albums Neroli, Thursday Afternoon, The Plateaux of Mirrors (with Harold Budd), Music for Airports, and On Land are all favourites.  While his book, A Year With Swollen Appendices, which I read several times, influenced the course of my life and helped me diversify and enrich what have done with my life.

Lately, I have been researching hospital waiting rooms, as I believe the experience for people using them can be drastically improved. No surprise to find that Eno had already gone there before me. I visited the Montefiore Hospital  in Hove, just walking distance from my home, which has two installations by Brian Eno.

In the reception area you can find Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings for Montefiore, a slowly-mutating light painting, which layers and combines in millions of ways previous artworks by Eno.  He says in his notes, ‘The movement of the whole piece is deliberately slow. My feeling is that this slowness produces a calming experience — because it takes the viewer down to its speed.’ Soothing ambient sounds also provide a tranquil backdrop to the reception area.

The Quiet Room for Montefiore  is chiefly used by patients after chemotherapy and it creates a therapeutic, humanising tranquillity.  About this room Eno writes, ‘Creating a healing environment isn’t only about correct surgical procedures and the right technology but also about making an atmosphere where the patients feel able to relax enough to clearly think through their options, and to properly take part in the healing process themselves.’ As you sit on the sofa and watch the light combine in different ways, and sense the ambient sound calming you, you can tell this is art of a different sort, that provides a context for you to exist calmly. It is a brilliant piece of work.

I picked up the comments book in reception and read, ‘you can feel your blood pressure calming by the minute. It made me think of cells and change and the beauty of life.’ Another person wrote, ‘I truly believe they play a significant role in my treatment and my journey to being well’.

I believe treatment should begin in the waiting room, and The Montefiore Hospital, through its use of these Eno installations, may be on the way to doing just that.

I would like to thank Tom Collins of Montefiore Hospital for showing me the work.

Below a snap of the endlessly changing 77 Million Paintings for Montefiore, in the reception area, and a photo taken from the sofa in the darkened The Quiet Room for Montefiore.

77 Million Paintings for Montefiore by Brian Eno

The Quiet Room for Montefiore, by Brian Eno



Art Art and illustration

Two favourites from Brighton’s Open Houses

Walking around Brighton’s open houses is a dangerous business. If money were no object (sadly not the case) I would return with sackfuls of ceramics, art pieces, and so on. Which is not to say that I don’t get a bit ho-hummish at all the ‘me-too’ stuff out there – such as enlarging small things like seedcases to make big ceramic pieces, or decorative black and white line drawings with an area of zingy colour. But in my brief two day walkabout with Lorraine (aka Mrs Kenny) I found two artists whose work I particularly warmed to.

Heike Roesel, is a fine art printmaker whose work Lorraine discovered last year. Perhaps it is because Heike is German that her patterned ornate work for me distantly echoes Paul Klee. She specialises in landscapes, of which there were many in the Open Houses. Heike’s work is different though, inspired by the scene and depicting landscapes psychologically rather than just reproducing them in familiar styles. How her work sits on the page, is often highly-graphical too, for example some pieces appear islanded in not-quite-circles in the middle of the page. So are intriguing even when glimpsed from afar.

The one below, called UP is taken from her very good up smallAnother artist whose work I adored (sadly the very last thing I saw, so was skint) was Julie Snowball. I thought her ceramics of Nomadic Ladies, apparently inspired by Gustav Klimt (although they made me think of figures in Max Ernst’s paintings too) were utterly gorgeous. Here’s an image I stole from her website. Beautiful, and unlike any other ceramic work I had seen.


Art Painters,

Goya, the portraits


Above: María Antonia Gonzaga, Marchioness widow of Villafranca 1795 by Francisco Goya (1746-1828). An example of the character and intensity Goya got into his work. Not to mention the fashionably frizzed hair style of the time. This is a woman to be reckoned with.

This exhibition, in London’s National Gallery till 10th January 2016, far exceeded my expectations, and is a must-see.  As a demonstration of Goya’s ability to bring individuality and depth to each portrait it was fantastic. I loved browsing around the panoply of characters from punchable windbags, fiery independent noblewomen to thuggish royalty all rendered almost palpably alive. He reserved his most unflinching eye for his closest friends and even his much-loved son.

His several self-portraits pull no punches. I loved this crabby faced Self Portrait (1795-7) which must be the glowering sight of the people who sat for him.

P07775A01NF2008 004

I think the pack of cards on the table of The family of the Infante Don Luis (1783) below was a tarot pack. One of the cards showing was The World (the exhibition notes did not notice this) which made sense for me of varying emotions of the people drawn into the magnetic field created by Don Luis and his wife. Goya painted himself into the lower left in the shadows.

GOYA_Francisco_de_The_Family_of_the_Infante_Don Luis_1783

An excellent exhibition, that helps us see Goya afresh.

Art Design Music

Two boyhood heroes: Steve Howe and Roger Dean

Steve Howe on the Anthology tour April 2015

I had a two for one deal on boyhood heroes at Trading Boundaries on the 12 of April. Not only did I see legendary guitarist Steve Howe but he was introduced to the stage by Roger Dean.

Steve Howe is a fabulous guitarist. His self-taught mastery of musical genres from classical to country blues, plus an extraordinary musical imagination, means he has always been my benchmark when listening to guitarists in any genre.  At Trading Boundaries I found his performance uplifting. I’d first seen him live in 1975, and several times since then, but not for perhaps ten years. For me it was heartening to see my boyhood hero, guitarist of Yes, in such an intimate and pleasant venue. He was relaxed, chatty and still playing exquisitely after all these years.

Then there’s Roger Dean. As a teenager I loved Dean’s fantastic landscapes and Dean’s Views was the first book by an artist I felt I could personally relate to. He also made me imagine what life in one of his organically-rounded dwellings might be like, opened me up to the possibilities of set design, and gave me a glimpse at the trial and error that went into the creation of a logo. Thanks to my mother, I was taken to galleries from an early age and by the time I did an A Level in art I was more German Neue Sachlichkeit than fantasy art. But to this day I have a Roger Dean poster in my study and his work is always something I have in mind, say when at the recent Peder Balke exhibition in the National.

The work of Howe playing with Yes and Roger Dean combined to form a sonic and visual environment that was a teenage refuge, a niche in the imagination that belonged to me. For that I am still grateful.

Art Art and illustration Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd.

A Cancer Landscape

‘The Journey To Where?’ Michele Angelo Petrone

“The disbelief, the grief, the doubt, the flung out, the anger, the banter, the bargaining…” Personal experience enabled English artist Michele Angelo Petrone (1963-2007) reach out to others fighting disease. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 30, Petrone became artist in residence at several schools and cancer centres, and created his own arts in health foundation.

As well as Petrone’s work, A Cancer Landscape at the ONCA Gallery Brighton till 28 February also features medical images of cancer cells, and workshop pieces generated by people who have experienced the effects of cancer. It is a fitting tribute. “My journey,” Petrone wrote, “has two intertwined threads – elements which mirror each other as exactly as the two chains of a double helix. One is the medical history. The physical injury, the illness, the happening… The parallel thread is my emotional response.”

Writing about healthcare in my professional life, last year I happened to spend weeks looking at dozens of artworks by people with autoimmune diseases. I discovered that when people use art in the context of disease, they frequently dramatise pain or emotional isolation. But when art is brave and skillful enough, as Petrone’s work is, it can connect with the other patient’s feelings and show them that their emotions are not somehow freakish or unique. It can be cathartic, and I was told at the gallery that exhibition has prompted many people to share their own stories as they visited.

Each piece was accompanied by Petrone’s written description, giving something of the emotional and physical context. More interesting to me, however, was the fact that the emotional landscapes he depicted were in primary colours and had an almost childlike quality about them. This hinted that there was something more important than the disease, and were a positive affirmation of life glowing out against the backdrop of cancer. This feeling, of course, made the few sombre compositions on display all the more poignant.


Peder Balke at The National Gallery, London

Paintings by Peder Balke

I knew nothing about Peder Balke (1804-87) before my pal Bob suggested we go to see the exhibition at the National Gallery (on till April 12 2015). I learned that the Norwegian had made extensive trips around the coast, and then revisited some of the scenes in his imagination, such as North Cape, repeatedly for years.

This is the dark side of Romanticism, with Tolkienesque swarms of seabirds, moonlight behind clouds sending eerie beams over storm-tossed seas, towering cliffs and glaciers.  Not all of it worked for me. Some pieces, such as a broken tree in snow, had Bob and I saying “Christmas card” to each other, and comparing it unfavorably to Caspar David Friedrich other work was fascinating.

Later, when the public lost any interest in his work, he began to develop a freer brush sense, and reducing his palette to black and white to depict stormy seas or even the Northern Lights. These latter paintings, claimed by his fans to be early precursors of Modernism, apparently languished in his attic till his star gradually rose again.

North Cape, Peder Balke, (c) The National Museum of Art and Architecture, Copenhagen.

I was also reminded me of Roger Dean’s improbable SF-tinged landscapes of the 1970s too such as the coastal scene below. I’d recommend popping in to see for yourself should you find yourself at Trafalgar Square.

Peder Balke Coastal Landscape.