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.
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.
So: Saturday was a singing day, 3 hours or so, rehearsing, performing, singing with the audience, interspersed with beer at the lovely Ivy House.
We like to have a theme or a project for Vocal Chords, in the summer it was love songs for the planet, this autumn it has been folk carols, learnt from Lester Simpson and dragged out of our collective record collections and memories, and performed with gusto!
The arrangements sound quite complex and the parts can get a little competitive as to who can sing loudest, but they are actually quite simple so long as you can keep in time.
Here is a sample, my absolute favourite of the songs we sang, although it is a hard, hard choice, as I loved all of them!
This is the definition of Joyous, for me, cynical old atheist though I am.
And then Sunday we were selling Arachne Press books at a christmas market at the delightful Alexandra Nurseries (still singing under our breaths, both ‘Curly Hark’ and snatches of Britten’s St Nicholas, mostly ‘landlord take this piece of gold, bring us meat before the cold’…although we weren’t cold, thanks to our lined walking trousers, winter coats, hats mittens, long-johns…) It was a very jolly day, good weather and plenty of punters.
Here’s the link to my conversation with the very friendly Andy & Rev at Cocktail Hour. (Cocktail half-hour in this instance, but who’s counting?) A wide-ranging discussion encompassing spiders, cat fonts, learning to be funny, and setting up Arachne Press, as well as – you know – my actual writing, books and so on; together with me reading a snippet of Arachnë’s Daughters, which is in Mosaic of Air.
I am being interviewed by The Cocktail Hour later today, an online chat show about books by lesbian authors. You can listen to a podcast at some point in the very near future. I’ve lined up a couple of shorter stories to read, and am considering which cocktail to have ready – to drink when I’ve finished.