Pretending poetry, songs of liberty and Ursula le Guin


The thing about running your own business is that holidays become almost entirely theoretical. It’s a holiday to leave the computer for long enough to hang out the washing on a sunny day, it’s a holiday to take the long way to the post office, it’s a holiday to read something that isn’t for work, or to listen to something that requires your full attention on the radio, or to take a day to learn new songs.

The thing about running your own business is that you can build a holiday in anywhere you want to, and around anything you want to, and justify it as ‘work’.

So a week in Cumbria because one of the poets in The Other Side of Sleep had organised a reading in Grange-over-Sands and it’s too far to go and not stay over, and if you have to stay over, well…

A few days with friends in Bath and a stop over with another on the way to Cheltenham.

So I briefly pretended I’m a poet last week. As I said whilst doing so, I am not a poet, I occasionally write poetry, it really isn’t the same thing. So here’s me pretending to be a poet, with one poem and two flash fictions that happen to kind of work as poems.

cherry grange os

If you want to hear how real poets do it you can listen over on the Arachne Press website. I’ll be pretending again at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival on Saturday in the company of Angela France, Math Jones, Bernie Howley, Kate Foley and Jennifer A McGowan.

In the meantime I’ve been listening to Ursula le Guin on Radio4, first an epic 2 hour catch-up with The Left Hand of Darkness, and then a 30 minute documentary, with the woman herself, and various writers who admire and were influenced by her, including Neil Gaiman,  Karen Joy Fowler and David Mitchell. I found myself falling in love with LHD all over again. I read it first in my teens, and again about 5 years ago, and I am in awe of le Guin’s talent and the subtlety of the adaptation for Radio by Judith Adams, everything I remember is there, and the bitter, bone deep cold swells through the recording so, so well. Listening to Gaiman and Mitchell say words to the effect of ‘this is why I became a writer’, I wonder: is this why I became a writer? (and unlike ‘poet’ I do identify as ‘writer’ because even when not writing I obsess about it – think about my characters, interrogate my bad habits, consider plot twists, discover great titles in over heard conversations…) and I think the answer is probably YES.

The Left Hand of Darkness has been one of  my favourite books since I first read it, and unlike many others was even better on the second reading, and still made me cry (and I think another re-read is due). Discovering it so early, probably about the time I began to seriously think I might write ‘for real’, it must have had a huge impact. It is hard to tell, I read voraciously at that point, three books a day at weekends, back to back, swimming in words. I’m sure I amalgamate many of those books in my mind, not sure what comes from where, but LHD stands out from the morass, as do other of le Guin’s books: The Tombs of Atuan and The Lathe of Heaven in particular. They are doing an adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea (My first ever le Guin read, when I was probably nine or ten) on Radio4 Extra next week – LISTEN!

Did you think you were going to get away without a reference to music? Ha! fooled you.

I spent Saturday immersed in songs about making choices and community and freedom, taught by the marvellous Lester Simpson in preparation for the next ‘big idea’, a celebration of Magna Carta in the week of the actual 800 year anniversary of the first draft being signed (if you ignore the change of calendar in the 18th Century). Nearly 50 people turned up and we sounded amazing. Here’s a sample…

You’ll get a chance to hear the songs we are working on in a more polished format at West Greenwich Library, 7:30 on Thursday 18th June. More on that nearer the time. There is a call out for STORIES for the event over at Arachne, you have til Mayday.

Right. Off to my next ‘holiday’, in Bath for readings of Solstice Shorts at Oldfield Park Books, this evening!

Inspirations – Deja Vu


I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of Déjâ Vu, and this story originated in something I wrote when I was still at school, a highly melodramatic piece about walking into one’s own past. That story remains as just one scene, as Lucy/Hilary steps out of the train at a station, and goes to a house she once lived in. The rest is dystopia and fairy tales – Sleeping Beauty and Snow White both get their tropes in, waking from long sleep and being offered poison by a door to door saleswoman. There is a hefty element of paranoia to the story – a Stepford Wives meets Smiley’s People cold war angle inspired by one of those what-if conversations. Huge fun to write!

Inspirations – Russian Fairytales, illustrations and London Bridge


Two stories came from the same picture, which I have been completely unable to trace. I think it is from an edition of The Snow Queen, and the illustrator might have been Kay Neilsen or Edmund Dulac or possibly Arthur Rackham, but as I’ve been unable to track it down I can’t confirm; maybe, like the rest of the story, I dreamt it.

The Bone Box (Mosaic of Air) definitely owes something to Kay Neilsen, whose illustration of the North Wind for East of the Sun, West of the Moon (a book I haven’t read!) influenced the design of the story and the language too. I had a reproduction of this picture on my pin board for about eight years. Neilsen’s North Wind is a solid, rather Art Deco god. This lent simplicity to the language I used, while my heroine, Adamanta, got her stubbornness from the frowning wind, and her good sense from the girl in the lost picture, in her voluminous coat. If this was a real fairytale its origins would be in Siberia, despite the lack of snow.

Another girl in an oversized coat features in All Hallows, (Tales Told Before Cockcrow) where she embodies my objections to TS Eliot’s claim that London Bridge is swarming with ghosts – ghosts don’t go anywhere, I remember thinking, and started wondering about the everyday ghosts, the homeless, with nowhere to go, and I imagined this ghost rooted to the spot, in all the surging humanity that is London and the more I thought about her the further back in time she went. This could have been really long, but I reused some scenes for the beginning of another novel, and this remains what it started as: concerned with what it is that keeps a ghost rooted to a place through time and how they might be set free by the right intervention.

Inspirations – Dancing in the Darkroom


Getting a book ready for publication (Typesetting, proofreading) even second time round and twenty years later, does send me back to the roots of the stories, and with so many of the stories in Mosaic of Air I can remember exactly where and when the idea first stuck its claws into me.

Ladies Pleasure, the cover story for Mosaic of Air this time round, came from a session in the darkroom. I like the radio on when I’m printing up photographs, and normally that would be radio 3 or 4, but in this case there was nothing I wanted to listen to, so I spun the dial and got Radio 2.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve listened to R2 (apart from the folk music programmes). It was an afternoon, midweek in about 1984 and Michael Aspell was talking to elderly women living in a care home.

All I remember about the programme was one woman saying how difficult it was to get a male partner for  dancing, and how it wasn’t the same dancing with a woman. I laughed quoted Alix Dobkin to myself and got on with what I was doing,  but the seed was sown.  What if like me, that woman had prefered dancing with women? What if she had always wanted to dance with women, or what if due to circumstances, women and dancing had always gone together? And there she was, Grace Carew-Petrullo, a minor character in one of those movies about brave gels on the home front, a bit player in a book from sixty years earlier, given her own voice, her unspoken jealousy of, and desire for, the glorious Jessica Markham still fresh after a lifetime of experience.

Mosaic of Air by Cherry Potts (cover Melina Traub)
Grace and Jessica confront each other on the cover of Mosaic of Air by Cherry Potts (cover Melina Traub)

Inspirations – The Archetypal Good Wife


The first story I ever got published, Penelope is no Longer Waiting ( A Very, Very long time ago) came from my finally reading Homer (not in the original Greek, comprehensive schooling isn’t that kind of comprehensive) as opposed to interpretations of… and I found that what I thought I knew about the Odyssey was not all there was to know.  I found myself thinking Really? Really? Ten years of war, ten years to get home? Someone as clever as Odysseus? Would Penelope really have waited?

I think not.

You can hear me reading Penelope is no Longer Waiting LIVE this Saturday 5th October at Misty Moon Gallery SE13 7HS as part of the ongoing celebrations for the launch of Mosaic of Air and Weird Lies more info here.

© Cherry Potts 2013

ancient greek painting of 2 women
I find myself wondering what it would be like …

Inspirations – claustrophobia in the closet


To celebrate HM the Queen’s royal assent on Gay Marriage, some thoughts about what it used to be like when I was first coming out in 1982… when I wrote

Trying to Tell You…

A story about coming out,  not to straight colleagues or family, but to the only Visible Lesbian ( this is my version of the only gay in the village and predated Little Britain by a decade or two). The story is based on my partner’s one time workplace, where she was the Visible Lesbian, meshed with my memories of school. A. and I have a running joke about people who ought to be Lesbians but haven’t worked it out yet. And this is about one of those women, at the moment the penny drops. Who is she going to tell? How? Because the Visible Lesbian is too busy fighting her own battles, and isn’t listening.

Anyway one of the pleasures of republishing Mosaic of Air(out at the end of September), which includes Trying to Tell You … is finding that what I have written is now a period piece.

© Cherry Potts 2013

Inspirations – Marvell and computers


mosaic glyphThe short story Mosaic of Air, (title story of my first collection and republished this coming September)  began life in a computer literacy class in the late 1980’s. I was bored, the class was going slowly, and I’d been given some BASIC code to play with.  I started to imagine what would happen if the computer really talked back. Cal appeared at my elbow and started footling about with her highly illegal sonic knife, and within a few minutes I knew everything about her – her schooling in sabotage, her stammer and her obsessions. Rhani and the McCarthys came later, and have (inevitably) somewhat taken over from Cal in later stories, but it was a big moment, that dull afternoon in Catford.

The title is from an Andrew Marvell poem and it should really be That Mosaic of the Air – a reference to music, which inspired Computer’s idea of appropriate ceremony.  I gave  Computer a personality but let her binary logic run riot. Consequently, inevitably, things do not turn out well.

You can pre-order a copy of the new paperback version of Mosaic of Air at a special £1 off pre-publication price here.

© Copyright Cherry Potts 2013